How The First Public Royal Wedding Defined And Broke Traditions

How The First Public Royal Wedding Defined And Broke Traditions

A lot of wedding superstitions and traditions that are seen as almost ancient and eternal often have far more recent starting points.

The idea of a white wedding, for example, as well as wearing lace, wedding photographs and several other popular wedding traditions are often traced back to the first highly publicised royal wedding.

At the same time, however, this ceremony also broke with tradition in many ways, particularly when it comes to the wedding headbands the highly important bride wore.

To understand both, it is important to look back at what the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert established as firm traditions, as well as the rules they broke along the way.


A Nice Day To Start Again

It has been claimed, most notably by the magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, that white wedding dresses were an eternal antique symbol of purity. Others have argued that Queen Victoria herself invented the idea of wearing white at weddings.

Both are wrong but to different degrees. There have been many brides who have worn white to their weddings, but what changed with Queen Victoria’s wedding was the meaning behind it and the idea that wearing white was the norm.

Prior to this, people got married in their best clothes, and if they needed to buy a new dress, it was often a practical design that could be worn for other formal occasions or for mass. The idea of buying a dress that would be worn just once was seen as impossibly frivolous back then.

As such, whilst plenty of people did wear white gowns, it was not an expectation. Mary Queen of Scots, for example, wore a white wedding gown as early as 1559, at a time when most royal brides preferred red or other vibrant colours.

Queen Victoria changed this largely by accident. She wore a white dress made from Spitalfields fabric and Honiton lace largely as a political move; it was a show of support for British industry.

In fact, the main symbolic colour and flower took the form of orange blossoms, which were worn as a wreath in place of a traditional tiara and as a trim for the dress. These were symbols of fertility during a time when Victorian England adored flower imagery.

Ultimately, this floral tradition did not stick, and tiaras have been the normal headpiece to fit a veil to ever since.

The white veil, similarly, was not an invention of Queen Victoria, but a common Christian practice which stated that women needed to wear head coverings during masses, although it became a wedding tradition after Queen Victoria.

However, it would take an exceptionally long time for the white wedding to become the norm for most people. White dresses were astonishingly impractical, could only be worn once and were prone to damage, meaning that only the richest could afford to buy them.

This only fully changed after the Second World War, when lower dress costs, more disposable income and the influence of Hollywood cemented the white wedding as the norm.

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