Imagine you are at a wedding, waiting for the bride to walk down the aisle. She emerges but instead of the pearly white that a bride would normally wear, this bride is in purple.
Before Queen Victoria of England married Prince Albert, brides chose any colour to wear for their wedding. The bride would wear the most elegant gown she owned, but a lady of the higher classes would have a brand new dress made for her. The dress could be any colour she desired and would be used many times after the wedding.
Queen Victoria chose white for her 1840 nuptials because it highlighted the Honiton lace pattern on her dress. The lace industry in Honiton, Devon was collapsing at the time, and when the lace was created for Victoria’s dress the industry revived.
White represented purity and being undamaged; it also implied that the family had money to create the dress and clean it, if it was ever stained. A white dress was impractical due to the activities after the ceremony that could dirty the dress. A working-class woman would never be able to afford a white dress.
The trend of white dresses started after illustrations of Queen Victoria’s wedding came out and were viewed by the world. Wealthier brides opted for a white dress and white soon became a status symbol.
During the Great Depression, prices for white fabric went up so brides would instead use off-white hues or lighter colours. But after World War II, white became more prevalent in dresses as it was affordable again.
When Princess Diana wore her ivory silk taffeta wedding dress in 1981, the white dress became set in stone in western cultures.
Submitted by Madisen Naughton, Assistant Curator-Tour Guide, Pioneer Home Museum