Queen Weekend: Lessons in Traditions

“What!  How could she?”
“Only the bride should wear white!”

On a recent venture to the lady’s room at work, these were a few of the reactions overheard to Pippa Middleton’s appearance in white Alexander McQueen (follow the link to see several slides of it at Huffington Post).  Now, it wouldn’t have been a large deal to their traditionalists hearts if say she’d been wearing any color but that which would be considered bridal pallet.  This would rule anything in the white, ivory, or champagne possibilities for your run-of-the-mill connoisseur.  Why fret?  There were a plethora of other color choices that Catherine could have selected for her sister. Wait – you mean – the bride may have elected to put her sister in white?  You mean she may have approved of the corresponding Burton design?   While the ladies who gab in the loo were set to swoon in a sea of shocked angst, I merely shook my head as I walked past their soiree.

The Marriage of Queen Victoria, by George Hayter (public domain)

The lady who knows her history knows that white for a bride is a concept that became a popularized trend after another royal wedding.  If we travel back to the year February 10, 1840 where in the St. James Palace, at the Chapel Royal, where Queen Victoria (baptized Alexandrina Victoria) married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, whom history remembers as  HRH Prince Albert, Prince Consort. Her Majesty decided to wear the color white in order to incorporate some lace that she owned.  The wedding photo was widely published, and after this many women began wanting to wear white dresses in order to salute the Queen’s sense of style or to embrace it as their own.

Wait, wait!  What about white being the color of virginity, purity, pure-driven-snow concepts?


Yes – if you’re a wee one covered in yards o’ white fabric for your Christening! This is where the color was most likely seen for many years in order to gain its connection to purity as well as Biblical stories.  The color white appears in the robes of religious figures, choral members, and in Communion dresses. For other world faiths might might also be used as a color of purity or even as a color of mourning!

Well, gosh. What did a bride wear on her big day?  Stay more Western culture/Euro  for me this time, oh historical geeky one.

That depended on her class.  A wedding was an expensive affair in any era, and if she were rich than she would have her choice no doubt in the era’s fabrics, colors, and fur trims.  In society wedding was viewed as a business transaction for centuries wherein the way one married would be how one would elevate through society.  A bride was then expected to dress in a manner that would show her family’s place in the world!  If she were a bride without the advantage of so many sumptuous resources, than she merely wore her best dress to church.

The Marriage - A woman in 1350's Bolgna and her ladies at her wedding. Notice the bride (right side, foreground) is attired in a shade peach-pink. By: Nicolo da Bologna (public domain)

Color…those poor women from the loo..help them!

It’ll be of interest to people to know that bride a variety of colors. The traditional color of fidelity and virtue was the color blue, not white.  Black was a popular color for Scandavian brides at one time.Purple is a color long associated with royalty.  Here is an old rhyme that may shed some light on color choices. While white is the first shade mentioned, notice that a long list follows it:

Married in White, you have chosen right,
Married in Blue, your love will always be true,
Married in Pearl, you will live in a whirl,
Married in Brown, you will live in (or out of) town,
Married in Red, you will wish yourself dead,
Married in Yellow, ashamed of your fellow,
Married in Green, ashamed to be seen,
Married in Pink, your spirit will sink,
Married in Grey, you will go far away,
Married in Black, you will wish yourself back.

American women during the Revolutionary War would wear red to symbolize their patriotic idealism, and during the Civil War purple was a choice as it meant honoring the dead. Red is also a popular color in Asian wedding clothes as seen in the likes of China and India, and is thought to be lucky. For a look at more Renaissance and Medieval color meanings, jump over here to Renaissance Clothing for an interesting chart break down featuring a list of colors, the age, and who wore them for what reasons. Again, the variety of color options, era, and meaning also vary by culture across the board and is an interesting topic to research.

What can you tell me about veils, flowers, and garlands?

Veils have a long standing history in many cultures for many purposes, but the tradition of veiling a bride as we know it in the West may come from the Roman culture.  They believed that spirits were envious of happy people and so to cover the bride would protect her identity!  Flowers in the garland shape on her head or about her person also served to protect her further since it was believed spirits couldn’t harm anyone that stood inside of a circular formation.  Flowers as a means in celebratory use as we know transcends Western culture, with flowers having a variety of meanings associate with them.

As far as bouquets are concerned, here is an interesting European tid-bit: Bathing during the Dark Ages and even up to the Baroque period was a matter of personal preference. It was a long standing medical belief that bathing disrupted the bodily humors and left one expose to disease!   Despite the fact we know now through study that some still employed the means to bath often, it was again, not a wide practice.  More money was spent on expensive oils and perfumes to mask the scent than ever would have been on a bar of soap.  Flowers were another practical way to distract from the growing rise in scent.  I once learned that the reason June weddings became so popular was because people used to have their yearly (yes, yearly) baths between May and June, so they’d already be clean by the social standards.

So thank goodness, we know that Kate, Pippa, and the whole crew have been bathing regularly since we live in the 21st century. Present times are good for something!

So to the ladies in the bathroom or those who join their loo banter from far and away: relax!   Pippa was merely accompanying her sister with a long list of others who joined the monarchy, only Pippa was doing it with a great deal of style.  Brides have always had an array of options to choose from. For all we know, there will certainly be a slew of modern brides who are going to opt for Pippa’s cowl necked elegance in there ceremonies!

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6 thoughts on “Queen Weekend: Lessons in Traditions

  1. This is a great post and you bring up some interesting points. I think so many people forget that there is a history of tradition when you are marrying in or into the royal family. For example, someone I knew HATED the dress (don’t know how but still) that Catherine wore and couldn’t understand why she hadn’t done something out there. I actually had to sit down with her and say, do you really think, in the presence of the queen, that anything without sleeves, without modesty or without white would be permitted? She couldn’t grasp that you would have to wear sleeves. I nearly smashed my head into a wall. Tradition, my dear!!
    Ahaha great post though 😀 Now I have a few arguments to spring up when people criticize pippa’s choice in color!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it Pinkbambi! You’re so right – tradition, tradition, tradition! She couldn’t go well in to a house of worship with exposed sleeves! Now THAT would have created a scandal, and you defend Pippa’s dress to the nines and tell ’em that Livie sent ya!

      Can I also say that I’d love that dress for a formal occasion? Though Pippa had one thing she should have left out: The tanner. Waaay too much tanner.

      1. ahaha yes! Imagine if she had gone into the church with a strapless dress to marry a prince! Gosh, that would have been funny! Scandalous!!

        Oh man, I totally get that. I don’t know why there is this thought that tan’s are super hot. Just make people look fluorescent. :S Pippa was pretty skinny. Wonder if Harry has a thing for her. I smell a bit of drama on that front!!

  2. As The UK Turns….Harry reunites with his long time girlfriend for the royal wedding. Is he next, or will he dash it all for a chance at sister in law Pippa? DUN DUN DUN! Somehow this would make some interesting spoof comedy.

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