DEAR MISS MANNERS: It has been a long tradition that women with children should/could not wear a white wedding dress because they are not virgins.
Is this still the case? My niece is getting married in a beautiful white dress and just wondering if that is OK to do in 2016.
I am not opposed; I think that one should do what they want. Just thought I would go to you, Miss Manners.
GENTLE READER: And do you expect Miss Manners to uphold the vulgar notion that a wedding dress must trumpet the state of the body it contains?
It is true that etiquette, like law, respects tradition. But that involves exercising judgment about which traditions are worth preserving. Miss Manners can think of a great many patterns of behavior that have existed forever, and yet the world would be better off jettisoning.
The white wedding dress is not even a long tradition by her standards. It dates from 1840, when Queen Victoria defied the usual practice by wearing a white dress to her wedding. Considering how relentlessly that lady was watched by her mother and the court, we can assume that she was a virgin bride.
Until then, brides had worn whatever dresses they wished, in whatever colors. So that is a longer custom, and, incidentally, in keeping with your own current thinking of what is proper.
But fashion is fashion, and so many white-clad brides followed that the dress became a specific, and all-but-obligatory, costume for first-time brides. Widows and divorcees who remarried did not immediately adopt this custom because at that time, their weddings did not re-create the splashy pageantry that was beginning to develop and is now in full practice.
It took mean-spirited wedding guests to conclude that brides should be color-coded. It became a sport for them to speculate whether a particular bride was "entitled" to wear a white dress.
Surely you do not expect Miss Manners to defend such people, much less join them. Rather, she upholds the older tradition of brides wearing whatever color they choose, white included. (But lest you think she has gone wildly permissive, she warns them that black is the traditional color of mourning, and many people will assume that a bride in black is sad.)