Today, little girls are often kept awake at night by the dreams of their wedding. They fantasize about a perfect wedding reception, glowing dress, and prince charming. In the Middle Ages, however, weddings were much different. Ironically, in the days of actual princesses, weddings were a much less glamorous affair. Little girls were still kept awake at night but most likely out of fear of being married off to some strange man to solidify an alliance or grant family wealth. Yes, weddings were vastly different then, and unsurprisingly, so were wedding gowns. Most brides did not wear the white gowns most wear today. Instead, they tried to exhibit their family’s wealth, wearing the most striking colors made with the rarest of materials. Blue was an especially popular color, as it represented purity and piety. Some colors were avoided, such as green, because it represented bad luck. In 1500s France, the now-traditional white was also avoided, as it was worn for mourning. This, however, did not prevent Mary, Queen of Scots, from wearing her favorite color on her wedding night. The majority of those who were not as powerful and wealthy could not afford to buy a gown for their wedding night and simply wore their best dress.
More modern trends began to emerge in 1840 when the English Queen Victoria married her cousin. Well, perhaps the wedding was not terribly modern, but Queen Victoria shone in a beautiful white gown that would later inspire many other brides. This trend traversed the sea, appearing in the American magazine Godey’s Lady Book, which claimed the best color for a wedding dress was white. White was, however, a hard color to obtain, and only the wealthy could afford it during the 1800s. It was also expensive to buy a gown and only wear it once. That is why most did not buy white gowns during the Great Depression; instead, they followed the example of the past and wore their best dress. A great economy post-World War II inspired many more to buy a wedding dress, and the industry is still growing strong today. Though most wedding dresses are white, the style often varies depending on the style of the time. For example, following the trends of the 1920s, dresses were typically short in front and long in back. But in the 1940s, when full skirts reminiscent of the Victorian Era were more popular, gowns were designed in this style.
So far, we’ve focused on the wedding gown in European culture, but many other cultures have interesting traditions regarding the garment. For example, each Native American tribe has a unique take on the dress. For the Hopi, the groom and other men who want to help weave the wedding outfit from many parts, such as three white wedding robes, one with red stripes at the bottom, white buckskin leggings, and moccasins. The bride is also buried with these garments, as they are believed a necessity in traversing the underworld. In the Delaware tribe, the bride wears a knee-high deerskin skirt and traditional wampum beads on her forehead. Except for necklaces or beads, the bride’s torso is completely bare. In the winter, the outfit is completely changed. The bride protects her feet with moccasins, replaces the skirt with deerskin leggings, and wears a robe made of turkey feathers. Her face is then painted with clay of red, yellow, and white.
Brides of Eastern cultures often wear red or a mixture of red and white, as red symbolizes good luck. Many Chinese brides today choose to wear the more Western white dress and then wear red at the traditional tea ceremony. A red silk sari is the traditional outfit for an Indian bride. However, as in times past, new fabrics and colors have been made available. Japanese brides, differing much from Western wedding culture, wear at least three gowns during their weddings. At these events, the bride wears a white kimono, symbolizing death, as she is now dead to her family. Under this, the bride wears red, symbolizing rebirth, as she is being reborn into her husband’s family.
Gowns differ greatly from era to era and from culture to culture. Thankfully today, both the most popular fashions manufactured and a variety of styles can be purchased. Thus, little girls can stay awake at night dreaming up their perfect gown and rest assured that when their day comes, they’ll be wearing it.
“History of Wedding Dresses.” History of Wedding Dresses. Web. 11 July 2014. https://www.marryjim.com/en/page/show/id/30/template/history.
“The Intriguing History Of Wedding Gowns.” All That Is Interesting. 1 Aug. 2013. Web. 13 July 2014. http://all-that-is-interesting.com/history-of-wedding-gowns.