It wasn’t long ago that impending nuptials had nothing to do with shopping for a white dress. Before the Victorian era, which started in 1840 with the reign of Queen Victoria, the color of your wedding dress was negligible. It wasn’t until Queen Victoria walked down the aisle wearing an ivory lace gown that English elites began to copy the trend. Before this, any color was permissible, with black being especially popular in Scandinavian countries.
While the assumption may have been that Queen Victoria was attempting to draw attention to her virginal ways, the dress was more about frugality. In those days, royal wedding gowns or elite marriages were truly ostentatious affairs that were meant to show off the wealth of the marrying families. Dresses heavy with jewels or embroidered with shells and flowers that were worth the equivalent today of $1.3 million (adjusted for inflation) were some of the insane choices that brides were making at the time.
Instead, Queen Victoria’s simple ivory gown of lace, accented with a myrtle and orange blossom crown on her head, was seen as downright dull. What Queen Victoria was doing though, was demonstrating that she was prudent and frugal and that she would run England much the same way she had run her wedding.
Then, in 1849, Godey’s Lady Book (which was like the Vogue of those times), decided that white was the best color for young brides to wear since it demonstrated the girls’ purity and unsullied heart and body. However, this wasn’t what made the white wedding dress trend catch on. What really made it timeless was that it made the marrying couple look wealthy.
Like today, wearing all white isn’t exactly practical if you have to do anything but stand around and look pretty. For this reason, working-class people rarely ever owned anything white. A wedding was (and is) a bit of a wild affair. In a time without dry cleaners, there was a good chance your dress would be ruined. This was incredibly impractical for a working-class woman who needed to save every penny.
It wasn’t until after the Second World War when the middle class experienced a massive prosperity boom that white wedding dresses became common among working people. Once Hollywood started showing movies of girls walking down the aisle in white, it became standard fare.
However, as JJ’s House designer Jessica points out, white isn’t the only color on the docket anymore. Colored wedding dresses are pushing back in and shades of everything from pale pink, to smoke gray, to bright ombre dresses are showing up on racks.
As brides find ways to stretch their budget and show their personality, the variety of colors that wedding dresses come in is getting more and more creative. Many brides have even started breaking away from traditional wedding dresses and instead are going with off-the-rack dresses being marketed for wedding guests or formal events. These dresses often vary in color and can add a bold, modern feel to a wedding (though it’s actually a very old tradition in the end).