Accessories and Their Symbolism

It is often the accessories that historically have provided clothing with bridal significance. Some can be traced to specific time periods while others appear to predate written records. One example of this is the headpiece. Depending on the culture, both men and women may have a specific type of head covering, but it is most unusual for the bride to be bareheaded. The earliest were undoubtedly simple wreaths of plant material: flowers, grain, or leaves, most of which appear to have had fertility symbolism, and possibly served to identify the wedding party. Later, head ornaments of cloth, metal, gems, and even wood began to be used. These were often accompanied by an additional piece of cloth, which might simply cover the hair or be draped over the entire head of the bride, obscuring her features. Certain religions dictate this kind of modesty, historically as well as in the early twenty-first century. However, in European culture, the veil also served as a disguise, a pre-Christian remnant of hiding the bride lest she be attacked by the forces of evil. Identically dressed attendants served not only to assist her, but to also confuse demonic presence.

Bouquets or other objects, such as fans or books, are also important accessories and are symbolic on several different levels. The carrying of flowers or other plants, such as wheat, is not only decorative, but refers to the fertility of the union. Flowers have been accorded symbolism in nearly every culture, but they also express wealth and taste in their choice and cost. In the early 2000s it is most common for Western brides to carry expensive flowers, with only very religious or economically prudent women opting for a prayer book. However, in earlier times, the owning and display of such a luxury item as a book would have lent the bride additional status, and frequently formed one of her betrothal gifts. The wedding ring, a token of affection, an exchange of property in the form of precious metal, and a none-too-subtle warning of future unavailability, is not a universal accessory. This is even more true of the engagement ring, a staple in North America, but not as common in other cultures, even in the West. Additionally, the finger or hand on which the rings are worn vary from culture to culture, as well as historically. Sixteenth-century examples of wedding portraits show the bride wearing a ring on her thumb.

Color symbolism did not play a role in weddings until relatively recently in the West, although now it signifies virginity, and, as mentioned above, the primacy of the white wedding dress flies directly in the face of many other cultures' norms. White is the color of mourning in most Asian cultures. Red, the one color still forbidden to most mainstream Western brides, due to its connotations of immorality ("scarlet woman," "red-light district"), is completely appropriate in other cultural settings. In India, it is the color of purity, and is often worn by brides. In much of East Asia, it is the color of celebration and luck, and therefore appropriate for bridal attire. How ever, the tendency toward adopting the Western white wedding, established only in the mid-nineteenth century, seems to be continuing throughout the world, sometimes alone, and sometimes in conjunction with local traditions. At the same time, the white wedding in the West is proving to be far less static than previously thought, evolving as fashions and societal norms do.

See also Ceremonial and Festival Costumes; Religion and Dress.


Baker, Margaret. Wedding Customs and Folklore. Devon, U.K.: David and Charles, 1977. An early work exploring the symbolism of marriage and its dress.

Baldizzone, Tiziana, and Gianni Baldzonne. Wedding Ceremonies: Ethnic Symbols, Costume, and Ritual. Paris: Flammarian, 2002. One of many new studies that look at modern global practice.

Cunnington, Phillis, and Catherine Lucas. Costume for Births, Marriages, and Deaths. New York: A & C Black, 1972. One of the first, and still important studies of Western ceremonial clothing. Foster, Helen Bradley, and Donald Clay Johnson. Wedding Dress: Across Cultures. Oxford: Berg, 2003. A rather good exploration of modern global wedding practices. Kaivola-Bregenhaj, Annikki. Bondebryllup. Copenhagen, 1983.

Excellent discussion of European peasant weddings. Mordecai, Carolyn. Weddings, Dating and Love: Customs and Cultures Worldwide, including Royalty. Phoenix, Ariz.: Nittany,

1998. An imperfect but broad compendium of modern practices.

Newton, Stella Mary. Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince: A Study of the Years 1340-1365. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 1980. Reprint, Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield,

1999. One of the best studies of fourteenth-century dress, including weddings, using difficult to find primary sources.

Noss, Aagot. Lad og Krone: frâ jente til brur. Oslo: Universitets-forlaget, 1991. The most careful case study to date of ethnic wedding traditions, focusing on those of Norway, by one of the pioneers of costume history fieldwork.

Piponnier, Françoise, and Perrine Mane. Dress in the Middle Ages. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University, 1997. A book that is significant because it presents much compressed information, and its discussion of garments signifying rites of passage is important. Tobin, Shelley, Sarah Pepper, and Margaret Willes. Marriage à la Mode: Three Centuries of Wedding Dress. London: The National Trust, 2003.

Michelle Nordtorp-Madson

WESTWOOD, VIVIENNE Born Vivienne Swire in Glossop in Derbyshire in 1941, Vivienne Westwood originally set out to become a teacher. She married Derek Westwood in 1962; her first child was born a year later and she seemed destined to lead a quiet, suburban life. However, in 1965 she met Malcolm McLaren, a publicist and impresario, whose subversive ideas and alternative

Vivienne Westwood Pret Porte 1989

Vivienne Westwood. Two models flank designer Vivenne Westwood, displaying her designs for the 1996 spring-summer pret-a-porter collection. Westwood's unconventional fashions often reference historical and traditional dress. © B.D.V./Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

Vivienne Westwood. Two models flank designer Vivenne Westwood, displaying her designs for the 1996 spring-summer pret-a-porter collection. Westwood's unconventional fashions often reference historical and traditional dress. © B.D.V./Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

lifestyle gave Westwood the opportunity and momentum to break free from her former life and embark on a highly successful career of fashion.

Vivienne Westwood's designs are a reaction against traditional British standards of morality—against petty bourgeois notions of etiquette and propriety. Since her early street style-based collaborations with McLaren, Westwood has defied the ideal of polite, anonymous clothes that express the wearer's ascribed social status. She seeks to transcend definitions of class, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation and create outfits that are dramatic—that encourage wearers to carry themselves confidently as they masquerade in theatrical assimilations of eighteenth-century aristocratic dress or traditionally tailored suits adorned with fetish bondage buckles. Westwood is a utopian. Through her work and the ideas she expresses in interviews, she strives to construct new per-sonae for future cultures that draw upon idealized visions of the past inspired by portraiture and film.

During the early to mid-1970s, she and McLaren merged tough biker leather jackets with pornographic imagery and traditional tartans to produce the DIY (do-it-yourself) aesthetic that expressed the antiestablishment spirit of punk. Based in London's King's Road, they changed the name of their shop from time to time to enhance the current collection's ideals, from Let It Rock (1971) to Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die (1973) to Sex (1974) and finally to Seditionaries (1976)—a name and anarchic style that coincided with the increased notoriety of the Sex Pistols, a punk rock band that McLaren managed. Punk enabled Westwood to break free from the suburbs she had felt trapped in and experiment with fashion's power to shock and challenge. Her sex shopstyle plastic miniskirts worn with ripped fishnet stockings, buckles, and chains, fractured traditional notions of femininity and beauty. Along with her straggly-knit sweaters, Karl Marx portrait print shirts, and bondage trousers, they became emblems of pop cultural revolt.

Westwood's subsequent work with McLaren was just as closely linked to youth culture, music, and clubs. As her King's Road shop settled into its final incarnation as World's End in 1980, she embarked on a series of collections that explored historical construction techniques. One example was Pirates, presented at her first catwalk show in 1981. She continued to play with the relationship between body and fabric in the multilayered bulk of the Buffalo collection of 1982-1983 and the Witches collection of 1983-1984, which used sweatshirt fabric cut to pull away from the figure. These collections have inspired other designers; for example, punk was revisited in the early 1990s by Jean-Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfeld. Westwood's asymmetrical sportswear-based designs, highlighted with the neon colors that she used in her last collections with McLaren between 1983 and 1984, were seen on catwalks and in such High Street stores as Topshop and H & M in 2002-2003.

Westwood's split from McLaren prompted her shift away from pop culture and street style toward a more thorough exploration of history and tradition. She no longer wanted to be seen as a creator of subcultural dress, but rather as a designer of high fashion posing serious questions about culture, art, and identity. While her standing as one of the most significant British designers of the period was already established in mainland Europe, America, and Japan, she remained an outsider in Britain itself. It was not until the late 1980s that such high fashion magazines as Vogue began to feature her work on a regular basis. Before that time, her clothes were seen mainly in style magazines like The Face and i-D.

Westwood's first post-McLaren collection, Mini Crini (1986), indicated the direction she was to take, with its juxtaposition of eighteenth-century corsets, the "crini" (abbreviated 1860s-style crinolines), and huge curved wooden platform shoes that laced up the leg and rocked forward as the wearer walked in them. This collection was fashion created to make an impact; Westwood wanted to distinguish her wearers through references to grandeur, royalty, and the Establishment. In 1987 this dramatic aura was tempered by Westwood's ironic wit and her expertise with rich traditional fabrics: Harris tweed, John Smedley fine knits, and wool barathea were enlivened with such flourishes as a tweed crown worn with a tiny cape and crini. "You have a much better life if you wear impressive clothes," she remarked at the time (Jones, p. 57).

Westwood's philosophy, a mixture of contempt for late twentieth-century casual dress and reverence for the eighteenth-century Enlightenment's use of classical references, was encapsulated in her collections from 1988 through 1991 under the broad title Britain Must Go Pagan. These collections, like the punk fashions before them, sought to challenge existing ideas of status, gender, and display. In this case, however, Westwood strove for refinement and education rather than youthful rebel lion. She used togas to add grandeur to traditional suiting, and contrasted light, floating chiffons that evoked both ancient Greece and prerevolutionary France with thick Scottish tweeds and corsets photoprinted with Boucher paintings of rural idylls. The clothing that resulted from these combinations relied heavily upon an idealized vision of the past and required its wearers to take on new personae that suggested their awareness of the fine arts.

Westwood appropriated emblems of aristocratic status and elitism for their power and theatricality. She encouraged people to dress up in princess-style coats like those the Queen wore as a child, or in delicate silk coats with rose-strewn edges like an eighteenth-century gentleman's garment. She has continued to draw on these themes of heritage and culture in her subsequent work. While Westwood is always considered inherently British, and has undoubtedly drawn upon her own country's past, she has been equally transfixed by French art and style. This attraction was summarized in her autumn-winter 1993-1994 collection, Anglomania, which harked back to Parisians' fascination with Englishness in the 1780s.

Westwood has consolidated her label since the late 1990s. In 1993 she diversified her collections to appeal to different audiences: the Red Label for ready-to-wear styles, the Gold Label for made-to-measure garments, and in 1998, and the diffusion line Anglomania (a less expensive collection aimed at a younger market), which reinterprets such staples as the pirate shirts from her earlier collections. Along with her perfumes, Boudoir, launched in 1998, and Libertine, launched in 2000, this diversification has enabled her to widen her market and build upon her previous successes.

See also Extreme Fashions; Gaultier, Jean-Paul; Lagerfeld, Karl; London Fashion; Perfume; Punk; Vogue.


Arnold, Rebecca. "Vivienne Westwood's Anglomania." In The Englishness ofEnglish Dress. Edited by Christopher Breward, Becky Conekin, and Caroline Cox. Oxford: Berg, 2002. Evans, Caroline, and Minna Thornton. Women and Fashion: A

New Look. London: Quartet, 1989. Jones, Dylan. "Royal Flush: Vivienne Westwood." i-D (August 1987): 57.

Mulvagh, Jane. Vivienne Westwood: An Unfashionable Life. London: HarperCollins, 1998.

Rebecca Arnold

WIGS Wigs are artificial heads of hair, either cunningly concealing baldness or glaringly obvious fashion items in their own right. The Jewish sheitel, for instance, is worn for religious reasons where a woman's natural hair is shielded from the gaze of all men who are not her husband. The Talmud teaches that the sight of a woman's

Engraving Religion

Illustration of eighteenth-century wigs. An engraving from the book The Wigmaker III shows the different styles of wigs popular during the eighteenth century. White wigs were most popular and were maintained with plaster of paris and starch.

© Bettmann/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

Illustration of eighteenth-century wigs. An engraving from the book The Wigmaker III shows the different styles of wigs popular during the eighteenth century. White wigs were most popular and were maintained with plaster of paris and starch.

© Bettmann/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

hair constitutes an arousal or sexual lure; thus a woman hiding her hair helps protect the fabric of Jewish society. The entertainer Elton John's obvious ginger weave is, of course, completely different, worn to retain an air of youth and as a disguise for baldness.

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