Dressing the bride: A guide to white weddings dresses, veils, nose rings and everything in between

Photo credit: http://kaboompics.com/
And the bride wore white.  Whose bright idea was that?

Tell me - whose bright idea was it to dress a bride all in white and then send her into a room full of people milling about (at the kabalat panim) eating sushi with soy sauce, spaghetti dripping with tomato sauce and mini kababs swimming in oil?  Oh and did I forget to mention the infamous red wine she will sip under the chuppah?  

Seriously, only a man would have thought that white could be a good color for a bride.  Actually it could be - if she is wearing a white dress she can wash and wear. Unfortunately during the last one hundred years or so - wedding gowns have been made of lace, silk, chiffon, satin and a host of other materials that are allergic to water and attract stains like kids to candy.  So where does this custom of the bride wearing white come from?

Let’s start with girls of marriageable age wearing white during the time of the Beit Hamikdash.  In the Taanis 26B, Raban Shimon Ben Gamliel said: ‘There are no more joyous days for Israel than Tu B'Av (the 15th of Av) and Yom Kippur, on these days the (unmarried) girls in Jerusalem would borrow dresses of white, so no one would be embarrassed that they didn't have a dress, and go out to the vineyards and dance.'  The Gemara continues by urging the unmarried young men: ‘Young man, go out and see who you choose'. Meaning: choose a bride.

As a result of the Gemara quote, Tu B'Av (along with Lag B’Omer) are the busiest wedding days on the Jewish calendar.  

While no one marries on Yom Kippur, many of the “themes” of Yom Kippur are found in wedding ceremony.  Firstly, for the bride and groom, their wedding day is considered a Yom Kippur Katan, a mini Yom Kippur.  Just as Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and an opportunity to begin the new year with a fresh start; many brides and grooms fast on their wedding day, as this is their shared opportunity to begin their lives anew.  Secondly, many grooms wear a kitel under the Chuppah, another symbol of Yom Kippur.

In past centuries and around the world, white was not considered a suitable bridal color.  So when did white become the bridal color of choice?  It seems that we can blame Queen Victoria of England for that fashion challenge; the queen chose to marry Prince Albert decked out all in white, back in 1840.  Since then, white has become the color associated with purity and innocence.  So white it is!

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Forget the Gown - take a look at the Bridal Accessory List!  

Today the bridal dress is the undisputed focal point of the bride's attire, however during biblical times the bridal accessories took precedence. And the bridal accessory list was astounding!

Take a look at this list, from Yishi'yahu Perek 3:18 - 24.  While the passage is actually meant as a reproof to the Jews living in ancient Israel; the list of bridal accessories talks volumes as to what brides wore on their special day.  The list includes: anklets, tiaras, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, scarves, bonnets, armbands, belts, perfume boxes, amulets, rings, nose ornaments, cloaks, mantles, gowns, handbags, gauze, fine linen, hoods and veils.

 Yishi’yahu Perek 3 יְשַׁעְיָהוּ
יח  בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא יָסִיר אֲדֹנָי, אֵת תִּפְאֶרֶת הָעֲכָסִים וְהַשְּׁבִיסִים--וְהַשַּׂהֲרֹנִים.
18 In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their anklets, and the fillets, and the crescents;
יט  הַנְּטִפוֹת וְהַשֵּׁירוֹת, וְהָרְעָלוֹת.
19 the pendants, and the bracelets, and the veils;
כ  הַפְּאֵרִים וְהַצְּעָדוֹת וְהַקִּשֻּׁרִים, וּבָתֵּי הַנֶּפֶשׁ וְהַלְּחָשִׁים.
20 the headtires, and the armlets, and the sashes, and the corselets, and the amulets;
כא  הַטַּבָּעוֹת, וְנִזְמֵי הָאָף.
21 the rings, and the nose-jewels;
כב  הַמַּחֲלָצוֹת, וְהַמַּעֲטָפוֹת, וְהַמִּטְפָּחוֹת, וְהָחֲרִיטִים.
22 the aprons, and the mantelets, and the cloaks, and the girdles;
כג  וְהַגִּלְיֹנִים, וְהַסְּדִינִים, וְהַצְּנִיפוֹת, וְהָרְדִידִים.
23 and the gauze robes, and the fine linen, and the turbans, and the mantles.

With today's much abbreviated accessory list, it is interesting to note that it is easy to follow the custom of the bride removing all her jewelry before she walks to the chuppah.  The reason for her removing all her jewelry is to signify that the wedding ring, she will be given under the chuppah, is her most significant piece of jewelry.  (The bride usually replaces all her jewelry after the chuppah is over.)   

Once again the themes of Yom Kippur can be found here, as I have heard that the custom of the bride removing her jewelry (and perhaps also wearing white), mimics the way the Cohen Gadol used to wear only special white unadorned clothes when he did the most holy work of the year in the Beit Hamikdash on Yom Kippur.

Let’s not forget the Veil!
Veils have been part of the Jewish wedding experience, since Yitzchak married Rivka, the first bride mentioned in the Torah.  We don't know what she wore, but we do know that she wore a veil and she lowered it as she approached Yitzchak. 

Another Torah veil story comes from the "hard lesson" Yaakov learned when he thought he had married Rachel, but ended up with her sister Leah.  To avoid any future marriage mixups, the custom of the groom himself placing the veil on the bride (the Badeken ceremony) was born.  This custom is still practiced today.

There are so many customs and traditions surrounding the dressing of the bride and groom and the wedding ceremony itself that you can incorporate in your wedding ceremony.  Do you want more information on Jewish wedding customs and traditions?  Contact me today!


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