The black wedding gown backlash

Despite the lack of choice, brides are happy not stepping outside the white dress box

by Anne Kingston

Here's comes the big black dress

Peter Michael Dills/Getty Images/Photo Illustration by Lauren Cattermole

Last October, designer Vera Wang, fairy godmother to the wedding industrial complex, lobbed a neutron bomb into that white-lace vortex when she showed black at New York’s 2012 bridal fashion week. And not just one black dress, like some malevolent dark swan stalking the joint. Wang made black—dramatic confections of tulle, lace and organza—the theme of her collection. In an industry propelled by conformity and “tradition,” the display was shocking, even potentially seismic. Queen Victoria may have popularized the white-as-driven-snow dress at her 1840 wedding, but Wang parlayed strapless, princessy ivory dresses costing four figures and up into a $100-million-plus empire. But, after two decades, ennui had set in, Wang told the New York Times. She wanted to “step outside the box”; black felt “fresh and tongue-in-cheek,” she said. “For me, it helped build a sense of mystery that I was hungry for. And it added this sensuality and sexuality, and a little bit of severity, too.”

The move was shrewd; it grabbed attention, and targeted older and second-time brides who don’t want to look like fantasy virgin princesses. Yet retailers are skeptical brides will chuck the white uniform. Eleanore Rosenstein, who operates Toronto’s Vera Wang boutique, ordered a half-dozen black dresses due to arrive any day. She doesn’t expect them to fly out the door. “Brides are traditional,” she says. Demand for colour—lavender, pistachio and blush—is limited, she says, pointing to a $4,000 violet gown: “It’s gorgeous, but more of a red-carpet look.” White is a “look-at-me” hue—it’s fresh. “Could Kate Middleton have walked down the aisle in black?” she asks. Black for the bride will fuel bridesmaids’ hell, she says: “What will they wear? White?” It also means no veil—unless a bride wants to look like she’s mourning the end of her independence.

Molly Guy, owner of Stone Fox Bride, an “anti-bridal showroom” in New York City, is doubtful black will catch on. It’s not unique enough for her high-fashion clientele, she says: “Everyone has a black dress.” She’s seeing coloured dresses, noting a friend recently married in purple: “She was stunning.” Yet white is a mainstay, Guy believes, recalling shopping for her 2010 wedding: “There’s this visceral gut feeling of excitement that comes from seeing a bunch of white dresses next to each other; it’s special.” She bought a red and pink Alexander McQueen gown, then changed her mind and wore a white Alice by Temperley dress. “There’s something really beautiful and pure about getting married in white,” she says. “And I’m not someone who cares in the least about things like that.” Brides want to wear something that hints at a wedding dress and bridal tradition, she believes: “Chances are your mom got married in white, and your grandmother.”

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based filmmaker Therese Shechter was momentarily sucked into white-dress frenzy while filming herself trying them on for her documentary about virginity, How to Lose Your Virginity. “After trying on five or six dresses, I was in this weird place, like ‘This is really, really pretty,’ ” the Toronto native says. But she rejected the purity symbolism for her own wedding in 2010, choosing a green gown with an overlay of black netting. “A lot of women love the idea of the white wedding and becoming this princess for a day,” Shechter says. “But for me, it smacks of advertising some kind of sexual status that my groom didn’t have to do.” “Re-virginizing” for a day didn’t appeal, she says with a laugh: “My sexual history is one of the good things I bring to this marriage.”

Marking the occasion with “very special clothing” was important to her, and she wishes women felt freer to reflect themselves fully at their weddings. “The industry sets up this template and you have to fit yourself into it, and they trick you by giving you different sleeve lengths or white and ecru. But it’s a narrow range of choices.” And now we can add black to those choices. Or can we? If early backlash is any indication, Wang may have found it “fun to step out of the box,” as she put it, but brides are happy to stay within it—which suggests the designer’s walk on the dark side was even witchier than it seemed.




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The black wedding gown backlash

  1. The black dresses are stunning but won’t replace the white dress. Is not about purity anymore as it is about tradition. Anyone looks just so beautiful and blissful in a nice white dress, white also tends to make you shine.

    “My sexual history is one of the good things I bring to this marriage.” I loved this line by Therese Shechter : )

  2. Less attention to the wedding and more to the marriage is typically a good sign that the relationship has staying power.

    Skip the wedding and put mom and dad’s money toward the down payment on a house.

  3. Perhaps Wang ran out of design ideas and decided to redo a previous design in black. I mean, how many times can you change the look.

  4. late 80′s was peacock blue to step out of box – then there was an era of pink and black wedding ensembles in the 90′s and last but not least the red wedding dress…………
    it’s not new
    but a bride can break tradition anytime……….they all look like formals to me.  shop at the grad shops.

    I still like Vera Wangs simple wedding dresses of the early 2000 period some with lovely transparency and beadwork………

    lately her fashions are definitely out of the little black box and she seems depressing to me in her attempts ……….maybe she needs a holiday from her empire – i’t s not just dress design anymore – it’s beds and etc.

    you don’t have to wear virginal white……….and stark white is not flattering to most anyway, that is why there are subtle shades available………
    each to their own……….but weddings to me are traditional…………and have ambience.

  5. Colour is a good thing.  I loved seeing the black wedding dresses on the runway.

    White is not the be all and end all and it certainly does not look good on everyone.  I never have and will never look good in any white or off-white colours.  No style, no white-type colour (silver, diamond, cream, etc. etc)  has ever worked for me. 

    Women should dress to the colour that most flatters them as opposed to dressing to what they think is required (now if white works for you, hey go for it). 

  6. I encourage my couples by telling them, “Your wedding should be a reflection of who you and your spouse are: your personalities and your characters.  If you don’t want to do something or have something, then you don’t have to do it or have to have it! You don’t always have to do the same thing that everyone else is doing ‘just because that’s the way it’s always been done’.” 

    I find that couples are now becoming more and more intentional about what traditional aspects they choose to include (or not include) in their weddings — which is great! 

    I personally cherish the tradition of the white dress; but there’s nothing wrong with being a bit untraditional, especially if that’s the kind of person that you already are!

  7. “My sexual history is one of the good things I bring to this marriage.”
    How can sexual history benefit a marriage? I struggle with this because my husband had sex with 7 other women before he met me, and I’ve only had sex with my husband.

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