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The Wedding Dress

So, what is a wedding dress? Obviously, it’s a dress… but…is that all????

Well, no…

A wedding dress is defined as a ceremonially important piece of clothing worn by a bride on her wedding day. The ceremonies are as varied as the stars in the sky. In some of the Eastern Cultures, a bride wears red on her wedding day. The color red symbolizes a life of promise and good luck. In Japanese weddings, brides often wear many colorful dresses throughout the ceremony and the following festivities. In our Western Society, most brides opt for the color white.

Before we talk about the actual dress, we need to understand a little about the concept of marriage throughout history….

Our modern-day wedding is a ceremony that celebrates the promise of love and commitment between two people. That notion of a personal agreement is a relatively new phenomenon. From the very beginnings of human history until relatively recently, marriage was viewed as an economic agreement between two families. It was to either strengthen land claims, further economic security, or to keep the bloodline pure.

In many cases, love had absolutely nothing to do with the marriage.

When two families enter into a marriage agreement, it was necessary to put their "best foot forward" to the other family. Consequently, one's wedding clothing was chosen to reflect the bride and her family in the best light,. Especially in terms of wealth. (luxurious fabrics and jewels) and social standing (families importance in the social structure of the community) For most of history, brides rarely purchased a new gown specifically for their wedding day. The color wasn't that important. The bride would wear her "best" dress. If one did choose a color, Dark Blue, was a popular choice. It was said to represent piety and purity. It was also easy to keep clean and could be worn for many other occasions. Our ancestors were practical if they were anything.

But, in the early 1840s, along comes that trendsetter Queen Victoria and her lovely white wedding gown. Before I go any further, I do need to point out….The idea of a white wedding gown is nothing new.

In ancient Rome, women wore white as a tribute to the goddess of Marriage and Fertility.

There are many instances of women wearing white during the middle ages. One such is the Royal Wedding of Philippa of England to Eric of Pomerania in 1402. Philippa wore "a tunic and cloak of white silk, trimmed in ermine and squirrel." It is said she choose white as a symbol of purity and innocence.

Mary, Queen of Scots wore white to her wedding to the Dauphin of France. (1559) As well as being her favorite color, interestingly, in the French court, white was also the color of the Queen's mourning. I wonder if she was trying to tell us something.

Then along came Queen Victoria, who brought the “white” wedding dress to a whole new level. It wasn’t that Queen Victoria got up one morning and decided to make white the “required” wedding dress color. It was more to do with the “media” of the time. The queens wedding was a big deal in 1840’s Britain. Everyone wanted to emulate the lovely young Queen, who was soon to be a bride. This fact, coupled with the availability of thousands of pictures of the bride Victoria in her beautiful white Honiton Lace and Silk gown evolved into the fashion trend that still survives today.

Whether white or any other color, the wedding dress has always followed the fashion of the time.

Like in days of old, brides were still interested in showing off their wealth and social rank. Post Queen Vikki, this became much easier no matter which economic level one was at.

The industrial revolution had made sumptuous fabrics much more accessible, and the advent of the sewing machine made the dress much more ornate and impractical.

From early times, only the very rich were able to have a purpose made gown in white. In the dying process, pure, bright white is a hard color to obtain and even harder to keep clean. The white of 1870 is much duller than the eggshell white we equate with a wedding dress of today. One would need staff who knew the formulas to make that flat white as bright as it could possibly be.

During the Belle Epoch (the time when there was more money floating around than people knew what to do with), the wedding gown was elevated to high art. This is also when you start to see couturier gowns constructed of layer upon layer on expensive silks and lace. Some to the point of weighing upwards of 20 lbs!

The white wedding dress trend started to die out after the first world war and into the depression years. Mostly because cash was scarce and the money to purchase a gown was needed for other things. Like living…

Then, comes the mid-century, and the economy is starting to pick up again. People are beginning to recover from the depression years, there’s is more money to spend on "luxuries." Women were anxious to go back and pick up that tradition of a special purpose made white wedding gown. The “trend” of the white wedding gown is still as strong as ever and doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon.

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