Thursday, September 25, 2008

All Dressed In White

It's really her fault. On February 10, 1840 the wedding of Queen Victoria of England and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha created a pattern for formal weddings that has come down over the 160+ years since. So what was it about her wedding gown that changed the way women dressed for their weddings?

Victoria wore all white - white wedding gown, white veil, white flowers (orange blossoms, no less.) This is not to say that brides did not wear white before Victoria, however, they were as likely to wear other colors as well. There was no dominant wedding color, but the young Queen changed that tradition. She wore a soft white lace veil over her orange blossom (and diamond) wreath that brushed her fingertips and a white satin gown with a deep neckline, full skirt and lace flounces that made the wedding dress look like something from a fairy tale. And since she was a Queen already, royal fashion followers took up the tradition and we have all been slavishly following it ever since. (Here is a photo, circa 1854 of the royal couple recreating their wedding attire)

One of the things that made Victoria's royal wedding so different from other royal weddings was its deceptive simplicity. Instead of being wrapped in brocade and jewels, she wore a "simple white gown” and that seemed within the reach of the common people. Prince Albert went against a tradition of magnificence in the groom's attire and wore a simple uniform, thereby setting the tradition of restraint for the groom's wedding clothes. This restraint allowed the bride to standout in contrast and enabled her to be the center of attention. (A fun article about modern royal weddings is located here.)

Queen Victoria had everything - wealth, power, the Crown Jewels - but she was no beauty in a time when beauty was the standard against which women were measured. Yet she had managed to find the love of her life and for that day, she set the standard for beauty for all young women and guaranteed that on her wedding day, any bride was beautiful.

Victoria’s wedding gown also changed the attitude of brides everywhere – where before it was acceptable to wear your best dress to your wedding and keep wearing the dress, there was now a new tradition that wearing a wedding dress was a one-time only event. The dress was to become a sentimental treasure all the more cherished because of its one time designated use. Victorians were nothing if not impractically sentimental – and brides have been following that tradition ever since!

So when you accept that wedding invitation and watch the bride come down the aisle, all dressed in white, looking beautiful and radiant, as her groom stands at the altar simply dressed, take a moment, and think about Queen Victoria and her part in creating our wedding tradition of white.

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