The Debunker: Are Wedding Dresses White to Symbolize Virginity?

by Ken Jennings

“Oh, my Luve’s like a red, red, rose / That’s newly sprung in June,” wrote Robert Burns, and while it’s always sad when a poet doesn’t know how to spell an easy word like “love,” it’s undeniably true that June is the most romantic month of the year. To this day, it’s the most popular month for Americans to get married, just ahead of August and May. We’ve asked Ken Jennings, the famous Jeopardy! champion and relationship guru, to puncture four matrimonial myths that have stuck around for years, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. If you’re not ready to have all your marital misconceptions shattered, speak now or forever hold your peace.

The Debunker: Are Wedding Dresses White to Symbolize Virginity?

It was rarely a nice day for a white wedding at the turn of the 19th century, so it’s a good thing Billy Idol wasn’t trying to make a go of it as a singer then. Bridal gowns up back then were typically practical affairs: black, brown, or gray dresses that could be reused throughout married life. But then, on February 10, 1840, everything changed.

da dee dee dum, da DEE dee dummm

Victoria, the popular young Queen of England, had fallen in love with a German prince, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who also happened to be her first cousin. In order to incorporate some handmade British lace into her wedding ensemble, Victoria elected to be married in a cream-colored satin dress. It was a striking choice, and the queen is now credited with starting the vogue for white wedding gowns.

It’s often assumed that white weddings are meant to suggest the purity- let’s not beat around the bush, the virginity-of the bride. That certainly wasn’t the case back then. Blue was the traditional color of purity at the time of Queen Victoria’s bold fashion stroke, because it was associated with the Virgin Mary. No, white dresses primarily caught on as a status symbol. A bride in a white dress was showing off in two ways. First, she could obviously afford a lavish new outfit that could never be worn to other occasions. And second, she was far too rich to worry about plebeian problems like scuffs and spills. The dawn of the white wedding dress had little to do with demonstrating abstinence and everything to do with demonstrating abundance.

Quick Quiz: What famed wedding dress designer competed at the 1968 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and almost made the Olympic team?

Ken Jennings is the author of six books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.