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The White Wedding Dress

The first Europeana Fashion’s Tumblr curation of the year is dedicated to wedding gowns. Every day on our Tumblr it will be posted a picture selected from our collection to unveil the history of the white wedding gown!

Though white is today the colour mostly associated with Western wedding traditions, the white wedding gown became popular only after the second half of the 19th century, when the picture of the marriage of the Queen Victoria to Albert Saxe-Coburg was published in the most fashionable magazines of the time. The dress, that also dripped with orange blossoms, was white to incorporate some lace the Queen Victoria prized.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Buckingham Palace, 11 May 1854 (after a Drawing Room), Roger Fenton, 11 May 1854. The Royal Collection © 2010, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, via Wikimedia Commons.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Buckingham Palace, 11 May 1854 (after a Drawing Room), Roger Fenton, 11 May 1854. The Royal Collection © 2010, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Queen Victoria wasn’t however the first queen to wear white in history. Before her, Philippa of England wore a tunic with a cloak in white silk in 1406, and Mary, the Queen of Scots, wore a white wedding gown in 1559 when she married Francis Dauphin of France, even though at the time white was the mourning colour for French queens. In spite of that, before the case of Queen Victoria made white a popular colour for weddings, it was usual for brides to wear colourful dresses at their marriage, and to use the dress again after the event. The choice of the dress then depended on the wealth of the family, elaborate dresses and expensive fabrics were used to show the bride’s social standing, while less privileged girls used to wear their best dress – usually in dark colours – at their wedding. A popular colour was blue, which was the colour originally associated with purity and virginity as it was connected to the Virgin Mary.

Dress in brown cotton with woven silver stripe motif and floral pattern in brown, worn as wedding gown, 1820-1830. Collection Gemeentemuseum den Haag via ModeMuze, all rights reserved.

Dress in brown cotton with woven silver stripe motif and floral pattern in brown, worn as wedding gown, 1820-1830. Collection Gemeentemuseum den Haag via ModeMuze, all rights reserved.

White, instead, didn’t have anything to do with purity. The colour was a synonym of ostentatiousness, not only because of the expensiveness of white fabric, but also because the white dress couldn’t be worn a second time in a different occasion, showing that the bride could afford to buy a dress she would only wear once. Even after the second half of the 19th century, it was common for many women to wear different colours at their wedding, especially during War period, when the tight circumstances required women to find different solutions.

Wedding dress consisting of a silk gauze and lace bodice, skirt, satin sash, collar, cape and silk fragment, probably made in Great Britain or France, ca. 1872-1874. Collection Victoria and Albert Museum, CC-BY-SA.

Wedding dress consisting of a silk gauze and lace bodice, skirt, satin sash, collar, cape and silk fragment, probably made in Great Britain or France, ca. 1872-1874. Collection Victoria and Albert Museum, CC-BY-SA.

The Tumblr curation will feature a selection of dresses from the late 19th century to the present, showing the evolution of the wedding silhouette in the western world. Drawing from the various archives of the different museum in our collection, the dresses will space geographically through all Europe and its neighbouring countries. Browse also our website to find more wedding gowns!

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