When every bride-to-be envisions her big day, there’s only one thing for certain: she’ll be wearing a white dress. While the origins of the wedding dress can be traced back to the Middle Ages, the tradition of wearing a white wedding dress was started by Queen Victoria in 1840, when she married Prince Albert. Prior to this, brides in the lower classes typically wore the nicest dress that they owned, while the more privileged brides chose gowns in rich shades of red.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Image from Gety Images.
Queen Victoria chose to wear white on her wedding day simply because it was her favorite color, but soon after, women of higher ranking began to follow suit. Not only did choosing to wear a white dress show their admired and looked up to the queen’s style and tastes, but wearing white was also a sign of wealth and privilege. During those days, white was almost impossible to be thoroughly cleaned and was also more expensive than other colors.
The 20th Century
At the turn of the century, white was still every bride’s choice of color, however mauve, pale pink and azure were also widely worn. The fortunes brought on by the Industrial Age allowed the nouveau riche access to wealth and privilege like never before. The most popular dress styles at the time included gigot sleeves, which were wide and puffy sleeves, and very high necklines.
Bride, 1910, Image from Pinterest.
The Jazz Age, the period of flappers and Prohibition, allowed the younger generation to express themselves through their clothing. Corsets were discarded, big skirts gave way to streamlined silhouettes, and high collars became low necklines. As with every decade, wedding dress trends mimicked the fashion trends at the time, which were all about dropped waistlines, ornate beading, intricate embroidery, headdresses (which replaced the traditional veil), and cloche hats.
Mary Pickford on her wedding day, 1920. Image from Buzzfeed.
As the world suffered during the Great Depression, wedding dresses were usually made from cheap fabrics such as rayon, as coveted fabrics like silk and satin were very expensive. Just like before Queen Victoria’s wedding, brides during this time chose to be frugal and wear their best dress in lieu of a wedding gown.
A newly married couple in the 1940s. Image from Pinterest.
The Second World War prioritized practicality over fashion. Brides, agreeing to overnight marriages before their loved ones departed for the front lines, usually wore their Sunday best. As the battles went on and funds were depleted and rationed, brides used DIY methods of utilizing leftover fabrics to make dresses, such as lace curtains for veils.
Prosperity after the end of the war resulted in the comeback of femininity, elegance, and fashion. Formal white gowns were the rage, with lacy tiers and frilly flounces as the popular styles. The sweetheart neckline became popular at this time, as a result of Elizabeth Taylor’s role in Father of The Bride. In 1956, Grace Kelly’s wedding dress, designed by Helen Rose of MGM, basically set the tone for bridal trends of the decade and remains to be one of the most iconic wedding dresses of all time.
Elizabeth Taylor in Father of the Bride. Image from Pinterest.
Grace Kelly and Prince Rainer III of Monaco, 1956. Image from Getty Images.