And the bride wore... black, silver, or any colour she fancied – consider this 19th-century Spanish wedding dress – until 1840, when Queen Victoria set the fashion for white at her own wedding.
European weddings, pre-Victoria, had been low-key affairs. With the exception of the Romans, for whom a yellow veil was homage to Hymen, god of marriage, most brides wore a garland of freshly gathered flowers, dipped in scented water, on their heads, but, unless they were very rich, they wore frocks of ordinary fabrics and colours. Silver cloth was reserved for royal brides. Posh brides went up the aisle in virginal muslin sprigged with white embroidered flowers.
Then came Queen Victoria's long-and-white diktat. Then, nothing. The wedding dress evolved not a jot for the rest of the 19th century and the entire length of the 20th. Although society changed beyond recognition, the dress remained untouched by the ebb and flow of fashion.
And how society has changed. In the past 30 years, there has been a radical adjustment in the concept of the wedding. From promising to "honour and obey", women have demanded a ceremony based on equality. And now that services can be held anywhere with a licence, the wedding, previously in decline, is looking up, if only as a social occasion.
Not so the traditional dress, which seems old-fashioned and conformist these days, even to those who believe in marriage. Yves Saint Laurent was the first designer to question white, producing this stunning black show stopper 22 years ago. It's taken the rest of us a long time to catch up, but, suddenly, choosing your own colour seems like the coolest thing around.

First published February 2003