The world of bridal fashion has come a long way since the traditional white dress. From the intricate lacework of the Victorian era to the sleek and modern styles of today, this article explores the evolution of bridal fashion and the cultural influences that have shaped it.
What is "Bridal Fashion"?
First of all, you're likely familiar with Bridal Fashion Week - it happens twice a year in the Spring and Fall. The top wedding designers and a few new to the industry will debut their prized collection of gowns, vying to be the "it dress" of the season. In addition to dresses, you'll see the latest in bridal accessories on the runways.
So, bridal fashion is simply the term to describe the latest and greatest trends to inspire brides for their wedding day. And it's not just limited to dresses - you'll see everything including shoes, veils and jewelry too.
What's interesting about bridal fashion is that it's not just dictated by what you see on the runaways of New York, Paris, Milan and London or in the latest fashion magazines. How brides are dressing nowadays also takes into account their cultural expression and heritage too.
History of the Wedding Gown
Throughout history, brides have always chosen to wear their absolute best on their wedding day, regardless of their financial means. Royalty would wear the best glamorous gowns decked out with the finest quality materials. Those of more modest means would still choose to have the most stylish outfit made that fit their budget. Let's have a look over time to see how wedding gown trends have evolved over the centuries.
Gowns from Ancient Times and World Traditions
Centuries ago, weddings were not a public commitment of two people expressing their love and devotion to each other. Rather, people got married because it made economic sense to do so. What we do know is that regardless if it was a love union or a practical, financial union brides still chose to mark the special day by wearing a bright colored wedding outfit. Have you heard of the phrase "sealed with a kiss"? Likely that originated in Ancient Rome when a marriage was considered legally binding with a wedding kiss.
Have a look at some of the ancient wedding traditions from around the world:
Ancient Athenian brides wore long robes in either violet or red. These robes were tied together with a girdle and when the groom loosened this later on, it symbolized a loss of the bride's virginity.
Interestingly enough, traditions varied across China. The Zhou Dynasty ruled between 1046 and 256 BCE; during this time, brides traditionally wore black wedding garments that had red trim. Then during the Han period, brides opted for black garments; during the Tang Dynasty, preferences changed again and brides choose green as the color of choice for their wedding attire.
|Source: chinesetradisional.wixsite||Source: chinesetradisional.wixsite|
Although still part of East Asia, traditional Japanese brides didn't stick to just one color for their wedding - they chose to alternate between several colored kimonos on their wedding day. On the other hand, in Korea brides wanted to mimic royalty. As such, they chose multi-colored silk wedding garments with long sleeves in colors such as yellow, blue and red.
Ancient Roman brides marked the happy occasion by wearing yellow veils that symbolically showed they were a light torch and represented the warmth they brought to the union.
Into the Medieval times, weddings were often political arrangements and the joining together of countries, not a union of two people in love. At a minimum, it was the joining together of two families or business for common gain. As such, women wanted to represent their families in the best light possible, so she would choose a wedding outfit that best represented her and her family.
Medieval brides of high social status wore bold garments with luxurious fabrics and gems. Furs, velvet and silk were commonly used. For those with fewer financial resources, their wedding styles were modest imitations of the luxurious designs that exuded elegance.
The most common colors were still not white during this time; rather, brides chose whatever colors suited them the most. Blue was often chosen because the color was associated with purity.
The Renaissance Period
During the Renaissance Period, fashion was a privilege of the aristocracy. Women often wore several layers beneath their gorgeous main gowns, which were especially magnificent during weddings. Renaissance wedding dresses often featured lavish details and tons of layers. Dresses from the Renaissance Era were typically long and fell all the way to the feet, sometimes featuring a train. Most commonly, the dresses were high up on the neckline and would extend upwards from the shoulders. The most common style of dress featured a bell-shaped skirt and a corseted bodice. Brides often chose burgundy as their color of choice for wedding dresses during this era.
The Beginning of the White Wedding Dress Trend
Up until now, we've discovered that wedding dresses came in a colors, ranging from burgundy, red, yellow green, blue and even grey. The white wedding dress that we've come to know now was not common at all until Queen Victoria surprisingly made an entrance in an extraordinary white lace gown when she married Prince Albert in 1840.
Why Did Queen Victoria Show Up in a White Wedding Gown?
If wedding dresses up until this point were any color but white, why would Queen Victoria choose to go against tradition? The color white, at the time, symbolized wealth and riches. Her custom made gown was made entirely of handmade lace so in order to show off her wealth, she had it made in a white color to further emphasize her opulent gown. You can imagine the surprise and shock factor when she showed up at the altar in a white wedding gown.
The White Wedding Dress Trend Is Born
Remember how common folk and brides of lesser means would still copy royalty the best they could for their wedding day but just on a smaller scale? Well that's exactly what happened when Queen Victoria showed up in a white wedding gown. Shortly after her wedding in 1840, brides from all over America and Europe chose to copy Queen Victoria and wear white wedding dresses as well. This was especially true of women who came from an elite social status. Although brides were still choosing other colors after Queen Victoria's wedding, she is widely credited as being the trendsetter and the reason why brides wear white today.
How the White Wedding Dress Has Evolved Over Time
So from 1840 onward with Queen Victoria setting the trend, white wedding dresses have been the norm for brides in the West. Over the decades, styles change and evolve but what still stands true is that white (or a close hue) has become the standard color of wedding dresses.
Wedding Dresses During the Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution enabled more brides to get their hands on a newly made dress for their big day - with white continuing to be the color of choice. Soon after, railroad travel had a say in wedding styles as we saw narrower skirts making appearances. Ever since, wedding dresses have been evolving with the trends and current style - and today, America and Europe still consider white to be the only acceptable wedding dress color.
Wedding Dresses in the Early 1900s
In the early 1900s, there was a corseted silhouette craze with plenty of frills and fringed details - think ultra-narrow waists and puff sleeves. High collars and long trains added the final touches to this timeless look.
Dresses in the 1910s
In the 1910s, a shift in bridalwear meant doing away with traditional corsets as dancing at weddings was all the rage. In addition to being more comfortable, dresses featured Edwardian-era touches like lace ruffles and high collars.
Dresses in the 1920s The Flapper Age
During the 1920s, typical flapper wedding dresses included features like a narrowed skirt, a lower waistline, and shorter hemlines that revealed the ankles. Additionally, they often featured tucks and deeper hems.
Depression Era Wedding Dresses
During the depression era, wedding attire was kept simple and practical for obvious reasons. For instance, brides chose church dresses or a good suit over the usual white wedding gown due to World War II. In terms of style, 1930s wedding dresses had a tighter fit and were often made from rayon fabric.
Wedding Dress Choices Post-War
Following the war, a period of prosperity began and wedding attire shifted to reflect this. White gowns appeared as the trend, often in shades of cream, ivory or slight variations of white. Bright colors such as blue, green or pink were no longer fashionable and it was seen as bad luck to don black for your wedding day. 1950s dresses in particular included feminine elements such as lace; ball gown dresses increased in popularity. By the later part of the decade, strapless dresses and sweetheart necklines were also common choices for brides-to-be. Interesting to note that these styles are amongst the most popular today.
Grace Kelly's Wedding Dress - source: blog.preownedweddingdresses.com
Wedding Fashion in the 1960s
During this decade, dress styles were slimmer and featured shorter hemlines. Occasionally, metallic elements were integrated into dresses. Additionally, empire waists began gaining popularity, and many wedding dresses featured them by the end of the decade.
Bridal Wear in the 1970s
The 1970s wedding dress evolution was full of bohemian flair! Popular features included square necklines, airy sleeve silhouettes, ruffled skirt hems, romantic lace and chiffon maxi dresses.
Wedding Dress Styles of the 1980s
In the exuberant eighties, wedding dresses were all about grandeur! Think voluminous puff sleeves, layers of lace and tulle, and silky taffeta fabrics - opulence was the name of the game. What comes to mind is the iconic dress worn by Princess Diana.
Princess Diana's 1980s Wedding Dress - Source: theknot.com
1990s Bridal Attire
In the 1990s, bridal attire had a form-fitting style that was different from the look of the 1980s.
Bridal Fashion in the 2000s
In the 2000s, fashionistas favored A-line gowns for their timeless elegance and embraced strapless looks for a modern edge.
2010s Until Now
For more than a decade now, today's brides are all about expressing their individual styles - from classic white and soft blush tones to bold patterned and vividly-hued gowns!
How Bridal Fashion Has Changed Over Time
Throughout history, wedding dresses have been shaped by culture, social class and norms. Royalty, aristocrats, the wealthy, celebrity icons and personal financial situations have all shaped the way women were outfitted for their big day. Nowadays women have tons of options to choose from. Gowns can still be inspired by previous eras and can be made available at a number of price points to reflect the taste and preferences of today's modern bride.
Ready to find the perfect dress for your wedding day? Have a look at 12 Tips for Finding the Perfect Wedding Dress.