I discovered some breathtakingly beautiful wedding gowns from the Victorian era as I was browsing through the collections of period costumes in various museums online. I was surprised at some of the colours used in days gone by and one of my favourite dresses below is actually a brown wedding outfit from The Met in 1897 (shown at bottom). Perhaps it caught my eye for sentimental reasons since our local paper wrote of my grandmother's wedding in 1937, "she looked charming in a costume of mahogany brown with matching accessories, and a corsage of Talisman roses."
modelled on 1837 dress found at Frocks of Ages
Wedding footwear (1870, 1890, 1895)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
History of Victorian Weddings
Prior to the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), women's wedding dresses traditionally followed the fashionable silhouettes and colors, including white, of their day. The white of choice for most brides was not a pure white, however, rather a cream or ivory color which was more flattering to the complexion.
Queen Victoria's marriage in February 1840 is often cited as the marker which began our white wedding dress tradition. Her choice of a plain white satin dress and orange blossom wreath headdress with lace veil was shockingly plain by royal standards and a significant departure from the royal tradition of a dress embroidered with silver and encrusted with jewels, a jeweled crown, and velvet robes trimmed with fur.
The Queen's daughter, Princess Alice, and the Princess of Wales were also married in white dresses with orange blossom wreath headdresses in 1858 and 1863 respectively, continuing the precedent set by Victoria. Royal weddings have always influenced the wedding ceremonies of non-royal brides and grooms, the brides often imitating the dress of princesses.
Late Victorian (1868-1901)
Weddings were celebrated during the morning hours until changes in church law in 1886 allowed afternoon weddings. In keeping with Victorian society's modest propriety for daytime dress, necklines were high and sleeves long. Wedding dresses of many socially prominent brides were altered for evening attire, or a second bodice was made for evening-one with a lower neckline and no sleeves.
Wedding dress styles generally followed the current fashionable daytime styles and were worn with either a bonnet or veil. It was not until the end of the 1860s, however, that veils were worn over the face.
Dresses could be white or colored. Socially prominent brides wore white, while those of the working or artisan classes wore a new 'best' dress which was usually a more practical color than white, and worn for more than one occasion. When in mourning, brides could wear a black, gray, or lavender color dress.
At afternoon weddings, many brides chose to get married in their going-away dresses, which were often practical traveling suits. [source: Ohio State University]