I so often hear brides tell me: “I know I should wear a white wedding dress, but white just isn’t very flattering on me.” Or my other favorite: “What color should I wear for my wedding, since I’m really not that…pure?” (Pandora: People actually say this?! Emily: I’ve had someone say it to me. Sad.) Because as we all know, white is the universal symbol of purity…right? Wrong!
Historically, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, blue has been the color of purity and faithfulness. In America, we have morphed the color blue to mean loyalty (e.g., true-blue American). So it should come as no surprise that blue was often a first pick for wedding finery (something old, new, borrowed and blue, anyone?). When you couldn’t run out to Target to grab a new outfit, or have the expendable income to spend on a lavish wedding, women would wear their best dress to get married in, with favored colors being blue, gold, and/or silver. White was incredible expensive. Because fibers were natural, they were actually closer to ivory, so the process to create white fabrics was both labor and cost intensive. In addition, white was horribly impractical. Life and white clothing are NOT friends, even today.
We can really thank big business, the inustrial revolution, and the media for white wedding dresses. About 150 years ago, Queen Victoria rocked the western world by wearing a white dress for her wedding. (She’s not the first! I actually found a reference to Queen Mary of Scots wearing a white trimmed gown with grey fur, but that was a bit more political perhaps. She was marrying into French royalty and at the time in France, white was the color of mourning. Although she claimed it was her favorite color.) Ok, back to 1840. The industrial revolution was in full swing, and Victoria decided to be a responsible regent, and promote handmade arts. She chose to use handmade lace on her skirt, and lots of it. White was chosen to compliment the lace. Then, the media published an engraving of her wedding (this was big news, kind of like Prince Charles & Diana’s televised wedding).
So, here is the most powerful woman in the world, wearing the most impractical, and one of the most expensive colors at the time. And, thanks to the growing media, everyone could see it for themselves. White became a highly prized color for weddings, not to show purity, but to show how wealthy you were, that you could afford a “throw away” dress, a dress that would only see one or two uses. The color waxed and waned in popularity for wedding apparel through out second half of the 19th century. With the emergence of the wedding industry in the first half of the 20th century, white became more de rigueur.
So, if you want a “traditional” (traditional here meaning a tradition of conspicuous consumption about 100 years old), wear white. If you want a sign of purity, you could always try using your bloody bed sheets as a banner on your house. That is a much older tradition. Personally, I find the conspicuous consumption white dress to be less offensive, though!