Imagine a woman wearing a royal blue gown trimmed with mink. It’s got a gold-embroidered, heavy skirt with heirloom jewels, too. Not what you’d consider the “traditional” Western wedding gown, right?
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Colorful gowns were the norm for brides in the West back in the day. Pristine, white, fairy-tale wedding dresses, to be worn once and then tucked away, weren't popular until relatively recently.
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When Queen Victoria debuted a white silk-spun gown at her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840, the look took root. She wore a simple white dress accented with Honiton lace and traded her crown for a wreath of orange blossoms and myrtle.
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Guests found it underwhelming. Where was the pomp and circumstance? Back then, families sometimes took the opportunity to express their affluence through brides. Think shells, rare flowers and heavy, expensive jewels.
By showing up in a white dress, it seemed the Queen was having a frugal affair. She wanted to show good sense and prudence as an example of how she would run the country.
The lace she chose for the dress was meaningful — a way for her to support the declining lace trade and boost the industry. White was the best way to show off a lace makers' artistry.
By 1849, Godey's Lady's Book, the “Vogue” of the Victorian world, decreed white as the most fitting hue for wedding dresses, declaring it a symbol of purity and the innocence of girlhood.
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The white dress symbolized a pure heart, yes. But it also looked like money. Remember, there weren't dry cleaners and laundromats around in the late 19th-century, so it took some dough to maintain a white outfit. And that’s a reason the color choice became so fashionable.
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Wedding gowns of other colors were still worn, too, for many reasons. Elizabeth Taylor only wore white to two of her eight weddings. Sarah Jessica Parker wore a black ball gown in 1997. And Julianne Moore wore lavender Prada in 2003.
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Even though a white dress is now considered “traditional’,” brides can still walk down the aisle representing the same refreshing and unexpected spirit Queen Victoria embodied when she popularized it 178 years ago.