Banner of Wedding Dresses in a store display from Pexels

The Tradition and Origins of the White Wedding

The meaning why woman wear white wedding dresses and why we still do this tradition.

There have always associated white with weddings because the colour white for weddings is closely connected with virginity and purity of the soul. No other colour was used for weddings as much as white after the 1800s. The frosting, the dress, the decor are some examples of what is used for white weddings.

A wedding originally was business deal between to families. It was mostly to join families together. When people were getting married they would wear their best clothes for the ceremony. This could have been a borrowed dress or a new dress not torn and frayed. Many employers would hand down dresses or purchase garments that they knew their employees would not be able to afford.

The few dress colours people wore and why:

  • Blue – Symbolizing purity because of it’s close association with the Virgin Mary
  • Black – Common colour for anyone before the Victorian age
  • Red – Common for Celts to symbolize fertility. In China since the Ming Dynasty over 650 years ago, India and Vietnam for good luck.
  • Patterned – Usually their best dress. Most likely a church-going dress.
  • Rich/Bold Colours and Attachables – Showing off wealth. Sometimes wore furs, velvets, rare fabrics and silks
  • Deerskin – Delaware tribes would wear deerskin skirts especially for winter weddings
  • Pearl, Ivory or Lavender – widowers re-marrying with furs or ostrich feathers and but without bridesmaids. The dresses were usually two shades away from white.
  • White – originally worn by Hopi brides of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. They wore a white robe with red stripes at the top and bottom of the outfit.

The first documented time a royal wore white on her wedding day was Philippa of England when she married Eric of Pomerania. She wore a tunic with a cloak in white silk that bordered with grey squirrel and ermine fur in 1406. Then 150 years later at the wedding ceremony between Mary, Queen of Scots and Francis, the Dauphin of France, Queen Mary wore white because it was her favorite colour. At the time dark colours like black were the norm and popular at the time.

The white cloth wedding dress was popularized by Queen Victoria. On February 10th 1840, she wore a white silk gown with lace when she married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

At the time it was an unusual choice of colour because white stained easily. She designed the dress herself because even though at the time Queen Victoria was already Queen she wanted the day to be more about getting married and having a milestone than a business/political transaction. She designed the dress to be more for a personal reflection than what was usually worn. It was considered too plain when she wore it. White was also considered to be a mourning colour when she wore it. Her dress didn’t include jewels, pearls and velvet robes on her dress. But her dress was meant to promote Devon lace making. The original lace is called Honiton lace and it wasn’t that white, it was a handwoven cream-coloured lace motif onto machine-made lace. The dress was used to demonstrate support for the English industry.

“I wore a white satin dress, with a deep flounce of Honiton lace, an imitation of an old design. My jewels were my Turkish diamond necklace & earrings & dear Albert’s beautiful sapphire brooch.”

-In a journal describing Queen Victoria’s dress choice.

The last person to wear the Queen’s dress was her daughter, Princess Beatrice in 1885. In 2012, there were reports of her dress in storage being preserved in Kensington palace because the lace was becoming too delicate.

It was a day marketed to be a princess for a day.

This revitalized the lace industry in England. The fashion of the lace gown was copied for baptisms and weddings. Many people who wanted a wedding designed it like the royal family. The wedding dress started to symbolize more the wealth and status of the wearer and their family. The trend started from the Royal family then to the rich and wealthy then commoners then to everyone. It became a colour most associated with purity after a while and anybody was free to wear the white colour for their wedding day because it became the tradition. Also nowadays, most wedding dresses don’t have to make a political statement like Queen Victoria’s dress. Most dresses started to become larger, lacey, and poufier as time goes by.

But white dresses were not the only items white in a wedding. The cake, ribbons and bouquets were also white. For weddings, most brides ordered wedding cakes with white frosting to symbolize purity and tradition. In modern time, we have towered wedding cakes with a miniature bride and groom on top. This was a tradition that started with Queen Victoria’s wedding as well. Her cake was the first cake to have a miniature bride and groom and some of the first cakes to have three-tiers than the two separate cakes for one groom and one bride. The first three-tier cake was premiered at Great Exhibition of Crystal Palace Exhibition in London which was a technology fair that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert went to during their run.

Around the time of the Royal wedding cake decoration was became elaborate with piping over the icing. Before the 1800s, cake decoration considered pouring icing over the cake when it was baking to create a hard sugar shell over the cake. They used fondant, icing and buttercream to decorate cakes with patterned treats. Animals, flowers, birds, gold and pearls were used as decoration on cake decoration.

Queen Victoria was the first international wedding that was publicized around the world. Her influence in wedding day attire is still viewed today.


There are more traditions that incorporated good luck and purity for the wedding. The bouquet and veil are still worn. The veil was worn to fend off evil spirits during the ceremony. The bouquet was laced with garlic to fend off evil spirits, too. The garlic concealed body odour. The garlic was embroidered into their gowns and in their bouquets.

MarryJim – History of wedding dresses

The Enchanted Manor – Celebration – British Royal Wedding Cakes

Bustle – Why Do Brides Wear Veils and White Dresses? The Bizarre History Of 5 Wedding Traditions

The Vintage News – How Queen Victoria’s wedding gown changed wedding fashion

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