Ever wondered why brides carry flowers? Or why wedding dresses are white? We go into the history.

If you’ve been planning your own wedding, you are probably having to think about and consider which wedding traditions you, as a bride, intend to follow. There’s so many, ranging from the beautiful to the bizarre. Their origins can be found throughout history, with what we now consider integral parts of a wedding come everywhere from millenia past to less than two centuries ago. This post is going to be a tell-all breaking down the far-ranging origins of the now “traditional” bride.

We will cover why brides:

  • Wear white

  • Wear a veil

  • Wear garters

  • And carry flowers

Why Do Brides Wear White?

Perhaps the most iconic and immediately recognisable aspect of a traditional bride is her beautiful white dress as she walks down the aisle. We’re hardwired to see a white dress and think “wedding”. Perhaps, then, it will be surprising to learn that a white gown is one of the more recent additions to the modern wedding tradition.

Prior to the Victorian era, there had been brides who had worn white on their wedding day (English Princess Phillipa in 1406 being the earliest recorded western bride to do so), but it was almost exclusively the wealthy and the royal. It was seen not as a sign of innocence and purity as it is now, but of wealth. White dresses were impractical anyway, because of how easily they stained and were ruined.

Pre-victorian brides would often be married in their nicest dress - which could have been any colour - as opposed to one especially made for the occasion, and they were very likely to wear that dress again and again. Up until the mid-19th century, 

Even amongst the rich and royal, a wedding dress was just as likely to be blue or gold as it was to be white. If anyone did opt for a new dress to be made just to be married in, that would hardly be the last time it was worn. Anyone, regardless of wealth, would’ve gawked at the idea of a dress made to only be worn once. 

The catalyst for change was Queen Victoria’s wedding to Prince Albert in 1840 (and even she later repurposed her dress and veil to wear again). This ceremony’s far-reaching impact on the modern wedding was probably due to its prominence. Prior to 1840, all royal weddings had been private affairs in the evening, but Victoria wanted her wedding to be witnessed, inviting more guests than protocol necessarily dictated, and one of the reasons her and her bridesmaids’ dresses were white so that she could more easily be seen amongst a crowd.

Queen Victoria was so romanticised by the people of England that she started a trend, and less than 10 years later, women’s magazines were not simply proclaiming that it was best for a bride to wear white on her wedding day, but engaging in revisionism, claiming that obviously, it always had been the superior colour for bridal gowns. The values of innocence and purity were retroactively assigned to the white dress as if they had always been the case.

The trend was probably also helped along by the invention of photography, from which rose wedding portraits - and what stands out better in a black and white photo than a bold white gown?

And this leads us to today, when a bride not wearing white is so uncommon it is a deliberate statement against tradition - funny, bearing in mind that it was the white dress that was once considered the statement piece.

Why Do Brides Wear Veils?

Unlike the white dress, the veil’s origins are not so relatively recent - dating back to the Roman empire.

At the time it was believed that a bride was more susceptible to evil spirits on her wedding day (these evil spirits being very different from the present day evil spirits a bride is susceptible to: vodka and gin). In order to be protected from these spirits, many measures were taken (spears being used to style the bride’s hair was one of them - shame this fell out of fashion). One protection brides used was to wear a “flammeum”, a brightly coloured (like fire) veil and scarf which covered significantly more of the bride’s body than the modern veil (in order to offer as much protection as possible against the evil spirits). This also ties into the origin of the idea that the groom seeing the bride before the ceremony was bad luck: hence, her face is hidden by a veil. 

At these Roman weddings it was also the norm for the guests to echo the dress of the bride and groom, to confuse the spirits as to who was getting married.

This is the oldest recorded use of a wedding veil, but throughout history different meanings have manifested. In traditional Judaism, for instance, it is traditional for the groom to put the veil over the face of his bride before the ceremonies continue, to signify he is marrying her for her inner beauty.

To get to the modern wedding veil from the flammeum, however, there are a couple more steps. Once again, Queen Victoria is credited with popularising the veil by wearing one when she married Prince Albert (we cannot overstate how wild the impact this one ceremony had on the western wedding was).

An odd thing to consider was that during the Victorian period, the veil became a bit of a status symbol, with a longer, higher quality veil being a sign of wealth or royalty. There are photos from aristocratic and royal weddings of veils so long they trail behind the bride. 

This tradition didn’t persist because of the rationing of materials that occurred prior to the second world war, which lead us to the more modern image (and length) of the wedding veil.

A history that is varied and winding, to be sure. Never forget brides-to-be, not only is your veil making you a stunning bride, it’s also protecting you from pesky spirits who may try to get at you!


Why Do Brides Wear Garters?

A garter - generally speaking - is simply a band used to hold up a stocking or sock. Then why is it such a staple of weddings, with brides that are neither wearing stockings nor high socks seen wearing one?

In researching this, I, a British person, would like to draw attention to the modern USA tradition of the groom removing the his bride’s garter with his hands or with his teeth (yes that’s right, his TEETH) and tossing it to the single men at the wedding, similar to how the bride will toss her bouquet towards the single women (although we’ll get to that later).

As someone from Britain who had no knowledge of this tradition until researching this article, I just wanted to express my shock and also check in with North American brides: is that fine? Are you okay? Do you not find that odd?

Unfortunately, the origin of this tradition is even dodgier (I don’t know what to tell you, American brides, your ways are utterly bizarre to me!).

In Europe in the late middle ages, it was seen as good luck for a wedding guest to have a piece of the bride’s outfit. Brides were swarmed at their weddings, their dresses ripped so that guests could get a “lucky” piece. To the shock of absolutely no one, brides weren’t crazy about this tradition. Adamantly opposed to it, in fact.

Brides began pre-empting the guests and started throwing items of their outfit at the crowd so as to prevent their dresses from being torn. The garter being one of them. Time marched on, and the tossing of the garter became a custom.

Regrettably, this didn’t solve the overarching issue, and sometimes impatient (and often drunk) guests would try and get at the garter early, which defeated the whole point of the new custom in the first place.

So they established another new custom.

It became expected that the groom would remove his bride’s garter (with his hands, America!) and toss it to the men, and whichever single man catches it is the next to be married; as a divergent tradition, this was when brides started throwing bouquets to the single women for a similar reason.

We shouldn’t be surprised at this point when even this attempt to ward off creepiness was corrupted, with the removal of the garter by the groom coming to be symbolic of him taking her virginity.


Nowadays, for brides engaging in the throwing of the garter, it is common for her to have two garters, one specifically for tossing, one to be kept.

The history of bridal flowers is much nicer, don’t worry.

Why Do Brides Carry Flowers?

Back to Rome again! And back to a world where warding off evil spirits is a bride’s number 2 priority (number 1 being, you know, the marriage). Brides carried herbs and spices and wore garlands down the aisle to ward off all those spirits who wanted to cause trouble by cursing the happy couple. Typical “bouquets” at the time would include garlic and herbs and other herbs all arranged together. That’s right, garlic. How romantic.

As time moved into the middle ages, the bouquet carried by a bride took on more significance. When guests were grabbing at the bride to have a piece of her dress (oh god, we’re back in the section about garters), the bride was a bit safer if they could grab a part of the bouquet instead. Phew.

On top of that, it’s no secret that bathing and hygiene in the middle ages was… shall we say sub-par? The bouquet's other duty was to mask any… umm… odours coming from the bride. All very practical.

Now. If I were to say that the modern wedding bouquet was popularised by a particular English queen’s wedding, I have a strong feeling you would already know who I was talking about. She’s basically the main character of this post.

Queen Victoria returns!

She walked down the aisle with a bouquet similar to the contemporary Victorian arrangement known as the “tussie-mussie”, bundles of flowers that would be exchanged at the time. The flowers were often grouped based on the symbolism and language of the flowers to send different messages or sentiments. For example, sending yellow roses to someone would be indicative of your feelings of friendship towards them.

And once again, the influence of Queen Victoria entrenched what we currently understand as the wedding bouquet into tradition, as more brides began walking down the aisle with this type of floral arrangement in their hands.

There it is! That’s four big parts of our modern bridal traditions broken down and explained! Hope you enjoyed reading and learnt something new (like how weddings today would be unrecognisable without one monarch’s influence...). As we’ve ended on flowers, and are ending an article about brides and weddings, it seems the perfect time to mention that here at Hidden Botanics we sell a wide range of gorgeous and fragrant dried flowers for weddings as well as decor. Why not check out our Etsy store for our bouquets, hair pins, or even our flower crowns!

Alex x

May 09, 2022 — Cagla Cantimur

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