The importance (and unimportance) of wedding fashion

As the NY Fashionweek is nearly upon us, the lovely Lesley of Fashiontribes is hosting the pre-Fashionweek Carnivale of Couture. The topic? The State of The Fashion Union. This theme is, as Julie of Almost Girl put it, wide open to interpretation. Being that I am hot for all things bride, including the stress of being one, I want to discuss the relative importance of fashion in choosing dresses, place settings, venues, bands, and the like.

I think that, if called to, there are few people who couldn’t conjure up an image of the stereotypical wedding. In the West (or at least North America), that wedding would feature a glowing bride in a big, lacy dress marrying a fellow in a stark black tuxedo in a church. At the reception, this couple receives their guests in an orderly fashion, dances together, and then cuts into a bright-white, many-tiered cake. As designer Carolina Herrera said in an interview with the Green Bay Press Gazette, “How different can a bride really be?”

Herrera, who has designed wedding gowns since 1986, says that brides today come to her with the idea that they want to be different, more fashion-forward. They ask for dresses with uneven hems, or say they want bold colors, even black or red.

But when the big day comes, they’re wearing a white princess gown, complete with veil, train and high-heeled shoes, just like their mothers did.

When you announce your engagement, it is likely that your Grandma Bea, Aunt Alice, and Cousin Norm are all going to immediately picture you in that princess gown. People have expectations. You, whether you like it or not, have been psychologically influenced to think of certain elements (rice, veils, church, etc.) when someone says, “Wedding.” Your mom has dreamed of dressing you like the perfect lady or gentleman she knows you really are. Your dad has dreamed of dancing with his little princess on her wedding day. Your grandpa wants to see you walk down the aisle in white.

There is fashion and there is tradition, and it is in the planning of nuptials that these two elements of life often clash, with miserable results. So, is the perfect white wedding a fashion? No, it is a tradition. Wearing a simpler but still white gown with a bright splash of color when simpler and more colorful is the current style might be considered conforming to fashion. Yet it is not bowing to any particularly rigid rules of fashion. Beach weddings go from being in style to being a cliché to being in style. But how unusual or innovative is having a party at the beach?

Weddings represent a few hours in one’s life wherein one steps out of one’s usual role, be it banker, farmer, clerk, or CEO, and into a different and far more glamorous one. However, as Herrera implied, that glamour seldom changes or, at least, changes very slowly. Dress shapes and decorative highlights change by the year but are still recognizable as wedding gowns. Many of the favors brides and grooms give their guests in the modern age might have looked just as at home at a post-nuptial place setting in 1960. Some still consider a wedding in the park the height of daring. And most wedding bands still play the old, bland favorites.

Why? Because as much as we love fashion – particularly flashy colored wedding gowns, ultra mod cakes, non-traditional ceremonies, and kooky favors – we also love tradition. And when those of us who don’t particularly love tradition and would rather embrace fashion try to exert ourselves, we discover our relatives (perhaps those writing the checks) love tradition. Which is why, no doubt, the new wedding fashions are so slow to be adopted. Thus, when a soon-to-be-bride who in her mundane life is a beacon of fashion walks into a bridal boutique, she usually makes a bee-line for the poofy princess dresses rather than the sharp-edged dresses of the runways. Behind that decision lie decades and even centuries of tradition, her childhood dreams, and, quite possibly, the shining eyes of old Grandma Bea.

P.S. – Be sure to check out what other bloggers about town are saying about the state of the fashion union!

9 Responses to “The importance (and unimportance) of wedding fashion”

  1. Meg January 30, 2006 at 4:14 pm #

    I am so anti-princess gowns that I’m having a dear best friend of mine knit (yes, knit!) a shell top and a lace skirt in orange (because I want to get married in orange). No princess gowns for me!

  2. Never teh Bride January 30, 2006 at 4:22 pm #

    Wow, Meg, that’s fantastic! There will always be pioneering ladies like yourself who choose to eschew tradition and do what will make you happy. Bravo! When you do get hitched, I would love to see a photo!

  3. Meg January 30, 2006 at 5:43 pm #

    Will do! It’s february of next year. So we’re in chapel finding, catering planning madness :)

  4. Twistie January 30, 2006 at 10:00 pm #

    That sounds great, Meg!

    My gown was fairly traditional, but not the average dress, either. I had it custom made, wove eleven yards of silver-grey bobbin lace as trim, and looked like I stepped off the set of a production of Pride and Prejudice…only set in Scotland, since I wore the traditional Scottish arisaide (tartan sash) as well. Oh, and bright red ghillies (Scottish dancing shoes, take a look at any Highland dancer to get the idea). I gave the impression of bridal tradition and Scottish tradition, but tweaked it in my own way.

    No veil, though. I couldn’t stand the thought of fighting my way through one of those on my big day. I pulled my hair back into a white snood and topped it with a silver-grey bow of woven straw. Everyone said I looked great, and I was able to really move in my wedding finery since there was no train, heels, veil, or giganto pouffes to get tangled up in – and that was important to me since I’m a complete klutz! LOL! Also, since the wedding was held in the woods, all that would just have gotten full of twigs.

  5. Never teh Bride January 31, 2006 at 1:05 pm #

    That sounds absolutely lovely, Twistie! Was your wedding held in Scotland? Or just Scottish in nature? It’s such a lovely country.

  6. Twistie January 31, 2006 at 8:33 pm #

    Just Scottish in nature. It was actually held in California in a redwood grove. It was everything I ever dreamed of, but we didn’t break the bank at all.

  7. Maureen February 1, 2006 at 12:38 am #

    Once you agree to go through with a ritual, you shouldn’t be surprised or annoyed to find out that it is a ritual. Weddings are a community and family event, not just the bride’s day.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that the bride can’t force her will. But even if the bride is paying for everything, the bride may end up paying for getting her way. For the rest of her life. (Possibly including her grandchildren’s snickers of amused horror.)

    I think the trick is not so much to get your way, as to get consensus that your way is okay, and works fine as part of the ritual. This will require thinking and feeling your way through, and possibly modifying your wishes — not just pointing to a picture of a dress you like. There’s probably a way to convince everybody, if you can just find it. If not, at least you’ll know you did your best.

  8. aimee rae February 1, 2006 at 6:37 am #

    I am so anti-princess gowns too! Despite my mother’s protests, I am having a champagne-colored dress with no beads and what-have-yous made for my wedding. Won’t be wearing a veil too. :)

    Oh and Meg, I love orange too!

  9. Dataceptionist February 17, 2006 at 1:45 am #

    I don’t necessarily hate Princess gowns, but I think white is the way to go. For me anyway (even if we’re not entitled to wear it traditionally). I’m from Sydney and the trend is to wear white here. The current bridal ‘fashion’ is sleeker gowns rather than poofy, but they’re still recognisable bridal gowns. And the focus here I think is on the cut that suits your body shape, making you look as good as your body shape allows. My brother got married last weekend and his bride is so stick thin she’s almost bony and they’re both very tall and sort of rangy looking so it was appropriate she wore heavy satin strapless (no boobs) that hugged her figure with a fish tail at the bottom and she took her veil off after the formal photos.