A look back across the centuries confirms that in ancient times the bridal gown not only symbolized virtues and desires but also represented the social and economic status and family prestige of the future wife.
Bridal gowns in ancient Rome consisted of a white tunic, given by the bride’s parents, tied in a knot known as the ‘Nodus Herculeus’ which only the groom was allowed to untie. A wreath of lilies, ears of wheat, rosemary and myrtle, the symbols of purity, fertility, virility and a long life, crowned the bride’s head, which was adorned with six braids in honour of the six vestal virgins and also supported the saffron-yellow veil (velarium flammeum) which symbolized the fire of Vesta, the goddess of hearth and household.
From the 10th-11th centuries, the Catholic Church imbued the wedding ceremony with a more spiritual nature, turning it into a religious rite. Dresses from this period did not follow any particular rules: the bride wore the most sumptuous and elegant gown that her family could afford. It was almost always in warm, vivid tones because it would end up becoming the most important item in the young bride’s wardrobe, which she would continue to wear at other big events during her life.
The first white wedding dresses appeared in the 15th century. The first was worn by Princess Philippa of England, the youngest daughter of Henry IV who, on her wedding to Erik of Pomerania, King of Denmark, Sweden and Norway in 1406, wore a tunic and mantle of white silk edged in ermine. The thread of white wedding dresses was then lost until the nuptials of Anne of Brittany, who wore a magnificent white gown for her wedding to Louis XII of France in 1491. Much later, Queen Victoria of Great Britain wore a white dress for her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840, decorated with orange blossom and diamonds and with an exceptionally long and elaborate train, which from the 16th century was an essential element of the gown as unmistakable proof of wealth and social prestige.
Today, the bride’s outfit is still a key element of the ceremony and in spite of the economic crisis the budget set aside for the dress has remained stable, as there is no way that any young bride is going to give up her moment in the spotlight when she says “I do.” The latest trends in wedding dresses for brides of the 21st century can be seen next week at Barcelona Bridal Week.