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Trousseau by Harrison Fisher circa early 1900s

Many women have defining moments mirroring important milestones in their culture or values. These milestones could be graduation, a new job, breaking up with a significant other, becoming pregnant, and the like. These moments are often accompanied by a deliberate physical change; new hair color, new hairstyle, new wardrobe, or any combination or permutation there of, to pronounce to the world: Take notice, I have changed.

None of this is more evident than when a woman gets married. In cultures around the world, it signifies her leaving the realm of her parents’ home and creating one for themselves and their spouse. Often times it represents leaving behind girlhood and entering the respected Womanhood. Although, there is a very obvious physical change that happens between “becoming a woman,” in the sense of being able to bear children, some cultures do not make a big show of this, while others do. But marriage! Why that is a whole new game with its own set of rules.

We shall not get into that for this post, however. Let us focus on the deliberate outward change of status. For eons in many cultures, women were not allowed to wear certain colors, clothing styles, hairstyles, make-up/markings, and accessories until their were married. It was only reserved for Wives. The ceremony for that change of status, is of course, the Wedding.

Queen Victoria’s Wedding Gown, 1840


It is often proclaimed, that our Queen here at 19th Century Modern, also known as Queen Victoria, was the first to wear a white wedding dress. Let us banish that notion, once and for all! Queen Victoria was NOT the first. That honor goes to Mary Queen of Scots, a good 281 years prior to Victoria. More ever, Mary wore it because it was her favorite color, even though at the time it was considered a color of mourning. The modern analogy would be brides wearing black, because it is their favorite hue, irregardless to black being the color of mourning and death in Western Society. And guess what? On a point of technicality, Mary Queen of Scots, was not the first royal to marry in white, either. Philippa of England wore a white tunic and cloak trimmed in grey squirrel and ermine back in 1409.

In short, over 430 years passed before white wedding dresses became “a thing” via Queen Victoria. What I find utterly amusing is Queen Victoria, was not a fashion icon, in fact she was ridiculed much of her life for her mind-boggling horrendous wardrobe choices. To the English public, she was Queen of the Worse Dress List. Sadder still, we have Prince Albert to thank for that. Through her devotion to her husband, Queen Victoria, only wore outfits approved by him. For all of Albert’s many, many, many talents and contribution to the Victorian, and ultimately Western culture, he truly had a wonky female fashion sense! The only outfit of Victoria to ever to be admired was her wedding dress (which I do not believe Prince Albert assisted with.–Please, correct me, if I am wrong!)

So much information swirls around Queen Victoria’s wedding dress. The color choice being the most talked about aspect of the gown. Some say, it was because she wanted to utilize some beautiful lace she had. Others go on about it being the cheapest fabric color choice available at the time, and “we all know how practical” our Queen was. Some claim it was a political move, she had the silk made in Spitafield which was an incredibly risky move. At the time, Spitafield was essentially the slums. Those proponents of the theory tout the Queen had visited the silk factories as a child (this is a documented fact) and remember the abject poverty she saw in the area. In an effort to endear the public to her, she chose an English town (national pride) of low income (to boost the economy) to make a dress in the cheapest color (practical personality). As with everything, there is truth in some of this and context needs to be considered.

Queen Victoria in her wedding dress, with lace overlay skirt, which was repurposed for other garments, and now lost to history

Victoria was not cheap. In no way, was she spending and living the life of an average Englander in the era. She was however, not draining the coffers of her country, unlike her predecessors. She was mindful and yes even stingy . . . for a royal. Later this would become a source of annoyance for her public who wanted to see her host lavish parties and balls, wear sumptuous outfits, and live extravagantly. Luckily, others in the aristocracy would pick up the slack and become fodder for the papers. White was not a cheap color either, it was very difficult to come by since bleaching textiles had not been normalized and those that wore it had to be wealthy to purchase it. As it is in modern times, keeping white actually white is a feat all in and of itself.

As to the color choice and Spitafileds factory decision it is not known if this was something of her own decision, an idea planted from someone inside the palace (maybe even Albert himself, who was always so concerned about the poor. Selecting Spitafields does have a bit of an Albert quality to it.), I am not absolutely certain. I have not asked the Queen.

What I do know, is that she did not chose the color white on basis of its association of innocence and purity. Again, banish that notion! It was years later white wedding dresses were claimed to be a symbol of innocence and purity. There were simply not many people who married in white prior to Victoria and many still did not wear white after she tied the knot. It as if to say, “everyone in the Western Culture” who was not married in a church wearing white was not innocent or pure. On the flip side, there are many brides today who are not innocent and pure who wear white to their church wedding. . . . There are no absolutes in the world of weddings.

Princess Charlotte’s silver wedding dress (Victoria’s Aunt), 1816

Queen Victoria, little rebel that she was, actually bucked tradition by wearing white for her wedding as the traditional Royal Wedding Gowns were silver. Yes, silver! The elaborate silver dress was a blatant show of wealth and power. In part because royal marriages were not romantic affairs, they were political and business mergers, in the truest sense of the word. Even after Queen Victoria married, silver dresses were still worn by Royal brides throughout Europe. In fact, some of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters wore silver dresses when they married into other European Royals houses.

Goodness! All this backstory, just to mention, last week, I met with my wedding dress designer to go over the concept for my wedding gown.  Naturally, my dress is inspired by Queen Victoria’s. Inspired by, not an exact replica. I will be using certain elements of the Queen’s ensemble with a modern (and Spanish!) interpretation. See my list below:

  • Ivory color (I was going to go with silver, but designer cautioned under certain lighting and depending on the experience of the photographer, it might appear grey in wedding pictures)
  • Tip of shoulder “lace-edged” neckline (not off the shoulder)
  • Spanish lace bodice and 3/4 sleeves
  • Slight sweethearts shape to bodice
  • Corseted back
  • Slight drop waist (since I have a long torso)
  • Heavy satin skirt (I so loathe the feel of silk against my skin)
  • Flat front, fit and flare
  • 3-5 box pleats in the back
  • Very slight high-low hem, with the teeniest skirt train (I did not want to have to bustle anything for the reception)
  • Handmade cathedral length back/elbow length front veil trimmed in Spanish lace
  • Crystal-encrusted peineta (Spanish hair comb)
  • American Duchess Astoria shoes, dyed to match with Spanish lace appliques (shoes chosen by my mother and groom independently of each other! Criss-cross straps are a nod to the ballet straps of Queen’s Victoria’s shoes)

Queen Victoria’s Wedding Shoes/Ballet Slippers, 1840