How Queen Victoria set the wedding gown tradition Why wear white?

March 26, 2021

At just 18 years old, Queen Victoria inherited the throne of Great Britain. Besides being the longest-reigning monarch from that time, she also changed the wedding gown fashion forever, starting a new tradition. The Queen developed a great sense of style throughout the years, and much like most women of her time, she let men influence her looks. The first one to do so was her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne and later, her husband, Prince Albert. By the way, the prince gave his bride an engagement ring in the shape of a continuous snake, setting the trend of serpent jewels.

Victorian fashion style

In the Victorian era, women liked to display a slim torso and wide hips; to achieve fullness, they wore horsehair crinoline under their skirts. The tradition of tight bodices, unnatural waist, heavy fabrics and bell-shaped skirt all originated then and were used not only in wedding gowns but in daywear too.

Queen Victoria in a white gown and Prince Albert on their wedding day.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on their wedding day. Images courtesy of Royal Collection Trust:©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

How did Victoria change wedding fashion forever?

As a matter of fact, Victoria made an absolute revolution in the tradition of wedding gown fashion! In the 19th century, royal brides used to wear bright colours, silver or gold. These hues were a way to emphasize their royal status. However, for her special day, Victoria requested a white gown. Much to our surprise, the white colour had little to do with her purity or innocence. She simply intended to highlight the lace embroidery. 

Notwithstanding, there was more to the idea! The wedding gown was constructed with English silk from Spitalfields, known for its silk-weaving tradition brought by the French Huguenots to London’s East End. Victoria aspired to popularize the English lace-makers, who were experiencing a shortage of work caused by machine textiles’ invention. 

Queen Victoria's white wedding gown.
Queen Victoria’s white wedding gown, courtesy of Royal Collection Trust.

Fashion to convey non-verbal messages

Queen Victoria did not only set the wedding dress tradition and like fashion, but she also liked to convey messages through it, very much as Queen Elizabeth II does today, with fashion and jewellery! For instance, during a visit to Scotland, Queen Victoria chose tartan, and when in Ireland, she wore shamrocks. By doing so, the Queen intended to demonstrate closeness to both countries.

Black and white

As much as she is prominent for establishing the white wedding gown tradition, Victoria would wear black for most of her life. After her husband’s death, she consistently dressed in a full-skirted black dress with a corset. Victoria combined this with white elbow-length sleeves. The most remarkable part of her outfit became the white cap – the symbol of her widowhood. The colour of the mourning cap was usually black – depending on the level of grieving. So, why did Queen Victoria wear a white one? The accessory alluded to her wedding day with Prince Albert and the white Spitalfields silk-satin gown that started the new tradition.

Queen and trendsetter

Queen Victoria was undoubtedly a trendsetter. She wasn’t the first royalty to wear a white gown on her wedding day, but she was the first to popularize it and make it a tradition. So, many aristocrat brides ended up following in her footsteps. And her white wedding dress set a tradition for centuries! What’s more, she used clothing details to make diplomatic statements. An idea – far ahead of its time. 

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Titel image courtesy of Royal Collection Trust.