For better, for worse: sartorial history of the wedding dress

Tis that time of year again, where the season for weddings is in the air, where newlyweds find their happy ever after, tie the knot into a journey of spiritual wholeness. Many can attest that perhaps marriage parades more ornate rituals than any other life event. Customs of marriage present itself long before the actual ceremony. As most tales relay, details of the big day loom from tender years, elements pondered before the ring is in place. Whether the bride and groom coincidently meet as love at first sight would have us believe or via introductions (arranged used loosely), there’s no denying that the process itself is ceremonial and deeply pivotal. Dress, makeup, hairstyles, ornaments, and other ritualistic efforts used to enhance marriageability.

Whilst contemporary weddings as we know it signifies a promise of love, a binary of vows between couples, for most of history, however, weddings were an exchange of agreements, in which two families’/kin groups came together for alliance. In most instance wedding dresses then, were chosen by the bride’s family to elevate themselves in a place of high social status and wealth or adorn their daughters in such a way to imply a certain standard of life she’s accustomed or parents would want the groom’s family to believe.

Iman and David Bowie 1992

Iman and David Bowie 1992

Historically, it was a rarity to see the purchase of a dress specifically for a wedding. Brides wore their finest dress, that was in darker colors (as it required less maintenance) black being the most popular and green avoided, being a hapless choice. Lighter hues made reference to the Virgin Mary and were later adopted as an emblem of purity. 

 

While wearing white can be found as early as 1406 by Philippa of England, followed by Mary, Queen of Scots, said to have worn a white gown on her wedding in 1559 as it was her favorite color, though a choice for mourning at the time. Queen Victoria brought the tide to the wearing of white as recorded in 1840, with a marriage to her cousin Prince Albert which has sparked the influence of white-wearing for brides. It was soon declared that white would be the best choice (in the West) which later spread globally.

The queen who popularized the white wedding dress: Queen Victoria when she married Prince Albert 1840

The queen who popularized the white wedding dress: Queen Victoria when she married Prince Albert 1840

 

“Essentially the wedding dress symbolizes both the untouchable purity of a princess and the regal perfection of a queen. When a woman says, “I want to feel like a princess on my wedding day,” she is expressing an impulse to be exalted into the magnificent beauty of the princess and to exude the impression of an otherworldly goddess. When a woman understands that on her wedding day she is elevated to a spiritual state where her transformation can occur, the wedding dress ceases to be merely an object that will help make her “look perfect” but rather can be utilized as an amulet to assist her during her rite of passage.” – Sheryl Paul

 

Red is the dominant color, worn in Chinese, Indian, and Pakistani weddings. It’s (varies between countries) associated with love, passion, good-luck, auspiciousness and of the rising of sun. In some of these cultures women now adorn the wearing of white and later their traditional attire for the tea or customary ceremonies.

Indian Sari

Indian Sari

Chinese Cheongsam

Chinese Cheongsam

 

World renowned designer Vera Wang has a selection of black wedding dresses in her recent collection making it popular amongst celebrities as well as paving way for the color to make a comeback for brides. Many eco-friendly designers are also using an array of colors for brides to break away from the outdated tradition and carve a legacy for a gown with many uses.

 

Traditionally green is the chosen color for a bride in East Africa, as people of the earth it signifies fertility and youthfulness as well as heaps of good luck. It’s sure proven many women are now brave to make their own color selections, and lets all agree regardless of the choice, every women deserves to dazzle and feel her best on her occasion.