Contrary to popular belief, wedding dresses and gowns have not always been white, nor have they been a symbol of chastity and virtue, as much as they were a statement of wealth and power. Back in the day, from 16th to early 19th century, white fabric, especially lace or silk, was the privilege of the rich. Not everyone could come by such fabric and a lucky few could actually afford it. Other than that, a white gown was extremely difficult to clean without a washing machine or dry cleaning techniques, so it was essentially an expensive piece of clothing that women were able to wear usually only once. Not something that average people could easily pay for.
In Western cultures brides from wealthy families, who were marrying even wealthier men, would rather wear bold and rich colors like red, purple or green instead of white. The dresses were often decorated with satin sashes, lace, fur, silk and broaches to show how rich the bride’s family was. In general, white was not a very popular color for a wedding dress. For example, Scandinavians preferred black for wedding attire, while in Asia and India the wedding dress was traditionally red, a symbol of good luck, although nowadays in India wedding saris have expanded to include gold, pink, brown, yellow, orange, and more. In Japan white wedding garments symbolize the separation of the bride from her family. White color symbolizes death, so the bride figuratively becomes dead to her family. After the wedding, the bride takes off the white kimono to expose a red one which signifies her rebirth into a new family that she is starting with her husband.
The white wedding concept in Western tradition became popular around 1840 when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in a beautiful white gown with intricate, lacy embroidery and a lengthy veil to go with the dress. White was the queen’s favorite color and that’s why she wanted a white wedding dress.
Later on, women and the church came up with the idea that white was connected to the purity of the soul and chastity, when previously blue was the symbol of these virtues. The photograph of Queen Victoria’s wedding reached a wide audience and she became the trendsetter of wedding gowns’ style and color. Even nowadays brides are usually in white or ivory. Everything else is considered non-traditional, daring and rebellious, although famous women wear other colors and dresses at their weddings. Something like the one below.