The Fascinating History of Bridal Gowns

Dating, getting engaged, and marrying the one you love in a fabulous white wedding has become such a cultural phenomenon that most of us accept that it has always been the norm. What many fail to realise is that our modern concept of wedding ceremonies and bridal gowns is relatively new as far as human history goes. Contemporary, Western weddings looked very different a few hundred years ago.

If you, or someone you know, are getting married soon, it may be interesting to learn more about where all those widely accepted, but somewhat arbitrary traditions originate from. From engagement rings to white bridal gowns, the evolution of human nuptials is nothing short of fascinating.

How Marriage Started

The term was first coined around 1250 to 1300 AD, but the act of two families joining in an alliance is much older. In fact, 2350 BC saw Mesopotamia recording unions between men and women. Before such official ceremonies existed, families probably roamed in large groups, where partners and children were shared between a few people. As societies grew into civilisations, the need for stability and strong family bonds increased, and here we see ancient Greeks, Hebrews, and Romans finding value in the arrangement. Early marriages were rarely, if ever, anything to do with love, but rather convenience, protection, and economic gain.

Wedding Ceremonies Were Important

For as long as they have existed, there has always been a great deal of fuss made about wedding rituals. For brides, the day meant a transition from childhood into adulthood, and most cultures saw the special day full of symbolism and celebration. Regardless of the role religion played or whether the union was by proxy, dowry, or free will – we see that throughout history, the joining of two people was considered necessary.

Bridal Gowns Have Changed the Most

One may think that crisp, white wedding dresses always symbolised purity and youth, but white bridal gowns did not make a fashionable appearance until the 1800s. In ancient cultures, ceremonial robes were usually vibrantly coloured and drew attention to the bride. The Zhou Dynasty in China, for example, had brides wear black – as was the case during the Han Dynasty. Ancient Japanese brides wore colourful kimonos, and traditional Korean weddings also incorporated luxurious royal colours. Looking back on ancient ceremonies in Athens or Rome, we see bright hues such as yellow, red, and violet used as symbolism.

During the Medieval Ages, social standing had a lot to do with what a bride could afford to wear. The bride herself was a symbol that two houses (sometimes royal bloodlines from different countries) were coming together, so she had to be dressed to represent affluence. Those in the middle to lower classes could not afford bridal gowns made from expensive fabrics such as silk or velvet, so they stuck to simpler fabrics in similar styles.

The Renaissance and Elizabethan era were times when aristocratic fashion was used to brag about family wealth. It was during this period that bridal gowns included a ballgown silhouette, corseted waist, and statement trains. In fact, the longer the train and the more material was used, the more well-off the family was considered. Before Queen Victoria’s reign, shades of blue were used to symbolise purity on wedding dresses, and white had never really featured on bridal gowns. While Mary, Queen of Scots, wore a white wedding dress in 1558, it is Queen Victoria who is credited with the trend of white wedding dresses.

At the time of her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840, Queen Victoria chose to wear a white gown to best show off the intricate lace detailing. Lace crafting was a dying trade and her choice to wear it gave the industry a needed boost. At the time, the frock was considered unremarkable, and it is for this reason that the world fell in love with the idea. With a simple dress, Queen Victoria transformed the world’s concept of wealth and fashion.

Today, brides in cultures around the world still wear colourful, traditional garments during their ceremony. From Africa to Asia, we see beautiful fabrics in rich shades representing everything from fertility to good luck. No dress, however, seems to permeate culture, tradition, and fashion trends the way the classic white gown has. Now that you know the history, are you ready to find a timeless dress of your own? Get in touch with us today if you would like to find out more.