Would you believe us if we told you that the tradition of wearing a white wedding gown isn’t all that old? Well, you’d better listen up and listen up sharp because it’s true.
So, why are wedding dresses white? Well, that’s what we hope to get to the bottom of in this article. We’re going to look at where this tradition started, the various hues of white available, how culture plays a role, and ways that you can shake it up if you don’t want to wear a white dress.
Throughout our years as wedding photographers, we’ve documented lots of brides who’ve chosen white as their color of choice.
However, we’ve also photographed brides in colorful gowns, suits, and summery floral dresses. What we’re saying is that there are no rules when it comes to your wedding attire.
You should do what feels most appropriate for you and your big day. If that sees you donning a white wedding dress with a 20-foot train then you do you. At the same time, if you want to go with something a little different let’s say by wearing a blue jumpsuit we’re also behind you in that decision.
So, if you’re eager to find out more about this odd tradition we’ve got you covered. Just read on to get the lowdown.
When and Why Did White Become the Color for Wedding Dresses?
The tradition of wearing a white wedding dress is under 200 years old. It seems to have started in 1840 when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in England in the U.K.
Crazy to think that this would start a craze where it’s now seen as odd or different for a bride to don anything but a white wedding dress, isn’t it? Traditions have to start somewhere I guess. They seem to happen even more when it’s the Royals that are bucking the trend.
Before this time brides would mostly wear colorful wedding dresses. They’d be red, blue, and even black, crazy to think how it’s the complete opposite now. At this time white was reserved for mourning, so, very far removed from the happiness associated with a modern-day white wedding.
To further cement this trend you have of course got another little wedding that happened once again in England. On July 29, 1981, Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles tied the knot.
She wore a magnificent white dress designed by Elizabeth Emanuel and with the wedding being televised it’s fair to say it had a lot of eyes on it. 750 million people saw it to be more exact in 74 countries! That’s a lot of eyes! It’s safe to say that it will have had a major influence on some of the traditions we now hold up some 42 years later.
This is perhaps the main reason the tradition took off and has stuck around for so long. The white wedding dress acts as a sort of status symbol showing off wealth and exclusivity. In the past, you wouldn’t wear white dresses for much else as they’re impractical but for a wedding when the day is all about the happy couple it’s the ideal choice.
The Different Shades of White Wedding Dresses
If you want to get technical about things white isn’t actually a color. We know Newsflash!, right? But it’s actually classified as a shade.
There are many different shades of white to choose from when it comes to picking out a wedding dress. Each bride will of course have their own preferences and they should choose one that is going to make them feel like a million dollars on their wedding day.
- Pearl white
- Pure white
All of the above are popular options for white wedding dresses. You should try on a variety to find one that best aligns with your skin tone, shows off your figure the best, but ultimately makes you feel amazing.
You’ll find that pure white is the most common white dress to wear for a wedding. They come in all manner of designs and materials for something uniquely you. White wedding dresses also vary massively in cost depending on the craftsmanship required or whether they are created by an exclusive designer.
Cultural Influences of White Wedding Dresses
As we’ve already touched on the influence of the monarchy on wedding dress choice still persists today. It was a momentous time and it’s hard to argue with the fact that brides look stunning in white wedding dresses even in 2023.
With that being said we are seeing more and more brides ditching this tradition in favor of something more unique to them. There really are no rules when it comes to what you should wear on your wedding day so buck the trend if you want to just like Queen Victoria did in 1840!
The opposite can be said about Eastern culture. It’s the norm there to wear red for weddings as it is seen as a color of good fortune and prosperity.
In countries such as India and China for example brides will wear a vibrant red dress adorned with many other embellishments to really stand out on their big day.
This is also a way to honor their heritage and in Chinese culture, the mother of the bride will also often wear her Qipao (a traditional red outfit) for the morning section of the day.
Of course, there is a little thing called globalization to consider and many Eastern cultures have also embraced the white wedding dress.
In our experience, it isn’t uncommon for Hong Kong brides for example to wear the traditional red outfit for the morning rituals and then change into a white dress for the remainder of the day. Hey, they may even change into a purple dress during the banquet as well.
It’s really up to the bride and their personality.
Alternative Dress Colors to White
We know it might not seem like it when you look at wedding blogs but there is no rule that says you have to wear a white wedding dress. Shocker, right?
But what else is out there? Let’s take a look at some of the alternatives in a little more detail.
Red Wedding Dresses
Perhaps you just want to honor the tradition of your culture. Or maybe you just really like the color red. It’s a bold statement for sure but as we’ve already mentioned it’s the color that lots of wedding dresses in the past would have been. They work particularly well for winter weddings as they contrast especially well with crisp frost or snowy landscapes. If you can get past the similarities to The Handmaid’s Tale then red could be a great option.
Black Wedding Dresses
You may be there thinking that black clothing is more suited to a funeral. And of course, you’d be right to some degree. However, we have shot our fair share of weddings with black dresses over the years. They fit well for a gothic or steampunk-inspired wedding. Equally though, if black is just your color your guests will just have to deal with it!
Blue Wedding Dresses
There are many different shades of blue to choose from. There are light and pastel hues all the way through to the deepest navy almost resembling black. They’re an exceptional choice if you’re either having a beach wedding or just looking for pre-wedding photos along the coast.
Purple Wedding Dresses
We often see purple dresses worn as an evening gown worn by brides. The color really works well with the disco lights and emphasizes your epic dance moves. Once again they come in all manner of different hues. We especially like them when there is just a subtle hint of coloration. They can work great for those ballroom-style weddings as well as a more relaxed affair.
Green Wedding Dresses
The color green is well known as being symbolic of nature, freshness, and renewal. So, it goes without saying that it’s the ideal alternative to a white wedding dress. Just think, if you’re having an outdoor wedding is there a better choice? It won’t even show up the grass stains if your photographer asks you and your partner to sit in a meadow for some gorgeous close-ups.
Alternative Ideas to Wearing a White Wedding Dress
Not only are there some great color options instead of wearing a white wedding dress but there are also some quality alternatives if you want to forego the traditional dress altogether.
For the alternative bride that really wants to buck the trend, a jumpsuit could be a brilliant option. You could wear this in white to keep that traditional aspect or throw caution to the wind and choose a hot pink one if that’s what you want.
Jumpsuits can be more comfortable to wear for some brides than a dress. Not only that but many also come with pockets, YES POCKETS! This gives you something to do with your hands in photos and can make you feel less awkward when all eyes are on you.
In our opinion, it’s the perfect alternative for those brides that really want to make a statement on their big day.
The Mini Wedding Dress
Wedding dresses are classically long and trail along the floor but why not mix it up? Going for a shorter dress adds a touch of playfulness and shows off your pins.
You don’t have to go so short that you’re making your partner all hot under the collar but it’s a great alternative and also amplifies those expensive shoes you’ve chosen.
It’s also a great choice for a summery outdoor wedding where you’ll be very appreciative of carrying around less fabric all day.
Ivory or Off-White
The pure white wedding dress is the most popular option, there’s no getting away from that. However, if you want something a little different that still upholds the tradition you could go for an off-white hue.
This will allow all the benefits of looking classy and timeless but also be something a little different. The more subtle white can look a little less harsh making any intricate details appear softer and more subdued.
Choosing a dress that has a subtle shimmer of your favorite color allows your dress to represent your unique personality. It amplifies the femininity of the gown and is a style we’ve definitely seen growing traction in recent years.
It’s the perfect option for those wanting a fairytale-style wedding and adds a sense of whimsy to the day.
At the same time, you don’t have to wear this dress throughout the wedding day. You could change into this as the party is about to get started straight after the cake cut.
Floral Summer Vibes
Having a DIY wedding in a back garden? Then the floral summer gown could be ideal. It gives a more laid-back vibe whilst also staying classy and sophisticated. The base color is usually white and they’re covered in floral patterns printed on the fabric. These can be in any color that best represents the theme of your day or your own personal style.
If you want to incorporate motifs from your culture there’s nothing to say you can’t wear a white dress and do that. These could take the form of things you add as accessories such as jewelry, headwear, or a shawl, whatever is right for you.
Alternatively, you could always change into your traditional dress code at any point in the day. In Hong Kong for instance, brides often have three, four, and sometimes even five outfit changes throughout the day. So nothing is off limits.
Is it compulsory to wear a white wedding dress?
No, as we’ve mentioned throughout this article there is no law that says you have to wear a white dress on your wedding day. If you don’t feel that a white dress is appropriate for your style or you just flat out disagree with wearing one then don’t. We do like that it’s a color rarely worn so something especially reserved for weddings but if you don’t want to, no one should force you.
Do you need to be female to wear a white wedding dress?
Again no. Anyone can wear a white wedding dress if they think that it best represents them and their values. As long as your partner loves you for who you are they’ll respect your decision. Ultimately the wedding day is about you and your partner having the best time ever so just wear what makes you feel fab.
Do you need to be a virgin to wear white?
Of course not. Whilst there is a bit of truth in the tradition starting in this way it’s definitely not the case in 2023. So whether you’re a virgin or have 5 children it really doesn’t matter. You should see the whiteness of the dress as representative of a new start and the beginning of a new chapter in your life. A blank canvas if you will. Just decide for yourself whether a white dress is the best fit for you and your wedding.
Can you wear white if it’s your second wedding?
No…only kidding of course you can! It doesn’t matter how many times you get married you can still rock up in a white dress if that’s what you want. Of course, if it’s your 8th wedding you might want to push the boat out and don a multi-colored jumpsuit but that’s your prerogative.
Should I wear a white wedding dress if I’m eloping?
Ermmm yeah, you should. If you’re having a wedding without a wedding aka an elopement a white wedding dress can look killer. It can look especially good in photos in moody locations such as Glencoe in Scotland or perhaps Iceland where the lighting is edgy and dark. The white just pops in the landscape and you’ll get awesome photos. Trust us!
Can I change my dress on the wedding day?
Yes, as we’ve talked about in the article it’s not uncommon at all to have various outfit changes throughout the day. Wear something for your morning preparations, wear your wedding dress to the ceremony and speeches, and then change into something for the evening. If that is what you want to do then don’t let anyone stop you.
This way you get to uphold tradition by wearing a white wedding dress to the formal part of the day. You can then slip into something a little more comfy when the time comes to hit the dancefloor.
Should I ask guests not to wear white dresses?
Most guests will already know about this etiquette when attending a wedding. However, if you wanted to make sure you could add it as a note when you’re choosing your wedding invitations. At the same time if you choose not to wear white you may want to encourage your guests to turn up in white dresses and suits so that you stand out.
There’s no getting away from it, most wedding dresses you see will be white. Whether that’s at weddings you’ve been to, weddings you see whilst browsing blogs, or even wedding dresses you see whilst out at your local bridal boutique.
85% of brides wear a shade of white according to Wedding Wire newlywed report . Fair to say you’ll be in the minority if you opt for anything different.
Hopefully, our thorough article has helped to shed some light on the question: Why are wedding dresses white? We’ve looked at the history behind this tradition as well as dissected how this varies across different cultures.
At the same time, we’ve also provided you with a list of alternative color options as well as different styles.
White wedding dresses aren’t for everyone and we get that. We believe that the most important thing on a wedding day is the happiness of the couple. If the bride doesn’t want to wear a white wedding dress then that should be totally fine with anyone lucky enough to attend their wedding.
So whether you choose to keep with tradition and don a white wedding dress or wear something completely unique, we will back you 100%.