Wednesday, April 6, 2011

White Wedding Dresses before Victoria

Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Loretta reports:

I’ve blogged on this subject before, but myths persist.  The release of Royal Weddings, containing my short story set on the eve of Queen Victoria’s wedding in February 1840, is an appropriate occasion for examining the myth about Her Majesty starting the fashion for white wedding dresses.

So let’s look at some primary sources, complete with pictures, illustrating white wedding dresses before 1840. 

This costume is remarkable for its richness, and exceeding simplicity; it is composed of a white satin dress; the corsage uni, cut very low on the bust, finished with a double cordon of gold and satin rouleaux twisted alternately. The bosom is shaded by a tucker of tulle, à la vierge. The skirt is very ample, and set round the waist in deep double folds; it is cut of an ordinary length in front, but gradually increasing on the sides, so as to form a sort of train behind. Its only trimming is a cordon, similar to that round the bust, and sleeves. Zone of mosaic gold and plain gold bracelets. The coiffure is of a corresponding simplicity, merely dressed in full bows and braids; with a wreath of white roses, and mantilla of blonde.
The Royal lady's magazine, and archives of the court of St. James's, 1832

And, from the U.S.—

FIG. 1.—Bridal Costume, &c.—A robe of the finest Indian muslin over white satin, embroidered round the skirt with a garland of roses; two flounces worked to correspond; and the same pattern on the corsage, in the form of a stomacher. Another row of work round the neck, just under the blond coleret; pointed corsage; a bow of white satin, with long ends in front; full sleeves, with a very narrow cuff. The hair arranged in reversed braids; a coronet of red roses and orange blossom round the head; pearl chain across the forehead, and a lace veil, very gracefully fastened to the bows of hair behind ; white lace stockings, satin shoes, and kid gloves.
--Atkinson's Casket, 1835

As part of my shameless self-promotion of Royal Weddings, look for more on wedding dresses at my other blog.


Anonymous said...

Of course there were white wedding dresses before Victoria. Princess Charlotte's dress was white and silver. Others probably wore white when it was a fashionable color. However, many women wore other colors for their weddings. This was the beginning of the tradition that a bride wore white to show she was chaste and a virgin.
I had always heard that the wedding with the wedding Marches by Mendelsohnn and Wagner began with the wedding of Victoria's daughter.
Brides had worn white like the Brides of Christ from the beginning of church weddings. However, they also could wear other colors without the choice of color being suggestive.
Somewhere around this time, it started to be customary for brides to wear white.

LorettaChase said...

I'm aware that women were not necessarily married in white wedding gowns; depending on circumstances, they might be married in their best gown, or, at an elopement, say, in whatever they were wearing. However, apart from silver or silver & white, I have not yet found a wedding dress, pictured or described, in any color other than white in the early 19th century ladies' magazines. This leads me to believe that then, as today, not everyone wore white, but it had become fashionable well before Victoria. If it hadn't been fashionable, it wouldn't have appeared in the magazines. What I have not yet researched is whether she started the "big wedding"--numerous bridesmaids, big reception, etc.

For those curious about this subject, I'll be putting up several more descriptions of white bridal dress at my Loretta Chase blog.

Anonymous said...

I have always heard that it was the wedding of the Princess royal that started the big wedding and big reception tradition.
Personally, I think it was likely the fashion magazines and social news reporters.

B.H.L. said...

Difficult to make sweeping generalizations about wedding dress traditions, since they do vary so much from country to country and era to era.

However if we're talking about England - the notion of a white wedding dress as a symbol of a virginal bride is entirely a Victorian concoction, when the cult of virginal brides (and also non-sexual women as "good" women) really takes off in the middle class. Prior to that bridal virginity simply wasn't that big a deal, and in fact studies comparing records of weddings and births show a sizable number of earlier English brides were pregnant on their wedding day.

Nor did the post-Reformation Anglican church emphasis virginal brides either. That tends to be more the case in Roman Catholic countries with stronger ties to purity as represented by the Virgin Mary.

Thankfully Kate Middleton isn't being subjected to all the dreadful virgin discussions that poor Diana was put through. Remember public announcement from the royal physicians at the time declaring that yes indeedy she was "intact" for the royal wedding night, and "entitled" to wear a white dress. Quite disgusting.

Trystan L. Bass said...

White as a wedding gown was fashionable when & where white dresses were fashionable, & brides who had the money wore what was fashionable at their weddings. For example, in 1406, England's King Henry IV's daughter Philippa wore white satin & velvet. Because she could! But you don't really find middle-class brides wearing a white, one-time-use-only wedding gown until the 1950s (the movie "Father of the Bride" was more influential than Queen Victoria).

I have a handout & book list on the topic here: Not sure if all the links are still live, but the books at the bottom are useful sources.

Jolene said...

Great link, Trystan! I think I'll Tweet to my bride followers.

Ingrid Mida said...

I'm enjoying your posts about wedding dresses.
The Victoria and Albert Museum has an online archive of wedding photos. It is really interesting to see the changes in styles and colour for brides over time.

LorettaChase said...

Ingrid, I have an awful time finding things at the V&A site, so please feel free to post some links! I'd love to see those wedding pictures.

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