This brown wedding dress, on display at the Rushford Historical Museum, was worn by Anna Gibson Moore during her wedding on Feb. 9, 1868. She was the grandmother of Margaret Southworth.  PHOTOS BY CHARLIE WARNER/TRI-COUNTY RECORD
This brown wedding dress, on display at the Rushford Historical Museum, was worn by Anna Gibson Moore during her wedding on Feb. 9, 1868. She was the grandmother of Margaret Southworth. PHOTOS BY CHARLIE WARNER/TRI-COUNTY RECORD
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When it comes to the bride, one of the most important pieces of the nuptial event is the wedding dress. Usually only worn once, unless handed down to other generations, the wedding dress is the crowning jewel of most marriage ceremonies.

But how long has the elaborate wedding dress tradition existed?

During the Middle Ages, a wedding was often more than just a union between two people. It might be a union between two families, two businesses or even two countries. Many weddings during the feudal ages were more a matter of politics than love, arranged sometimes by family members before the future bride and groom were even born.

Brides were, therefore, expected to dress in a manner that cast their families in the most favorable light and befitted their social status, for they were not representing only themselves during the ceremony.

Brides from wealthy families often wore rich colors and exclusive fabrics. The poorest of brides wore their best church dress on their wedding day. The amount and the price of material a wedding dress contained was a reflection of the bride's social standing and indicated the extent of the family's wealth to wedding guests.

The first documented instance of a princess who wore a white wedding gown for a royal wedding ceremony is that of Philippa of England, who wore a tunic with a cloak of white silk for her wedding in 1406.

Mary Queen of Scots wore a white wedding gown in 1559 when she married her first husband, Francis Dauphin of France, because it was her favorite color. Interesting however, white was then the color of mourning for French queens.

A white wedding dress was not really in vogue before the Victorian Age. Brides were married in any color, black being especially popular in Scandinavia.

White became the rage in the mid-1880s after the marriage of Queen Victoria to Albert of Saxe-Coburg. Victoria wore a white gown to incorporate some lace she prized. The official wedding portrait photograph was widely published, and many brides opted for white in accordance with the Queen's choice.

Since then, wedding dresses have changed with the current popular fashion trends of the times. Today, wedding dresses in this part of the world are usually white, although “wedding white” also includes shades such as eggshell, ecru and ivory. While many assumed the color white symbolized virginity, it was the color blue that was connected to purity, piety, faithfulness and the Virgin Mary, according to this writer's research.

Antique wedding dresses on display

The local museums in the Rushford-Peterson area are a treasure trove of wedding dresses, with more than a dozen on display. Photos of wedding dresses accompanying this article are just some of those dresses, including one dating back to the Civil War, several from the turn of the last century and a number from the Great Depression era.