Why Are Wedding Dresses Traditionally White?
Before we delve into a brief history of the wedding dress, I want to emphasise that not all brides wear wedding dresses and not everyone who wears a wedding dress is a bride. The language around wedding dresses tends to be "bridal" heavy which can particularly exclude non-binary and gender fluid people so I'm going to try to avoid that word.
We should also mention that white wedding dresses are very much a western/Christian tradition. Colours at Hindu weddings tend to be red and gold. At Muslim weddings, any colour goes, but red and green are particularly popular. In an ancient Chinese myth, the wedding dress came from a phoenix and was (as you'd imagine) delivered in bright hues.
Even in the west, white dresses are a recent trend. Ancient Greeks wore violet or red, Romans wore yellow. In the UK, aristocrats wore jewel tones to show off their wealth while regular people wore their best outfits, no matter the colour.
It was a royal wedding that started the fashion for the white dress. Although she wasn't the royal person to wear one, Queen Victoria popularised the white wedding dress in 1840 when she wore a white silk satin gown to her ceremony with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg. It took less than a decade for the trend to catch on so powerfully that it's still around today.
White is a colour associated with innocence and purity: characteristics considered appealing in young women. In Medieval times, though, blue was the colour with that association, because of depictions of the Virgin Mary.
Should I Keep To Tradition?
Today, in a society where women have considerably more rights than Victorian women did, where we understand the concept of virginity to be a social construct, and marriage is no longer a business transaction, do we need to stick to this tradition?
You don't have to stick to any tradition. In the words of author Laura Greenwood in the novel, Fangs for Nothing, "Tradition is just peer pressure from dead people."
If you've always dreamed of wearing a white wedding dress, go for it! There are so many options available if you choose this colour. If you're worried about white being too harsh for your complexion, there are various shades of ivory, cream, latte and silver available.
What other colours can I choose?
There's a whole rainbow! If you don't already have a favourite colour in mind, you can pick one that suits you, or look at colour associations. Pink represents romantic love; red represents passion; green is considered lucky; yellow is cheerful and optimistic; blue represents loyalty.
Most wedding dress stockists will have a few dresses in pastel shades to hand, and often one or two red options. To get the colours you want, you might have to shop outside of traditional wedding attire stores; try alternative wedding, vintage or formal wear stores, or have your dress custom made.
While we're on the subject... a dress isn't the only option. If you want to wear a suit, tuxedo, jumpsuit, costume or cosplay, do it.
It's your wedding, wear what you want!