Scottish Wedding Dresses in the 1800s

Updated November 21, 2016

By 1822, the Highland dress and its famous tartans had become the national wear of Scotland. This distinctive style of dress was worn for all occasions and caught on quickly in other European cultures starting in the early 1800s. Scottish women began wearing plaid in the early 1700s, often as underskirts. On fancier dress occasions, such as weddings, they wore plaid veils made of silk or fine worsted wool in various colours.

Early 1800s

At an auction in Scotland in July 2009, two antique gowns went under the hammer. One of them was a Scottish bride's wedding dress from 1820 and the other was her going away dress. As would befit a bride of means, the wedding gown was made of cream coloured, short silk satin, designed in the high-waisted Empire style worn by middle and upper class women in the early 1800s. It had short puffy sleeves and small horizontal pleating across the neckline---very much like a Jane Austen character would wear.

Tartan and Lace

In the 19th century, a Scottish bride of lesser means would simply wear the best dress she owned to her wedding. A woman might also wear a tartan fichu, which was a triangular shawl that was drawn around the shoulders or neck with the ends drawn together at the breast. Sometimes a bride simply added a bit of lace to an everyday dress. By the 1840s, as Queen Victoria began her reign, the Empire style drifted out of fashion. From then on, the much puffier, more elaborate gowns became popular.


During the mid-nineteenth century, Scottish wedding dresses tended to be high-necked and long-sleeved, with tartan still very fashionable. Paintings from that era show British nobility wearing dresses decorated with pleated tartan hems, bodices covered with tartan sashes or tartan boots exposed by shorter hemlines. As the century progressed, daytime necklines moved higher and skirts became more ample, as well as notched and tucked at the waistlines to increase volume. The advent of the sewing machine meant such detail was more easily sewn.

Late 1800s

By the late 1800s, the bustle was in style, shaping the skirt by adding a more prominent "caboose" in back. Hat and gloves were essential. Garniture (decorative pieces of fabric, lace, ribbons, cord, ruffles or bows), which was carefully arranged on the taille and skirt, especially on the drapery of bustle skirts, was the most important part of a late 19th century dress. This was a typical style for a woman of means. Accessories included a hat, gloves and parasol, as well as a fan for a ball or a wedding.

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