Queen Victoria started the tradition of white gowns (even though the actual gown is more of a pinkish ivory), and though the traditional meaning of a white gown was not yet set, we all know what it has come to mean over the years. When a woman of questionable morals wears white, you can hear from all corners, "You mean she's wearing white?!" A white wedding gown in the twentieth century celebrated a pure virgin presenting herself to the man who would be her one and only lover for life.
God certainly didn't have white wedding gowns in mind, but the sentiment is exactly what He had in mind when he ordained marriage. The symbolism of marriage is one He also used for His people, both Israel and the church. For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. (2Cor 11:2)
One would think that a pure young woman would wear a dress that suited that purity. But only a few days ago I saw an article about wedding gowns with this statement: "It's time we moved beyond the self-righteous[ness of a virgin bride]…societal attitudes have evolved and relaxed." (Laurie Brookins, youbeauty).
I take issue with the idea that a young woman protecting her virginity until marriage means she is self-righteous, but let's stick with the second half of that statement today. Societal attitudes may have relaxed, but not God's.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1Thess 4:3-8).
When I give myself to another man, I have defrauded my future husband, even if I do not know who he is at that moment, and worse, I have lost the holiness and purity that God expects of his children, male and female. Keeping one's physical virginity is a large part of keeping one's spiritual virginity, especially in a culture saturated with sex.
So why, when a young bride is escorted down the aisle, especially on the arm of her father, would that father countenance (and pay an exorbitant price for) a dress that leaves her half naked from the shoulders to the waistline, front and back? Instead of celebrating a young couple who have kept themselves pure for one another, we have let those relaxed societal attitudes invade our own thinking. Who says that a bridal gown should not be about sexual purity? Fashion designers, that's who, not godly men and women, and certainly not God. Any dress that any Christian wears should be about sexual purity!
This has been going on for two or three decades now. My daughter-in-law of 16 years had to search long and hard for a modest—virginal—wedding gown. Another young bride I know finally settled for one that had a cape to go around her shoulders because the only choices showed far too much skin, but good for her for finding a solution instead of giving in.
Consider these passages:
And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel and said to the servant, “Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. (Gen 24:64-65)
I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. (Ezek 16:10)
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful
headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isa 61:10)
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. (Rev 19:7-8)
Yes, I realize that most of those passages are talking about spiritual marriage between God and His people, but there has to be some basis in fact for the symbolism to stand. Notice that in all of them, the bride is being covered, not uncovered. In weddings of Bible times the bride was richly clothed and completely covered with a veil. In fact, Ezek 23, one of the most graphic chapters in the Bible, tells why God is giving up on his betrothed virgin, Israel—she is no longer a virgin, no longer pure; she has "flaunted her nakedness" so that God "turned in disgust from her" (Ezek 23:18).
We must stop allowing society to determine our standards of modesty. We must train our daughters to dream about bridal gowns that convey their purity and innocence as they approach their chosen mate, not about keeping up with the latest fashion craze. And we must train our sons to be strong fathers who will take a stand about what their daughters will and will not wear.
God doesn't really care if your dress is white, but he does care if your soul is, and He most certainly cares how you dress the physical body he gave you—dress that will show the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. (1Pet 3:4)