Ask anyone “what colour is a wedding dress?” and they’ll reply “white, of course”. Across most of the Western world, white is seen as the traditional, go-to bridal colour.
The image of a bride walking down the aisle in a white dress is ubiquitous in movies and TV shows. And brides from our parents’ and grandparents’ generations would probably have fainted at the idea of wearing anything but white to their weddings. But how important is it, in the 21st century, that your bridal gown be white?
The answer is simple: wearing a white dress is only necessary if it’s important to you personally. Brides of today have a lot more freedom to break tradition and go against the norm – and this includes tailoring their attire to their individual tastes.
If you’re not into the idea of wearing white, there are many options available to you. Today, we’ll find out why wedding dresses are white in the first place, and what other colours they come in. We’ll also discuss whether you can wear white if you’re not a virgin, and what colour dress would best suit your skin tone.
Why Are Wedding Dresses White?
Many people believe that wedding dresses are white because of the colour’s symbolism: purity, virginity and innocence. But while these traits were certainly associated with brides for many centuries, wedding dresses haven’t always been white!
Prior to the 19th century, it was in fact the colour blue that was associated with purity (this being the colour worn by the Virgin Mary). Before the mid-1800s, many brides did wear blue, or another colourful shade such as yellow or red. Black, grey and brown dresses were also popular, as were highly patterned dresses of various colours.
White wedding gowns only became tradition thanks to Queen Victoria, who wore a white gown to her own wedding in 1840. This was quite an unusual choice at the time, yet it caught on. Soon, white became the only acceptable wedding dress colour.
Nowadays, the tradition still stands. Most brides in the U.K. wear white (or a shade of off-white) to their wedding. However, as we’ll soon discuss, wedding dresses don’t have to be white.
Can You Wear a White Wedding Dress If You Have a Child?
It’s true that white wedding dresses have long been associated with the concepts of purity and virginity - whether or not the colour originally held this meaning. However, nowadays, the idea that you must be ‘pure’ in order to wear a white dress is rather outdated.
Many brides choose to wear white on their wedding day, even if they aren’t a virgin, or even if they have children already. These days, white is merely chosen because it’s traditional.
Can You Wear a White Wedding Dress for a Second Marriage?
Similarly, you can feel free to wear white to your wedding even if it’s your second marriage (or third, fourth, and so on). Wearing a white dress in the 21st century holds no deeper meaning than ‘I’m a bride’ - so have fun, and don’t worry about others’ judgement.
Of course, if you don’t want to wear white to your second wedding, you don’t have to. While it’s traditional, and seen as the ‘norm’, it’s far from a requirement. There are many other wedding dress colours available, even for first-time brides.
Do I Have to Wear a White Wedding Dress?
What makes a wedding dress a wedding dress? Certainly not its colour. Though white may be the norm, if it’s not for you, then you can certainly choose a different shade. You’re the bride, after all!
Repeat after me: “it’s my wedding, so it’s my choice”. We’ve said this so often on this blog that we might sound like a broken record, but it’s so important! Don’t let anyone bully, persuade or coerce you into wearing something that you don’t want to wear.
White doesn’t suit everyone, and it’s not compulsory for brides to wear white, no matter what your Great Aunt Mabel might think. If you want a white dress, go right ahead and wear one – but if you don’t, then don’t. It’s far more important to feel comfortable and confident on your big day than to wear a white dress just because you feel you have to.
What Alternative Wedding Dress Colours Are There?
Wedding dresses come in a huge variety of colours other than white. In fact, truly white wedding dresses are becoming increasingly rare, with many brides opting instead for a warmer off-white shade. Pale colours such as champagne, peach, nude and silver are also becoming more common.
Ivory, Cream and Off-White Wedding Dresses
Off-white or ‘warm white’ wedding dresses are arguably more popular than pure white. This is for two main reasons:
1) Pure white wedding dresses can look very stark, especially in bright light. They can have an almost blueish undertone in photographs. Warmer shades of white are usually more flattering against the skin.
2) Pure white is rarely found in nature, so truly white wedding dresses are synthetic. Brides that desire natural materials (such as cotton) don’t have much choice, as natural fabrics rarely look white, even when bleached.
Wearing an off-white wedding dress (such as cream, ecru, ivory or eggshell) used to symbolise ‘tainted innocence’. However, this is an old-fashioned viewpoint. These days, most brides opt for ivory instead of white, especially those with pale or cool-toned skin.
Blush, Pink and Nude Wedding Dresses
After white (and all the various shades in the white-ish family), the next popular colour for wedding dresses is pale pink. Pale pink wedding dresses come in a variety of tones and hues. Among the most popular are blush, peach, nude, and dusky (or dusty) rose.
Warmer pinks, with orange or yellow undertones (such as peach), suit cool skin tones best. By contrast, colder pinks with purple or blue undertones look great on warmer skin. Opt for a pale pink wedding dress if still want a soft, feminine pastel colour, but you don’t want to wear white.
Champagne and Gold Wedding Dresses
Gold and champagne wedding dresses, with their warm yellowish undertones, are becoming increasingly popular. If you’re not sure what colour ‘champagne’ is, it’s like a soft, pale beige-gold. It’s less dramatic than gold, but in the same colour family.
Champagne and gold dresses, like blush and nude, can be very flattering against pale, cool-toned skin. They give off a regal air – if you’re into dramatics, a bedazzled gold ball gown is sure to stun your wedding guests.
Grey, Silver and Lavender Wedding Dresses
Silver, grey and lavender are slightly less popular wedding dress colours. However, their cool undertones can look utterly perfect at winter weddings. They work well with pure white accessories – so you can still pay homage to the tradition and go for a white veil and shoes, for example. Many grey dresses incorporate white decorations, such as beading and lace.
Just as Cinderella looked stunning in her iconic silver ball gown, a silver wedding dress covered with sparkles can look similarly breath-taking. Such dresses work best on warm skin tones.
Unconventional Wedding Dresses
Most Western wedding dresses are pale in colour, even if they’re not white. However, brightly-coloured wedding dresses aren’t unheard of. For example, it’s the norm in China for brides to dress in pillar-box red.
There’s nothing stopping you from choosing a bold shade for your wedding. A bright or unconventional wedding dress might suit you if you have a loud or unique personality – or if you simply enjoy breaking tradition!
It can be difficult to find brightly coloured wedding dresses in U.K. bridal stores. However, they are available for special order. We’ve seen wedding dresses in royal blue, aubergine, black, and even rainbow.
What Colour Wedding Dress Should I Wear?
It’s completely up to you to decide which colour wedding dress to wear to your wedding - or even if you want to wear a dress at all! In the 2020s, anything goes – rock a trouser suit or even a bridal jumpsuit if it takes your fancy.
Whatever you wear, selecting the right shade for your wedding attire is important, as you’ll be photographed in it all day long. You’ll want to avoid selecting a hue that will clash with your complexion, and make you appear washed-out or dull.
There are two factors to consider when deciding on a wedding dress colour:
1) The shade of your skin, (pale, dark, or somewhere in-between)
2) Your skin’s undertone (cool, neutral, or warm)
To figure out your undertone, look at the veins in your wrist. If they’re blue or purple, you’re cool. If they appear greenish, you’re warm. If you can’t tell, or they’re somewhere in the middle, you likely have a neutral undertone.
Warm hues work best on cool skin tones. If you have a cool undertone, opt for a warm white, cream or ivory dress. If you fancy a colour, go for blush, gold, rose or nude. Pure white may wash you out – however, if you have darker skin, you may be able to pull it off.
If you have a warm skin undertone, opt for a cool-toned dress. Pure white works well, or for a non-traditional hue, try baby blue, grey, lavender or silver. And if you have a neutral undertone, you’re lucky – most colours will compleme