Weddings once meant white bridal dress, white flowers, even white tuxes. Now wedding are bursting with color. And color options have expanded to include the wedding dress.
Queen Victoria's wedding to Prince Albert in 1840 established white as the required wedding dress color. Royal brides before Victoria usually chose silver for their dress color, and a non-royal bride was often married in her best dress, whatever the color.
An old English rhyme, perhaps originating in Warwickshire, England, says much about the colors of the wedding dress:
Married in white, you will have chosen all right.
Married in gray, you will go far away.
Married in black, you will wish yourself back.
Married in red, you'll wish yourself dead.
Married in blue, you will always be true.
Married in pearl, you'll live in a whirl.
Married in green, ashamed to be seen.
Married in yellow, ashamed of the fellow.
Married in brown, you'll live out of town.
Married in pink, your spirits will sink.
Married in pink, of you he will think, is a variation of the last line.
The rhyme indicates that women were married in a variety of colors for long time, so long that someone created a rhyme out of the possibilities. Perhaps actual events inspired the rhyme, or maybe it grew out of the symbolic meanings the colors had acquired through the ages.
Red, a strong, vibrant color, sometimes symbolizes anger, violence and danger. But red is also the color of Valentine's Day, of Christmas, of vitality, power and love.
Black has an ancient connotation of death, evil, and darkness, but also connotes sophistication, formality and mystery.
Green as grass
Green is linked to shame in the rhyme, perhaps from the old idea of a 'green gown," a woman's dress soiled with grass stains from certain outdoor activities with a lover. Green is also the color of jealousy and perhaps greed. Yet green also symbolizes wealth, nature and renewal.
Yellow, despite its association with sunlight and joy, also has a negative association with cowardice and dishonesty.
Brown, in the rhyme, is connected with living out of town, perhaps referring to remaining on a farm or in a village, unable to afford a house in town.
Pink connotes femininity, gentleness, softness, and does not seem to have a negative side. Perhaps the negative pink message of the rhyme refers to the bride losing her spirit by being overly submissive.
White, blue and pearl appear the preferred colors, according to the rhyme.
Blue with its symbolism of calm, loyalty and truth, was a popular wedding dress color in the past. It has few negative connotations, perhaps only loneliness and depression.
The white wedding dress symbolized purity, but was also a statement of wealth. The bride and her family were obviously wealthy to afford a dress to be used just once, in a color that, not that long ago, was difficult to keep clean. But, in the past, and perhaps even now, after the wedding, the bride dyed and/or restyled the dress to be used for other occasions.
In 1859, Godey's Lady's Book declared 'Custom has decided, from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one."
In 1890, Ladies Home Journal echoed the sentiment, declaring 'That from times immemorial the bride's gown has been white."
So for over 150 years American women have been told that her wedding dress must be white.
Slow to change
That trend is slowly changing.
Today's bride is able to choose the exact hue she desires for her wedding dress from the complete spectrum of color. The daring, audacious bride can walk down the aisle in a vivid red gown, or jet black, blue, pink, champagne, orange, green, lilac, fuchsia, gold, brown, purple or charcoal gray.
Most brides still choose the traditional white or ivory for their wedding gown, but some add color accents, such as black embroidery and beading to the bodice, or sashes or bands of a color: magenta, mocha, bronze, lime, ice blue, mango or peach.
When Kate Middleton and Prince William are married in London on April 29, it's hard to believe Kate's wedding dress will be anything but white, both as a symbolic link to Queen Victoria, William's great-great-great-great grandmother who established the white tradition, and because members of the English royal family are living embodiments of tradition.
But the modern non-royal bride is a woman with choices, including the choice of color for her wedding gown.