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A wedding dress, or a wedding gown, is an elegant clothing which a bride wears to her wedding ceremony. Usually the wedding dress is white, but the bride can actually choose any colour she would like to. There is also a variety of style solutions to the wedding dress depending on fashion trends, the festivity of the wedding ceremony and the choice of the bride. The style of the fashion dress depends on the cultural traditions of every particular country, but in the Western tradition it is accepted that a white dress with a veil is the most classic standard for a bride to wear at the wedding.
Any wedding dress carries cultural information and presents the outlook of the family in which the bride was raised. Usually, the bride chooses her dress with her mother or/and the bridesmaids, and this process is a very important event in the life of every woman. The bride wants to present herself and her family from the best point of view to the groom, his family and the guests, so the wedding dress is usually made individually for order rather than bought. The wedding dress always reflects the individuality of a bride, her personal features and is considered the most important piece of clothing that a woman wears in her life.
The wedding dress became an object for research by multiple authors and fashion experts. The book The Wedding Dress: 300 Years of Bridal Fashions by Edwina Ehrman (2014) is one of the most prominent research works on the history of the bridal dress. The author emphasizes that every wedding dress is an indicator of historical events, customs, traditions and everyday views. The author researches the wedding dress from different aspects such as political, sociocultural, economical and everyday life. The impact that Queen Victoria made on the history of the wedding dress fashion is inspected in detail in the article “The White Dress That Changed History Forever” (Begley, 2015).
The cover of the book by Edwina Ehrman
Before her outstanding fashion statement the brides usually opted for the red colour of the wedding dresses, but the impression that the Queen has made on the public with her white dress was so strong that the white wedding dress stays the most popular fashion outfit for marriage till nowadays. The way the wedding fashion has developed over many years is observed in the article “The Evolution of the Wedding Dress” by Lindsay Baker (2014). She underlines that in the 18th and 19th century the white dress was not yet having the connotation of purity and innocence. It was rather a privilege of the wealthy, because people from the lower classes of society could not afford the materials from which the white wedding dress was sewn. All the washing at that time was done by hands, and it was almost impossible to properly wash the white dress before the bride puts it on. Moreover, the white dress could not be worn the second time, that is why it was available only for the richest. In the article “Why Most Wedding Dresses Are White” by Jude Stewart (2011) the similar topic is explored. The author also concentrates on the modern times and explains why in most cases brides prefer white to be the colour of their wedding gown.
Wedding is a union between two people, families or countries. The nobility and the upper strata of society in the Middle Ages agreed about the wedding guided by considerations of policy, social status, wealth, and love (Knight, 2008).
Example of medieval dress (Wedding Dresses at Chicago History Museum Digital Collection)
The bride was dressed in such a way to represent her family in the most favourable light during the wedding ceremony. Wedding dresses of brides from wealthy families were made from exclusive fabrics and finished with fur. For centuries the bride's dress should correspond to their social status and fashion. Number of meters of fabric spent on sewing a wedding dress reflects the social status of the bride and indicates the degree of the family's wealth. Dresses for brides were made of different colours, and at that time white was not popular. In the Orthodox and many Protestant traditions a bride was expected to wear a white dress when she married for the first time, but divorced women or widows were to choose a different colour. The white colour symbolized the innocence of the bride and emphasized her youth and beauty. In Scandinavia dominated by puritan laws the bride wore a dress sewed in black. In the catholic traditions the wedding dress was not obligatory to be white.
The black Scandinavian wedding dress reproduced by modern fashion designers
Traditional white wedding dress used as a festive clothing designed exclusively for the combination of the marriage or wedding appeared in the 19th century, namely 10 February 1840, when the British Queen Victoria for the first time wearing a white dress on the wedding ceremony with the Duke Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha ("Royal Weddings 1840 - 1947: From Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II"). Official photograph in their wedding robes of royalty has been published and enjoyed great popularity. Other brides chose white for her dress, mimicking the queen, and it was the highest expression of fashion, style and glamour to the present. Brides from poor families at the ceremony in the church on their wedding day have put on their best dresses.
The wedding dress fashion differs from county to country. For example, in the Eastern countries the brides do not wear white wedding gowns, and the most widespread and traditional colour is red. This especially refers to wedding dresses in China, India (wedding sari) and Vietnam (in the traditional form Ao Dai, where Ao stands for a piece of cloth specifically for the upper part of the body, and dai means “long” (Explanations retrieved from the Oxford Dictionary (British and World English), 2014).
Traditional Chinese red wedding dress
It is believed that this colour brings good luck and prosperity. Nowadays modern Chinese brides pay tribute to Western fashion only in the design and style, but also to choose any colour for their wedding dress, not only red. Red sari is a traditional dress for brides in Indian culture. The sari is usually made of silk. Over time, the range of colours and fabric choices for Indian brides expanded. Today, wedding saris are sewn from fabrics such as crepe, georgette, satin. The colour of a modern wedding sari is not only red, but also gold, pink, orange, brown, yellow. In Japanese wedding the bride during the ceremony can change clothes several times, it can be several different kimonos or she can choose a kimono dress made in the type of a Western model.
The Ao Dai dress
Indigenous peoples of North and South America also have different traditions associated with the wedding. The clothes for the bride were sewn by the groom, his relatives and other men who wanted to take part in the ceremony preparations. The bride’s wedding outfit consisted of a wide belt, two white wedding gowns with red stripes on the top and bottom, white leggings of buckskin and moccasins, headbands for hair and reed mats. All of these pieces were further used as a shroud for burial.
In the Delaware Indian tribe the bride's costume consisted of a skirt made of buckskin, necklaces, and her body was naked from the waist up. In winter the suit was complemented by reindeer leggings, moccasins and clothing turkey feathers. The bride's face was painted with red, white or yellow clay.
In Northern Californian tribes (including the Klamath, Modoc, and Yurok) had their own colours for the wedding dress: white in the east, blue in the south, yellow (or orange) in the west, black in the north. The bride and groom wore wedding decorations made of silver and turquoise; it was thought that these accessories must protect them from evil spirits, hunger, poverty and misery (Manataka American Indian Council).
Sometimes wedding dresses are divided into categories, naming the types of dresses "Ball", "Mermaid", "Empire", but they are well-established only in the wedding business environment. Technically cut wedding dresses are such:
standard cut, which is characterized by long line skirt;
the dress with corset. Its peculiarity lies in the fact that this outfit has two parts - a separate skirt and corset, visually reduces the volume of the waist;
sheath dress, blending smoothly into the wide skirt.
The same type of wedding dresses fluffy skirt without preserving its line to the floor. One of the traditional styles of wedding dresses are ones with a fluffy skirt and fitting top. Recently there were wedding suits of trouser type, but this style of wedding dress has not received much recognition and popularity.
The most popular among the brides in the Western countries are the wedding dresses sewn by a ball silhouette of a dress, "fish" silhouette, straight dress, and the "empire" dress.
The following types of dresses may also be identified:
straight dress. Wedding dresses with straight silhouette, which is also called the dress-column or sheath dress, look particularly appealing. They are of tight-fitting shape, opening the silhouette of the bride’s figure. The straight dresses also include dresses in "empire" style: free dresses made of light fabric, with a high waist and flowing skirt.
Straight wedding dress
This silhouette was very common in Ancient Greece. Later this style again came into vogue during the reign of Emperor Napoleon, when it was popular imitation of antiquity. This dress, especially when it has open shoulders or one shoulder, is often called the “Greek wedding dress”;
pompous, luxuriant dress. All lavish wedding dresses consist of a corset, which makes the narrow top of the bride, and volume skirts, whose splendour is dependent on the use of crinoline skirt on the rings, or multiple layers of fabric. There are two options of where full skirt starting from the waist, hips, and from the line (low waistline);
Luxurious wedding dress
unusual dresses. Today's brides are seeking to depart from the common traditions. Short dresses and dresses of different colours or mixes of colours are preferred by some brides in order to underline their originality and individual style. For example, Jessica Biel has worn a pink dress for her wedding, Gwen Stefani opted for a gradient dress, white at the top and pink at the bottom, and Angelina Jolie chose a white dress with drawings of her children.
Example of an unusual wedding dress
In modern days the brides all over the world usually wear the classic white dress to their wedding. Some young people choose to have two wedding ceremonies: one in traditional costumes and one in a classic fashion. The classic style is suitable for moderate and conservative brides, who appreciate the elegant classic clothes and reject all sorts of excesses, preferring simple qualitative model. Classic is always current. Wedding classic outfit suggests neutral soothing colours, soft shades. For such type of dress matte fabric can be used. A traditional wedding make-up for a classic style should be discreet, modest, not having any dark shades and emphasizing the natural beauty of the bride and her innocence. Hairstyle should be preferably smooth and not too complicated. Accessories that are used to the classic version must be made of precious metals and natural stones. They will complement the outfit, emphasizing its advantages, but not attracting too much attention.
Many brides nowadays prefer a more free and natural style of a wedding dress, thinking of their comfort at the first place. They would like to move freely in the dress and want it to look more casual. These brides usually choose dresses sewn in simple models, and wear shoes in which they can move freely, for example flats or low heels. The accessories should be modest and simple in design as well as the makeup should be rather natural.
A romantic style of the wedding dress emphasizes femininity and emotionality of the woman. Creating a romantic image of the bride requires creativity. This outfit includes plenty of bows, frills, flowers, lace, beads, and other finishing options. Wedding dresses in romantic style should be light and airy, so the suitable fabric is organza, chiffon etc. Romantic feminine outfits require decorating the hair, usually brides opt for free curls. The wedding ensemble may be harmoniously complemented by the exquisite hair ornaments, ribbons and flowers.
Dramatic style is all about glamour and originality. Such dresses are of a different non-standard cut, of bright combinations of colours and their variations, having a form-fitting silhouette. Unusual dress in dramatic style will make a lasting impression on the guests. Wedding dresses of this style should be of bright, shiny fabrics - satin, brocade, lame. The dress can be supplemented with a variety of extravagant accessories. With the help of make-up is necessary to emphasize the eyes and lips. The bride’s hair must be unusual and express the individuality of the bride. The groom should be dressed accordingly.
In Western culture there exists a strongly extended belief related to the wedding and the wedding dress, which reads: "In order to successfully get married, the bride should wear something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue". "Something old" (it can be any decoration, gift or artefact of the family), says that she remembers the love of her parents and relatives and thanks her ancestors. "Something new" is often a new wedding dress, a symbol of a prosperous future. "Something blue" is a symbol of loyalty and love, and "something borrowed" will remind the bride that her friends and family are near and always help her. Princess Diana Spencer, who in 1981 became the wife of the son of Queen Elizabeth II, Charles, Prince of Wales, used to have the same belief. The frills on the bodice was of lace that had belonged to his grandmother Queen Elizabeth, Mary Teck, something "old", according to accept. "Blue" was sewn in the waist bow, and his mother Diana asked to add to it a golden horseshoe with a small diamond – “for luck”. The price of her wedding gown is estimated in £9000 (Denney, 2005).
Another belief is related to the process of putting on the dress. Before the wedding dress, "assembly" should not be tried on, and the bride should not see it in the mirror. This is easily done by not putting all the items in at once.
As a conclusion it should be stated that the wedding dress is probably one of the most important pieces of clothing that a woman wears in her life. This is why every bride is approaching the choice of a wedding dress very thoroughly and accurately. The choice of the dress mostly depends on the personal preferences and the taste of every bride. Anyway, the financial capabilities of the bride and her family are not of the least importance. The bridal dress was in all times an indicator of the social status of the family, and every bride tries to show that she chose the best option to impress the guests. However, in the modern world not every couple can afford an expensive wedding. Many couples prefer small weddings with a very limited number of guests and choose casual dressing options. But in every country the wedding dress is a symbol of a big event happening in people's lives and carries cultural information.
Baker, L. (2014). “The Evolution of the Wedding Dress”. BBC Culture. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140503-how-wedding-dresses-evolved\
Begley, S. (2015). “The White Dress That Changed History Forever”. Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/3698249/white-weddings/
Denney, C. (2005). Representing Diana, Princess of Wales: Cultural Memory and Fairy Tales Revisited. New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.
Ehrman, E. (2014). The Wedding Dress: 300 Years of Bridal Fashions. London: Victoria & Albert Museum.
Knight, E. (2008). “History of Weddings: From the Middle Ages to the Present”. Retrieved from http://www.historyundressed.com/2008/06/history-of-weddings-from-middle-ages-to.html
Manataka American Indian Council. “American Indian Wedding Traditions”. Retrieved from http://www.manataka.org/page348.html
Oxford Dictionary (British and World English), 2014. Retrieved from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/
"Royal Weddings 1840 - 1947: From Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II" . History of the Wedding Dress. Retrieved from http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/default.asp?action=article&ID=405
Stewart, J. (2011). “Why Most Wedding Dresses Are White”. Retrieved from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/287245282453060400/
Wedding Dresses at Chicago History Museum Digital Collection. Retrieved from http://digitalcollection.chicagohistory.org/cdm/search/collection/p16029coll3/searchsear/wedding%20dress*/field/subjec/mode/all/conn/and/order/title/page/1