Queen Victoria – The First Alternative Bride?


So, where did the obsession with white wedding dresses come from? The urban myth most prevalent is Queen Victoria when she married her Albert in 1841, as she broke with the traditions of the day and opted for white instead of the more colourful options in style at the time. For years little girls have been bombarded with images of Disney fairy characters and princesses in glittering gowns and waited for the day they could become that icon of purity and beauty.

However, the earliest recorded instance of a white wedding dress in Western culture is that of the English Princess Philippa at her wedding to the Scandinavian King Eric in 1406. She was dressed in a white tunic lined with ermine and squirrel fur.

Then in 1558, Mary Queen of Scots wore white during her wedding to the soon-to-be King of France, even though white was a colour of mourning for French queens at the time. For the next few centuries, white remained a popular but by no means obligatory colour for royal weddings. White dresses did not symbolize virginity or even purity, but rather were costlier and harder to keep clean, and thus communicated the status and wealth of the wearer.

Brides have long gone for more unusual options: Princess Charlotte wore a gown of silver lamé for her marriage to Prince Leopold Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in 1816!

Right up to the middle of the 19th century, no woman, not even royalty, expected to wear her wedding dress once and then never again—an idea that would have been absurd even for the very rich before the industrial revolution.

 Even Queen Victoria repurposed her own wedding dress and veil for subsequent use. If a non-royal woman did have a new dress made especially for her wedding, it was likely to become her new Sunday best.

Queen Victoria’s dress

Queen Victoria - the first alternative bride?
Original Artwork: Engraved by S Reynolds after F Lock. (Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images)

Queen Victoria’s choice of white, (actually more a pale cream or ivory) was twofold: firstly to compliment her delicate skin tones, but also to reinvigorate the businesses of artisans in the country. Her dress fabric was woven at Spitalfields and her veil was Honiton Lace from Devon, a pattern long since destroyed to maintain its unique design.

Much like royalty today when they favour UK designers, or recycle as with Princess Beatrice using a gown from one of the Queen’s vast collection. The dress was originally worn for the premier of the film Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. The gown was a Norman Hartnell design. 

Beatrice imprinted her own personality and taste on the gown, adding sheer puff sleeves and a satin belt. The dress was made from Peau De Soie taffeta and organza, trimmed with Duchess satin, and encrusted with diamantés.

Our perception of Queen Victoria’s wedding is influenced by the artists of the time.  With Photography in its embryonic stage there were no photos of the event, merely drawings and subsequent paintings.  The royal couple also re-enacted their day some 10 years later when photography could be harnessed to better effect.

So, although she was NOT the first, she did create the desire for the daughters of gentry to follow in her footsteps, and create their own emulation of the white dress and helped create the tradition brides are presented with today. 

However, over the past few years the move to individuality, and embracing alternative lifestyles, has been translated into the wedding day. Themes can cover everything from Alice in Wonderland to Zombie, Harry Potter to Rockabilly, Steampunk and more. 

Whatever your preferred theme, anything goes, so be like Queen Victoria and break the mould of today, it’s what Outrageous Bride is all about!




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