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Why Do Brides Wear White Dresses?

Photograph by Twenty20

Just like any other style trends these days, the evolution of the white wedding dress can be traced to a celebrity of the time whose royal wedding forever changed the color future brides would choose.

While there's a smattering of white bridal gowns documented in centuries past (such as Philippa of England in 1406 and Mary Queen of Scots in 1558), the one credited with spurring the white gown trend was Queen Victoria of England.

Instead of donning red—one of the hues brides wore in her day (along with purple or blue)—Victoria set her own style for her nuptials to her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, on February 10, 1840.

The 18-year-old queen opted for a white gown made of silk, satin and lace that she herself designed. White was considered a very impractical color at the time, since garments were washed by hand. It was also considered a color of mourning and as puzzling as a present-day bride wearing black to her wedding. But Victoria, being the bold, avant-garde queen she was (Case in point: She was the one to propose to her future husband), used it as an opportunity to disembark from the status quo. What's more is that the color white didn't stop at her wedding gown. Victoria had all of her 12 bridesmaids dressed in white as well.

Equally as shocking as the white dresses? The accessories—or rather, lack there of—that the queen chose. While most royal brides would have been lavished in velvet robes and jewels, Victoria decided to forgo most of it. She even left her crown at home—instead wearing a simple wreath of orange blossoms.

As for her dress, Victoria had all of the materials sourced locally from England and repurposed materials—especially the lace—up until the celebration of her Diamond Jubilee in 1896.

The wedding was such an anticipated event that crowds lined the roads, with many spectators climbing trees to get a better view. And perhaps because the queen was considered a style icon of her day—albeit, usually a conservative one—her "shocking" bridal gown didn't receive the negative backlash that many likely expected.

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Rather, the white gown won over Godey's Lady's Book—a popular lady's monthly publication of the time—which decreed, "Custom has decided, from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one."

This declaration by Godey's cemented Victoria's style choice as the only way a bride should be wed—white became the wedding color not just of the decade but of the next century and beyond.

Though the styles of wedding gowns have continually evolved since then—from sleeves to sleeveless or full-gowned dresses to shorter hemlines—white or off-white has become the symbolic color for a bride in most parts of the world.

May it serve as a reminder that bold choices—even style choices—can and do change the course of history.

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