The "Going Away" Outfit

A traditional custom which has fallen out of fashion over the last 50 years or so is that of having a "going away" outfit for one's wedding. It was customary that towards the end of the official reception, or "wedding breakfast" as it was called, (although it usually occurred in the afternoon), the bride and groom would make a ritual exit from the wedding celebrations. The bride would change out of her wedding gown and into an outfit suitable for travelling known as the "going away outfit", they would bid goodbye to their guests, the bride would throw the bouquet to a lucky hopeful, and the bride and groom would drive off on their honeymoon, often followed by the noise of clanking cans tied to the rear of their car and maybe a totally superfluous "Just Married' sign attached by the friendly pranksters.

These days the bride and groom stay to enjoy the party and the going away outfit has become obsolete. Social customs have changed.  Many married couples have been living together or having sexual relations prior to marriage much more often than occurred in the past, so the wedding night excitement is more focused on the party and celebration than on the rite of passage. Whereas the white wedding dress traditionally symbolised a young woman's purity and virginity, the going away outfit represented her new status as a young married woman. It was stylish, respectable and suitable for travelling.


A happy couple, "just married" in 1953

Queen Victoria is reputed to have started the fashion of the white wedding dress when she married Prince Albert in 1840, and it's likely the tradition of the going away outfit dates to this time. One just could not have travelled far in a coach wearing a wedding dress. Before this time, women were simply married in their best dress, or a new best dress.

Sometimes, circumstances made it practical to do away with the wedding dress altogether, and to be married in one's going away or travelling outfit. 

1915 wedding. A war meant you had to grab your opportunity to wed and run with it.

Up until the1970s the going away outfit was de rigueur. During the war not everyone could manage two dresses for a wedding, but for the most part it was an entrenched tradition through the first half of the 20th century.

Grace Kelly's going away outfit by Christian Dior, 1956

I currently have this dress in the store. The woman I bought it from told me it was her mother's going away outfit in 1954.

Jill Kemelfield, the designer behind Melbourne's Jinoel label, wore this dress for her going away outfit in 1957. Jill designed the dress and it is made from Dior fabric. Here she is seeing the dress on a model at the Jinoel retrospective in Melbourne in 2018.

The tradition of the bride and groom "going away" from the wedding was continued until the 1960s but appears to have fallen out of favour during the 1970s.

Here is my friend Raema in her going away outfit at her wedding in 1966. The dress was by Australian designer Norma Tullo and Raema tells me it was duck egg blue. She had the hat made to match. 

Raema still has the shoes, bag and hat from the outfit, but sadly not the Tullo

A notable exception to common behaviour is that bastion of conservatism and tradition - The British Royal Family, where the tradition of the going away outfit has been maintained. Princess Diana wore a peach confection by Bellville Sassoon as her going away dress in 1981 and even Kate Middleton was obliged to uphold the tradition, albeit in a relatively casual way, when she married Prince William in 2011 (The Royal Family does not do casual).

I remember having an argument with my mother over "Going Away" from the wedding when I was married in 1979. There was no way I was going to miss the party. Mum said the guests would be waiting for the bride and groom to leave before they were able to leave themselves. I said they'd work it out. And they did. Frankly, I should have gone away and left the groom there as well.

1 comment

  • Mariana

    I loved the article. I found a dress picture at Instagram with the note: “Going away dress, 1899, Hayward, Glasgow Museums” and was not really sure about the term.
    Thank you for the notes and the story! You made me laught at the final paragraph. :D

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