Over the centuries marriage has been one of the most important social contracts in life. These unions provided national and international stability, financial security, and the propagation of the species, but by the mid-19th century such considerations while still in play, were being intertwined with romantic notions and increasingly elaborate rituals and celebrations around the union of two people.
For many a bride one of the most important aspects of their nuptials was the choosing of their outfit for the big day. From the medieval period through the 18th century a Bride would be arrayed in her best outfit as an indication of her family’s social status and wealth. For the ruling classes this meant the Bride choosing a gown of costly fabrics and jewels, for humbler homes it meant donning her best festival or church dress.
White fabrics were especially rare and only available to the wealthiest citizens. The majority of brides wore outfits in many different colors and designs. If a new dress was possible it would then be worn afterwards as the new wife’s best dress.
This began to change when in 1840 the world took note of the wedding of a young monarch named Victoria and her dashing groom Albert. Victoria chose to wear an ivory satin and lace gown adorned with orange blossoms. Cut with the fitted bodice and full skirt of the day, Victoria’s gown became synonymous with the image of the blushing bride throughout the western world and through the ensuing decades. In truth, the silhouette and materials of her gown are still the epitome of the romantic bridal image of today.
After Queen Victoria’s wedding the fashion mavens of the time took the liberty of editing history to the current mode. Godey’s Ladies Magazine proclaimed in an 1849 article on bridal wear that “from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one.” The Industrial Revolution of the second half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century made white cloth more readily available to the masses.
By the early 20th century the concept of marrying in a white gown was a firmly established concept. Many little girls will remember the experience of playing wedding, wearing costumes of lace, old bridal wear or even curtains, while imagining themselves in fairy-tale inspired gowns.
Extending beyond childhood play, many collectors enthusiastically build delightful collections or sub-collections within their doll collections featuring dolls in bridal gowns inspired by beauty and romance embodied in a white dress.
Author – Linda Edward
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