Monday, June 9, 2014

WEDDING BELLES ~ Four Centuries of Bridal Gowns

Recreation of the marriage ceremony of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI from the movie Marie Antoinette

There's not much to go on by way of pictures where 17th and 18th century wedding gowns are concerned. There are very few wedding portraits of  women of that era, but we still have a good idea of what the western bride of yore wore for her wedding. It wasn't very much different to her normal dress, except for adornments she wouldn't wear every day. Prior to the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840 when Victoria set the style for future generations of brides, bridal gowns were any color but white. They were often blue (a mark of true love), green for fertility and even dark colors.

I can't imagine any wedding could have been more extravagant than the extravaganza in the Chapel Royal at Versailles in 1770 when Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI exchanged marriage vows. Versailles, after all, was the European standard for opulence. In keeping with the setting, Marie Antionette's wedding gown was decorated with diamonds and pearls - real ones.

An interesting aside: Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were first married by proxy on April 19, 1770 in the Augustine Church in Vienna. Their wedding at Versailles took place on May 16. Marie Antoinette was 14 years old and Louis XVI was 15. The marriage was not consummated until seven years later.

17th Century

Queen Anne of Britain by Willem Wissing and Jan van der Vaardt, 1683.

This 17th century wedding portrait by Dutch painter Frans Hals is a find. Except for her bonnet and ruff, the bride is in brown, showing dark colors were not uncommon for bridal wear.


Wedding portrait by unknown French artist, c 1610
This is not a wedding portrait below, but the gown is certainly special enough to have been worn by a bride. Look at that magnificent scrolling floral embroidery and the ribbon detail at the front. The reticella headdress, collar, cuffs and hem are exquisite.

Portrait of Dorothy Cary, later Viscountess Rochford, c. 1614-1618

18th Century


Above is a recreation of Antoine Pesne's 1744 painting of Lovisa Ulrika in what is thought to be her wedding gown. 

Below is Lady Frances Montagu in the bridesmaid’s dress she wore to the 1734 wedding of George II’s eldest daughter to William IV, the Prince of Orange. Photo from Rebecca Hatcher's collection of fashions from the 1730s on Pinterest.

Wedding dress, English c 1774. Silk with striped and floral brocade.

Back to Versailles. The famous Madame de Pompadour who was Louis XVI's mistress, friend and adviser is not wearing a wedding dress in this portrait. But her dress is the stuff fairy tales were made of. I'm sure many a French bride fashioned her wedding gown after it.

Madame de Pompadour by Francois Boucher, 1759

19th Century

The 19th century was an exciting one for a variety of reasons, the Regency era being among them. No parade of wedding dresses would be complete without Regency gowns. If you're interested in seeing more, visit where I found these two beautiful gowns below. The first, worn by Princess Charlotte for her wedding in 1816, is of white silk net embroidered in silver strip and trimmed with silver lace.

Princess Charlotte's wedding dress, 1816
Ivory silk "Schaffner Wedding Dress" 1824, Pennsylvania

And here's the gown that turned wedding dresses white.

Queen Victoria bridal portrait, February 1840

Queen Victoria obviously believed in supporting British industry. The fabric of her cream-color satin gown was woven in Spitalfields, East London and trimmed with white hand-made lace from Devon. 

The lace motifs were appliqued onto machine-made cotton net. The dress was also trimmed with orange blossoms, a symbol of fertility. Her wreath, which she wore instead of a tiara over a four-yard long veil, was made of orange blossoms. Her train was 18 feet long. What about her jewelry? To quote Her Majesty, "My jewels were my Turkish diamond necklace and earrings and dear Albert's beautiful sapphire brooch."

Victoria's wedding shoes
Fashionable brides were quick to follow in Victoria's footsteps and white was soon seen marching down church aisles all over the world. Though not every bride could afford such luxuries as satin and lace. This late 1800s bride had to make do with adding a little lace to her good dress.

Photo  Lively Arts History Association

Others could afford the look that would define wedding fashions until the end of the 19th century and beyond.

Wedding picture, Canada, 1890

20th Century

Edwardian brides took Victorian satin and lace to the hilt with an indulgence of frills and flounces as seen in this gown worn by Alexandra, bride of King Edward VII.

The short wedding dress was introduced by Coco Chanel in the  1920s.


1960s, Photo

Celebrity brides of the 20th century

1937 Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII, Photo
1948 Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Photo

1956 Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco, Photo
 Grace Kelly's wedding gown was created by Helen Rose, wardrobe designer at MGM Studios and given to her as a gift from MGM.
1953 Jackie Bouvier and John F. Kennedy, Photo

1964 Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Photo

1971 Bianca PĂ©rez-Mora Macias and Mick Jagger, Photo
1981 Diana Spencer and Prince Charles, Photo
1997 Jada Pinkett and Will Smith, Photo

Click here for the 50 most beautiful wedding dresses in the world