Modern brides typically wear long white gowns that sometimes feature lace or bead details and flowing veils. Wedding fashions in the 1500s differed dramatically from this modern look. For wealthier women, the Renaissance and Elizabethan styles of the 16th century featured fuller gowns made of rich materials. A poorer woman would commemorate her wedding day by making a nice dress that could be worn again on other special occasions.
The tradition of a bride wearing white to symbolize her purity did not emerge until the 18th century. Brides in the 1500s wore dresses of any color. Richer women could afford expensive dyes to make dresses in shades of red, purple or black. Women from the lower classes wore green, grey, black, orange or tan gowns from homemade dyes. Brides often wore blue gowns or blue ribbons to symbolize their virginity and their husbands' faithfulness.
Brides in the 16th century made wedding gowns out of the most luxurious and costly materials their families could afford. Satin, damask, velvet, corduroy and fur were prized among the upper classes. These fabrics often featured interwoven gold or silver thread. Poorer women created gowns out of fine homespun materials. These fabrics were spun, woven and dyed by hand.
Wedding dresses in the 1500s featured large amounts of fabric. Full-length gowns were the norm, and richer brides wore dresses with trains and long, flowing sleeves to flaunt their wealth. Typical skirts were large and gathered to create fullness. Elizabethan wedding dresses for upper-class women often had low-cut necklines to draw attention to the bride's breasts. Ruffs of silk or linen adorned the necks or cuffs of these wedding dresses as a further sign of wealth.
Brides in the 1500s often accessorized their dresses to add further expense and detail. Middle class women adorned their dresses with streamers, ribbons, flowers and other less expensive accessories. Richer women wore dresses with precious stones sewn onto them. Small diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls, sapphires and other stones made the wedding dress sparkle in the light. Some women also accessorized their gowns with capes or expensive furs.