A white wedding is a traditional formal or semi-formal wedding originating in Great Britain.

The term originates from the white colour of the wedding dress, which originated with Anne of Brittany during her 1499 marriage to Louis XII of France. The white dress became popular with Victorian era elites after Queen Victoria wore a white lace dress at her 1840 wedding to Prince Albert.[1] The term now also encapsulates the entire Western wedding routine, especially in the Christian religious tradition,[2] which generally includes a church service during which the marriage begins, followed by a reception. The white wedding style was given another significant boost in 1981, when 750 million people watched the wedding of Diana Spencer to Charles, Prince of Wales, which saw her wear an elaborate white taffeta dress with an 8 m train.[3]

History of the white dress

A bride from the late 19th century wearing a black or dark coloured wedding dress

Though Mary, Queen of Scots, wore a white wedding gown in 1559 when she married her first husband, Francis Dauphin of France, the tradition of a white wedding dress is commonly credited to Queen Victoria's choice to wear a white court dress at her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840.[4][5] Debutantes had long been required to wear white court dresses and long white gloves for their first presentation at court, at a "Drawing Room" where they were introduced to the queen for the first time.[4]

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on their return from the marriage service at St James's Palace, London, 10 February 1840.

Royal brides before Victoria did not typically wear white, instead choosing "heavy brocaded gowns embroidered with white and silver thread," with red being a particularly popular colour in Western Europe more generally.[4] During this time, European and American brides wore a plethora of colours, including blue, yellow, and practical colours like black, brown, or gray. As accounts of Victoria's wedding spread across the Atlantic and throughout Europe, fashionable people followed her lead.

Because of the limitations of laundering techniques before the later part of the 20th century, white dresses provided an opportunity for conspicuous consumption. They were favored primarily as a way to show the world that the bride's family was so wealthy and so firmly part of the leisure class that the bride would choose an elaborate dress that could be ruined by any sort of work or spill.[3][6]

Women were required to wear veils in many Christian churches through the mid-20th century;[7] the resurgence of the wedding veil as a symbol of the bride, and its use even when not required by the bride's religion, coincided with societal emphasis on women being modest and well-behaved.[3]

Etiquette books then began to turn the practice into a tradition and the white gown soon became a popular symbol of status that also carried "a connotation of innocence and virginal purity."[5] The story put out about the wedding veil was that decorous brides were naturally too timid to show their faces in public until they were married.

By the end of the 19th century the white dress was the garment of choice for elite brides on both sides of the Atlantic. However, middle-class British and American brides did not adopt the trend fully until after World War II.[8] With increased prosperity in the 20th century, the tradition also grew to include the practice of wearing the dress only once. As historian Vicky Howard writes, "[i]f a bride wore white in the nineteenth century, it was acceptable and likely that she wore her gown again".[5] Even Queen Victoria had her famous lace wedding dress re-styled for later use.[3]

The portrayal of weddings in Hollywood movies, particularly immediately after World War II, helped crystallize and homogenize the white wedding into a normative form.[9]

Other traditions

A bride in a contemporary white wedding dress with train, tiara and white veil, taken in 2003.

“Color Wheel Pro” describes[10] white in association with light, goodness, innocence, purity and virginity. White is also often considered to be the color of perfection.[2] As for other significant meanings for white on a wedding day, “colormeaning.com” says, “In color psychology, white is the color of new beginnings — wiping the slate clean. The color white is a blank canvas, just waiting to be written on.”[11] White is the color in Western culture most often associated with beginnings. Christ after the Resurrection is traditionally portrayed dressed in white. In Christianity, children are baptized and first take communion wearing white. Baptisms are especially tied to white since the person is making a religious commitment to be pure and clean before God. Religious rites and the clothing associated with them have always been important, and white is often a common color used to express high religious commitment and purity.[2] In 2018, about 83% of brides in the United States wore white dresses at their wedding, according to a survey by Brides Magazine.[12] For weddings in the temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, white clothing is worn by both the bride and the groom during the ceremony.[13][14]

The traditional white wedding was not necessarily defined by the color of the dress only. The wedding of Queen Victoria's daughter Victoria to Prince Fredrick William of Prussia in 1858 also introduced choral music to the processional when standard practice had been to have music of any kind only during a party after the wedding ceremony.[15]

After World War I, as full-scale formal weddings began to be desired by the mothers of brides who did not have a permanent social secretary, the position of the wedding planner, who could coordinate the printer, florist, caterer and seamstress, began to assume importance. The first edition of Bride's Magazine was published in 1934 as a newspaper advertising insert called ‘So You're Going to Get Married!’ in a column entitled ‘To the Bride’ and its rival Modern Bride began publishing in 1949.

The full white wedding experience today typically requires the family to arrange for or purchase printed or engraved wedding invitations, musicians, decorations such as flowers or candles, clothes and flowers for bridesmaids, groomsmen, a flower girl and a ring bearer. They may also add optional features such as a guest book or commemorative wedding leaflets. It is common to have a celebration after the wedding ceremony, normally featuring a large wedding cake with white icing.


Traditional weddings require, in addition to the bride and groom, a marriage officiant, which is a minister, priest, pastor, vicor, rabbi, imam, or civil officer who is authorized to perform marriages and will read out of a Bible, Torah, Quran, or Civil document.

Typical white weddings also include a wedding party, which consists of some or all of the following:

Typically these positions are filled by either close friends or family members (or both) of the bride and groom; being asked to serve in these capacities is seen as an honor and typically entails some expense.

The ceremony

A Lutheran priest in Germany marries a young couple at the church.
The bride and groom stand before the altar during the wedding ceremony, surrounded by the bridesmaids and groomsmen.

When the guests arrive for a wedding, the ushers, if any, help the guests take their places. In a typical white wedding ceremony, which is derived primarily from the Christian tradition (inclusive of denominations such as Lutheranism and Anglicanism, for example), the bride and groom will stand side by side at the front of the church before the chancel throughout most or all the ceremony. Consequently, some guests prefer to sit on the side closer to the person they know best. Typically, this means that the bride's family sits on the house left and the groom's family on house right. The front rows are generally reserved for close family members or friends.

Some couples make a ceremony of having their grandparents, step-parents, and parents escorted to their seats immediately before the wedding procession begins. In other cases, these relatives form part of the wedding procession.

Depending on the country, her age and situation, and her personal preferences, the bride may walk alone or be escorted by her father, both of her parents, one or more relatives she wishes to honor, or the groom. In Swedish white weddings, the bride and groom usually go down the aisle together.[16] Similarly, some couples choose to have the groom escorted to the altar by his family.

Whether the bride is the first or the last of the wedding party to enter the church varies by country. In the US, the bride is typically last, being preceded by the rest of the wedding party. In the UK, she leads the procession, followed by any bridesmaids, flower girls and page boys. Sometimes the groom is already present in the church; other times, he and any groomsmen form part of the procession. The music played during this procession is commonly called a wedding march, no matter what songs are played.

If the wedding is part of a religious service, then technically the service begins after the arrival of the participants, commonly with a prayer, blessing, or ritual greeting. During the ceremony, each partner in the couple makes marriage vows to the other in front of the marriage officiant. The ceremony might include the playing of a prelude, the singing of hymns, and Bible readings, as well as Holy Communion in accordance with the Christian marriage liturgy of the church at which the wedding is held, e.g. Lutheran, Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Mormon, Calvinist, Unitarian, Protestant, Orthodox, etc.[17]

After the wedding ceremony itself ends, the bride, groom, officiant, and two witnesses generally go off to a side room to sign the wedding register in the United Kingdom or the state-issued marriage license in the United States. Without the signing of the register or the marriage license, a marriage has not legally occurred.

Afterward, guests may cheer the departure of the couple from the church by throwing flower petals, confetti, birdseed, or rice over them. Miniature containers of bubbles are often provided to guest to blow at the couple instead of throwing the previously mentioned items.

The reception

Main article: Wedding reception

Couple cutting a wedding cake

After this, the celebrations shift to a reception at which the newly married couple, as the guests of honor, and the hosts and perhaps members of the wedding party greet the guests in a receiving line. Although now commonly called a reception no matter the style of party, wedding celebrations range from simple receptions to dinner parties to grand wedding balls.

Food is served, particularly including a wedding cake. Wedding cakes are often multi-tiered layer cakes that are elaborately decorated with white icing. Cutting the wedding cake is often turned into a ritual, complete with sharing a symbolic bite of the cake in a rite that harks back to the pagan confarreatio weddings in ancient Rome.[18]

During the reception, a number of short speeches and/or toasts may be given in honor of the couple.

If there is dancing, the bride and groom, as the guests of honor, are expected to be the first people to begin dancing. This is usually termed the bridal waltz, even if the couple has arranged for a different style of music. In Denmark, it is still normal to dance the first dance as a couple to waltz. Some families then contrive a series of arranged dances between the newlyweds and their parents, or other members of the wedding party, with guests expected to watch the performances.

At some point, the married couple may become the object of a charivari, a good-natured hazing of the newly married couple. The nature depends upon the circumstances. The guests might tie tin cans or a sign saying "Just Married" to the bumper of the couple's car, if they depart in their own car rather than a hired one.

As the guests of honor, the newly married couple is the first to leave the party. From ancient Rome through the Middle Ages in Europe, wheat kernels were thrown at the bride in a wish for affluence; now it is typical to throw rice, as a symbol of fertility, at the couple as they depart.[18]


Photographs from late 19th century, early 20th century, and early 21st century weddings. The first two images show the bride in a black or dark dress. The photographic styles of capturing weddings continues to evolve from posed somber expressions to candid moments showing emotion and joy.

See also


  1. ^ "Why Do Brides Wear White?". britannica.com. Retrieved 7 September 2021.[1]
  2. ^ a b c "5 special occasions when you should wear white". deseret.com. 2 December 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d Ingrassia, Catherine (2007). "Diana, Martha and Me". In Curran, Colleen (ed.). Altared: Bridezillas, Bewilderment, Big Love, Breakups, and What Women Really Think about Contemporary Weddings. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 24–30. ISBN 978-0-307-27763-3.
  4. ^ a b c Otnes, Cele & Pleck, Elizabeth (2003). Cinderella Dreams: the Allure of the Lavish Wedding. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 31. ISBN 9780520240087.
  5. ^ a b c Howard, Vicky (2006). Brides Inc.: American Weddings and the Business of Tradition. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 157–159.
  6. ^ Ramshaw, Gail (6 September 2004). Words around the Font. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 111. ISBN 9781592449255.[2]
  7. ^ Gordon, Greg (31 August 2015). "Are Head Coverings Really for Today?". Evangelical Focus. Retrieved 2 May 2022. Hippolytus an early Church Father wrote, "Let all the women have their heads covered." Others who taught this practice in the Church were, John Calvin [father of the Reformed tradition], Martin Luther [father of the Lutheran tradition], Early Church Fathers, John Wesley [father of the Methodist tradition], Matthew Henry [Presbyterian theologian] to name just a few. We must remind ourselves that until the twentieth century, virtually all Christian women wore head coverings.
  8. ^ Jellison, Katherine (2008). It's Our Day: America's Love Affair with the White Wedding, 1945–2005. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. pp. 65–67.
  9. ^ Martin, Judith (2005). Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. New York: Norton. p. 371. ISBN 0-393-05874-3. The supposition behind these questions is that a wedding is a set piece, with rigidly prescribed roles....The pattern that so many modern brides apparently have in mind can be traced to Hollywood, California, circa 1948.
  10. ^ "Color Meaning". color-wheel-pro.com. Archived from the original on 6 September 2021. Retrieved 7 September 2021.
  11. ^ "White Color Meaning: The Color White Symbolizes Purity and Innocence". color-meanings.com. 10 March 2013. Retrieved 7 September 2021.
  12. ^ "Why do brides wear white?". theconversation.com. 4 September 2020.
  13. ^ "Lesson 5: Learning from the Lord through Symbols". Endowed from on High: Temple Preparation Seminar Teacher’s Manual. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Archived from the original on 16 December 2021. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  14. ^ "Why Symbols?". Ensign. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. February 2007. Archived from the original on 16 December 2021. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  15. ^ Pleck, Elisabeth (2000). Celebrating the Family: Ethnicity, Consumer Culture and Family Rituals. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 212.
  16. ^ "Vigselakten" [The Wedding Ceremony]. brollopstorget.se. Archived from the original on 10 July 2010. Retrieved 22 March 2010. Det vanligaste nuförtiden i Sverige är att brud och brudgum går in i kyrkan tillsammans.
  17. ^ Yrigoyen, Charles Jr.; Warrick, Susan E. (7 November 2013). Historical Dictionary of Methodism. Scarecrow Press. p. 236. ISBN 978-0-8108-7894-5. In Methodism, the sacred service celebrates a covenenat grounded in the will of God and sustained by divine grace. ... Methodism encourages the solemnization of marriages within the context of congregational worship and eucharistic celebration.
  18. ^ a b  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bride". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 528.