What Color did brides wear 400 years ago?In Elizabethan times, the color or style was any fashionable or current color and cut of gown, but it depended on the class or station of the couple.
Traditionally, brides (and grooms) wore the best they had. White gowns did not come into fashion until Queen Victoria in the 19th Century. Depending on the social status of the families, the bride might have a new gown made, or freshen up her best gown with new ribbons or flowers. She would certainly wear flowers in her hair. However, the wedding dress was simply a gown like any other. Unlike today, the dress was not a unique style specifically designed for a wedding. Even a specially-made gown would become part of the lady’s ordinary wardrobe.
In Renaissance Italy, in an attempt to control social climbing, sumptuary laws restricted the kind of clothing people wore. These laws grudgingly allowed brides, “if they wish,” to have “borders of pearls on their wedding dress.” But they were allowed to wear pearls only once—and only on their wedding gowns.
During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, colors had symbolic meanings and wedding dresses were made in a range of colors - however, in Spain and Italy the symbolism was often quite different from England.
REDS: During the Renaissance the color red symbolized high social status, but it was also symbolic of the blood of Christ, martyrdom, crucifixion. It could also symbolize Satan and color of hellfire.
ORANGE: Peasants and middle ranked persons imitated upper class reds by dyeing their Renaissance clothes with cheaper orange-red and russet dyes. A woman of the middling class might choose orange for her wedding if she wanted to ape the upper classes.
YELLOW: In almost all Italian cities, a prostitute was required to wear yellow - So, if yellow was the symbol of prostitution, perhaps one might not want to wear yellow!
GREEN: Green symbolized youth, especially in May. In the secular sphere, it symbolized chastity. It also symbolized love and joy.
BLUE: Blue was the most popular color for brides. Light blue represented a young marriageable woman. In England, blue was the traditional color of servitude. Servants or members of a City company were to wear bright blue or gray. Indigo or deep blue symbolized chastity in the sacred sphere…but turquoise blue was a sure sign of jealousy! This is where the saying “green with envy” might have begun.
BROWN: The color of brown in the Renaissance symbolized modesty. Beige was the color of poverty. In England, dull browns were worn by lower classes.
GRAY: Symbolized modesty. It was also the color of poverty. Female slaves in 1400s Florence were constrained to wear course woolens and no bright colors. In England, servants or members of a City company were to wear bright blue or gray. Grays for the lower classes.
BLACK: Symbolized seriousness. The puritan movement in the 16th Century found its followers wearing predominately black. Black was also a color of clothing for nobility and wealthy, representing refinement and distinction.
WHITE: White symbolized purity for women and chastity for men. At the universities of Padua and Bologna, white was symbolic of the humanities.
Obviously, royalty could do as they please. When Mary, Queen of Scots, married for the first time, she wore “clothing as white as lilies.” She also wore diamonds, rubies, and other gems.
Several years earlier, when Henry VIII’s daughter, Mary Tudor, married Philip of Spain, the two of them wore matching outfits of white cloth of gold (white cloth embroidered with gold thread).
This tradition, of matching outfits, later became a part of American culture as well.
In 1780 a wealthy bride in New York wore a blue damask petticoat while her groom sported a matching waistcoat. She and her groom then followed a common tradition by wearing their wedding clothes the next Sunday in church.
In the Regency era, Red wedding gowns were extremely popular. Preferences for colors changed with the fashion of the day. Colors that were popular during the Regency included blue, pink, and green. Darker colors like black, dark brown and burgundy were practical for a bride from the middle and lower classes. For a while, yellow was popular in the early 19th century. Fads for choosing a wedding dress color changed as industrial-made fabrics became cheaper, dyes became brighter, and laundering became less arduous.
Research of London Marriage Licenses, between the years 1521 to1896, reveals more than 25,000 weddings that took place over a 350-year period of British history. This research revealed that Brides in the 18th century also typically wore a variety of colored dresses, but again, blue gowns were most popular (symbolic for purity). Although today, we associate white with purity, white, along with black, was worn for mourning.