Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why Do Brides Wear White Wedding Gowns?

I never thought to ask myself this question - why do the majority of brides wear white wedding gowns? I have noticed that many Western brides choose white wedding gowns, and I thought it served to signify the purity of the bride - that is, the bride's virginity before marriage.

In non-Western cultures though, traditional wedding gowns can be a variety of colours. Chinese brides have favoured yellow and red colours, and Indians also favour red. Malay brdes choose colourful and bright colours. However, over the past decades though, in Singapore, more brides are choosing to be wed in Western-styled white wedding gowns over their traditional wedding gowns that are of a variety of colours. I think that is such a shame so I thought I'd write about why white wedding gowns in the first place, in the hopes that non-Western brides will revert to their colourful wedding gown traditions.

Well, it turns out that the appearance of white wedding gowns was not started to signify a bride's virginity. It actually started as a fashion fad - imagine that! And this fashion fad started relatively recent - wearing white wedding gown is not an ancient tradition.

Wearing white wedding gowns gained popularity when Queen Victoria of England married Albert of Saxe-Coberg in 1840. She wore a white gown to incorporate some lace that she owned. At the time when she did that, a white wedding dress was extremely uncommon, and was not a sign of purity, but a sign of wealth -- for only very wealthy women could afford a dress that could never be worn again (cleaning a white dress was not so easy in 1840).

After her wedding, many rich women copied the queen's style for their own weddings. Still, it did not catch on until the mid-20th century when white came to dominate the wedding dress market - I suppose cleaning white became easier for people, and white gowns became accessible to people.

So the white dress was more a symbol of fashion than virginity. Before Queen Victoria, Western brides married in any color except black (the color of mourning) and red which was associated with prostitutes. Brides who wanted to wear a symbol of their purity wore blue.

Hopefully, brides will want to start exploring different colours for their wedding gowns. Especially in Singapore where we have such a rich and colourful tradition.

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