Today I got online to search for a gown to wear for some pictures I’m taking with my husband at Horseshoe bend in a few weeks. In my head I’m envisioning a white or soft blue chiffon dress with tons and tons of layers, maybe some lace, and no back. After an entire afternoon of shopping, rather than coming away with a dress, I have purchased $40 worth of chiffon and poly-rayon fabric. Because the simple truth is this: dresses are expensive. Add the word ‘wedding’, and the prices become ridiculous.
Several years ago, when I was planning my first wedding, I remember walking through Nordstrom’s with my bridal party. We were searching for bridesmaids dresses that were affordable and mismatched. Along the way, I spotted a beautiful dusty blue A-line chiffon evening dress with layers and layers of fabric. While my bridesmaids were trying on their dresses I stole a glance at the tag, $420. Expensive for a dress with no purpose, but way under my budget for a wedding dress. That blue dress has haunted me ever since. It was hands down the most gorgeous gown I’d ever seen in person, and I didn’t even try it on.
I wound up spending almost $800 after alterations on an off-season Vera Wang Wedding Dress. It was a beautiful dress, and it looked great on me, but it has been sitting in my closet ever since and will probably get donated shortly. All because I was conditioned to wear white at my wedding. Nobody actually ever said that to me, but we live in a culture where we are always being marketed to. According to Western marketing, brides wear white.
Fast forward to my second marriage. Now I’m a Wedding Photographer and have spent hours and hours of my life looking at and photographing white dresses. While I understand the sentimental value of wearing white, I’m just over it. This time I went with my gut. I tried on every dress that caught my eye, and I wound up walking down the isle in a pink sequined Adrianna Papell evening gown that cost only a few hundred dollars, and needed no alterations. And I LOVE the dress. I can still wear it, and still enjoy it, and I didn’t spend thousands of dollars on a dress that got ruined or now sits in my closet.
Now, before you get up in arms defending white wedding dresses, I need to make it clear that I will never judge a bride for her choices on her wedding day. Every bride has a different financial situation, every bride has different priorities and tastes. I love unconventional weddings, but I can also appreciate a stunning white mermaid gown with pearls and lace. However, I wish that someone influential in this world would wear something else, and therefore break the illusion that white is the best color to wear at a wedding. After all, that’s how this whole white dress thing got started in the first place.
Hundreds of years ago, people wore whatever they had in their closets that was best. There was no grand shopping spree, no expensive tailoring or yards and yards of fabric. It wasn’t practical for people to wear white, and white was difficult to come by in the first place because of the lack of bleach. In fact, for a very long time it was in fashion for a bride to wear bright colors. In many parts of Asia red is still the most popular color to be married in. Greece is one of the only cultures that has historically equated white with good luck in a marriage.
It wasn’t until 1840, when Queen Victoria turned heads by wearing an absurdly voluminous white gown with floral accents, that white was even considered fashionable. Most members of the court thought it a poor choice, a boring choice. But by the 1800s we had already entered the age of celebrity worship. And so after photographs started to circulate of the young queen in her daring gown, and after magazines deemed it the thing to do, white became the standard for brides. Thus was born an entire industry.
During a brief time during the great depression women returned to practical choices, wearing a nice dress they already owned. But after the end of the war, as the economies of the Western world recovered, marketing went back into full swing to convince women that white represented purity and innocence in a bride. By the 1980s, thanks in part to Princess Diana, wedding dresses became giant cinderella-styled concoctions of satin and tulle with a designer label attached.
Now we live in a world where 93% of western weddings feature a bride in a white gown. The average bride spends $1500 on a wedding dress. 10% of those brides choose to buy a second dress for their reception and spend an average of another $300.
Again, I am not bashing any bride for wanting to wear white to her wedding. In fact, today I purchased white chiffon to make the dress I’ll be wearing to this photo shoot. At the very least I want to be a voice for women who want to be frugal, and women who have always wanted to own a beautiful gown. Head to a department store and try on anything that catches your eye. There is no rule that says you must wear white. The color of your dress says nothing about your purity or commitment to your marriage. If you want to wear white but can’t justify the cost, buy a long white dress at the mall, check out awesome online stores like lulus or even forever21. Don’t worry what anyone will think, just find a dress that you love and rock it.