In many societies the color white has long been associated with purity and virtue, and that is one reason why some brides choose to wear white, especially in the West. More often than not, though, you will hear claims that brides wear white because “it’s tradition.”
But, historically, white was not the only color considered for wedding dresses. In fact, other colors were chosen far more frequently than white. For many centuries in Western societies, wedding dresses were of all different colors. This was for reasons of practicality as much as anything else. Brides tended to buy a wedding dress that could be worn again, or they simply wore the best dress they already owned.
And white does not lend itself to practicality: it is difficult to keep clean and is therefore not ideal for many situations or for repeat wear. Many brides chose to wear dresses of other colors for their wedding—and beyond. So why do so many of today’s brides wear white? They do so largely thanks to a trend that started with Queen Victoria’s 1840 wedding to Prince Albert.
Not unlike today, royal weddings in yonder years received a lot of coverage—albeit not in as many different mediums as we have now—and thus had a tendency to be trendsetting.
The nuptials of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were no exception. So when Victoria opted to wear a white gown (reportedly to show off the fine detailed Honiton lace produced by the British lace industry, which was floundering at the time), her fashion choice was widely reported in newspapers and magazines and was soon influencing domestic as well as international wedding trends.
Initially embraced by wealthier brides, the trend of a white wedding gown eventually spread across all economic levels and was cemented as “tradition” in the 20th century.