When A Feminist Marries, Part 4: The Wedding Dress

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In recent years, weddings have become much more elaborate–and expensive. The average cost of a wedding is now between $21,000 and $24,000 (not counting the engagement ring and the honeymoon). A bride who is trying to make a responsible social statement will usually look for ways to bring down the cost of her nuptials and one of the major expenses is the wedding dress. The average cost for a wedding dress is $1,505, according to The Bridal Association of America.

Some ways to cut the cost of a wedding dress are: wear a “recycled” dress (from a family member or by purchasing a “pre-owned” gown), sew your own, go for simplicity (the more lace and beading, the more expensive), buy an off-the-rack evening or bridesmaid’s dress, buy a floor sample or sale item, wear a suit, omit the veil, have a “theme” wedding or forgo a wedding dress altogether.

Designer Wedding Dress
Designer Wedding Dress

The Color

Wedding dresses have not always been white. In fact, it wasn’t until after Queen Victoria wore white for her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840, that white became the vogue in Western society. White is thought to symbolize purity, but in Queen Victoria’s time it signified wealth; the symbolic color for purity was blue. I think it’s safe to say that what a woman wore to her wedding was a reflection of her wealth and status more than an indicator of her suitability for marriage (i.e., her virginity).

These days, when virginity is (usually) not assumed, theoretically a wedding dress can be any color. When I was in my teens and early twenties, it was still thought to be inappropriate for a woman to wear white or have a lavish wedding if it was not her first marriage. Only first-time brides had the right to have a wedding with all the frills. That no longer seems to be the norm.

Believe it or not, color is supposed to be “in” right now. And not just sherbet ice cream pastels. Red is popular. Even black is showing up in wedding gowns. Most women still opt for white, cream or ivory, but look for color to become the new white.

[Note: Obviously, I am not taking into account weddings from other cultures, especially those where white is not the norm, such as in Japan and China, where white is for mourning and red is the traditional color for weddings. ]

The Voice of Experience

I’ve been married four times, so I’ve had a lot of experience in this area. The first time I got married, we had two ceremonies: one out-of-town at the church where my grandfather had been minister for 35 years and one close to home for our friends. I wore my mother’s altered wedding dress for the first ceremony and a floor-length bleached muslin dress with blue crochet around the neckline (purchased in Majorca) for the second one, which was held in a field (it was a true “hippie” wedding). The second time I got married I wore one of my best dresses, which happened to be dark blue. For my third wedding, I wore a knee-length white dress (it reminded me of a communion dress). And when I was married the fourth (and last) time, I wore a floor-length crinkled cotton off-white dress printed with large soft orange flowers that I just happened to have in my closet (it turned out beautifully, though).

My favorite dress was the dress from Majorca, probably because it was the only one bought specifically for my wedding. Plus I loved the simplicity of it. My mother’s dress had sentimental value, of course, but it wasn’t really my style. (One reason we had two ceremonies was so I could please my mother at one ceremony and my husband and I at the other.)

There’s no question that the wedding dress focuses the attention on the bride. Feminists may question this emphasis, but it’s built into the equation (if you’re going to have a wedding, you have to have a wedding dress). So they may try to find ways to inject alternate meaning into the wedding attire. For example, Jessica Valenti of Feministing.com writes that she bought her not-quite-white dress from a place where all the money goes to charity.

Sites to visit: Alternative Wedding Gowns (from England), Gownella.com, Runway Bridal Outfits, Wedding Dress Creator, Build Your Dream Dress, How to Make a Wedding Dress.

Article in the New York Times on pre-owned wedding dresses.

A lighter touch: Bridezilla.com

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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