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We all know the iconic image: a blushing bride adorned in a stunning white gown, the epitome of purity, joy, and love. But have you ever wondered why this timeless tradition of brides wearing white came to be? White, symbolizing purity and happiness, seems like a natural choice, but was it always the go-to color for weddings?
Before we had celebrity brides like Vanessa Hudgens and Paris Hilton to serve us major wedding style inspo, there was Queen Victoria. The British monarch and OG bridal influencer wore a white silk-satin gown with lace embellishments to marry Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on 10 February 1840. The color was a break with tradition: prior to the 19th century, European royals wore wedding dresses in a variety of hues, with gold and sapphire among the most popular choices. The royal preference for rich metallics and jewel tones telegraphed both social prominence and a certain sense of pragmatism: in olden days even queens wore their wedding outfits more than once, and light colored dresses, particularly those with massive trains, were exceptionally difficult to launder.
Despite the absence of Instagram and photographs during Queen Victoria’s wedding, illustrations of her fresh and modern bridal ensemble circulated worldwide. The article vividly describes her simple white portrait gown, adorned with lace embellishments, as she walked down the aisle with a wreath of orange blossoms in lieu of a jeweled crown. This pioneering bridal style, though unseen in photographs, left an indelible mark on wedding fashion.
Queen Victoria’s gown launched a craze for white wedding dresses. By the end of the decade, in 1849 the style bible Godey’s Lady’s Book pronounced that “custom has decided … that white is the most fitting hue [for brides].”
Queen Victoria wore the lace from her wedding dress again to two of her own children’s weddings, but one thing she probably didn’t anticipate is that her minimalist taste would dictate royal wedding style for going on two centuries. Brides from Princesses Diana and Kate to Queen Bey have all worn white wedding dresses that take cues from Queen Victoria’s with its tight bodice that hugs at the natural waist and voluminous, full skirt supported by crinolines and petticoats. Indeed Beyoncé’s utterly classic off-the-shoulder dress with sheer silk sleeves and a detachable bustle train for her and Jay-Z’s 2019 vow renewals comes from Galia Lahav’s aptly named Victorian Affinity collection.
Another interesting detail about Queen Victoria’s iconic wedding dress, now preserved in the Royal Collection, is that although she described it as “a white satin gown with a very deep flounce of Honiton lace” in her diaries—and that’s how it was frequently depicted—it wasn’t strictly speaking white by today’s standard, but more of a champagne or ivory. So whether you opt for a true white gown for your nuptials, or more of a dusty white, blush, champagne, or ivory from the Galia Lahav catalogue, know that you’re in excellent style company.