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

BBC History Magazine - - Victorian Weddings -

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

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