Where does the white wedding dress come from? And other wedding dress traditions

May 19, 2015

Where do wedding traditions come from? Where does the white wedding dress come from?

If you have been reading these posts as I have been sharing them you will realise how much I have been enjoying researching the whys and wherefores of wedding traditions. I could never have imagined half of the information I have found out so far. I do love a ‘useless’ fact! Today we’re going to talk about the bride and the traditions behind what you may wear for your wedding day. This post is all about the wedding dress, veil and garter! Where does the white wedding dress come from?

Outdoor wedding ceremony at Thornbury Castle Gloucestershire

For Senia and Jeffrey’s Thornbury Castle wedding in full – click here

Bride with backless dress walking with groom in Scottish kilt - natural wedding photography by Fiona Kelly London wedding photographer

For Emma and Fraser’s Putney wedding photography in full – click here

Blonde bride smiling at Wadhurst Castle wedding

For Alice and Charlie’s Wadhurst Castle wedding photography in full – click here

White wedding dress hanging from four poster bed Hedsor House

For Sinhoue and Kevin’s Hedsor House wedding in full – click here

What does the wedding veil symbolise?

The Ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the veil (along with the bridal party) would serve as protection against evil spirits who were thought to be out to get the bride as she was considered vulnerable to magic. The cynic in me thinks this could talk for ‘changing her mind’ as it doesn’t sound like women had much choice over who to marry. Over the years the veil has symbolised youth, virginity and modesty, humility and respect. The veils haven’t always been white – Roman brides wore yellow and red (to symbolise fire scaring off the evil spirits), whilst Viking queens wore metal skullcaps! In fact, in Roman times the veil was a complete covering from head to toe and would be later be used as her burial shroud – sort of puts a dampener on proceedings.

The more practical aspect of the veil was that should the groom, not like the look of his bride, this delayed the reaction until he had married her and it was too late!  The Victorians changed the meaning of the veil into one of a status symbol where the weight, length and quality were a sign of the position in society. Royal brides had the longest veils and trains of all.

bride looking at groom with veil blowing in wind

For Erin and Rory’s stormy Farbridge Barn wedding photography in full – click here

bride standing with long veil and groom holding it down behind her

For Lydia and Thomas elegant Cambridge wedding photography in full – click here

bride wearing birdcage veil standing next to groom in navy suit

For Flo and Ross’ Frasers Farm wedding photography – click here

black and white portrait of couple at Leeds Castle wedding

For Heather and Jay’s Leeds Castle wedding photography in full – click here

Elegant slim fitted white wedding dress hanging from wooden beam with lace edged veil - The tradition of the wedding veil and white wedding dress - Fiona Kelly wedding photographer

Where does the tradition of wedding headpieces come from?

Finnish brides wore crowns adorned with silver and gold – perhaps this might carry over to the flower crown popular trend, which itself derives from pagan and medieval weddings where brides wore crowns made of flowers and herbs.

Magic golden hour - Bride with floral headpiece and short lace sleeves stands with groom in blue blazer - The tradition of the wedding veil and white wedding dress - natural wedding photographer - Fiona Kelly

For Emma and Fraser’s Putney wedding photography in full – click here

Capturing your wedding story - Black and white photo of bride adjusting veil in back of wedding car - The tradition of the wedding veil and white wedding dress - natural wedding photographer - Fiona Kelly

For Emma and Fraser’s Putney wedding photography in full – click here

Bohemian bride wearing delicate head band and strappy wedding dress smiling

For Mariana and Simon’s Gaynes Park wedding in full – click here

Smiling bride wearing bright flowers in hair holding bright bouquet

For Lauren and Tom’s Sussex wedding photography in full – click here

Groom whispering in bride's ear standing in field

For Lucy and Nick’s Kent wedding photography in full – click here

Why not choose two wedding dresses?

If you’re having trouble choosing between 2 dresses, don’t choose and wear both! Just a few decades ago it was en vogue to change into a different outfit to leave your wedding reception and travel to your honeymoon destination! Nowadays the bride sometimes selects a slinkier dress or a shorter dress to wear to hit the dance floor! Sometimes there may be a change of outfit because a second ceremony is included in the day, reflecting the heritage and culture of one partner.

Bride in short satin wedding dress with groom in blue suit - The tradition of the wedding veil and white wedding dress - natural wedding photographer - Fiona Kelly

For Becky and Dave’s Preston Court wedding photography in full – click here

Bespoke pink lace short wedding dress - The tradition of the wedding veil and white wedding dress - Capturing your wedding story - natural wedding photographer - Fiona Kelly

Capturing your wedding story - Bride in short dress dances with groom in kilt to ceilidh - The tradition of the wedding veil and white wedding dress - natural wedding photographer - Fiona Kelly

For Emma and Fraser’s Putney wedding photography in full – click here

Bride in short colourful dress dances with groom Kensington wedding

For Jumana and Sabih’s Roof gardens wedding photography in full – click here

 

Where does the white wedding dress come from?

Where did the white wedding dress come from? Back in biblical days, it was blue that represented purity, hence “something blue”. The Greeks used white robes to symbolize youth, joy and purity, but the white wedding dress has not always been fashionable. Today, white or ivory are ever-popular colours but pastel shades and stronger colours are beginning to become more popular again.

Queen Victoria was responsible for a lot of the trends that we see in Western weddings today. She was the one who started the Western world’s white wedding dress trend – before then, brides simply wore their best dress. The then Princess Victoria also established the tradition of playing Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” during her wedding processional in 1858. In Japan, white was always the colour of choice for bridal ensembles, long before it was popularised it in the Western world. Queen Victoria’s wedding dress was made from white silk satin adorned with intricately ornate Honiton lace. She was the first Royal to wear white and due to the cost of materials for a long time, only the very wealthy wore a similar style. Up until the 1930s, women would often get married in dresses they already owned or buy new, reusable dresses in darker colours that wouldn’t stain. The white, full-skirted “once-in-a-lifetime” wedding dress likely originated with department store bridal salons in the late ’20s, who saw the money-making potential of marketing expensive dresses that women would never wear again.

Before then, wedding dresses had typically followed fashion hemlines of the moment, but the bridal industry attempted to “maximize profits by promoting more expensive floor-length gowns.” That ideal wedding dress was promoted throughout wedding magazines and advertisements. In the ’60s, the Bridal Apparel Association even commissioned studies that attempted to prove that a white wedding dress made for a more stable marriage.

Lace and voile white wedding dress with short lace sleeves - the tradition of the wedding veil and white wedding dress - natural wedding photographer - Fiona Kelly

For Kate and Cory’s intimate Chelsea wedding photography in full – click here

bride getting ready before wedding

Big tulle white wedding dress hanging on fishtanks at minimalist venue - the tradition of the wedding veil and white wedding dress - natural wedding photographer - Fiona Kelly

bride gets ready putting on delicate lace wedding dress

For Cynthia and Panawat’s Pembroke Lodge wedding photography in full – click here

Wedding traditions explained: why do brides wear a garter at their wedding?

Have you been at a wedding where the bride has thrown the garter? This may be more popular in the States, but it derives from a rather intrusive English custom called ‘flinging the stocking’, where guests would steal the bride’s stockings from the wedding chamber to check if the marriage had been consummated, and then take turns flinging them. Whoever threw the one that landed on the groom’s nose would be next to marry. I think I hear brides up and down the country breathing a sigh of relief that this isn’t still a ‘thing’.

As if that wasn’t intrusive enough, it used to be the way in France that wedding guests would rip a piece of the bride’s dress off her for good luck, and so the bride would end up standing in rags. Somewhere along the way, it was decided that throwing the garter to the guests would be a good way to calm things down. Phew! And so it is now that the garter is sometimes thrown by the groom to his bachelor pals, as an equivalent to throwing the bouquet to the ladies. It was once quite the esteemed prize!

Bride putting on crochet garter - modern wedding photography - the tradition of the wedding veil and white wedding dress - natural wedding photographer - Fiona Kelly

For Natasha and Andrew’s Walled Garden at Cowdray wedding photography in full, click here

The lace garter on a windowsill - modern wedding photography - the tradition of the wedding veil and white wedding dress - natural wedding photographer - Fiona Kelly

The Gloves

Whilst brides wearing gloves may be a rare occasion, gloves were the wedding favour for all guests during the 18th and 19th centuries. Now brides may wear them to represent elegance and grace, but also to remember a vintage era.

blue vintage lace bridesmaid dresses holding babies breath bouquets with white gloves

For Millie & Dan’s Fetcham Park wedding photography in full click here

bride at Fetcham Park wedding

For Millie and Dan’s Fetcham Park wedding photography in full – click here

The Train

The wedding dress tradition often includes the debate – How long will the train be? The tradition of the train dates back to the Middle Ages when the length of the train indicated your place in the court hierarchy. The longer the train, the greater the position with the King and Queen.

bride looks at her reflection in halter neck sleek wedding dress

For Genna and Callum’s Moor Park wedding photography in full – click here

traditional wedding dress with long train at Moor Park wedding

For Jennie and Edward’s Moor Park Mansion wedding photography in full – click here

delicate lace train lying on floor

For Sarah and Andy’s Town Hall wedding in London, click here

Elegant La Sposa bride at Thornbury Castle

For Senia and Jeffrey’s Thornbury Castle wedding in full – click here

 

Hope this latest instalment “where did the white wedding dress come from” of the Wedding traditions posts has been of interest. If you have any thoughts on any of these traditions I would love to hear from you.

Do check out the other posts in my UK wedding traditions series including why we have a wedding ceremony, why we have wedding cake and champagne toasts, the history of the wedding rings, why we have bridal showers, hen parties and stag dos and the tradition of bridesmaids, groomsmen and the best man.

Thanks for popping by.

Fiona x

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