Bridal fashions of the 1860s were more for the privileged classes. At the time, weddings were private events with the bride and groom and a few family members in attendance. White was the favored color, an enduring trend set by Queen Victoria in 1840. Silk, satin, and Brussels lace were most fashionable fabrics. But most women couldn’t afford a fancy dress for a single occasion. They married in their best dresses or in a traveling dress made of a simple color. Women wore veils and gloves; grooms wore dress suits with white ties and vests. Sometimes you can spot a wedding photo by the nosegays pinned to their clothing or a floral spray in a hand.
During the Civil War, some brides wore purple dresses as a symbol of virtue and valor to honor deceased soldiers. Weddings for couples about to be separated by military service were often simple affairs. There were even weddings held in encampments.
Learn more about women’s everyday, mourning and bridal fashions of the 1860s in my book Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album. Find out more about 19th-century fashions in my companion volumes, Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900 and Hairstyles: 1840-1920. Contact me here about speaking to your group on historical fashion, historical photography, care of historical photographs and other related topics.
Example: Celebrity Wedding Photograph
One of the first celebrity weddings was the union of Charles Stratton (aka Tom Thumb) and Lavinia Warren. Their employer, P.T. Barnum, invited newspaper writers from around the country to attend this lavish event. He also sold tickets for it.
– Collection of the Library of Congress.