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The wedding dress: traditions, trends and iconic styles through history

A brief history of the wedding dress and its traditions: from Ancient Rome to Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn
The magical wedding dress worn by Kate Middleton
An Indian traditional wedding dress

The wedding dress has always represented more than just a simple garment worn by a bride to celebrate a special occasion. The wedding dress has, in fact, always equally affected every woman’s imagination, regardless of their age and culture. It symbolises a dream come true, the promise of unconditional love, the hope for a future to be lived together. The choice of the right wedding dress for what will be the most important day of your life, is more than just a simple detail.

When we think of the bridal gown by definition, we are drawn to visualise a long and wide white dress, featuring a veil and a bouquet. However, in reality, this custom is much more recent that what we can imagine. In fact, in the past, on her wedding day, a bride would wear the dress that best reflected the wealth and the prestige of her family, regardless of its colour and style – the dress could be dark, or even red, as tradition wanted in China.

The origin of the tradition of the wedding gown, however, dates back all the way to the olden days. In Ancient Rome, for example, the wedding dress consisted of a large white tunic, covered by a saffron-coloured cloth, just like the veil, and tied at the waist by a belt with a Heracles Knot, used to ward off bad luck and could be untied only by the groom.

During the following centuries, wedding dress styles did not follow specific rules and trends, and, often times, they was passed on from generation to generation. A series of transitions occurred over time, going from the splendour of the Renaissance, with its damasked, precious and embroidered textiles, to a more stern and simple style of the 1600s, and then culminating with the climax in elegance and ostentation during the 18th century, in which gowns became really wide and came in an array of eccentric hues. Then, finally, after the French Revolution, there was a return to the linearity and mellowness of the Empire waist (which made a comeback in the ‘60s, thanks to stylists such as Dior and Givenchy, and is still current today, both as laced and chiffon boho dresses and as evergreens for expectant mothers).

The white wedding dress worn by Queen Victoria

The first, true white bridal gown of which we have living memory is the one worn by Queen Victoria in 1840, when she walked down the aisle to marry Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg. Breaking the royal tradition of the silver dress, the young sovereign showcased a white, embroidered dress, with orange blossoms, consisting of a fitted corset and a wide gown with a very long train. The picture of the wedding was published all over the world and, from that moment onwards, the white dress became the standard for high-society brides.

Later on, during the 20th century, the style of the wedding gown changed in many ways: from more irreproachable shapes to the mid-length dresses and heads of hair adorned with turbans, feathers, embroideries and jewels of the ‘20s. During the years between the two World Wars, there was a returning trend of a more essential style, which eliminated all superfluous decorative details.

The true turning point, however, arrived after WWII, when great icons of beauty and elegance imposed the styles that marked the history, the tradition and the trends of the wedding dress for good.

Grace Kelly's iconic wedding dress

On April 19th, 1956 the world came to a halt and held its breath to admire the epitome of the fairy tale wedding: with a regal innate class and unparalleled elegance, Grace Kelly married Prince Ranieri of Monaco wearing a timeless wedding gown featuring a double gown, lace corset with a Korean collar, closed in the front by mother-of-pearl buttons, and long and veiled sleeves. Without a doubt, it has been the most imitated bridal dress in the years to come – not least the current Duchess of Kent, Kate Middleton, who was able to re-enact Grace Kelly’s magical moment by designing a wedding dress that was clearly inspired by the one worn by the American diva.


And how can we not mention the refined Ball gown model The elegant wedding dress worn by Jackie Kennedyworn by Jackie Kennedy? Designed by stylist Anne Lowe, the strapless dress was characterised by an ivory taffeta, with a draped corset, a sweet-heart neckline and an ample gown, adorned with small woven circles of orange blossoms.

We cannot speak of icons without mentioning the chic charm of Audrey Hepburn – the muse that inspired French stylist Hubert de Givenchy to realise both of the dresses she wore during her weddings. The first one featured a tight waistline and wide sleeves, reflecting the simple yet sophisticated look of the times, whereas the second one consisted of a very short, tight-waist light pink sheath dress.

Princess Diana's stunning wedding dress

The ‘80s were marked by a return to exaggerated shapes, and no wedding dress embodies this better than the one worn by Princess Diana. Realised in silk ivory taffeta, adorned with precious lace, embroideries, sequins and about ten thousand pearls, it featured puffy shoulders and a balloon gown. The dress was conceived as “something meant to go down in history” – and without a doubt, it did.

Today, the array of choices for brides is truly infinite. And the white wedding dress, albeit still the standard for many women, is not an exclusive option. Brides can pick any off-white hues, ranging from creams to ivories… or even choose a pastel colour like pink, light blue or aquamarine. Unconventional brides push the boundaries even more, opting for more bold colours, such as black, red or blue.

However, regardless of the colour or the model of the wedding dress, one thing remains intact over time: that feeling that a bride rekindles every time she thinks back to the magic moments of that special and sought-after day of her life.

Don’t miss our next article on this topic, which will offer useful tips and bits of advice on how to choose the ideal wedding dress in order to highlight your body features!

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