Bridesmaids’ Dresses, Part 2: The Victoria Era

Until 1840 when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, brides and bridemaids wore dresses in every concievable color and pattern. When the queen married her prince, she wore a beautiful white dress which set a whole new fashion trend that we still see today! Read on to find out how this trend came to be!

Faye Marsay as Anne Neville in "The White Queen"

In Part 1 of this series, we explored how the role of bridesmaids changed from the  Ancient Roman Empire when bridesmaids were witnesses who made the marriage legal to the 1400s when bridesmaids dressed exactly like the bride to hide her from kidnappers and to confuse evil spirits who came to curse her.

We explored how teenage Medieval brides wore dresses in green for their weddings.  the actress, Faye Marsay, portraying the teenaged bride Anne Neville in The White Queen. In the series, the actress wore this dress at her wedding in 1470 and then later on for elegant occassions at court. 

In 1660, one of the most beautiful wedding gowns was created. Soon after, it was lost in a shipwreck and not discovered until this century.

Prior to the wedding of Queen Victoria of Great Britain in 1840, brides and bridesmaids wore dresses in various colors. After her wedding, the bride and bridesmaids used their dresses repeatedly for every day or important occasions.

Queen Victoria changed that tradition when she married in 1840. Read on to find out how!

1840: Queen Victoria wears a white wedding dress!

When Queen Victoria married her beloved, Prince Albert, she turned the wedding fashion world on its head! Not only did she select a white dress for herself but also for all 12 of her bridesmaids! As a result, the all-white wedding party became a trend!

According to Southern Living,

As reported by The Washington Post, in 1849, Godey’s Lady’s Book (reportedly “the Vogue of the Victorian world”) decreed “that white is the most fitting hue” for brides to wear. It noted that it is an “emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one.”

Queen Victoria's wedding
flower girl

1850: The Bridesmaids’ Qualifications Were Modified…

To make it easier to distinguish the bride in white from her bridesmaids in white, the qualifications for becoming a bridesmaid were modified: A bridesmaid was unmarried, younger than the bride, and her veil was shorter than the bride’s. To meet the requirements, a bridesmaid was often a little girl. Today, at formal British weddings, the bridesmaids are often girls under the age of 10.

1860: Hair Raising Changes

Royal or noble brides often wore tiaras decorated with diamonds, pearls, and other precious gemstones.

Often, these glittering tiaras were handed down from mother to daughter over many generations.

The oldest surviving tiara in England might be the Crown of Princess Blanche (or the Palatine Crown) which dates back to 1370-1380. Crafted from gold and set with rubies, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, and pearls, it has been cherished by many royal ladies.

Brides and bridesmaids who were not of royal or noble birth often wore coronets, a simple crown. In these weddings, each woman’s veil was pinned to the top of her head.

While the bride wore orange blossoms, the bridesmaids wore in-season flowers or roses.

Asian bride wearing a tiara
evil stone gargoyle

1870: Those Pesky Evil Spirits Are Back!

Throughout history, bridesmaids performed as a female army, protecting the bride from kidnappers and from the curses of evil spirits.

While bridesmaids in the 1400s dressed like to bride to confuse any evil spirits seeking to curse her, adult bridesmaids in the 1870s found an innovative way to scare away evil spirits: They carried bouquets of  garlic. Yep, garlic!

Bridesmaids carried bountiful bouquets of herbs, garlic, and grains to ward off those pesky gremlins and protect brides from curses hurled by evil spirits. 

Whatever works!

1880: Sustainable Weddings: Ladies, Repurpose Your Bridesmaid’s Dress!

While we might think that sustainable weddings are a recent innovation, the sustainability trend started in the 1880s during the rise of the first environmental movement.

Sustainable weddings featured this: After the wedding, bridesmaids were  encouraged to shorten their dresses and use them for everyday wear.

bride and her bridesmaids in shades of pink
bridemaids in different color dresses

1895: Color Those Bridesmaids Happy!

To undermine the all-white bridal party and to customize her wedding, brides began selected bridesmaids dresses in various colors.

In America, the most popular colors from bridesmaids’ dresses were green or rose.

In England, the most popular colors were lilac, violet, and gray. 


And we are back to pre-1840 by having bridesmaids in colors! Well, it’s a start…

Come back for Part 3 when the turn of the century turns bridesmaids’ fashion on its head!


Images courtesy of Wikipedia,,  The White Queen,, and Ainsworth House & Gardens wedding under the historic Ponderosa Pine.

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