Wedding Dresses & Shoes Before & After They Were White

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Associate

These wedding shoes were made for Rebecca Tailer, a woman from a well-connected family in Boston, who married Mather Byles on 11 June 1747.  They were made to match her green wedding dress. Green is not typically the main color on wedding dresses today. Why is that?

A picture containing footwear and shoe buckles
Wedding shoes and shoe buckles of Rebecca Tailer Byles, 1747

White wedding dresses, the norm today, came into fashion in the mid-19th century after Queen Victoria wore a white gown when she married Prince Albert in 1840. Queen Victoria’s wedding, taking place just four years after photography was invented, was heavily photographed and publicized like no other wedding had yet been. It was seen by so many people that it set this fashion trend that continues into today.

Before Queen Victoria’s white gown became the fashion, most brides had to consider practicality in their wedding gowns, even upper-class women who could afford a bit of frippery. As there was no set color for weddings, middle- and lower-class women would usually pick their best dress from what they already owned, which could be any color, even black. For many western women, wedding gowns would be worn again, whether as a regular outfit, placed back amongst their usual rotation, or as a special occasion dress for holidays, parties, and, for some, when being presented to royalty. This meant that many wedding dresses were chosen for the longevity of the fabric and color, and not as they are today, dresses typically worn only once and then kept as an heirloom for the next generation.

Even after white wedding dresses rose in popularity, they were only functional for the upper class, those who could afford to have their dresses cleaned professionally after wearing them, used to show off their wealth.

Here are three shoes from the MHS collection that show the popularity of white as a wedding color in the 19th century.

A picture of a pair of shoes
Wedding shoes belonging to Rebecca Parker Farrar, 1819
Image of a pair of shoes
Wedding shoes belonging to Elizabeth Dennison, 1859
Image of 2 individual shoes
Wedding shoe and dancing shoe belonging to Sarah Dutton Leverett Tuttle, 1860s

This is part one of a two-part series discussing the history of shoes and fashion. Watch for the next part, “How Were Shoes Made Before the Industrial Revolution?,” coming soon!


A selection of sources:

7 Common Misconceptions About 18th Century Shoemaking – 18th Century History — The Age of Reason and Change (

Buckle Up! (

Two Nerdy History Girls: Crafting Shoes for an 18th Century Lady