The tradition of a white wedding is commonly credited to Queen Victoria's choice to wear a white wedding dress at her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840.
The Wedding Morning
Royal brides before Victoria did not typically wear white, instead choosing "heavy brocaded gowns embroidered with white and silver thread," with red being a particularly popular color in Western Europe more generally.
American brides had been wearing a plethora of colors including brown and grey but rarely white. As accounts of Victoria's wedding spread across the Atlantic and throughout Europe elites followed her lead. Etiquette books then began to turn the practice into a tradition and the white gown soon became a popular symbol of status that also carried "a connotation of innocence and sexual purity."
By the end of the 19th century the white dress was the garment of choice for elite brides on both sides of the Atlantic. However, middle class British and American brides did not adopt the trend fully until after World War II.
In the 20th century the tradition grew to include the practice of wearing the dress only once. As historian Vicky Howard writes, "if a bride wore white in the nineteenth century, it was acceptable and likely that she wore her gown again ..."
The traditional white wedding wasn't defined only by the color of the dress. The wedding of Victoria's daughter Victoria, to Prince Fredrick William of Prussia in 1858 also introduced choral music to the processional when standard practice had been to have music of any kind only during the reception.
After World War I, as full-scale formal weddings began to be desired by the mothers of brides who did not have a permanent social secretary, the position of the "wedding planner" who could coordinate the printer, florist, caterer, seamstress, began to assume importance. Bride's Magazine began to be published in 1934 as a newspaper advertising insert called So You're Going to Get Married! in a column titled To the Bride, and its rival Modern Bride began publishing in 1949. Now a whole industry surrounds the provision of such weddings. The groom may be a mere detail: the new editor of Modern Bride began her inaugural column, without irony: "I really did have the wedding of my dreams, the wedding that had been floating around my head for years before I met my husband."
The full white wedding experience today means that an organist, a choir, flower arrangements, flowers for lapels and commemorative wedding leaflets with the Order of Service need to be arranged and purchased.
Any selection or all of the following might be a part of the ceremony as well; a hymn or popular song, a Bible reading or popular poem.