When we think about bridal wear, we usually imagine beautiful, white wedding gowns… and you probably THINK you know why…

We’ve all been told something along these lines: the white wedding gowns represent virginal innocence and is a tradition handed down by our forefathers.  That idea will sit just fine with many traditionally-minded brides, but some brides might not feel comfortable with by-gone notions about womanhood.

Well, fear-not modern brides, the truth is that bridal white has more to do with BUCKING TRADITION than you ever thought!

The custom of the white dress has much more recent origins than you would imagine- it’s less than 180 years old!

But it does have a lot to do with PRINCESSES…

Specifically, Princess Alexandrina Victoria of the House of Hanover… you’ve probably heard of her as QUEEN VICTORIA.

Breaking wedding gown traditions

In 1840, the 20-year-old Lady Regent Victoria eschewed royal bridal tradition, which prescribed wearing heavy furs and richly colored gowns with gold embroidery. She walked down the aisle in a simple white frock accented with British-made Honiton lace and a crown of orange blossoms.

The choice was a radical departure from royal pomp and circumstance- it could even be seen as an act of BRIDAL REBELLION!

What motivated Victoria’s choice?  She wanted to showcase the handmade Honiton lace, knowing that her clothing choice would be widely reported. Victoria saw she could use her wedding gown to give a boost to the failing British lace industry.

Moreover, Victoria wanted to meet her husband at the marriage alter as an equal partner, not as his superior in rank. In that way, wearing white was a symbol of Victoria’s love for Albert- and of a fresh start to their new life together.  

Like any bold fashion rebellion, Victoria’s choice set a trend that has lasted for over 180 years. Victoria and Prince Albert’s wedding was publicized in European papers for months. Clothiers began pushing bridal white to the wealthy leisure class, who were eager to imitate the young monarch.  For a hundred years following, the luxury of a pristine white dress meant only to be worn on one occasion remained an option only the wealthy could afford. It wasn’t until after World War II that white wedding gowns became the standard for middle-class brides!

Make your own tradition! (Victoria sure did…)

You can be a QUEEN and buck tradition, too. Wear a gown in your favorite color, wear jeans and a bikini top, wear an inflatable T-Rex suit… it really doesn’t matter.  It’s your wedding, your marriage… it should represent you and your partner. It should make you feel CONFIDENT, BEAUTIFUL and bring you JOY!  

Perhaps it would make your day meaningful to follow the clothing traditions of your cultural or ethnic heritage. For example, in many Asian cultures, RED dresses are worn in wedding festivities to symbolize joy and good luck! Remember Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’s gorgeous 5-day Indian wedding, with multiple gowns – and suits! Their wedding reflected the union of the couple’s cultures.

There are many other wedding wardrobe traditions that may bring added meaning to your special day. Don’t forget you can pick and choose how to incorporate aspects of those traditions, even if you want a more conventional wedding look!  For example, brides from Scottish heritage may wear a Tartan shawl over their white gown!

When it’s time to shop for a wedding gown, it should be a reflection of you and the traditions you want to embrace (or defy) as you begin your new life together!