Several years ago, a young woman in our church community was getting married. The dress was a beautiful, satin white Vera Wang, and she was going to look radiant walking down the aisle for one of the happiest moments of her life. And let’s be honest, Vera does have the reputation of making any bride even more stunning…She was excited as she prepared for this big day, as she should have been.
Then, a few weeks before her wedding, I overheard a very self-righteous and judgmental comment from someone who attended her church; “I can’t believe she thinks she has the privilege to wear white on her wedding day! What a hypocrite!” I still remember the feelings that terrible, careless comment triggered even inside myself. Anger. Doubt. Remorse. Indignation. More anger. And being the curious, over-zealous, fact-hoarder that I am, I started where I usually do in situations like this- the Bible.
And guess what? The Word of God (which I believe is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but) does NOT include any passages dictating the color of your wedding dress.
I have been told my entire life that the white wedding dress is a symbol of ultimate purity and saving yourself for your future spouse (and I’ll leave the tangent alone about what a double-standard that happens to be…), while the world celebrates and nods in approval at your public declaration through the color of the very expensive dress you chose for your special day. I’ve heard countless youth group sermons preached on this subject, and a very vivid memory of a Sunday morning service where the pastor began his teaching with a skit depicting a wedding where the bride wore white…but had the names of all her former lovers tattooed on her back. And her unsuspecting husband-to-be left her at the altar in disappointment and disgust when he saw how “unfaithful” she had been. To this day, I have no idea what the actual point of the sermon was.
Being misguided with this legalistic information from a very young age, and by almost every single church or young women’s group I ever attended where we studied books like “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” or “And the Bride Wore White“, it’s not a mystery to me why I was so confused and missed the boat on mercy, grace, and forgiveness for myself as I got older. Or why my theology on this topic was so off-base. This may come as a shock to some, but you’ve been lied to. And if you’re anything like me, that destructive lie (passed down from only a few generations!) caused you to question your worth, your faith, and your identity. Sure, there was always a quick, glossed-over disclaimer that said, “Confess your sins and Jesus will forgive you, and THEN you can wear white again!” But it wasn’t until after you had been told what a crummy, regretful, condemning life you would live if you ever crossed that line before marriage.
But with age comes wisdom.
Google “the history of the white wedding dress”, and the first thing you’ll see is this statement:
A wedding dress or wedding gown is the clothing worn by a bride during a wedding ceremony. Color, style and ceremonial importance of the gown can depend on the religion and culture of the wedding participants. Most brides choose a dress of white to symbolize purity of the soul.
If we dig a little deeper, we find that weddings happen all over the world, all the time, in many different and diverse cultures, and the brides wear brilliant shades of red, gold, green, purple, or even black! I have several friends who incorporated their various cultural backgrounds into their own wedding day, and the traditional dress was (gasp!) definitely not white. And it was beautiful.
In 1840, Queen Victoria married her Prince Albert in England. They were the 19th century version of William & Kate. Everyone wanted to emulate the Queen. They looked to her for fashion, speech, and etiquette- even here in the states. And lo and behold, she wore a white wedding dress for her well-documented day. “European and American brides had been wearing a plethora of colors, including blue, yellow, and practical colors like black, brown, or gray. As accounts of Victoria’s wedding spread across the Atlantic and throughout Europe, elites followed her lead.” (read more here) Universally, the color white symbolizes purity, joy, and interestingly enough, wealth. But the tradition of the white dress here in the U.S. didn’t really take hold in society until after a British queen made a fashion statement.
So…just to recap…we’ve been using a fashion statement from the 19th century as our excuse to judge our own worth and to condemn others, and to hold an impossibly high standard over our heads as women? In essence, guilting us all into
desperately trying to answer the impossible question: “Are you pure enough to wear white?” We write books on the subject, preach sermons about it, listen to our mothers remind us about it…and it’s all because of a famous wedding in 1840?!
Enough of this shaming. Enough of this guilt and condemnation. Is purity important? Absolutely. But purity isn’t just physical. It isn’t just the color of your wedding dress and if people secretly (or, as in the sad case above, publicly) think you’re worthy of wearing it. It isn’t whether or not you’re a virgin on your wedding night, whether you ever owned a purity ring, or whether you planned on saving kissing for the altar! It’s about your heart. “Create in me a pure heart, Oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” -Psalm 51:10 (click here for one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read on this subject)
Someday, when it’s my turn, I do plan on wearing a beautiful white gown for my wedding. Vera if I can afford it. But the dress won’t be some ridiculous symbol- it will just be a dress. And for every woman out there who has believed the lies, who has let herself be labeled or identified as one of those “unworthy” ones…stop it, right now. You are more than enough. You have been bought at a price- the sacrifice at the cross- and have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. Your worth doesn’t depend on anyone’s opinion of you. Your worth is beyond measure in the eyes of God. And He doesn’t care about the color your wedding dress. He cares about your heart.