Tuesday, October 11th, 2011 by Courtney

History of the White Wedding Dress (And What’s Acceptable Today)


You probably pictured your wedding day at one time or another as a small girl; maybe you had your entire wedding binder filled out by age 16!  And chances are you pictured yourself walking down the aisle in a white dress of some sort.  Why white?  Where does this commonly known and accepted tradition come?

I don’t know about you, but before I entered the wedding world I assumed that white was symbolic of purity; if you were a virgin or, more commonly, if it was your first time getting married, you wore a white dress.  If it was your second (or more) wedding, some form of ivory or beige was the accepted color for you.  Believe it or not, blue is the color that represents purity and virginity; do a Google Image search of the Virgin Mary; you’ll see that every picture has the color blue in it.  Back in medieval Europe and even up until the late fifteenth century, white was seen as a mourning color! That is still the case for some countries and cultures such as Hinduism. 

So how did the image of the white wedding dress come about?  Brides used to wear an array of colors for their wedding dress (including black and red, two of the more popular colors), and every now and again a white dress was worn by royalty or by a bride from a wealthy family.  Gowns were often made of heavy brocaded fabric and embroidered with white and silver thread.  White was seen as impractical as it soiled easily and thus could only be worn once, so only wealthy families saw brides wearing white.  Back in 1840, Queen Victoria married Price Albert.  She had some exquisite white lace that she adored, and wanted it incorporated into her dress, so she had a silk white dress made for her with a veil made of precious her lace (see below for a picture).  The applique you see on her gown is orange blossoms, thought to bring luck along with their pleasing fragrance.  Many saw Queen Victoria’s choice as a statement, and a new trend was born!

In time the churches embraced this trend for religious reasons; when children (both boys and girls) are baptized, they wear christening gowns; small white gowns that resemble wedding gowns.  As young girls grow older, the go through confirmation; the act of pledging their faith and thus becoming a full acting member of the church.  And guess what they wear for these ceremonies?  That’s right, a white dress.  You can see pictures of christening and confirmation dresses below.  A white dress has become the accepted garment worn by women when making religious vows, marriage vows being one of those times. 

However this is primarily true in Western Culture.  In India, China, Korea and Vietnam, brides wear red on their wedding day; in Japan they wear many dresses of different colors throughout the day. 

So what does this mean for the modern bride?  It means you can wear any color you want!  In fact these days brides don’t often wear a true white dress; true white doesn’t look good on many skin tones.  Ivory, beige and off-white are much more common, and since they are shades of white guests are often none the wiser. 

Perhaps you want to go away from the norm, but you aren’t ready to don a blue dress?  Try adding a splash of color and personality with a colored belt or sash to compliment your wedding colors or your bridesmaid dresses.  Pastels are another subtle way to stray from tradition—light pinks, yellows, blues and purples tend to be the most popular, and if it’s the right shade it can almost look like a glimmer of color rather than a full colored gown. 

Then there are the brides that like to make a statement—you know who you are!  Vera Wang, BHLDN and Oscar de la Renta are just a few designers making gowns with color; sometimes a splash, sometimes full-on black or red!  You can see some of these stunning gowns on   So what color should you wear on your wedding day?  Whatever color you love and looks good with your skin tone and hair color; after all, this is your day to shine, you should do it exactly the way you want to!!!


White Dress Origins

Photo Credit: Queen Victoria, Baptism Dress and Confirmation Dress