Origins of the White Wedding Dress and Veil
Did you know that traditionally the color of the dress had nothing to do with the purity of the bride? It is rather odd that this is what people think, when in fact it was the length of an other article of clothing that was used to indicate this.
Of course every culture has its own wedding traditions and most have very colorful wedding gowns. Red is a very popular color for a wedding gown in some eastern cultures as it is a symbol for prosperity in the future. Although now western cultures that have mostly embraced the white wedding gown, this was not always the way. Black dresses where popular in Scandinavia, and blue was often the color that western cultures associated with virginity (this is where “something blue” comes from).
In the middle ages wedding gowns were often very colorful, with purple being the color used for royalty. Other classes of people selected other colors but always tried to showcase their families status through the wedding dress, often adoring themselves in furs as a symbol of wealth and class.
photo source - traditional wedding dress from the 1800's
Possibly one of the first times a white dress was worn as a wedding dress was in 1559 when Mary, Queen of Scots wore white as it was her favorite color. It was not until much later, when in 1840, Queen Victoria wore a white wedding gown to show of some of her prized laces, that white became a popular choice for brides. This trend spread due to the advent of photography and her image in the white dress being seen by thousands.
At this time white did not signify the purity of the bride, something which many people suggest today.
It was in fact often the length of the veil that signified the bride's purity and virginity. A full length veil, covering the face of the bride, was a sign of her purity. Long flowing hair also represented virginity and the hair was also covered by the veil at the back. A widow who was on her second marriage wore a veil that came down only part way over her face, often to her nose.
Veils themselves had earlier served to hide the face of the bride in cases of arranged marriages, which did occur, even in the western world, often to unite families, or businesses.
Lifting of the veil symbolized the rites of the man to consummate the marriage. In modern times the veil is often lifted before the wedding ceremony, or not worn at all, indicating the girl is not a virgin, or simply showing a lack of awareness of the symbolism of the veil itself.