A person's wedding day is surrounded and engulfed with meaning. It is an occasion bound with superstition, religious obligations and cultural expectations. Therefore, planning a wedding isn't taken lightly.
Most couples take months to plan a wedding and are faced with tough decisions, like where to sit uncompromising relatives or whether to serve a buffet or not. Quite frankly, these decisions are enough to make anyone want to run away and elope!
As all these questions start to develop and with the bride's decision over her wedding dress seen as the most important garment a woman will ever wear and probably the priciest dress she will ever buy, no wonder future brides rely on all sources for inspiration. Gathering styles from past, present and future, can allow a bride to express her personal style and influence the whole of the wedding.
By the beginning of twentieth century the wedding customs and rituals that we now consider as traditional were securely set in western society. These traditions are still viewed and expected today such as a floral bouquet, a wedding cake, bridesmaids, a best man and of course the eagerly awaited white dress.
The tradition of a white wedding is said to have been influenced by Queen Victoria's choice to wear a white wedding dress at her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840. Before Victoria's wedding, royal brides tended to choose heavy brocaded gowns embroidered with white and silver thread with red being a particularly popular colour in Western Europe.
Other brides would wear their ‘Sunday best' and would opt for a range of colours including yellow and blue and practical colours like black, brown and gray as a wedding dress was not meant to be worn just once. As the news of the Queen's wedding spread throughout Europe and traveled across the Atlantic, the upper classes followed her lead.
It was primarily favored as a way to show that the bride's family was from the wealthy echelons of the upper class. This wealth meant that the bride could choose an elaborate dress that could be ruined by any sort of work or spill. The colour white was also the colour girls were required to wear at the time when they were presented to the court. Etiquette books began to turn the practice into the tradition we know today, and the white gown soon became a popular symbol of status that also carried a connotation of innocence and chaste sexual purity.
The wedding veil emphasised innocence, being well behaved and was a symbol of modesty. The veil represented that the bride was too shy to show her face in public until she was married and also kept away evil spirits.
As well as influencing the white wedding dress, Queen Victoria also went against the formality of wearing a tiara. Instead she wore a wreath of orange blossom, a Mediterranean symbol of fertility similar to the hair vines we use today. As the Queen's choice of husband was a love match instead of an arranged marriage, it was seen as a touching acknowledgement of the romance they shared. This symbol was much copied and most wreaths were replicas made in max and were passed through the family between mother and daughter.
A typical silhouette of an Edwardian wedding dress was constructed on an s-shaped corset that pushed forward the breasts and flattened the stomach and was draped over in lace and silk. Hand-made lace would have been handed down from the family and incorporated onto the dress or machine made lace became a popular substitute like it is today. As it was customary to not show any flesh until after the wedding and when it was dark, high boned collars, long trains and gloves were worn to conceal the woman's skin. Wedding dresses were often designed so that pieces could be removed to the lower neckline or lace or semi transparent material inserted into the bodice so that it would reveal the voluptuous form of the woman.
The high neckline was known as the wedding band collar. It was often stiff and bejewelled so that it ensured the perfect posture and showed off the elaborately structured hair style. The dress may also have had Gigot sleeves, wide puffy sleeve heads tapered to a narrow forearm. This emphasised the hourglass figure by having wide shoulders, a very tiny waist and wide hips.
At the turn of the century with the emergence of the department store and the increase in mass production, more and more women could get married in a ‘new ‘ wedding dress. The dress still remained an important centrepiece of the wedding however a change in style was influenced by the change in society of women's position and aspiration and the start of the First World War made lace frills seem inappropriate. This meant dresses were designed free from corsetry, were flowing and unstructured and were influenced by the artistic movements of the day.