Emily Dickinson was notorious for her reclusiveness, and her eccentric choice to wear only white. Both of these facts fed into the idea that she faced some deep unrequited love, and in her pain from that, chose to remove herself from society and wear only one color. The reality of these choices, however, is likely far less romantic.
Emily’s retiring from society, while certainly eccentric, was largely practical. Her mother fell ill in the mid-1850s, and from that point on was essentially an invalid. This meant that all of the household duties, with the exception of small amounts of work done by certain staff—not live-in—was left to Emily and her sister Lavinia. Their house was large, there was no central heating, gas, electricity, or running water. Thus all of these tasks, along with the caring for her mother, were hugely time consuming.
For Emily to have any time at all to write poetry, she certainly had to sacrifice other things, and having spent time in society earlier on, she did not see it as having enough value to take her precious time from her writing. Her choice of white dresses, too, can be seen to be a kind of sacrifice for her poetry. As she left the house less and less, she took to wearing cotton more and more, as it was more suited to household tasks, and sufficient to keep her warm.
With cotton dresses at that time, dyes were not very steadfast, and made washing clothes much more complicated. While they did have help with their laundry, Emily’s own clothes would have been her responsibility to wash, and having only white dresses would have greatly simplified this process. And, indeed, the choice of white because of its associations with brides is highly unlikely, as at the time weddings and wedding dresses were far simpler, and used for other occasions as well.
In addition, women did not always wear white for weddings, and white was a common color for summer dresses for girls and young women. Thus Emily’s choice to wear only white dresses—and she did wear other colors at times, in her shawls, for example—was much more practical, and to the aid of her poetry, and not about her broken heart.