White wedding

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on their return from the marriage service at St James's Palace, London, 10 February 1840. Engraved by S Reynolds after F Lock.
Portrait painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1847, as an anniversary present for Prince Albert

A white wedding is a traditional formal or semi-formal wedding originating in Great Britain. The term originates from the white colour of the wedding dress, which first became popular with Victorian era elites after Queen Victoria wore a white lace dress at her wedding.[1][2] The white wedding style was given another significant boost in 1981, when three-quarter billion people—one out of six people around the globe—watched Charles, Prince of Wales marry Diana Spencer in her elaborate white taffeta dress with a 25-foot-long train.[3] This wedding is generally considered the most influential white wedding of the 20th century.[3]

Weddings are often religious events. Therefore, the influence of religion is significant. The white wedding in Europe and the United States, which has become mainstream worldwide, is deeply related to Christian values. The term now also encapsulates the entire Western wedding routine, especially in the Christian religious tradition,[4] which generally includes a church service during which the marriage begins, followed by a reception. White is a color of purity in the Christian faith and is meant to represent the bride’s, pure heart.[5]

Western culture has long followed the tradition of wearing white on one's wedding day.[4] It continues to be prevalent amongst contemporary brides and as Wedding Wire, a wedding company reports, about 85 percent of brides still choose to wear a white wedding dress because in its typical fashion, it has remained steady through the years.[6] In 2018, about 83% of brides in the United States wore white dresses on their big day, according to a survey by Brides Magazine.[7] Note that, since the pure white dress is special only for the bride, who is the star of the wedding, guests and staff other than the bride are basically not allowed to wear the white dress,[8][9] though sometimes the groom wears a white tuxedo. Many lesbian weddings have also embraced the white wedding dress, often with both brides wearing them, but sometimes with one white wedding dress and one tuxedo.

History of the white dress[edit]

A bride from the late 19th century wearing a black or dark coloured wedding dress

Though Mary, Queen of Scots, wore a white wedding gown in 1559 when she married her first husband, Francis Dauphin of France, the tradition of a white wedding dress is commonly credited to Queen Victoria's choice to wear a white court dress at her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840.[10][11] In addition to being the bride who inspired all that came after her to wear white, Victoria is also the one who declared that guests couldn't wear white to the wedding.[12] Debutantes had long been required to wear white court dresses and long white gloves for their first presentation at court, at a "Drawing Room" where they were introduced to the queen for the first time.[10]

Royal brides before Victoria did not typically wear white, instead choosing "heavy brocaded gowns embroidered with white and silver thread," with red being a particularly popular colour in Western Europe more generally.[10] During this time, European and American brides wore a plethora of colours, including blue, yellow, and practical colours like black, brown, or gray. As accounts of Victoria's wedding spread across the Atlantic and throughout Europe, elites followed her lead.

Because of the limitations of laundering techniques before the later part of the 20th century, white dresses provided an opportunity for conspicuous consumption. They were favored primarily as a way to show the world that the bride's family was so wealthy and so firmly part of the leisure class that the bride would choose an elaborate dress that could be ruined by any sort of work or spill.[3][13]

Although women were required to wear veils in many churches through at least the 19th century, the resurgence of the wedding veil as a symbol of the bride, and its use even when not required by the bride's religion, coincided with societal emphasis on women being modest and well-behaved.[3]

Etiquette books then began to turn the practice into a tradition and the white gown soon became a popular symbol of status that also carried "a connotation of innocence and virginal purity."[11] The story put out about the wedding veil was that decorous brides were naturally too timid to show their faces in public until they were married.

By the end of the 19th century the white dress was the garment of choice for elite brides on both sides of the Atlantic. However, middle-class British and American brides did not adopt the trend fully until after World War II.[14] With increased prosperity in the 20th century, the tradition also grew to include the practice of wearing the dress only once. As historian Vicky Howard writes, "[i]f a bride wore white in the nineteenth century, it was acceptable and likely that she wore her gown again".[11] Even Queen Victoria had her famous lace wedding dress re-styled for later use.[3]

The portrayal of weddings in Hollywood movies, particularly immediately after World War II, helped crystallize and homogenize the white wedding into a normative form.[15]

Christianity values[edit]

Many cultures have adopted the traditional Western custom of the white wedding, when the bride wears a white wedding dress and veil. Painting by Edmund Leighton (1853–1922)

Traditional and religious brides tend to choose white dresses, to keep with the norm. White wedding gowns are primarily preferred by Western Christian families. They are worn by the bride as a symbol of purity, innocence, and goodness.[16] In Western culture, white is the color most often associated with innocence, or purity.[17] In the Bible and in Temple Judaism, white animals such as lambs were sacrificed to expiate sins. The white lily is considered the flower of purity and innocence, and is often associated with the Virgin Mary. White is the color in Western culture most often associated with beginnings. Christ after the Resurrection is traditionally portrayed dressed in white. In Christianity, children are baptized and first take communion wearing white. Baptisms are especially tied to white since the person is making a religious commitment to be pure and clean before God. Religious rites and the clothing associated with them have always been important, and white is often a common color used to express high religious commitment and purity.[4] In Christianity, the white wedding dress has a twofold significance. It is a symbol of the wife's purity in heart and life, as well as her reverence to God. It's also a picture of the righteousness of Christ described in Revelation 19:7–8:

'"For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself. She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear." For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people. (NLT)

Jesus Christ clothes his bride, the church, in his own righteousness as a garment of "the finest of pure white linen."[18] In Revelation 19:7-8, John the Apostle writes about the bride (i.e., the Christian Church) being presented to Jesus. He describes her as wearing “fine linen, bright and clean,” which many have interpreted to mean wearing the color white. Similarly, the bridal veil has long been considered a reference to the Temple veil—a cloth that, in Biblical times, kept the Ark of the Covenant hidden from view. When Christ died, the veil was torn, signifying the forgiveness of sin and the people’s reconnection with God. Similarly, the bridal veil is lifted during the wedding, signifying the couple’s connection to one another.[19]

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church or also known as Mormon) attach particular significance to white clothing.[20] The church says, "White is the symbol of purity. No unclean person has the right to enter God’s house."[21] Many things in the temple are symbolic, and white brings to mind purity, virtue, and cleanliness of body, mind, and heart. In the LDS Church, the bride should wear a wedding dress that is "white, modest in design and fabric, and free of elaborate ornamentation" when getting married one of the church's temples.[22] The bride must always wear a white dress when getting married in the temple.[23] There are basically two kinds of wedding dresses that brides wear in an LDS Church temple. The dress could actually be the same and doesn’t have to be two dresses, but often many LDS brides use two dresses on their wedding day. The first dress is the one they get married (sealed) in (the temple dress) and has to meet specific standards. The second is simply a modest wedding dress that will cover the temple garment.[24] Other than garments and a temple-ready dress, need white stockings, a full length slip, and white slippers to wear inside the temple.[25]

A bride wearing a typical wedding veil

In Christian theology, St. Paul's words concerning how marriage symbolizes the union of Christ and His Church underlie part of the tradition of veiling in the marriage ceremony.[26][27] In Catholic traditions, the veil is seen as "a visible sign that the woman is under the authority of a man" and that she is submitting herself to her husband's Christ-like leadership and loving care.[28][29] The removing of the veil can be seen as a symbol of the temple veil that was torn when Christ died, giving believers direct access to God, and in the same way, the bride and the groom, once married, now have full access to one another.[27][30]

Other traditions[edit]

A bride in a contemporary white wedding dress with train, tiara and white veil, taken in 2003.

“Color Wheel Pro” describes[31] white in association with light, goodness, innocence, purity and virginity. White is also often considered to be the color of perfection.[4] As for other significant meanings for white on a wedding day, “colormeaning.com” says, “In color psychology, white is the color of new beginnings — wiping the slate clean. The color white is a blank canvas, just waiting to be written on.”[32]

The traditional white wedding was not necessarily defined by the color of the dress only. The wedding of Queen Victoria's daughter Victoria, to Prince Fredrick William of Prussia in 1858 also introduced choral music to the processional when standard practice had been to have music of any kind only during a party after the wedding ceremony.[33]

After World War I, as full-scale formal weddings began to be desired by the mothers of brides who did not have a permanent social secretary, the position of the wedding planner, who could coordinate the printer, florist, caterer, and seamstress, began to assume importance. The first edition of Bride's Magazine was published in 1934 as a newspaper advertising insert called "So You're Going to Get Married!" in a column titled "To the Bride", and its rival Modern Bride began publishing in 1949.

The full white wedding experience today typically requires the family to arrange for or purchase printed or engraved wedding invitations, musicians, decorations such as flowers or candles, clothes and flowers for bridesmaids, groomsmen, a flower girl, and a ring bearer. They may also add optional features, such as a guest book or commemorative wedding leaflets. It is common to have a celebration after the wedding ceremony, normally featuring a large white wedding cake.

Bride's accessories[edit]

The white wedding dress worn by the bride is often accompanied by the following accessories.

A pair of wedding rings
  • Tiara:A crown-shaped hair accessory. Became common due to the influence of weddings of royalty and nobility.
  • Veil:They were made of thin cloth and varied from those that covered the entire face to those that were tied into a bundle of hair and hung down. It was meant to protect the bride from demons and evil spirits. Not only does the bridal veil show the modesty and purity of the bride and her reverence for God, it reminds us of the Temple veil which was torn in two when Christ died on the cross. Through marriage, the couple now has full access to one another. (1 Corinthians 7:4)[34]
  • Pannier:An underskirt made of a taut material to make the skirt fuller.
  • Train:It is the hem of a skirt that is pulled backward for a long time, and the longer it is, the more prestigious it is.
  • GlovesBridal gloves came to be in our history when they represented a sign of status and power. Out of respect, they were worn at all traditional and religious ceremonies, particularly by royalty and dignitaries.[35] Wearing of wedding gloves was actually “required” by wedding etiquette until 1960.[36] Even today, unless it is an informal summer wedding, long gloves are a signature accessory for brides.[37] The longer the glove, the higher the formality.[38][39] The longest of them are called "Opera gloves" (a type of Evening glove).
  • Foundation:A corrective undergarment worn to adjust the body shape and make the dress line look beautiful. Corsets or Corselet are included in this category. Match the color of your shapewear to the color of your dress, not the color of your skin.[40]
  • Stockings:Unless you're getting married on a beach or in a hot and humid environment, hosiery is a must on your wedding day.[41][42] Since they need to go with the bridal gown, wedding stockings are almost always white or any shade of it, cream, off-white ivory, you get the idea.[43] There is a Western wedding tradition for a bride to wear a garter to her wedding, to be removed towards the end of the reception by the groom.[44][45]
  • ShoesPumps are orthodox, but sandals and mules are also used. There is a wide variety of styles, from those with no decoration to those decorated with beads, lace, or ribbons.
  • Bouquet:A bouquet of flowers, including a cascade bouquet that resembles flowing water, a crescent-shaped crescent bouquet, a round bouquet bound in a circle, and a wreath-shaped wreath bouquet.
  • Wedding ringGold has been used since the 2nd century, and diamonds since the 15th century. The origin of this symbol is in ancient Rome, where it is said to symbolize the cycle of life and eternity.


Traditional weddings require, in addition to the bride and groom, a marriage officiant, which is a minister, priest, rabbi, imam, or civil officer who is authorized to perform marriages.

Typical white weddings also include a wedding party, which consists of some or all of the following:

  • Groomsmen or ushers: One or more friends or family members who assist the groom, usually men. The chief groomsman is called the best man, and is given a place of honor. A woman (such as the sister of the groom) is called an honor attendant.
  • Bridesmaids: One or more friends or family members who support the bride. The chief bridesmaid may be called a maid of honor or matron of honor. A girl too young to be marriageable, but too old to be a flower girl, is called a junior bridesmaid.
  • Flower girl: A young girl who scatters flowers in front of the bridal party.
  • Ring bearer: An attendant, often a young boy, who carries the wedding rings.

Typically, these positions are filled by close friends of the bride and groom; being asked to serve in these capacities is seen as an honor, and typically entails some expense.

The ceremony[edit]

A Lutheran priest in Germany marries a young couple at the church.
The bride and groom stand before the altar during the wedding ceremony, surrounded by the bridesmaids and groomsmen.

When the guests arrive for a wedding, the ushers, if any, help the guests take their places. In a typical white wedding ceremony, which is derived primarily from the Christian tradition (inclusive of denominations such as Lutheranism and Anglicanism, for example), the bride and groom will stand side by side at the front of the church before the chancel throughout most or all the ceremony. Consequently, some guests prefer to sit on the side closer to the person they know best. Typically, this means that the bride's family sits on the house left and the groom's family on house right. The front rows are generally reserved for close family members or friends.

Some couples make a ceremony of having their grandparents, step-parents, and parents escorted to their seats immediately before the wedding procession begins. In other cases, these relatives form part of the wedding procession.

Depending on the country, her age and situation, and her personal preferences, the bride may walk alone or be escorted by her father, both of her parents, one or more relatives she wishes to honor, or the groom. In Swedish white weddings, the bride and groom usually go down the aisle together.[46] Similarly, some couples choose to have the groom escorted to the altar by his family.

Whether the bride is the first or the last of the wedding party to enter the church varies by country. In the US, the bride is typically last, being preceded by the rest of the wedding party. In the UK, she leads the procession, followed by any bridesmaids, flower girls and page boys. Sometimes the groom is already present in the church; other times, he and any groomsmen form part of the procession. The music played during this procession is commonly called a wedding march, no matter what songs are played.

If the wedding is part of a religious service, then technically the service begins after the arrival of the participants, commonly with a prayer, blessing, or ritual greeting. During the ceremony, each partner in the couple makes marriage vows to the other in front of the marriage officiant. The ceremony might include the playing of a prelude, the singing of hymns, and Bible readings, as well as Holy Communion in accordance with the Christian marriage liturgy of the church at which the wedding is held, e.g. Lutheran, Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, etc.[47]

After the wedding ceremony itself ends, the bride, groom, officiant, and two witnesses generally go off to a side room to sign the wedding register in the United Kingdom or the state-issued marriage license in the United States. Without the signing of the register or the marriage license, a marriage has not legally occurred.

Afterward, guests may cheer the departure of the couple from the church by throwing flower petals, confetti, birdseed, or rice over them. Miniature containers of bubbles are often provided to guest to blow at the couple instead of throwing the previously mentioned items.

The reception[edit]

Couple cutting a wedding cake

After this, the celebrations shift to a reception at which the newly married couple, as the guests of honor, and the hosts and perhaps members of the wedding party greet the guests in a receiving line. Although now commonly called a reception no matter the style of party, wedding celebrations range from simple receptions to dinner parties to grand wedding balls.

Food is served, particularly including a wedding cake. Wedding cakes are often multi-tiered layer cakes that are elaborately decorated with white icing. Cutting the wedding cake is often turned into a ritual, complete with sharing a symbolic bite of the cake in a rite that harks back to the pagan confarreatio weddings in ancient Rome.[48]

During the reception, a number of short speeches and/or toasts may be given in honor of the couple.

If there is dancing, the bride and groom, as the guests of honor, are expected to be the first people to begin dancing. This is usually termed the bridal waltz, even if the couple has arranged for a different style of music. In Denmark, it is still normal to dance the first dance as a couple to waltz. Some families then contrive a series of arranged dances between the newlyweds and their parents, or other members of the wedding party, with guests expected to watch the performances.

At some point, the married couple may become the object of a charivari, a good-natured hazing of the newly married couple. The nature depends upon the circumstances. In India and other South Asian cultures, guests may try to steal the groom's shoes when he removes them for a religious ceremony and later sell them back to him. This game is sometimes called joota chupai. In Western cultures, guests might tie tin cans or a sign saying "Just Married" to the bumper of the couple's car, if they depart in their own car rather than a hired one.

As the guests of honor, the newly married couple is the first to leave the party. From ancient Rome through the Middle Ages in Europe, wheat kernels were thrown at the bride in a wish for affluence; now it is typical to throw rice, as a symbol of fertility, at the couple as they depart.[48]


Photographs from late 19th century, early 20th century, and early 21st century weddings. The first two images show the bride in a black or dark dress. The photographic styles of capturing weddings continues to evolve from posed somber expressions to candid moments showing emotion and joy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Why Do Brides Wear White?". britannica.com. Retrieved 7 September 2021.
  2. ^ "Queen Victoria Made White Wedding Dresses Popular. Here's What Else You Should Know About Her Royal Wedding". vogue.com. 15 January 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e Ingrassia, Catherine (2007). "Diana, Martha and Me". In Curran, Colleen (ed.). Altared: Bridezillas, Bewilderment, Big Love, Breakups, and What Women Really Think about Contemporary Weddings. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 24–30. ISBN 0-307-27763-1.
  4. ^ a b c d "5 special occasions when you should wear white". deseret.com. 2 December 2018.
  5. ^ "12 Essential Christian Wedding Traditions". susanshek.com. Retrieved 5 October 2021.
  6. ^ "A Brief History Of The White Wedding Dress". historyofyesterday.com. 28 August 2021.
  7. ^ "Why do brides wear white?". theconversation.com. 4 September 2020.
  8. ^ "Everything You Need to Know About Wearing White to a Wedding". theknot.com. Retrieved 29 September 2021.
  9. ^ "Wearing White to a Wedding: Cool or Not Cool?". brides.com. 19 July 2021.
  10. ^ a b c Otnes, Cele & Pleck, Elizabeth (2003). Cinderella Dreams: the Allure of the Lavish Wedding. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 31.
  11. ^ a b c Howard, Vicky (2006). Brides Inc.: American Weddings and the Business of Tradition. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 157–159.
  12. ^ "Why Are Wedding Dresses White?". ranker.com. 31 July 2019.
  13. ^ Ramshaw, Gail (6 September 2004). Words around the Font. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 111. ISBN 9781592449255.[1]
  14. ^ Jellison, Katherine (2008). It's Our Day: America's Love Affair with the White Wedding, 1945–2005. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. pp. 65–67.
  15. ^ Martin, Judith (2005). Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-05874-3.[page needed]
  16. ^ "White Wedding Gown- What Does It Symbolize?". symbolsage.com. Retrieved 29 September 2021.
  17. ^ Eva Heller (2000), Psychologie de la couleur – effets et symboliques.
  18. ^ "Christian Wedding Symbols: The Meaning Behind the Traditions". learnreligions.com. 3 June 2020.
  19. ^ "4 Christian Wedding Traditions for Your Ceremony". weddingbee.com. 10 April 2019.
  20. ^ "The Importance of the LDS Temple Dress". whiteelegance.com. 1 September 2020.
  21. ^ "Why Symbols?". churchofjesuschrist.org. 1 February 2007.
  22. ^ "27. Temple Ordinances for the Living". General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Retrieved 20 September 2021.
  23. ^ "Temple Bridal Dress Guidelines". churchofjesuschrist.org. 1 June 1997.
  24. ^ "Information For Brides and Grooms Planning a Temple Marriage". churchofjesuschrist.org. 1 June 1971.
  25. ^ "What to Wear During the LDS (Mormon) Sealing Ceremony". weddinglds.com. Retrieved 15 October 2021.
  26. ^ Ephesians 5
  27. ^ a b Fairchild, Mary (20 May 2018). "Uncover the Meaning Behind Today's Christian Wedding Traditions". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  28. ^ "The Theological Significance of the Veil". Veils by Lily. 7 April 2014. Retrieved 19 January 2019.
  29. ^ 1 Corinthians 11:4
  30. ^ 1 Corinthians 7:4
  31. ^ "Color Meaning". color-wheel-pro.com. Retrieved 7 September 2021.
  32. ^ "White Color Meaning: The Color White Symbolizes Purity and Innocence". color-meanings.com. Retrieved 7 September 2021.
  33. ^ Pleck, Elisabeth (2000). Celebrating the Family: Ethnicity, Consumer Culture and Family Rituals. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 212.
  34. ^ "Christian Wedding Traditions". documentsanddesigns.com. Retrieved 5 October 2021.
  35. ^ "Can you wear gloves to a wedding?". idswater.com. 22 January 2019.
  36. ^ "Wedding gloves tradition – Is it right for you?". historywedding.blogspot.com. 7 October 2018.
  37. ^ Gloves, Ines. "Gloves Etiquette". Ines Gloves. Retrieved 18 October 2020.
  38. ^ "Choosing wedding gloves". wednet.com. Retrieved 1 October 2021.
  39. ^ "Bridal Gloves: I Do or I Don't?". dpnak.com. 29 July 2013.
  40. ^ "Shapewear Secrets Every 2021 Bride Should Know". shapermint.com. 21 April 2021.
  42. ^ "What Kind Of Pantyhose To Wear Under Wedding Dress?". blog.ever-pretty.com. 23 April 2021.
  43. ^ "24 Different Types of Stockings, Pantyhose List". fashionquo.com. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
  44. ^ "Everything You Need to Know About the Wedding Garter Tradition". brides.com. 10 April 2020.
  45. ^ "Everything You Need To Know About The Wedding Garter". bridebox.com. 17 February 2015.
  46. ^ "Vigselakten" [The Wedding Ceremony]. brollopstorget.se. Retrieved 22 March 2010. Det vanligaste nuförtiden i Sverige är att brud och brudgum går in i kyrkan tillsammans.
  47. ^ Jr., Charles Yrigoyen; Warrick, Susan E. (7 November 2013). Historical Dictionary of Methodism. Scarecrow Press. p. 236. ISBN 978-0-8108-7894-5. In Methodism, the sacred service celebrates a covenenat grounded in the will of God and sustained by divine grace. ... Methodism encourages the solemnization of marriages within the context of congregational worship and eucharistic celebration.
  48. ^ a b  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bride". Encyclopædia Britannica. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 528.

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