Wedding Dresses: Past & Present

A wedding dress is the clothing worn by a bride during a wedding ceremony. The colour, style and ceremonial importance of the gown can depend on the religion and culture of the wedding participants. In Western cultures, brides often choose a white wedding dress, in eastern cultures, brides often choose red to symbolise auspiciousness. 

In the past brides from wealthy families often wore rich colours and exclusive fabrics. It was common to see them wearing bold colours and layers of furs, velvet and silk. Whilst the poorest of brides wore their best church dress on their wedding day. 

Though examples of brides wearing white can be traced back to as early as 1406, ‘White’ became a popular option in 1840, after the marriage of Queen Victoria to Albert of Saxe-Coburg, when Victoria wore a white gown to incorporate some lace she prized. The official wedding portrait photograph was widely published, and many brides opted for white in accordance with the Queen's choice. 

Many people assumed that the colour white was intended to symbolise virginity, though this was not the original intention: it was the colour blue that was connected to purity, piety, faithfulness, and the Virgin Mary. 

The white-dress trend grew scarce during the Great Depression, when times were hard and it was difficult for most people to spend money on a gown they would never wear again. 

Wedding dresses were adapted to the styles of the day. 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.

Following an economic boom in the second half of the 20th century, white became a popular colour once more, as evidenced by the weddings of Grace Kelly, Princess Diana and other iconic women who married during this time.  

At present about 75% of wedding dresses on the market are strapless or sleeveless, in part because such dresses require less skill from the designers and are easier to alter to fit the bride correctly. However, the sleeved wedding gown as well as wedding gowns with straps have both become more popular in recent years. 

Many wedding dresses in China, India, Pakistan and Vietnam are red, the traditional colour of good luck and auspiciousness. Nowadays, many women choose other colours besides red. In modern mainland China, the bride may opt for a Western dress of any colour, and later don a traditional costume for the official tea ceremony. 

Red wedding saris are the traditional garment choice for brides in Indian culture. Sari fabric is also traditionally silk. Over time, colour options and fabric choices for Indian brides have expanded. 

A Japanese wedding usually involves a traditional pure white kimono for the formal ceremony, symbolizing purity and maidenhood. The bride may change into a red kimono for the events after the ceremony for good luck. 

There are many trends and traditions that are associated with wedding gowns, however, the groom’s only requirement has been to dress in a way that matches the bride’s gown (and approval). Doesn't he get off lightly!! 

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