In western cultures, white is used to symbolize moral purity. This woman wears a dress that's as clean as she is. This is traditional for a bride on her wedding day, debutante at her coming out party, and Virgin Sacrifices
. It might be relevant today because of the characters being religious or bringing back Old-School Chivalry
. If there are moral expectations you can expect some Slut Shaming
by the Moral Guardians
for those who don't remain "pure". In the old times, any unmarried women was expected to remain chaste so she could be identified by the color she was wearing. The Ingenue
might wear white for the virginal symbolism, while an Ethical Slut
might do so for the irony or to emphasize the "ethical" aspect.
A Fairytale Wedding Dress
will be pure white unless it has a little bit of pink or something as girly
on it. The girlyness is done away with for the virgin's dress though because she's so mature all she needs is a dress that's simple, understated and still strikingly beautiful and white.
Technically she's a Woman in White
, but she doesn't necessarily have the importance and style that that character has, as the color is expected of the bride, which takes the mystery out of her.
Examples can range from the saint-like, to a sexually inexperienced woman who wanted to "lose it" or an experienced one who "renewed it" or any mention of sexuality while wearing white.
This is the basis of the Blood-Splattered Wedding Dress
Compare Gold and White Are Divine
and True Blue Femininity
- Discussed in A Brother's Price: A man who is commonly known to be Defiled Forever appears in white at a ball, and one of the characters points out that this is likely an attempt to distract from his extramarital indiscretion.
- In Breaking Dawn Part 1 of the Twilight Saga, Bella is a virgin on her wedding day only because Edward was too gentlemenly to have sex with her before they're married.
- Snuff: Sybil mentions that a particularly ridiculous tradition (the maids must turn to the wall when being spoken to by a man on pain of being fired) happened so the girls "wouldn't feel ashamed of wearing white on their wedding day". Admittedly the rule wasn't introduced without reason; some of the Ramkins' guests weren't above taking advantage of their help.
- In Gilmore Girls, Lane Kim planned on having sex but when she had the opportunity she surprised herself by saying, "Oh, well, I have to wait until I get married," because the morals her Seventh Day Adventist mother taught her had stuck. She was afraid that she might never get married and have sex but she did.
- In The Golden Girls, Blance wore red at her wedding, because "me wearing white? Even I couldn't keep a straight face!".
- Call the Midwife:
- When Chummy stands up to her overbearing snobbish mother regarding her wedding (which her mother actually forced her to call off before Chummy and Peter's passionate reunion), she demands that her mother buy her a skirt suit instead of a fancy wedding dress. When her mother asks if she will at least wear white, Chummy admits that she's "no longer entitled".
- When Shelagh Mannion — formerly Sister Bernadette — marries Dr Turner, she wears a gorgeous Fifties-style wedding gown with a cloud of tulle for a veil. In this case, she's most definitely a virgin.
- Shelagh and Timothy Turner discuss this trope in the episode in which she gets married; she had originally planned to wear a grey skirt suit. Timmy remarks that someone had said that she wasn't wearing white because her being a nun meant that she had been "married to Jesus before" and she was like a divorced person. This pisses her off something fierce.
- In Albert Herring, the Queen of the May is supposed to wear a white dress. Because no girl is found to be virginal enough, Albert Herring is selected to be the King of the May, and his suit is specifically described by Lady Billows as "virgin white" at the May Day ceremony. Unfortunately, Albert has learned from Sid that A Man Is Not a Virgin.
- Maria in West Side Story traditionally wears a white dress to the neighborhood dance, to emphasize her innocence, although it has a red sash to suggest danger, rebellion, sexuality, etc.
- Spoofed in The Critic, where Jay's sister, Margo, was forced to attend a debutante ball, and the dressmaker asked if she wanted to wear white, or an off-white he called "Hussy White". Margo said she was wearing plain white... except for the gloves.
- In a Flash Forward episode of The Simpsons where we see Lisa's wedding, she and Marge briefly discuss this as they are a church-going family.
Lisa: Mom, I feel kind of funny wearing white. I mean...Milhouse.
Marge: [dismissive] Oh, Milhouse doesn't count.
- This general idea has carried over to high school graduations in the U.S., now that caps and gowns come in more than basic black. If one of the school colors is white, nine times out of ten the girls will wear white caps and gowns, while the boys wear the other color.
- This Trope isn't always the case in Eastern cultures (including China, Pakistan, Vietnam, and India), where virginity is symbolized by red, and brides traditionally wear that color of wedding dress. In modern times, young brides in such countries can and do choose other colors. White is still not the most popular because in some of them it symbolizes death, but that doesn't stop everyone.
- This trope in the West is actually Newer Than They Think. Up until the Victorian Era, brides wore a nice dress, but it didn't have to be a particular color. Then when Queen Victoria got married to Prince Albert, she wore a fancy white dress. At that point, a fancy white dress—especially one that was only going to worn once—was a way of showing how wealthy one was, and naturally other women started copying Queen Victoria. The virginity thing was grafted on even later, during The Fifties.
- Slut Shaming was present before that, with the flowers a woman could wear and the candles that would be lit in the church restricted by whether or not the bride was a virgin.
- In the West, this trope is becoming a Discredited Trope. Brides are free to wear whatever color dress they choose (or even to not wear a dress if they feel so inclined), whether they're virgins or not, whether it's their first marriage or their hundredth one. Many still choose a white dress, because it's traditional. (Some older people still would frown upon a second-time bride wearing a white dress, but as Society Marches On, fewer people care.) Increasingly, too, wedding dresses are becoming available in colors other than white... not necessarily for non-virgin brides, but for women who just want to do something a little different, or feel that this trope is offensive.
- For decades, Judith Martin, better known as Miss Manners, has been trying to combat the "vulgar" idea that white is for virgin brides only. As she explains it, "White had been a usual color for young girls before they were allowed to overstimulate themselves – and others – by wearing exciting colors and jewels and putting up their hair." It was therefore appropriate ("fresh" and "sweet") on a woman who had never taken on the burdens of marriage before. A woman remarrying was expected to want to project wisdom and maturity, and therefore to prefer some other color for her second wedding gown.