As a child I was more than a little swayed by the idea of getting married just so I could wear a beautiful frock. I was six-years-old when Lady Diana married Prince Charles and distinctly remember watching the royal wedding on television, fascinated by the yards of fabric that seemed to go on forever as she walked down the aisle in St Paul's Cathedral. A vision of perfection. I would put on a full-length frilly spotted net 'horror' my mother had bought me from a charity shop and twirl around in it wearing gold shoes and pink lipstick. I do not think I knew at the time that it was a bridesmaids dress, although looking back it undoubtedly was. I simply enjoyed the ritual of dressing up, but never thought about it in any depth. I was only six after all.

Fifteen years later my then-boyfriend bought me a dress that more than a little hinted at bridal tradition. Although it seemed on the surface to be a "cocktail" dress, the off-white beaded lace alluded to something that unsettled me. Not long afterwards I left him, but I still have the dress bagged up in my wardrobe, unworn for more than a decade. It seems a little inappropriate to put it on now, harking back as it does to a chapter in my life that is now closed. But it represents a certain identity I had then, which might be why I cannot get rid of it. It is an emotional attachment to who I was, and as such reinforces the journey I have taken since. Occasionally I put it on - mostly to see if I can still fit in to it. And in this way it is just the same as a bridal gown because it is the visual marker of youth and of the shift from naiveté to understanding - a bookmark of transition.

I suppose it seemed "bridal" to me because of the colour but wearing white to get married only really became popular after the union of Queen Victoria to Albert in 1840. And, although many women might now tie the knot in a brightly coloured dress you only have to walk past a bridal shop window to know that white and its immediate sisters of cream and ivory continue to prevail as very popular choices. Maybe what has changed is simply the colour's association, with the western connotations of white shifting from affluence through a range of morals and now maybe signifying a first marriage rather than a second.

Yet while associations might change quite gradually and almost imperceptibly it is apparent that actual styles are more than a little "of their time". Unlike other types of women's clothes the wedding dress does not seem to date in quite the same way. Pick up a frou-frou number boasting frilly yoke and you will just know it's from the early 1980's, while tiny pleats on a tight bodice in thick bluey-white polyester, full-length sleeves and A-line skirt undoubtedly shouts 1972. Looking through the rails of my local charity shop I can't imagine too many women wanting to wear some of the fabrics popular for bridal outfits twenty or thirty years ago, but at the time the synthetic dropped-waist bodice was perfect. They might raise a smile now, but you can see when someone gets out their gown from the box in the attic they felt a princess wearing it - even if they laugh when displaying the leg-o-mutton sleeves or cascades of white nylon.

Women often say they kept their dress because they thought that their daughter would wear it on her wedding day, or they would turn it into a christening gown for their first grandchild. But as time slips by it becomes obvious their daughter doesn't want to wear it because no one does irony at weddings and that they don't want to cut it up for a christening gown because - well, it just doesn't seem right

These dresses are more than just outfits - they suggest perfect love and perfect lives, no matter what journey actually resulted. They encompass the hopes of those who have worn them. And while they act as a reminder of what took place, they cannot be worn again - at least, not as they are. A wedding dress is intended as a one-off outfit for what is meant to be a one-off event and as such it has a loaded and resonant significance. It is almost a body in itself, representing womanhood; a second-self; an aspiration. A wedding gown is a physical proof of 'the promise', and in this way it seems it represents something ephemeral rather than concrete.

It is curious how something which is only a garment can have such a powerful hold over someone and make them want to keep it forever. On the one hand it is a token linking present to the past, evoking thoughts, smells and feelings of "the happiest day". But on the other hand it is a huge burden. Mostly nothing can be "done" with a wedding dress afterwards unless it is changed or adapted in some way. It takes up space. It costs to look after it 'properly', packing it in archival tissue paper - the alternative being to have it slowly perishing, yellowing with age, or using it for fancy dress. It is an emotional ornament, clogging up the void under the bed or back of the cupboard.

Putting on one's wedding dress is a significant event. It can never be simply an item of clothing; it is a statement: both about who you are, who you are to become and a perpetual reminder of the day when the words "I do" became "I did".