Tuesday, 26 February 2013

A whiter shade of pale

Most English-speaking people will automatically think of a bride in white. Why?

It's a relatively recent idea - Victorian largely. It has to be said that most of the brides in Jane Austen's books time would have worn white too - but middle and upper class young ladies wore white most of time then.

Indeed, before the Victorians, many brides just wore their best dress,  perhaps given a make-over with the addition of tinsel, lace or ribbons.

It was Queen Victoria's own dress that started the trend - and that played on the idea of white for purity. In Ancient Rome, the Vestal Virgins (priestesses of the goddess Vesta) wore white. This symbolism was adopted by the new religion - Christianity. 

In medieval legend, the fierce white unicorn could only be tamed by a virgin. 

Many monks wore white to show they were pure in heart: the Carthusians, Premonstratensians, Mercedarians & Paulines. Children and unmarried women have often buried in white coffins to indicate their innocence. In St Oswald's Church, Flamborough, they have a pair of white paper gloves* last carried as was the custom at the funeral of a Miss Major in 1761. 

Interestingly, many cultures see white as the colour of mourning. Shinto brides in Japan wear a white kimono to show they have died to their own family. 

And to fit with my story, the shrouds that dead bodies used to be wrapped in, were of course, white.

*There are white paper maiden garlands - but these are so interesting, they deserve a separate post.

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