June Wedding Blitz: Cheryl Bolen – Wedding Gowns Weren’t Always White

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Please welcome Cheryl Bolen to the blog today, to keep the June Wedding Blitz theme going strong with a factoid about the history of the white wedding dress we now consider to be traditional.

cover image for The Bride Wore BlueThe White Wedding Gown – Tradition or Upstart Trend?

You may notice the cover of my The Bride Wore Blue. Doesn’t look much like wedding dress, does it? That’s because the flowing white lace gowns and veils didn’t make their appearance until Victorian times.

In the Regency, most brides did not have special dresses made for the wedding ceremony. Sunday best often sufficed as a wedding gown. That is not to say that white or ivory dresses were not worn. White, ivory, and pastels were appropriate attire for Regency maidens. Veils were not worn, but a turban or bonnet could be.

What of the big, elaborate weddings where all the family from all over the country attended? That didn’t happen in the Regency era, either. (The Regency is technically the period from 1811 to 1820 where the Prince of Wales served as regent when his father was mentally incapable.) Weddings were small affairs for whatever family happened to be close by.

Perhaps one reason the weddings weren’t large spectacles was because, typically, there was not a lot of time for planning, and communication was slow. Often engagements were a matter of just weeks.

While the lower and middle classes posted banns on three consecutive Sundays prior to their wedding, the upper classes avoided this with a costly special license—of which most of them availed themselves.

NOTE FROM KELLY: Queen Victoria is credited with starting the white wedding gown tradition, so my brides, all married after Victoria was on the throne and herself married, would most likely have followed that tradition (except Roz, of course, who never met a tradition she didn’t trounce). You can read more about the history of the white wedding dress here on Suite101.

Much more information about courting and marriage in the Regency can be found on my website http://www.cherylbolen.com/courting.htm.

 Cheryl Bolen is the acclaimed author of more than a dozen Regency-set historical romance novels. Her books have placed in several writing contests, including the Daphne du Maurier, and have been translated into 11 languages. She was named Notable New Author in 1999, and in 2006 she won the Holt Medallion for Best Short Historical Novel. Her books have become Barnes & Noble and Amazon bestsellers. A former journalist who admits to a fascination with dead Englishwomen, Cheryl is a regular contributor to The Regency Plume, The Regency Reader, and The Quizzing Glass. Many of her articles can found on her website, www.CherylBolen.com, and more recent ones on her blog, www.CherylsRegencyRamblings.wordpress.com

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About Kelly McClymer

Kelly is a writer, a mom, and a reading tutor for children with dyslexia. Plus, she is totally addicted to her iPad. Curse you, Steve Jobs.

9 replies
  1. Cheryl Malandrinos
    Cheryl Malandrinos says:

    Very interesting. I knew white wedding dresses weren’t always the norm, but had no idea when the tradition began. I remember Laura Ingalls Wilder getting married in a black dress. It wasn’t supposed to be her wedding dress, but the couple was afraid Almanzo’s sister would arrive and interfere with their plans, so they married quickly before she came. The black dress was her newest one, so they used that.

  2. Grace Elliot
    Grace Elliot says:

    Interesting. I wonder when and where the tradition for ‘something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue’ – arose.
    Grace x

  3. Roxy Boroughs
    Roxy Boroughs says:

    I just never thought about what they might have worn back then. I know my mother wore a light blue dress when she married my dad in the 1940s. She later dyed it black. The new color had nothing to do with the state of the marriage. She was just jazzing it up as a little cocktail dress. Reuse, recycle.

  4. Dorothy Thompson
    Dorothy Thompson says:

    Well I learned something new! I’m usually a non-traditionalist but it’s nothing prettier than a flowing lacey white wedding gown. I always thought white went back to the stone age days, thanks for setting me straight, Kelly!

  5. Cheryl Bolen
    Cheryl Bolen says:

    So sorry I didn’t visit yesterday. I had internet connection problems. Don’t you all hate when something keeps us from being connected?

    Roxy mentioned her mom in the 40’s not wearing a white wedding dress. Unless they were from more well-to-do families, it seems to me most brides back in the 1940s just wore something like a nice suit. Those families were just coming off the Great Depression.

    Thanks to Kelly for letting me visit, and thanks to all you who visited.

  6. Virginia Kelly
    Virginia Kelly says:

    I had heard that white was not the custom, but I didn’t realize it started with Queen Victoria. I wore an antique white (I called it light cream) wedding dress. There was a ribbon trim at the wrists and at the hem and on the headband. My mother pulled the pink out, bought white ribbon, dipped it in tea and Ta Da! gorgeous trim that was just right.

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