July 17, 2014

[GUEST POST] The History of Wedding Dresses

When we think of wedding dresses, chances are we’re far too lost in the romance and magic of the moment to consider their real value. We neglect aspects such as their cultural significance, their historical value, and what they look like in different parts of the world. If you’ve ever pondered on this matrimonial gown’s significance, today you’re going to get the lowdown, in an effort to shine a little light on this arguably important garment.

Western Wedding Dresses
During the Middle Ages, weddings were more than just a marriage between two people, instead often symbolising the union of two families, businesses and even countries. Tying the knot was a matter of politics more than love, particularly with regards to the nobility and classes of higher social standing. This meant that brides were therefore expected to dress in such a manner that reflected their high social standing, to paint a favourable image on the family or country she was representing. In such times, brides often wore garments featuring vibrant, rich colours made from expensive fabrics, complete with layers of fur, velvet and silk.

As time passed, brides continued to wear wedding dresses that fit their social status. To this end, dresses were always designed to reflect the trends considered to be at the height of fashion, and made from the boldest fabrics that money could buy. Those without the money to splash out would still don their best church dresses on the big day, so that they too could be viewed in the most favourable light possible. The amount of material that was used to make the wedding dress was another token of the social standing of the bride, and an indicator to all who attended the wedding as to the wealth of her family. 

Today’s Western weddings have loosened their traditions to accommodate a variety of colour and length when it comes to wedding dresses. Traditionally, Western wedding dresses are white. This stems from the 1920s, when the bourgeois-churchly moral in society equated the whiteness of the wedding gown with the purity of the bride. These days, however, the color options have extended to include a variety of shades such as eggshell, ecru and ivory. Factually, however, the white wedding dress is a variation of the surplice worn by Catholic members celebrating their christening, first communion, confirmation and religious vows. Despite these religious roots, a white gown is today merely considered to be the popular choice for brides and their weddings.

While wedding dresses have always, to some extent, followed the current fashions, there has been a tendency in the last 60-70 years for the Victorian style to dominate the bridal market. A growing number of brides choose not to follow the changes in fashion, opting for the more simple and traditional styles, which could be a result of the increase in women marrying later in life and the growing occurrence of non-first time weddings.

Native American Wedding Dress Culture
The native people of America have varying traditions that relate to weddings and wedding dresses in particular. For example, a Hopi bride would traditionally wear garments woven by the groom and other men in the village who wish to participate. The garments often consisted of a large belt, all-white wedding robes, a white wedding robe with red stripes, white buckskin leggings and moccasins, and a reed mat in which to wrap the outfit. Whereas a Peublo bride wore a cotton garment that was tied above the right shoulder and secured with a belt around the waist.

In the traditions of the tribes of Northern California, the wedding dress was woven in symbolic colours. The colour turquoise was worn by both the bride and the groom, and silver jewellery with a silver belt was worn to shield the couple against evils such as poverty, bad luck and hunger.

Delaware traditions dictated that the bride could wear a knee-length deerskin skirt and a band of wampum beads around her forehead. The rest of her body from the waist up was left bare, besides fine beads or shell necklaces that hung around her neck. In winter, she would be allowed to wear deerskin leggings and moccasins and a robe of turkey feathers. In both cases, the bride’s face was painted with clay.

Eastern Wedding Dress Culture
In China, India and Vietnam, many of the wedding dresses are coloured red, due to its symbolism as a colour of good luck. Nowadays, the wedding dresses feature many other colours besides red and some brides even opt for more Western style dresses of any colour, saving the more traditional garment for later on the day.

Taiwanese weddings sees brides choose between red and white silk for their wedding gown material, but most will still choose to wear the red traditional garment for the wedding banquet that takes place after the ceremony.

Over time, particularly in Indian culture, colour options and fabric choices have expanded. Fabrics like Georgette, charmeuse, satin and crepe are used, and colours such as gold, pink, orange and maroon are popular. In Japan, white is used because it symbolises death – with the wedding ceremony representing the bride becoming “dead” to her family. Eventually the Japanese bride removes her white kimono to reveal a coloured one, which symbolises her rebirth into her husband’s family.

There really are a huge variety of colours, fabrics and styles used around the world. However, as globalisation continues and the gaps in geography and lifestyle are made smaller, popularity seems to lean towards the Western style white wedding dress, which has been incorporated in many cultures around the world. Luckily, as the traditions around weddings grow less rigid, more and more brides are able to choose the wedding dress that they feel will make their special day one of the most magical days of their lives – which, when you look at it, is exactly what it should be.

Robyn Porteous is the creative content manager for Birando, an innovative party products supplier. More of her writing can be viewed on her Google+ profile

check out their website: www.birando.com

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  1. Nice tips also great conversation you have shared, i really so inspired keep it continue.
    Thank you

  2. Thank you :) I'm so glad you found it inspiring! I find everything to do with the traditions and history of weddings to be so interesting, particularly with regards to different cultures.

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