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Did wedding dresses used to be purple?

Wedding dresses come in a variety of styles and colors today, but current Western traditions point to white as the most popular choice. Looking back through history though, the color of wedding dresses was not always white. In fact, there is evidence that purple was a very popular choice for royal and high society brides in particular. Let’s take a look at the history of wedding dress colors and some of the evidence that purple gowns were common at certain points in time.

The Meaning Behind Wedding Dress Colors

Before diving into the specific use of purple in wedding dresses, it helps to understand the historical significance of wedding dress colors in general. For most of history, the color of a bride’s wedding dress was not just about aesthetics but carried important symbolic meanings.

  • White: White dresses came into fashion in the Victorian era and symbolized purity, innocence, and virginity.
  • Blue: Among medieval European brides, blue was a popular color that symbolized purity and faithfulness.
  • Red: In ancient Rome, brides wore red veils to represent love, passion, and prosperity.
  • Green: In the Middle Ages, green symbolized fertility and new beginnings for brides in many European cultures.
  • Yellow: Some early yellow wedding gowns were thought to symbolize faithfulness, but the color fell out of favor over time.
  • Purple: Purple or violet gowns carried connotations of royalty and wealth. Brides wearing purple were making a status statement.
  • Black: While uncommon, a few black wedding gowns appeared after the Victorian era, signaling mourning or defiance.

As you can see, color selection in historical wedding garb was an important part of expressing values, aspirations, and social standing. So what do we know about the use of purple throughout history?

Evidence of Purple Wedding Dresses in History

Here are a few key examples that show purple wedding dresses were definitely present at various points in history among royal brides and high society women:

  • Ancient Rome: Roman brides wore flame-hued veils and often donned dresses of deep red or purple. Purple was a status symbol, reserved for the Emperor and Senators only.
  • Byzantine Empire: Empresses and high ranking women wore purple garments for their weddings to display Imperial status. Purple dye came from rare sea snails, making it very precious.
  • Middle Ages: European royalty like Queen Victoria wore deep purple gowns embroidered with silver and gold thread. Purple was a luxury afforded mainly by nobility due to expensive dyes.
  • Elizabethan Era: Sumptuary laws restricted lower class brides to wearing gray or brown, while upper class brides wore rich colors like crimson, blue, and purple.
  • Victorian Era: Wealthy brides donned purple velvet dresses trimmed with delicate lace. Purple lost popularity as white dresses came into fashion.

This evidence clearly shows that purple was commonly worn by brides of means at key moments throughout history. Next, we’ll look closer at some specific examples of royal brides who chose purple wedding dresses.

Famous Purple Wedding Gowns in History

Here are some of the most famous royal and aristocratic brides from around the world who got married wearing lavish purple or violet wedding dresses:

Bride Year of Wedding Details of Purple Wedding Dress
Empress Theodora 500s AD Married Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in Constantinople wearing a rich purple silk dress embroidered with gold and gems.
Queen Victoria 1840 Wore a deep purple gown of velvet and satin designed with a long train, lace trim, and fresh flowers when she married Prince Albert.
Queen Elizabeth II 1947 Donned an elegant ivory silk dress with a 15-foot purple velvet train for her wedding to Prince Philip at Westminster Abbey.
Grace Kelly 1956 The American actress wore a purple gown with floral embellishments when she married Prince Rainier III of Monaco in a famous royal wedding.
Wallis Simpson 1937 King Edward VIII’s American bride wore a flashy silk purple dress with a dramatic cape when marrying the former British monarch.
Jane Seymour 1536 King Henry VIII’s third wife opted for a purple satin dress and purple velvet robe with ermine fur trim for their wedding.

As you can see from these famous brides, purple was clearly a color of choice for high profile weddings through many eras. Next let’s examine why purple fell out of favor as a wedding dress color.

The Decline of Purple Wedding Dresses

So when and why did the popularity of purple wedding dresses fade? Here are some of the key reasons:

  • Sumptuary laws restricted use of purple dyes and fabrics to nobility, making the color inaccessible to lower classes.
  • Improved production of white fabrics in the 18th century made white dresses more affordable.
  • Queen Victoria’s white wedding dress in 1840 started a new white gown trend copied by brides worldwide.
  • Associations of white with virginity and purity gained prominence in the Victorian era.
  • Purple was still occasionally worn in the 1800s but lost prominence as white became the go-to color.

While still beautiful, purple held connotations of exclusivity, indulgence, and ostentatious displays of wealth. So as clothing manufacturing scaled up and norms shifted, purple faded as the most desired color for wedding dresses.

Modern Interest in Purple Wedding Dresses

These days white and ivory remain the most popular wedding gown choices, though all colors have seen a resurgence. unique, fashion-forward brides looking to honor history have taken a fresh interest in purple dresses. Here are some modern considerations around purple wedding gowns:

  • Many designers now offer purple dresses for brides looking for a twist on tradition.
  • Light pastel purples have a more subtle and romantic look than deep jewel tones.
  • Purple accents like sashes, embroidery, or detailing can add flair to white dresses.
  • Intense royal purple hues pair beautifully with flowers like hydrangeas and orchids.
  • Violet or lavender work well for spring and summer weddings.

While a full historically-styled purple dress may seem like overkill for modern brides, elements of purple can make for a unique pop of color on a wedding dress. Gowns don’t have to be all white unless that is the bride’s personal preference.


In closing, while white wedding dresses are certainly prevalent today, the history books show that purple reigned supreme for many brides of old. Royal brides and high society women alike wore purple as a status symbol and to display wealth. Purple dresses remained somewhat popular through the Victorian period, but eventually faded as white became accessible to more brides. In recent times purple has re-emerged in modern wedding fashions, often as an accent rather than the entire gown. So while white has become today’s go-to bridal standard, fashion historians agree that wedding dresses used to be purple, especially among nobility,EMPEROR.