Ever look up a word in the dictionary or Wikipedia to discover more than you expected? As a writer and translator, I do this regularly. Here is my recent quick reminder of that experience.
My annotated overview of the WIKIPEDIA entry on
A wedding dress or wedding gown is the clothing worn by a bride during a wedding ceremony. Colour, style and ceremonial importance of the gown depends on the religion and culture of the participants. In Western cultures, brides often choose white, which was made popular by Queen Victoria in the 19th century. In Eastern cultures, brides often choose red to symbolize auspiciousness. This post focuses on the Western tradition.
Wedding gown circa 1891
Weddings performed during and immediately following the Middle Ages were often union between not just two people but two families, two businesses or even two countries. Many weddings were more a matter of politics than love. Brides were therefore expected to dress in a manner that cast their families in the best light and befitted their social status during the ceremony. Brides from wealthy families often wore rich colours and exclusive fabrics, e.g. wearing blue, scarlet, purple, and layers of furs, velvet or silk. The poorest of brides wore their best church dress on their wedding day. I did know that many women in many parts of the world were buried in their wedding gown as it was their finest clothing. I had been shocked to learn that women used to marry in black as it seemed so funereal.
Until the 1960s, wedding dresses reflected the styles of the day. Veils have come and gone, risen, lowered, or been little more than a hairpiece (tantalizer). From that sixties onward, wedding dresses have often been based on Victorian styles. There was also a trend to medieval or renaissance theme weddings. Ethnic dress has also been revived, notably Celtic (with grooms in kilts) but also African and Austrian.
The first documented instance of a princess wearing a white wedding dress for a royal wedding ceremony is that of Philippa of England. In 1406, she wore a white silk cloak bordered in fur when wedding Eric of Pomerania.
This was not a widespread trend, however: prior to the Victorian period, a bride was married in any color, black being especially popular in Scandinavia.
White became a popular option in 1840, after the marriage of Queen Victoria. Illustrations of the wedding were widely published, and many brides opted for white in accordance with the Queen’s choice.
Even after that, wedding dresses were adapted to the styles of the day. In the early 1900s, clothing included a lot of lace or frills which was adopted in wedding apparel. In the 1920s, wedding gowns were typically short in the front with a longer train in the back and were worn with cloche-style veils.
Today, Western wedding dresses are usually white though “wedding white” includes shades such as eggshell or ecru. (My house painter suggested a shade of white called ‘antique wedding’ which was matte and off-white.) Of course a guest should never wear white to a wedding. It is poor form. A beige might pass, but better to wear any other colour than white.
Later, many people assumed that the color white was intended to symbolize virginity though this was not the original intention. Blue was associated with purity, piety, fidelity and the Virgin Mary.
Current Bridal Trends
About 75 percent of the wedding dresses on the market are strapless or sleeveless, in part because such dresses require less skill from the designers and seem easier to alter. (It also seems that some women want to look more seductive or glamorous on the big day.) However, the sleeved wedding gown as well as wedding gowns with straps have both become more popular in recent years. A shawl or sleeves may be required by certain religions.
Having modelled many gowns, I do not recommend the strapless gown as it can droop. Two problems arise. First, the dress tends to look tight on the bride. Second, the boning required to keep the bust supported and the ribcage held may become uncomfortable. One quick fix is to have a seamstress attach with elastic ‘wings’ of fabric even with decorations to connect the bodice to the upper arm/edge of shoulder. An easily removable lace or tulle shawl also should be worn over the shoulders.
QUICK FASHION FLASH: Jean-Paul Gaultier has a great collection of wedding gowns from the finales of his fashion shows. Love is love! This exhibit remains a must-see.
Photo of pale pink gown from LOVE IS LOVE at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2017.