Colour, textile and style can have strong cultural significance in the dresses worn by brides at weddings around the world. Like many traditions however, these features have been known to change. Wedding dresses are garments worn by brides at their wedding ceremony. The dress may be ceremonially symbolic in colour, textile and/or style.
Many Eastern cultures favour red
In many Eastern cultures the colour red is considered auspicious and something that brings good luck. It is often used in wedding attire, for example, Indian wedding saris are red with ornate golden embroidery. Other colours can be chosen, though red is the traditional favourite.
In Japan, white as well as red are traditional wedding colours. A pure white kimono is worn for the wedding ceremony and a bride may change into a red kimono or dress after the ceremony for good luck.
Pacific cultures use bark cloth and woven mats
In many Pacific cultures, bark cloth and woven mats are used for clothing and for ceremonial occasions. These traditional textiles have been used to create contemporary Western style gowns, fusing two cultures together.
Queen Victoria and the British tradition of white
Queen Victoria was the reason the white wedding dress became popular in England and the British Empire. She wedded Prince Albert in 1840 in a white gown decorated with orange blossoms. The image was widely publicised and wearing a white wedding gown gradually became the thing to do.
Prior to this a bride-to-be would wear the most expensive dress she already owned, or that her family could afford, in order to show wealth and status. It could have been white, but was most likely another colour such as blue, which is symbolic of purity and the Virgin Mary. She could wear the dress again if the occasion arose as the dress was not necessarily a one-off purchase for the wedding.
White still prevails
The white coloured dress has now become a standard and tradition in Western bridal attire, so much so that sometimes when a bride chooses to wear another colour on her wedding day it is seen as a bold or brave choice.
The white wedding dress follows transitional fashions, being adaptable to any style and changes its form as hems rise and fall throughout the decades. Expensive fabrics such as silk and lace are often used, mirroring the earlier requirement to show wealth and status. This creates a special garment that although only worn once, may be kept as an heirloom.
Challenging times force temporary changes
During more austere times such as the Great Depression, brides returned to wearing their best dress to save money. In World War II, brides used whatever was available, including parachute silk, to make their wedding dresses as clothing and fabric were rationed.
What will the future bring?
A bride may choose to wear more than one dress on her wedding day, such as a traditional cultural dress as well as a white wedding gown. Culture is fluid and dynamic and over time traditions could change or be adapted to suit the changing world. What will wedding dresses in the future be like and will the dress still be a symbolic representation of the bride and her culture?
Cite this article
Wedding dresses: The colour and texture of love. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 4 June 2015. Updated: 3 December 2015.