A wedding dress or wedding gown is the clothing worn by a bride during a wedding ceremony. Color, style and ceremonial importance of the gown can depend on the religion and culture of the wedding participants. In Western cultures, brides often choose white wedding dress, which was made popular by Queen Victoria in the 19th century. In eastern cultures, brides often choose red to symbolize auspiciousness.
Weddings performed during and immediately following the Middle Ages were often more than just a union between two people. They could be a union between two families, two businesses or even two countries. Many weddings were more a matter of politics than love, particularly among the nobility and the higher social classes. Brides were therefore expected to dress in a manner that cast their families in the most favorable light and befitted their social status, for they were not representing only themselves during the ceremony. Brides from wealthy families often wore rich colors and exclusive fabrics. It was common to see them wearing bold colors and layers of furs, velvet and silk. Brides dressed in the height of current fashion, with the richest materials their families’ money could buy. The poorest of brides wore their best church dress on their wedding day. The amount and the price of material a wedding dress contained was a reflection of the bride’s social standing and indicated the extent of the family’s wealth to wedding guests.
White became a popular option in 1840, after the marriage of Queen Victoria to Albert of Saxe-Coburg, when Victoria wore a white gown trimmed with Honiton lace. Illustrations of the wedding were widely published, and many brides opted for white in accordance with the Queen’s choice.
Even after that, for a period, wedding dresses were adapted to the styles of the day. In the early 1900s, clothing included a lot of decorations, such as lace or frills. This was also adopted in wedding dresses, where decorative frills and lace was common. For example, in the 1920s, they were typically short in the front with a longer train in the back and were worn with cloche-style wedding veils. This tendency to follow current fashions continued until the late 1960s, when it became popular to revert to long, full-skirted designs reminiscent of the Victorian era.
Today, Western wedding dresses are usually white, though “wedding white” includes shades such as eggshell, ecru and ivory.
About 75 percent of wedding dresses on the market are strapless dresses or sleeveless, in part because such dresses require less skill from the designers and are easier to alter to fit correctly. However, the sleeved wedding gown as well as wedding gowns with straps have both become more popular in recent years.
Coming soon – a directory of Wedding Gown and Wedding Dress resources in South Africa