Wedding Dresses in the Mid to Late 1800s

Hello everyone!  I hope you’re having a great Wednesday!

I was just asked by a dear friend to make her wedding dress, so I have wedding dresses on the brain. I’m making a classic white wedding dress, but white dresses have only been classic since the 1840s, when Queen Victoria wore a white court dress to marry Prince Albert. After the royal wedding, white became “the” bridal color for elite bridesmaid’s on both sides of the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, on the western frontier, practicality prevailed. Frontier brides-to-be did not have extensive wardrobes. It was not uncommon for a bride to be married in her best calico dress. Another option was to borrow a “good” dress from a family member. The borrowed dress was often well worn, but a step up from everyday calico.

If fabric was available and the bride was lucky enough to be able to sew a new dress for her wedding, she would have used that dress for multiple occasions throughout her life. She probably would have lent the dress to friends and relatives, and passed it  down to the next generation. The dress, for practical reasons, would not have been white.  Can you imagine trying to keep a white dress in suitable shape to wear on multiple occasions in a frontier environment? Many wedding dresses were brown, gray or black, but red and blue and gold were also popular colors.

Wedding dress 1863. Image courtesy of Idaho State Historical Society. Catalog # 1971.119.3/1-3

The dress on the left below is from the 1860s. I couldn’t find a date for the dress on the right, but it’s obviously late 1800s.

The dresses shown below were made for wealthier brides.  The red dress is from 1881. The gold dress is from 1884 and made of silk and cotton. The brown dress is from 1879, as is the rust dress next to it.


After looking at these beautiful dresses, I kind of wish colored wedding dresses would come back into style. They’re so pretty and somehow seem more unique.


Do you like colored wedding dresses, or are you a fan of the now classic white dress?


Widow Skye Larkin will do anything to save her ranch, even if it means accepting help from bad-boy bull rider Tyler Hayward. But he and his penchant for partying are to blame for her late husband’s financial indiscretions, which got her into this mess. She might be attracted to the dark, dangerous cowboy, but putting her trust in another rodeo man is unthinkable. 

Ty knows he shouldn’t be surprised that Skye isn’t convinced he’s changed. He wants to prove that beneath the bravado, and no matter what happened on the circuit, he’s one of the good guys. Offering her a business partnership is just the first step. What will she do when he offers her his heart?

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Jeannie Watt raises cattle in Montana and loves all things western. When she's not writing, Jeannie enjoys sewing, making mosaic mirrors, riding her horses and buying hay. Lots and lots of hay.

12 thoughts on “Wedding Dresses in the Mid to Late 1800s”

  1. Although some of those are lovely – I’ve only seen the white or off white dresses and I do love them.

  2. Hi Jeannie, I loved this post! The dresses are so lovely and unique. Most of my books are set in the 1880s and 1890s and when I feature a wedding I rarely use a white dress. It’s such fun to let my imagination run free and ‘design’ something more colorful.

    • What fun to be able to “dress” your brides. I might have to write a bride just to do that. I always end my stories before the wedding, but this is an incentive to push on!

  3. Thank you for your great post, Jeannie! I actually like an eggshell or antique white over a bright white for a wedding dress.

  4. You know what – I’d totally go for the colored, different fabrics, of the olden days over white. The white is beyond beautiful and so elegant – but I love my color. 🙂 Although, like Melanie, I do love the eggshell or ivory over pure white.

  5. I like the trend of pastel dresses or white dresses with pastel accents for wedding dresses. One of our daughters had a Victorian style lace dress in ivory/off-white. I am a bit of a traditionalist and am not sure I am ready for dresses in bright colors. It would be fine for some location weddings. Weddings out in the country, in barns, on mountain tops would all be much more appropriate for colored dresses than for white dresses. There could be some very nice ones for those venues.
    Good luck with the wedding dress. I have done attendant dresses, but not a wedding dress.

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