A wedding dress or bridal gown is the clothing worn by a bride during a wedding ceremony. Color, style and ceremonial importance of the gown can depend on the religion and culture of the wedding participants. In Western cultures, brides often choose the white wedding dress, which was made popular by Queen Victoria in the 19th century. In eastern cultures, brides often choose red to symbolize auspiciousness.
Weddings performed during and immediately following the Middle Ages were often more than just a union between two people. They could be a union between two families, two businesses or even two countries. Many weddings were more a matter of politics than love, particularly among the nobility and the higher social classes. Brides were therefore expected to dress in a manner that cast their families in the most favorable light and befitted their social status, for they were not representing only themselves during the ceremony. Brides from wealthy families often wore rich colors and exclusive fabrics. It was common to see them wearing bold colors and layers of furs, velvet and silk. Brides dressed in the height of current fashion, with the richest materials their families' money could buy. The poorest of brides wore their best church dress on their wedding day. The amount and the price of material a wedding dress contained was a reflection of the bride's social standing and indicated the extent of the family's wealth to wedding guests.
The first documented instance of a princess who wore a white wedding dress for a royal wedding ceremony is that of Philippa of England, who wore a tunic with a cloak in white silk bordered with squirrel and ermine in 1406, when she married Eric of Pomerania.Mary, Queen of Scots, wore a white wedding dress in 1559 when she married her first husband, Francis, the Dauphin of France, because it was her favorite color, although white was then the color of mourning for French Queens.
White became a popular option in 1840, after the marriage of Queen Victoria to Albert of Saxe-Coburg, when Victoria wore a white gown trimmed with Honiton lace. Illustrations of the wedding were widely published, and many brides opted for white in accordance with the Queen's choice.
Even after that, for a period, wedding dresses were adapted to the styles of the day. In the early 1900s, clothing included a lot of decorations, such as lace or frills. This was also adopted in wedding dresses, where decorative frills and lace was common. For example, in the 1920s, they were typically short in the front with a longer train in the back and were worn with cloche-style wedding veils. This tendency to follow current fashions continued until the late 1960s, when it became popular to revert to long, full-skirted designs reminiscent of the Victorian era.
Later, many people assumed that the color white was intended to symbolize virginity, though this was not the original intention: it was the color blue that was connected to purity, piety, faithfulness, and the Virgin Mary.
About 75 percent of wedding dresses on the market are strapless dresses or sleeveless, in part because such dresses require less skill from the designers and are easier to alter to fit correctly. However, the sleeved wedding gown as well as wedding gowns with straps have both become more popular in recent years.
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Many wedding dresses in China, India (wedding sari), Pakistan (heavily embroidered shalwar qameez or lehngas) and Vietnam (in the traditional form of the Ao dai) are red; the traditional colour representing good luck and auspiciousness. Nowadays, many women choose other colours besides red. In modern mainland Chinese weddings, the bride may opt for Western dresses of any colour, and don a traditional costume for the wedding tea ceremony.
In modern Taiwanese weddings, the bride generally picks red (following Chinese tradition) or white (more Western) silk for the wedding gown material, but most will wear the red traditional garment for their formal wedding banquets. Traditionally, the father of the bride is responsible for the wedding banquet hosted on the bride's side and the alcohol (specifically called "xi-jiu," confusingly the same as what the wedding banquet itself is called) consumed during both banquets. While the wedding itself is often based on the couple's choices, the wedding banquets are a symbolic gesture of "thanks" and appreciation, to those that have raised the bride and groom (such as grandparents and uncles) and those who will continue to be there to help the bride and groom in the future. Thus out of respect for the elders, wedding banquets are usually done formally and traditionally.
Red wedding saris are the traditional garment choice for brides in Indian culture. Sari fabric is also traditionally silk. Over time, colour options and fabric choices for Indian brides have expanded. Today fabrics like crepe, Georgette, charmeuse, and satin are used, and colors have been expanded to include gold, pink, orange, maroon, brown, and yellow as well. Indian brides in Western countries often wear the sari at the wedding ceremony and change into traditional Indian wear afterwards (lehnga, choli, etc.).
A Japanese wedding usually involves a traditional pure white kimono for the formal ceremony, symbolizing purity and maidenhood. The bride may change into a red kimono for the events after the ceremony for good luck.
In the Philippines, variations of the Baro't saya adapted to the white wedding tradition are considered to be wedding attire for women, along with the Barong Tagalog for men. Various tribes and Muslim Filipinos don other forms of traditional dress during their respective ceremonies.
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The indigenous peoples of the Americas have varying traditions related to weddings and thus wedding dresses. A Hopi bride traditionally had her garments woven by the groom and any men in the village who wished to participate. The garments consisted of a large belt, two all-white wedding robes, a white wedding robe with red stripes at top and bottom, white buckskin leggings and moccasins, a string for tying the hair, and a reed mat in which to wrap the outfit. This outfit also served as a shroud, since these garments would be necessary for the trip through the underworld.
A Pueblo bride wore a cotton garment tied above the right shoulder, secured with a belt around the waist.
In the traditions of the Delaware, a bride wore a knee-length skirt of deerskin and a band of wampum beads around her forehead. Except for fine beads or shell necklaces, the body was bare from the waist up. If it was a winter wedding, she wore deerskin leggings and moccasins and a robe of turkey feathers. Her face was painted with white, red and yellow clay.
The tribes of Northern California (which include the Klamath, the Modoc and the Yurok) had a traditional bridal dress woven in symbolic colors: white for the east, blue for the south, yellow (orange) for the west; and black for the north. Turquoise and silver jewelry were worn by both the bride and the groom in addition to a silver concho belt. Jewelry was considered a shield against evils including hunger, poverty and bad luck.
Detail from The Marriage by Nicolo da Bologna, 1350s.
Helena Fourment, second wife of Peter Paul Rubens, painted by Rubens in her wedding dress, 1630.
Wishram (North American Indian) bride around 1911
Traditional Finnish farmer wedding dress in Jomala
Traditional Kazakh wedding dress
Hutsul wedding dress
Traditional Armenian wedding dress
Chinese couple wearing traditional wedding hanfu
Indian Hindu bride in red Sari
West Bengali bride
Indian Christian bride in white Sari
Bride at a Nikah ceremony wearing typical South Asian red head covering and jewellery
A Nepali bride in wedding dress
Taiwanese couple dressed Western-style for keepsake photos in the park, 1989
Princess Philippa of England is the first recorded princess to have worn white during her wedding in 1406, with her attire consisting of a tunic and cloak in white silk, but it wasn't until Queen Victoria that the white dress would explode in popularity
Mary's choice of a white wedding dress was an unusual one, particularly as white was more traditionally worn by royal ladies when they were in dieul blanc mourning but in this as in other things the strong willed Mary may well have been an innovator, keen to not just impress her own taste on her wedding day (after all, she hadn't been allowed the privilege of choosing her groom) but also emphasise her virginity and show off her famously pale redheaded beauty, which would have been accentuated by a pure white dress.
Her favourite dress colours were white and black which symbolised purity.