Friday, September 12, 2014

Wedding Crap: The White Dress

(See introduction and disclaimer to this series here, and other posts in the series here.)

What is the tradition? 

The bride wears a white dress for the wedding, generally a fancy gown, with lace or beading on satiny fabric. This is regardless of the level of formality of the event otherwise - though the fancy ballgown would go along with tuxes or white tie or black tie apparel, the bride usually chooses a very fancy dress, with petticoats and a train, even if her groom is wearing slacks and suspenders. 

These dresses can be found at discount stores like David's Bridal for merely hundreds of dollars, but often cost many thousands. This is a dress that couldn't possibly be appropriate to rewear for any other occasion. 

What is the origin of the tradition?

Until relatively recently (the 20th century), brides simply wore her best dress. This may have been purchased new for the wedding (but with intent to continue wearing it afterward), or simply the nicest dress she already owned. Particularly rich brides were inclined towards white or silver dresses, as those were expensive fabrics, and thus reflected their wealth. The typical woman, though, wouldn't own a white dress, as it was impractical, difficult to care for.

It was two factors that lead to the rise of the white, fancy dress: First, Queen Victoria got married in an extravagant white lace dress (in order to support the economy). Second, the middle class expanded and was able to purchase luxuries once held only by the very wealthy. The rich and famous set a trend that the general public wanted to follow, and finally had - sort of - the means to actually do so.

Why do people still follow it?

As with many fashion trends, once someone sets the standard, many woman are inclined to blindly follow it. The huge white ballgown has been set up as the ultimate in femininity, building up high expectations in little girls' minds. Wearing the fanciest level of dress makes the bride the center of attention, the star of the show.

And because it's been set up so high on a pedestal, people justify spending extravagant amounts of money they wouldn't on any other single article of clothing (it's all relative - women who spend $200 on a regular dress might spend $20,000; I tend more towards $50, and most people wouldn't bat an eye if I spent $5,000 in this case). I understand the temptation to play dress up, but that's a high price!

There has also been a "traditional" association of white with virginity, but that's also not really that traditional. In fact, historically if brides wanted to represent purity, they wore blue, the color of Mary. It seems this connotation has been gradually decreasing, replaced with mere consumerism and extravagance. 

Why is that crap? 

Why in the world are you willing to spend exponentially more than you normally spend on a multi-use item for a dress you'll only wear for one day!? It's completely ridiculous! There's nothing that makes these dresses inherently more valuable than any other dress, other than marketing. 

It's also a matter of keeping up with the Joneses - although in this case, perhaps more like keeping up with the Kardashians. The celebrities who have the money to buy fancy gowns like it's nothing and throw huge bashes have never been more visible to society, normalizing the behavior of the rich. The middle class thinks they deserve to replicate it, at least for this one day, not realizing that when celebrities spend ten grand on a dress, it's because they always spend that much on their clothing, they didn't spend that much just because it's a special gown.

And if nothing else, in my opinion, it looks quite silly for the bride to be dressed to a level of formality far beyond the rest of the event, not only the guests but also the groom! It doesn't make her look like the star, it makes her look like she's at the wrong party.

What am I doing with this tradition?

I wore a purple dress (originally a bridesmaid dress from David's Bridal) purchased at Goodwill. It was a sateen type fabric, and I added lace straps, so those gave it a fancier-than-normal feel, even though it was still a relatively simple style. Most importantly, it was similar in many aspects to any dress I would buy for any other occasion (knee-length, empire waist, etc.), that I know is flattering and makes me feel comfortable. It felt like me, not like a bride. It also fit in with the same level of formality of Abe's outfit (slacks, button-up, tie) and that of our guests. Though I've already gone ahead and re-donated it, it a dress that I could have worn to another wedding or other semi-formal occasion. 

With the dress and almost anything else wedding-related, I think it's nice to go a step above your normal route - whether in apparel, food or whatnot - since it is a truly special occasion. But it should still be reasonably in line your normal lifestyle and method of entertaining, and most importantly - in your budget!

Photo by Stephanie Kaloi

How did/will you handle this tradition?

I would love to have a lively debate and conversation in the comments! Please join in!

Dissenting opinions (from the post itself or other commenters) are welcome, but I reserve the right to delete any comments that personally attack me or any other commenter.


  1. I think your approach is incredibly refreshing. I am not married and not currently planning on it, but I could never spend thousands of dollars on a wedding dress. It does feel wasteful. I love nontraditional wedding gowns, but I think your thrifted (and gorgeous!) dress is the most laid back and admirable approach I've ever seen. Very, very cool.

  2. I very much enjoyed this post. Especially "It doesn't make her look like the star, it makes her look like she's at the wrong party." - Karey


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