Many people assume that the tradition of getting married in a white wedding gown is an ancient one. But actually, it’s a relatively recent idea, and only became popular in the latter half of the 1800’s. For this, we have Britain’s Queen Victoria to thank . She was actually quite the wedding fashion trendsetter!
Queen Victoria’s bridal gown.
When Britain’s Queen Victoria wed her cousin Albert of Saxe- Gotha in 1840, her ivory trimmed gown set a new trend for the future of bridal gowns: The idea of the white wedding gown. It didn’t seem to matter that her dress was actually ivory,
Before Victoria’s wedding, brides of the noble class tended to wear colorful shimmering gowns threaded through with gold and silver threads. While there have been some white dresses worn by brides before Queen Victoria, it wasn’t a tradition the way it became after her reign. Women of the lower classes often didn’t buy a new dress at all. They would just wear their best dress. And when a woman did have a special dress made for her wedding, she would wear it again, should she be invited to a future ball or other formal event. Wedding dresses weren’t dresses to be only worn one time and then put away, the way today’s dresses are.
And while wearing white gowns was a sign of wealth and showed that the wearer could afford to wear a difficult to maintain garment that stained easily, laundry was quite a chore back then, it wasn’t the symbol of a maiden’s virginal purity as it’s known in our times. Pink wedding dress 1770’s
silver wedding gown of Princess Charlotte, 1816
Queen Victoria was different in that she was marrying for love. She was already a leader in her own right, and didn’t need a man for power or prestige. Her dress was a romantic choice, and more simple then the gowns her predecessors wore.
She showed great patriotism in all the aspects of it’s construction. The tradition of having British royal gowns made entirely by British designers and fabric houses still exists today, as we can see in Princess Kate’s recent gown designed by the British designer Sarah Burton.
The cream colored silk satin was woven at Spitalfield’s of East London. The dress was designed by the British painter William Dyce and followed the popular silhouette of the 1840’s with it’s wide off the shoulder Bertha collar and pointed Basque waist. Queen Victoria’s wedding dress was his only fashion commission. He went back to his painting, after designing the dress. The lace was designed by William Dyce, but produced at Britain’s Honiton lace mill in Devon.
Honiton lace from 1860
After Queen Victoria’s wedding lace became popular again, and Honiton lace, which was in decline, enjoyed a new popularity.There were more lace shops opened in the town of Honiton. Today, there is one shop left that still produces lace in Honiton.
The dress was sewn by Queen Victoria’s personal dressmaker Mary Bettans. I’m always curious about dressmakers in history, and wanted to learn more about Mrs. Mary Bettans. Sadly, all I could find about her was her address listed in an old Post Office directory of London from 1843. She resided at 84 Jermyn street in London.
After her wedding , photos of the Queen in her dress were widely circulated and the the dress style was copied. Queen Victoria set the trend of marrying in a white gown that has been going strong for almost the past 200 years. In fact, her daughters were all married in white dresses, too!