|You have to at least try it...(Wendy Makin Design)|
A trip to a wedding dress shop with a bride-to-be – such as that I enjoyed today - raises a lot of interesting questions about taste, tradition, aesthetics, history and superstition. Oh, and princesses.
|Victoria and her Albert 1840|
The tradition of the white wedding dress actually only dates back until 1840 and the wedding of that trend-setter in so many things, Queen Victoria. She wore white silk and Honiton lace for her marriage to Albert, because she had a piece of white lace she wanted to incorporate into her dress. Her train measured eighteen feet in length and her dress was trimmed with orange blossoms. Many people will tell you that white is the virginal colour of purity, but in fact blue was generally considered to play this role, being associated with the Virgin Mary. Many brides chose to wear blue, up until Queen Vic set the trend. Blue is still popular – note its frequent use as the stone in engagement rings – and the superstition of the bride wearing “something blue”. Brides who wore blue believed their husbands would always be true to them, so even if their gown itself was not blue, they would be sure to wear something blue about their person. Queen Victoria was the first royal bride to have bridesmaids to carry her train too, which also set a fashion.
These days, white is considered ‘traditional’, but is by no means compulsory. But brides-to-be might want to take note of the old rhyme:
Married in white, you will have chosen all right.
Married in grey, you will go far away.
Married in black, you will wish yourself back.
Married in red, you’ll wish yourself dead.
Married in blue, you will always be true.
Married in pearl, you’ll live in a whirl.
Married in green, ashamed to be se.,
Married in yellow, ashamed of the fellow.
Married in brown, you’ll live out of town.
Married in pink, your fortunes will sink.
Interestingly, (for those who hadn’t heard this rhyme, at least) pink was once a popular colour, considered most suitable for a May wedding. It is flattering to most complexions and associated with girlhood, but some superstitions held it to be unlucky. Red was definitely taboo by Victorian times, with its reference to scarlet women and hussies.
Amongst the unpopular shades was green. This was considered the fairies' colour, and it was bad luck to call the attention of the little folk to oneself during a time of transition. It was also linked with the lushness of verdant foliage, and so risking rain spoiling the big day.
The bright shade of yellow has had varied popularity. In the eighteenth century it was THE trendy colour for a while, and many wore it, but before that time it had been associated with heathens and was considered an unholy shade to wear in church.
These colour superstitions belong to the Western Judeo-Christian tradition, of course. In China red has long been the rage, and I hear that black was big in Scandinavia for a while.
|Vintage pretty - Wendy Makin Design|
Centuries ago a marriage was more than just a union of two people; it was more generally a union of two families, even two communities, and sometimes two countries. The bride would be expected to be a symbol of her family’s pride, social standing and possibly wealth. To this end they used as much costly material as they possibly could, such as velvet, damask silk, satin, fur and fabrics woven with gold and silver thread. The skirts would be gathered and full, the sleeves would sweep the floor and trains would fall behind to a length of several metres. The dress might be sewn with precious gems - diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds and pearls - so the bride would glitter and flash in the sunlight. In the fifteenth century when Margaret of Flanders was married, the result was so heavy that she could not move in her robes and had to be carried into the church by two gentlemen attendants.
In the nineteenth century, even a bride who wore white would expect to wear her dress again. For the season of her ‘bride visits’ when she would do the rounds of family, friends and acquaintances as a newly married woman, she would wear her bridal gown, with the train and flowers removed. A higher class bride would then adapt the bodice of the outfit (which was often made separately) and re-trim it for evening wear for another season. Queen Victoria herself removed the lace overskirt from her dress and frequently used it again - she wore it over a black silk gown for her Diamond Jubilee celebrations over 50 years later (which is perhaps taking sentimentality too far).
|Princess Grace of Monaco 1956|
In the 1920s wedding dresses were in the style of the moment, reflecting the slim-line flapper dresses and cloche hats of the era. When Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later the ‘Queen Mother’) married HRH the Duke of York in 1923, the ceremony took place in Westminster Abbey, and the bridal gown was the traditional full length, with a court train behind. Current fashion was followed in the dropped waist and generally unshaped bodice, and in the way the head-dress was worn low over the brow, clasping the veil to the bride's head in a way that echoed the cloche hat every woman was wearing then. The style was described in the contemporary press as "medieval", but was really very trendy, except for the length. She chose a traditional bouquet (which does not appear in her official photographs as she laid it at the tomb of the Unknown Warrior on her way out of the Abbey, in memory of her brothers, and others killed in the War) but many brides emphasised the medieval effect by carrying sheaves of white lilies.
When WWII hit, clothes were rationed, uniforms were ubiquitous, and frivolity was frowned upon. Servicemen and women married in their uniforms, and generally everyone made do with something practical, for reasons of patriotism – and rationing. When fashion was allowed come back, everyone was keen to wear long gowns in luxurious fabrics on their wedding day, despite – or perhaps because of - the ever increasing popularity of casual, easy-wear clothing and trousers for women in daily life. As fashion has become more relaxed and sporty, so wedding styles have diverged more. Although each decade's brides are easily distinguished by the styles then in vogue, it is not because of that style's resemblance to general fashion.
|I can't believe I'm posting this photo - but look at the sleeves! |
Sleeves were the big feature of seventies dresses (when your blushing blogger was married – and yes, since you ask, the dress did have the big sleeves). After twenty years of tight sleeves cut to a point over the hand, Princess Anne led the way with her extravagant Tudor sleeved wedding gown, and the brides of this decade followed suit with sleeve styles culled from every era. Yeah, we just went wild.
If Princess Anne's wedding dress influenced the seventies bride, the Princess of Wales' extravagant skirt and huge sleeves proved the style icon of the 1980's. After the restrained outlines of the previous decade, every bride now wanted a fairytale crinoline and tiara. Waistlines had already returned to their natural position. After Diana's dress, everyone had full skirts gathered to the waist, and big sleeves to the elbow, with flounces and bows and lace embellishments. There was a surge in popularity for taffeta and silk. Her flowers also signalled a return of the big bouquet, with trailing greenery.
|Lady Di sets the 80s trend|
Then once you have decided on the dress itself, there is of course the good luck rhyme that every bride will hear at some point: she should wear ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue’. Old: the family link over generations; New: a bright and happy future for the couple being married; Borrowed: showing that the couple will receive support from family and friends around them not only on the day but in the future; Blue: the colour linked to purity, loyalty and faithfulness.
There are also some traditions that, thankfully, are not around today. One such tradition was for guests to break off a piece of the bride's dress which they then kept for good luck. However, in Germany I’m told that it is still a modern tradition for the bride's veil to be ripped apart and the guests will keep the fabric they have collected.
And if you do decide to go for white? You will need to choose ‘the right shade’ of white; something to go with your skin tone, or your tan. Hmmm...here's some advice on this tricky question.
Still don’t know if you want to look like a meringue? Check these '20 Iconic Brides' for inspiration. Personally, I like the deep blue number worn by Burlesque queen Dita Von Teese in 2005.
|Now THAT'S a wedding dress.|
The white dress photos are from Wendy Makin Design.
|Wendy Makin Design|
And did you know that you have to order about six months ahead for these Pronovias gowns from Barcelona? For some reason Barcelona seems to be the fount of all wedding gowns at the moment. Look at this one from Aire Barcelona. Now that's a meringue.
|Shop till you drop....|
Info and pics from: