A wedding dress is a memento of the day you finally said “I do,” the day you finally committed to another person and began a lifelong journey together. The bride’s dress may vary in hue, design, and significance of the ceremony based on the bride and groom’s faith and cultural background. However, the history of bridal gowns is extensive. It is more than the dazzling or traditional gowns seen today. Everything you need to know about the wedding history of wedding dresses on a timeline is right here.
History of Wedding Dresses on a Timeline- Overview
Many people think the white wedding dress is a tradition in the West and the Anglo-Saxon world that began with Queen Victoria’s wedding in 1840. The color red is significant in Eastern cultures and is commonly worn by the bride. But how else might you learn about the bridal gown’s development if not for the wedding history timeline? For hundreds of years, brides wore dresses to their nuptials because dresses were the norm for women. It wasn’t until much later that brides had a specially designed bridal dress manufactured.
Brides have always looked their finest for their wedding day, even though the colors and designs have changed. No cost was spared to ensure royalty, and other people of high social status always looked their best. Even those on a tighter financial budget tried to look their best for the wedding.
History of Wedding Dress on a Timeline- Step-by-Step History of Wedding Dress
Brides have always dressed to the nines in the most lavish, eye-catching textiles money could buy, keeping with their increased social standing. Here’s the history of wedding dresses down the years.
Economic Expression- No Romance; 1046 BCE
Economic considerations rather than romantic passion were at the heart of many ancient weddings. Yet it’s possible that even ancient brides wore vibrant colors to their weddings as a way to express their joy. The bride and groom’s kiss at the altar in ancient Rome was legally binding because it signified their acceptance of the marriage contract. Although there are gaps in our knowledge of historical wedding dress customs, we do know that the clothing and color schemes vary from culture to culture. Yellow veils were worn by brides in ancient Rome to symbolize warmth and to represent the bride as a torch.
Brides in ancient Athens often wore long robes in deep reds and violets. During the Chinese Zhou Dynasty (c. 1046 B.C.E. – c. 256 B.C.E. ), the bride and groom’s wedding attire was formal and ceremonial. They were dressed in black robes with red borders. The Zhou Dynasty imposed a comprehensive set of regulations on how people should dress, including specific guidelines concerning the colors, styles, and lengths of their garments.
It’s true that brides in ancient Athens traditionally wore white gowns. A girdle, or a tight rope belt, was used to cinch in the waist of their long robes in shades of purple or crimson. From roughly 480 to 323 B.C.E., Athens was immersed in its classical period. In those days, most people did not wear traditional wedding garb. This is a rather recent concept.
Clothing was mostly black throughout the Han era, but by the Tang Dynasty (about 618 to 906 A.D.) in China, the tight rules on certain colors were relaxed, and brides began donning green. Historically, Japanese brides would wear a rainbow of kimonos for their nuptials. Traditional Korean bridal wear would have been fit for a queen; thus, the bride would have worn a multicolored silk top with puffy, layered sleeves in regal hues like blue, red, and yellow.
Throughout the Middle Ages, a wedding marked more than the joining of two families. It was frequently symbolic of joining two households. Political considerations and social conventions typically precede romantic feelings. The bride had to choose an outfit to make her family proud.
Rich colors, precious fabrics, and sometimes gems were stitched into the garments of medieval brides of high social position. Wealthy brides often wore multiple brightly colored layers of fur, velvet, and silk. Those of lesser class wore less expensive textiles yet attempted to mimic the more refined looks. Although the color blue was commonly used because of its associated chastity, brides of the Middle Ages also wore garments of many colors, including but not limited to yellow, purple, green, and red.
The Renaissance (about the 14th to the 17th century; around the same time as England’s Elizabethan age, 1558-1603) set the trends in clothing. Women wore the finest clothing they could afford, often consisting of multiple layers under a formal gown. These dresses would have mirrored the lavish nature of some wedding ceremonies.
Dresses that reached from the shoulders or neck down to the feet, sometimes with a train, are another possible element of the Renaissance era to make an appearance in bridal wear. In this era, burgundy was a common choice for the bride’s dress. Bell-shaped skirts and dresses with corsets were also common.
Before the Victorian era, most brides did not even bother to acquire a new dress, instead donning the most expensive one they already owned. All except the most affluent brides wore their wedding gowns to church on their big day. The wealth of the bride’s family may be gauged by the quantity of fabric used in her wedding gown.
Longer trains and billowing sleeves often indicated affluence in the bride’s household. These materials would also typically indicate the bride’s socioeconomic class or amount of income. Satin, velvet, and corduroy were popular fabrics for upper-class Elizabethan brides, whereas flax, cotton, and wool were more common for those of lesser social status.
Before Queen Victoria’s reign (1837–1901), white bridal dresses were not the norm. Women often wore different colors besides white, including blue, red, yellow, green, and even grey; Mary, Queen of Scots, was one of the few exceptions by wearing a white dress to her wedding in 1558.
This decade established the standard for the bridal dress worn in the West today. It is now conventional for brides in the West to don white gowns on their wedding days. All because one bride, Queen Victoria, wore a white garment at her wedding. Women worldwide desired to wear white wedding dresses after the young Queen of England married Prince Albert in 1840.
Instead of white, the color blue was commonly used to represent innocence throughout that period. Many brides-to-be have opted for blue hues when selecting their wedding attire. On the other side, white was associated with prosperity. Victoria opted for white to show off the intricate handwork of her lace gown. Considering that brides typically opted for more traditional wedding dress colors, Victoria’s white gown was a bold choice.
White became increasingly popular when it had already become a style. Although fashions came and went, a white dress eventually remained the standard for Western weddings.
The Age of Industry
As the century turned, more women could afford to shop for a new wedding dress, and the color white quickly became the norm. There was a shift toward shorter, more practical bridal dresses after the advent of railroad travel. The fashion and style of the time informed the design of these garments, which hasn’t changed much in the past century. White is still the most popular hue for wedding dresses in Europe and the United States.
The Turn of the Century
Puffed sleeves and a tight waist (achieved with a corset) were commonplace in the fashions of the early 20th century. Frills, high collars, and long trains were also commonplace at this time.
Wedding Dresses of the 1910s
There was a shift toward more casual bridal attire in the 1910s. During this time, wedding dances grew more commonplace, and corsets became less common. The dresses of this time were not as extravagant, but they frequently featured the high collars and lace of the Edwardian period.
The liberation of 1920s women resulted in a radical shift in women’s clothing styles. Women have never before been able to exercise such liberties as shortening their hair, going out to dance clubs or bars, or even publicly drinking alcohol. Elegant flapper dresses were all the rage in the 1920s, and they were characterized by details like dropped waists or fringe, lower hemlines that exposed the ankles, and a narrowing of the skirt design. Fringe, vivid hues, sequins, and glitz emerged out of nowhere. Previously, wedding dresses were at least ankle length, but now they are significantly shorter. Some of the women even stooped to the point of showing their knees.
The Great Depression and Beyond- 1930s
During the Great Depression, there wasn’t much money for fancy wedding attire. Many brides at this time wore their finest dresses to their weddings, just as many women did in times before. Wedding dresses were basic and produced from synthetic fabrics to keep costs down. There was widespread use of rayon. Dresses for brides who could afford to follow the fashions were slightly more figure-hugging than they had been the previous decade. They were made with little ornamentation with a focus on functionality. White satin was a common choice for the wealthy bride because of its sleek, silky appearance.
The 1940s and 1950s
Dresses designed during the Great Depression continued to incorporate functional details inspired by World War II. In the 1940s, gowns were often fashioned from inexpensive upholstery textiles. Wedding gowns were designed to reflect the newfound prosperity that followed the war. White, formal wedding dresses became the norm.
The gowns would be any shade of white, including cream, off-white, and ivory, but bold hues like blue, green, and pink are no longer in style. White was the traditional wedding dress color since black was thought to bring ill luck. The 1950s saw a rise in the popularity of the ballgown, which featured more feminine details like lace for wedding dresses. By the late 1950s, bridesmaids wore strapless dresses with sweetheart necklines.
In this decade, clothing with a more trim silhouette became popular. Princess Margaret’s wedding dress, worn on May 6, 1960, exemplified the shorter length and higher waistline trending in bridal fashion. Clothes with an “empire” waistline were common during this period. Knee-length and tea-length wedding dresses were all the rage during this time. The dresses were fitted at the waist and flared out at the hips. Wedding dresses featuring bare arms also debuted, ushering in a fashion trend that would recur in subsequent decades.
The 1970s and 80s
In the 1970s, bridal dresses increasingly took on a more bohemian vibe. Square necklines, blousy or batwing sleeves, and ruffled hems were typical. Maxi dresses made of chiffon or lace were popular. Princess-style wedding dresses with puffy sleeves were a hallmark of the decade of the 1980s. Dresses were commonly constructed of taffeta and had layers of lace and tulle.
Although there was a wide range of wedding fashion in the 1990s, most dresses favored minimalist, form-fitting silhouettes in contrast to the voluminous trends of the 1980s. Dresses with a close fit were all the rage. This decade saw the rise of the off-the-shoulder aesthetic, yet long sleeves were still very much in vogue. The hemlines of the clothes ranged from very short to quite long. Two-tiered “peekaboo” skirts of contrasting lengths were also popular during this era.
In the 2000s, strapless dresses became widely used. Later in the ’00s, sweetheart necklines started appearing everywhere. Many crystals and other “bling” elements were utilized to decorate dresses in place of lace. The A-line dress was another well-liked style.
Wedding fashion in the 2010s was mostly inspired by the outfits worn by royals on their big days. While white and its variations, such as ivory and off-white, remain the most popular color choices, brides are increasingly adding their touches to their wedding attire. Blush-colored wedding gowns, patterned and solid dresses, and colorful accents on white dresses are all on-trend.
The 2020s and Beyond
All sorts of vintage wedding dress trends are making a resurgence, from full-skirted ball dresses to skin-baring one-shoulder numbers. Dresses tend to have bright colors, and designers play around with various sleeve shapes. Wedding-specific pieces and suits are making a comeback, and they’re better than ever.
Colorful textiles are increasingly being used in the construction of bridal gowns. While sweetheart necklines were all the rage for a while, square necklines also make a statement in bridal fashion. We also have halter and high-neck options. This flowing look, with its large, voluminous skirts, ruffled hemlines, and tiered tulle, is also common in today’s wedding dresses.
The Bottom Line
Brides haven’t always worn white to their weddings, despite popular belief. The tradition of wearing white on one’s wedding day can be traced back to the Victorian aristocracy. Before that time, brides wore their finest attire to celebrate their union and signal their position in society. As a woman’s social standing increased, so did the variety of colors and fabrics she could choose from. While white remains a classic color choice, it has evolved throughout the years to encompass new silhouettes, fabrics, and accessories.