What Is the Meaning of a White Wedding Dress?

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When a bride plans for her special day, she starts by shopping for the perfect wedding dress. At boutiques across the world the consensus seems to be the same; the majority of the wedding gowns are white or ivory. The Monroe County Historical Association states, "The tradition of the white dress began when Queen Victoria donned a magnificent white gown for her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840." White was once a color that was hard to get for the common bride, it was typically only worn by royalty. Ever since white fabric became more affordable, brides have worn white on their wedding day.


According to the online resource From Times Past, Queen Victoria wearing a white gown in her wedding to Prince Albert started the trend in wearing white. At this time, white was a more expensive fabric, only able to be purchased by royalty or the wealthy. Brides couldn't afford to purchase a wedding dress to only be worn one time, so most of them would wear their best Sunday attire or a suit dress. As the Great Depression and World War II era ended, bride's started wearing more white for their wedding gowns and after the marriage of Grace Kelly in the 1950s, brides started incorporating their individual style into the gowns to make them more elaborate.


The significance of wearing a white wedding gown in the 21st century is still thought to mean that the bride is pure. The website For Times Past states that, "in Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1849, this statement was printed: 'Custom has decided, from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one.'” While history shows us that it was in fact the demand for the white wedding dress that once made it so popular as that kind of fabric was not made available to everyone until after the Industrial Revolution.

Time Frame

The trend started in 1840 when Queen Victoria wore the white gown in her marriage to Prince Albert. In the 1890s, the department store started making the color more available to brides and Ladies Home Journal supported the color saying, “... from times immemorial the bride’s gown has been white.” In 1920, Coco Chanel created the first knee-length white dress that, "... cemented white as the universal color of the wedding dress." In the 1950s, Grace Kelly "wore a white silk and lace gown," and started the movement of individuality in wedding gowns.


Since it's only relatively recently that white is the wedding dress norm, there were many others you could choose from and there was once a popular poem detailing the various color choices. An excerpt is "“Married in white, you will have chosen all right. Married in gray, you will go far away. Married in black, you will wish yourself back. Married in red, you’ll wish yourself dead.” In certain countries, like India and China, red is a common wedding dress color; so white is really only standard to the Western world.

Interesting Facts

During the Great Depression brides would often purchase a white wedding gown and then dye it another color after the wedding so they could wear it again. Monroe County Historical Association tells us that, "immediately following WW II, some brides made their wedding dress from parachutes their future husband’s used during the war."