“Here Comes the Bride,
All Dressed in Red”
Well, that will never do! Red for a wedding dress? It sounds positively scandalous. However, before Queen Victoria set the fashion trend for a white wedding gown (and black for mourning), red, along with blue and gold, was among the more popular hues for a wedding dress. In fact, looking outside of Western culture, red is still the traditional color of choice for brides in the East, dating back to a mythical Chinese princess’s wedding involving a red dress and a phoenix.
When Queen Victoria married Prince Albert on Feb. 10, 1840, she selected quite an unconventional cream silk-satin dress covered in lovely lace. Once she made this glorious fashion statement, the European nobility followed suit, and the trend was further fueled by the rise of photography. It took more time for the rest of the world to fall in line with this new tradition, but now a white wedding dress is ingrained in our culture, representing purity and innocence.
Queen Victoria was not, however, the first European monarch to don white going down the aisle. The English Princess Philippa’s marriage to the Scandinavian King Eric in 1406 offers the earliest recorded white wedding dress in Western culture — a white tunic lined with fur. In 1558, Mary Queen of Scots wore white to wed the crowned prince of France, despite the fact that white was usually for mourning in French culture at the time. White was both more expensive and more difficult to keep clean, thus communicating status and wealth.
The very idea that a wedding dress would be worn only once and never again would have been absurd for anyone before the Industrial Revolution, and Queen Victoria herself repurposed both her dress and her veil. Those nonroyal brides who had a new dress made especially for the wedding would likely use it afterward as their new best dress, sometimes altered and/or dyed.
Centuries later, Queen Victoria’s 1840s-style wedding dress with a fitted waist, lace, and a full 19th century skirt over petticoats is still the classic silhouette. Brides today seeking silk, pearls, tulle, taffeta, and lace with long trains in the glorious shades of white, cream, and ivory can all thank “Mrs. Albert” for this enchanting contribution to wedding fashion.