Buy a special dress, if you can afford it
The white wedding gown caught on in Victorian times – but for many, wearing a dress just once was unthinkable
4 The white silk satin and lace dress that Queen Victoria wore when she married Albert in 1840 was widely admired and set a trend. The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony reported in 1865 that fawn, grey and lavender were “entirely out of fashion”, although such colours were still suitable for widows or older brides. The novelist Mrs Henry Wood depicted an eloping bride worrying that her white dress would be a tell-tale sign, while in the 1890s the diarist Olive Garnett noted how her friend “looked lovely in regulation bridal attire”.
For most, of course, a dress that would be worn just once would have been an unthinkable extravagance, and brides generally chose something that could be worn on subsequent occasions. This was made easier by the fact that wedding dresses were made to reflect the styles of the day, rather than a fairytale ideal. Over the course of the century, fashionable wedding dresses featured, in turn, crinolines, bustles and leg-of-mutton sleeves. After the wedding, they might be dyed a more suitable colour for everyday use. Lower down the social scale, practical considerations prevailed, with one account of rural weddings noting how the bride’s dress was “generally made of some serviceable material of a pretty shade”.
Grooms attracted less notice, with their outfits becoming plainer over the course of the century. Class determined what kind of attire was appropriate, but the groom was not expected to stand out like his bride.
The white wedding of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria captured the public’s imagination