History of the Wedding Dress
June 06 , 2008
Samuel Brodhead and Margaret Tidd on their wedding day in 1849. Ms. Tidd was married in a dark brown plaid silk dress, not a typical white dress brides would wear today.
By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association
“Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” Many modern-day brides follow this adage steeped in tradition. A bride will carry “something old” to remind her of her past and the importance of her family. “Something new” represents the life that lays ahead of the bride, and carrying “something borrowed” ensures the bride will be able to rely on friends in her marriage. Many brides also believe that wearing “something blue” will keep their husbands faithful to them.
June continues to be the most popular month to be married. This month is named for Juno, the Roman Goddess of love and marriage (Hera to the Greeks). It was believed that those who were married in June would be protected by the Goddess.
Couples planning weddings in the 21st Century carefully arrange every detail regarding their nuptials. From the wording of the ceremony and location of the reception hall to the colors of the flowers and the flavor of the cake, no detail is omitted. One important decision a bride must make is choosing her wedding dress.
Wearing a white wedding dress is a relatively modern fashion. The tradition of the white dress began when Queen Victoria donned a magnificent white gown for her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840. During the Victorian era, many wealthy women emulated the Queen by wearing white dresses. Their dresses were made of fine fabrics including silks and lace.
White dresses, although sought-after by the wealthy, were not available to everyone, and the fashion did not become widespread until decades later. To a local woman living in Monroe County in the 19th century, white dresses were also impractical. Owning a dress that was going to be worn once was not only unrealistic, but wasteful. Women were often married in their “best” dress. This best dress often served a woman on many occasions throughout her life, such as social gatherings and attending church services every Sunday. Dresses with patterns were popular, and many women were married in plaid or floral dresses.
Unlike today, when most weddings seem to be held over the weekend, Saturday has not always been the most popular day to be married. Many couples were married on a weeknight, usually Thursdays, at the home of the bride.
By the turn of the 20th century, the desire to wear a white dress could be fulfilled for many brides. With the industrial revolution came better transportation, cities with department stores, and catalogs from which brides could order patterns and cloth. Godey’s ladies magazine published both articles and advertisements for white wedding dresses that reached the masses.
Wealthy brides who lived in the Edwardian era (marked by the time that Queen Victoria’s son, Edward, ruled England) continued the fancy traditions of the Victorians, and some brides’ dresses became even more ornate. Corsets were in full use, and bustles with long veils were popular. Such fashions continued until World War I, when wedding dresses began to change to much simpler designs. Corsets were no longer used, and slim-fitting drop-waist dresses became popular in the early 1920s. Noted fashion designer CoCo Chanel introduced a simple, white, knee-length dress in that decade.
As World War II broke out, brides found themselves marrying quickly before their husbands went overseas. Opulent weddings became less of a priority for many brides. While some women were able to wear the typical white dress, more ladies opted for a skirted suit. Rationing had limited cloth and borrowing a dress or suit was commonplace. Immediately following WW II, some brides made their wedding dress from parachutes their future husband’s used during the War.
Wedding dresses of the 1950s through the 1970s continued with the traditional styling. Dresses during these years were characterized with long sleeves and high necks.
Princess Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles re-introduced the “fairytale” look of the wedding dress. Wedding dresses of the 1980s had full skirts, leg o’ mutton sleeves and long trains.
Today, wedding dresses come in a variety of styles, and brides have a larger selection than ever from which to choose their gowns. While there continue to be trends in dress design, there is no one single type of dress that completely defines the style of the 21st century. Modern day brides can choose from short simple dresses to lavish ballgowns and everything in between and still be considered fashionable on their wedding day.