Why are wedding dresses white?

Inspiration

/ Last Updated:

By Emma Jones - eve

A bride’s dress has been arguably one of the most anticipated elements of a wedding for years gone by – but where did it all come from? Who decided that a bride wore white?

We delve into the history of why wedding dresses are traditionally white, where it came from and how bridal trends have evolved through time.

How it all started
It was very uncommon for brides to wear white before the mid-19th century and women wore any colour they liked, though red was particularly popular. Wedding dresses would have been worn on multiple occasions and may have been a number the bride already owned: their ‘best dress’.

White fabric was both difficult to get hold of and difficult to clean so was rarely chosen, but when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in a white lace and silk-satin gown in 1840, things changed.

The Queen decided to forgo tradition with her choice of white dress and orange blossom flower crown and this, alongside the rise of the media, saw her majesty’s wedding attire cover newspapers all over the world and the white wedding dress began to symbolise status, ‘purity’ and wealth.

However, it wasn’t until after the Second World War that the idea of the white wedding dress really stuck, thanks to improved clothing production and laundry options that made way for the white, single-use dress.

Throughout the 60s and 70s, fashion changed drastically for women (ladies in trousers? Omg!) which meant that wedding dresses would no longer mimic a woman’s day-to-day wardrobe in the way that they had before now. From here, the white wedding dress became a tradition rarely unfollowed.

Full circle?
The tradition of the white wedding dress is something that is immediately imagined – and in fact, assumed – when it comes to modern weddings, and it’s been this way for decades. However, increasing awareness into the impact of single-use materials and fast fashion have begun to alter trends, with more brides choosing to pass on tradition and choose something that better reflects their personality or creates less of a negative impact on the environment. Smaller celebrations are becoming more popular in budget-saving, eco-conscious weddings and with that often comes more casual or personal attire.

Plus, let’s talk ‘purity’. Times have changed, people. For this reason we’re seeing more and more wedding traditions ditched as time goes on, from brides walking themselves down the aisle to making a speech or wearing a suit. More brides seem to be making choices that they want to make, rather than doing things because they’re traditional – and the symbolism of that is much more powerful than purity and innocence, if you ask us.

So, what now?
Like any wedding tradition, if you don’t want to wear white, don’t! It doesn’t matter to us if it’s your first wedding or your fifth, as long as you’re wearing something that makes you feel awesome it’s OK whether it’s a suit, a dress – heck, wear a swimsuit if you’re feeling it – or every colour of the rainbow.

Whilst the assumption remains that a bride will wear a white wedding dress, more and more women are choosing not to in favour of walking down the aisle in something more sustainable that they can wear again, more cost-effective, or more reflective of their personal style.

eve loves: brides who didn’t wear white
As we all know, it’s not easy to legitimately get your hands on the wedding snaps of A-listers (without breaking the law or spending a fortune) so here are some useful links to some of eve’s favourite non-white-wearing brides over the years…

Elizabeth Taylor, 1964

Elizabeth Taylor wore a sunny yellow Irene Sharaff the first time she married Richard Burton

Audrey Hepburn, 1969

Light pink Givenchy. There’s a reason this woman’s a fashion icon.

Sarah Jessica Parker, 1997

SJP donned a black Morgane Le Fay gown when she married Matthew Broderick in May 1997

Victoria Beckham, 1999

Matching purple outfits? We’re OK with it!

Gwen Stefani, 2002

Pink ombré: need we say more?

Chrissy Teigen, 2013

Chrissy chose not one dress but three when she married John Legend in 2013, including a deep red reception gown

Solange Knowles, 2014

Solange arrived at her wedding to Alan Ferguson in a cream jumpsuit with a cape draped over her shoulders, and we are totally here for it

Emily Ratajkowski, 2018

Emily wore a Zara mustard yellow suit to marry Sebastian Bear-McClard in NYC in 2018, paired with a black wide-brimmed hat – and we adore it

For more wedding insights head to the journal, or leave it to eve to help you find the perfect wedding venue in London