If you came to this article thinking you would read a scandalous confession about my virginity (or lack thereof), you will be disappointed. However, I hope you will stick around. The fact that the title enticed you is exactly what I want to talk about.
In much of the Christian world (and outside of it), wearing the color white on one’s wedding day is taken to be a symbol of purity, meaning the bride has not engaged in sexual intercourse before her wedding night. (We have no such symbols for the groom, but that is another issue for another time). For example, the title of Dannah Gresh’s popular book, And the Bride Wore White: Seven Secrets to Sexual Purity, is based around the idea that a white dress indicates the bride’s sexual purity. Growing up, I remember hearing stories about Christian brides who chose not to wear white—or whose mothers forbade them from wearing white—because they had lost their virginity before their wedding day. When one of the notoriously conservative Duggar daughters (of 19 Kids and Counting reality TV fame) chose to wed in a pink dress, one media commentator wondered if the Duggar parents did not allow their daughter to wear white because of premarital sexual behavior. Regardless of the truth of that situation, the fact is, when a bride does not wear white (especially a Christian bride), we start wondering about the status of her virginity.
However, did you know that less than 200 years ago, most brides in the western world did not wear white? They wore a color that made practical sense or that they simply liked. Some wealthy brides chose to wear white to show off (white was a luxury; it is difficult to clean, after all). However, wearing white became a trend because Queen Victoria chose to wear white when she married Prince Albert in 1840. We must really love and respect Queen Victoria, patterning ourselves after her. I am sure the billion dollar wedding industry appreciates her, too.
At some point after white became a popular wedding dress color, someone decided that the white wedding dress stood as a symbol of the bride’s purity. It is uncertain how this came about; some believe an influential social magazine pronounced Queen Victoria’s white the color of innocence for brides, while others see a religious connection to white robes of clergy and white christening gowns. However the link was born, the veil (originally a superstitious method of warding off evil spirits) was pushed into this purity box, too, and together they create excessive visual emphasis on the bride’s virginity. Altogether, the purity culture implies “that a woman’s inherent worth and dignity [can] be measured by whether or not a man has touched her” (Elizabeth Esther). As blogger Samantha Field points out in this video, in ancient times of arranged marriages, a woman’s virginity was completely tied to her economic worth as a bride. As far as we have come, and as removed from these traditions’ origins as we may be, we are still attached to these remnants of a woman’s worth and identity being grounded in her sexual activity, importantly solely for the purposes of her pleasing a man.
I do not want to be part of any so-called tradition that has been morphed into yet another representation of a woman being given to a man. I do not want to be walked down the aisle to be “given away” as if I were a piece of property. Similarly, I do not want to be presented in a white dress as though I am an object prepared for sale. If I marry, the wedding will be an act that shows our mutual commitment to and acceptance of one another, sexual history and all. You see, regardless of virginity, we all have a sexual history. As blogger Emily Maynard has so aptly stated, “Whether or not you’re a virgin at your wedding, you will still have unique sexual baggage to navigate, because you are a sexual being and you exist before marriage.” God created us all as sexual beings, and it is not a switch that turns on and off. Whatever choice we make about our sexual behavior before marriage—even if that choice is to completely repress our sexuality—we are making a choice about something that is part of us. The white wedding dress contributes to the mentality that one’s sexuality somehow lies dormant until marriage, and it takes away from the full story of who we are as human beings.
Furthermore, wearing a white wedding dress is seen to set a bride apart as a moral success or a moral superior. It communicates that some personal choices are better than others, that some sins are worse than others. Elizabeth Esther that because she was a virgin at her wedding, she “felt superior to ‘damaged’ women. The purity culture showed no compassion for me so I had no compassion for myself or women who had ‘chosen’ to ‘give away’ their virtue.” That is not a message I want to risk communicating to female friends who attend my wedding, regardless of their personal decisions. I would rather my choice of dress be a statement about the grace and freedom Christ extends to us, no matter our situation. You may wonder if anyone would still really be thinking about what a white dress symbolizes. However, even secular Dr. Oz’s website found it necessary to address the “scandal” of non-virgin Kim Kardashian choosing to wear white at her wedding. How much more, then, would Christians, most of whom still adhere to virginity before marriage, associate a bride’s white dress with her virginity?
Honestly, even aside from all these reasons, if I marry, I am not going to wear white because I simply do not want to. God created all kinds of colors, and I think he would enjoy me choosing whatever color I like. If you want to wear white, go for it. But wear it because you want to, not because someone says you have to or because you want it to represent something it simply cannot. I, however, will not be wearing white. I am fair-skinned enough as it is. I think Queen Victoria will be able to handle her disappointment.
Photo by (Flickr CC): Qsimple