Why Do Brides Wear White? Find Out Here!

Franz Xaver Winterhalter (German, 1805-1873). Wedding Anniversary Portrait of Queen Victoria, 1847. Oil on canvas; 53.4 x 43.2 cm. London: The Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 400885. Given to Prince Albert by Queen Victoria, 24th February 1847. Source: The Royal Collection Trust

Have you ever wondered why the majority of wedding dresses are white? It turns out the credit for this longstanding tradition belongs to Queen Victoria.

In the mid-19th century, she wore a white wedding dress, and Hollywood starlets and other celebrities quickly followed suit.

Before Queen Victoria 

Before Queen Victoria (r. 1837-1901) set the fashion world ablaze with her pristine white wedding dress, brides used to wear all kinds of colors on their big day, including bright, eye-catching hues like red.

Designer unknown (American). Wedding dress, 1837–40. Silk. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.7595. Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009. Source: The Met

On the other hand, white was typically reserved for women who were being presented before the court.

The Original White Wedding Dress

Not wanting to look like any other bride, Queen Victoria decided to don a non-traditional dress for her wedding to Prince Albert.

On February 10, 1840, the Queen wore a dress made from white silk-satin with lace at the sleeves and neck. A flower crown completed the ensemble. 

Sir George Hayter (English, 1792-1871). The Marriage of Queen Victoria, 1840-42. Oil on canvas; 195.8 x 273.5 cm. London: The Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 407165. Commissioned by Queen Victoria. Source: The Royal Collection Trust

The dress still featured a traditional wedding dress silhouette, but the color was something that had never been seen before.

White Dresses Spread Throughout Europe

When news spread about the Queen’s white wedding gown, women all over Europe — particularly wealthy women — started wanting the same for their big day.

The white dress was one of the most elegant and luxurious things they’d ever seen. It also didn’t hurt that it looked beautiful in the sepia-toned photographs of the time.

The use of white dresses was particularly significant at this time because, during the 19th century, it was not easy to launder clothing and keep it looking pristine — this is part of the reason why white dresses were not common.

As white dresses became more popular for wedding attire, the color started to take on a new meaning. Those who wore white were seen as pure, innocent, and also wealthy because of the amount of work and money required to obtain and maintain the white fabric.

White Dresses in America

A few decades after Queen Victoria’s wedding, white dresses started to become more popular among middle-class women who were getting married in Europe. Eventually, they made their way over to the United States.

Before this time, most women simply wore the nicest dress they owned for their weddings. After World War II, though, clothing became cheaper to produce, and white, single-use wedding dresses became much more common.

The concept of a single-use dress was also relatively new at this time. Before World War II, it was common for women to wear their wedding dresses multiple times since they were so expensive and luxurious. Even Queen Victoria was known to re-wear hers on occasion.

Hollywood and Royal Brides

Hollywood stars helped to spread the popularity of white wedding dresses as well.

For example, Grace Kelly’s famous white gown of lace, silk, and pearls quickly became a favorite across the globe. Lady Diana Spencer’s silk and taffeta gown is another famous wedding outfit that took the world by storm.

Lady Diana Spencer escorted by her father for the three-and-a-half minute walk down the aisle

These days, fans are as obsessed as ever with their favorite celebrities’ wedding outfits, whether they stick with the traditional white or opt for another, less common color.