Monday, May 17, 2010

The Bride Wore White

Monday, May 17, 2010
Loretta reports:

Over at my author blog, I received the following comment regarding the 1828 wedding dress I posted.  

"I am struck by the fact that this is Ackerman's 1828 and yet the gown is white; telling my readers at over and again that white was not a common wedding color until Victoria inaugurated the tradition, I am wondering if it was at all unusual for the 18th* century?"

Well, I’d been under the same impression.  But, as is pointed out at one of the links I cited, there’s good evidence of white wedding dresses prior to Victoria’s wedding on 10 February 1840. 

At left is Exhibit A, a wedding dress of 1831.  For a description, click here for my author blog.  Below right is Queen Victoria’s wedding.

Here are some mentions in pre-1840 books.

"You know there must be a change of dress, in the last act, for Zara's nuptials—now for my wedding dress, mamma, my taste would be
     'Shine out, appear, be found, my lovely Zara,'
in bridal white and silver."
—from Patronage, Volume 15, by Maria Edgeworth, 1833

PRINCESS CHARLOTTE OF WALES WEDDING DRESS AND JEWELLERY (she was married on 2 May 1816)1.  The wedding dress is a slip of white and silver atlas worn under a dress of transparent silk net elegantly embroidered in silver lama with a border to correspond tastefully worked in bunches of flowers to form festoons round the bottom the sleeves and neck trimmed with a rich suit of Brussels point lace.  The mantua is two yards and an half long made of rich silver and white atlas trimmed the same as the dress to correspond.
 —from Niles' Weekly Register, Volume 10, 1816

You can see a photo of her dress at the Hibiscus-Sinensis Regency pages, and read more on the subject there as well.

Here are a few more mentions:

We have, a few days ago, seen a dress which was completed for a young bride of high distinction; it was entirely of fine lace ; and was worn over a slip of white satin: a scarf of the same hung in graceful negligence over her shoulders.
—from The Ladies' Pocket Magazine, 1829

The pair were standing before the parson, the pretty bride attired in her wedding dress of white calico at the left hand of her sturdy bridegroom...
—from  Atkinson's casket, Volume 9, 1834

"… as I looked at her in her white wedding-dress.”
—from "The Dominie's Legacy," by Thomas Carlyle, Fraser's Magazine, Volume 1, 1830

*Given the date of the dress I posted, I’m assuming she means the 1800s or 19th century.  Anyone who'd like to comment on 18th century wedding dresses, however, is welcome to do so.


Undine said...

I can't claim to be an expert in the subject, but it was my understanding that the "Victoria made white fashionable" story was apocryphal. From what I've seen, silver and white were always popular for wedding gowns, as the colors were seen as symbolic of "purity."

Blue was quite common as well, although I've never read why. (A symbol of "loyalty?")

ILoveVersailles said...

White was also worn by aristocratic French brides in the eighteenth century, though not exclusively. Here is a first-hand description of one such on another blog:

I greatly appreciate your use of contemporary quotations!

LorettaChase said...

Undine, contemporary 19th C examples have been bringing me round to your point of view. Before Victoria, maybe not all women wore white; maybe after, it became the Only color to wear. I'm not sure--this is pure surmise on my part. ILoveVersailles, thank you for the 18th link. I had the feeling that the situation was different in the 18th century. That was where I had read of women wearing their best dress to be married in. I didn't search Google Books for sources earlier than 1800, because I was focused on the "Long" Regency. But that will be an interesting exploration for another blog!

Rowenna said...

I think you're right, Loretta, that women in the eighteenth century wore their best dress to be married in. There are, however, extant and inventory garments I've found that are described as the "wedding gown" or even "wedding shoes" or "wedding stays" of an individual--I imagine that these were not solely wedding costume, but made for the occasion and worn afterward.

Sidenote on color, it was very common for upper-class women's fine gowns in the eighteenth century to be light colored (ivory, pale pink or blue, dove grey) so it's entirely possible that many brides were married in, if not white, something close!

Mme.Tresbeau said...

Such beautiful wedding dresses, no matter what color they are! This blog always makes me sigh with delight, because you always have the prettiest pictures of clothes.

LorettaChase said...

Rowenna, I do know I read about the wedding gown being worn afterward. The one in my illustration doesn't seem practical for that, but not all brides were so elaborately dressed. Some of the ones illustrated at the Hibiscus-Sinensis site look perfectly suitable for other occasions. Too, even the fancy ones could be altered to suit. I am going to pursue the 18th C wedding dress question, but at another time. Mme Tresbeau, thank you! It's a thrill to find these illustrations, believe me!

Historical Reminiscing with Marilyn said...

Endlessly interesting I found this! "Until the late 1800s, most brides wore dresses in a variety of colors other than white. During the American Revolution, for example, some brides donned red gowns to show their patriotism; during and after the Civil War, many chose to wear purple in remembrance of the honored dead; during the late Victorian era, brown, gray and blue were popular colors for wedding dresses. When preacher’s daughter Ida Josephine Peeler married up-and-coming Texas cattleman Charles Wulfjen in 1869, she chose to wear a dark-colored dress in a fashionable style. Her daughter Eula made the same choice when she married John Kendrick.

Contrary to popular legend, white was not chosen as a favorite color for weddings because it represented virginity (all brides were assumed to be virginal). Instead, white was symbolic of:

Wealth - Very few women could afford to wear a dress only once or twice, so most chose dresses that could be used for future events. A bride with a white dress could easily be identified as coming from a well-to-do family.

Youth - As far back as the ancient Greeks, white was the color of youth; thus older brides – virginal or otherwise – were discouraged from wearing it.

Change in Status - Like baptisms, christenings, communions, debuts and graduations – all events in which white was traditionally worn – a wedding was a major life event, one in which the wearer’s status was dramatically changed.

Illustration, Victoria & Albert Wedding - 1840 (Private Collection)Although it existed long before her 1840 marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, England's Queen Victoria is often given credit for popularizing the white wedding dress." from Trail End Historic State site

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