Reasons not to yes the dress:
Whose Wedding Is It, Anyway? (Style Network since 2003)
"Bridezillas" (WE since 2004)
Say Yes to the Dress (TLC since 2007) & its spinoff Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta
The fact there's an entire filmed industry devoted to all things wedding that is beloved by brides and non-brides alike attests to the sheer amount of money involved getting knots tied, generally focusing in some way on brides getting all tied up in knots. So why do we care about these trainwrecks and their white, pouffy gowns? "Dresses obviously matter," notes the cultural essayist Dominik Lukes about feeling less than thrilled by the nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton. "I got a text from a female friend who professed that the dress was the main thing of import. There are all sorts of legitimate concerns such as the allusions to fashions and traditions, the nationality and status of the designer, the possibility of a radical statement being made, and so on...But then I saw it." And hated it.
At least he's equal opportunity: in addition to Duchess Catherine's custom McQueen, he loathes all wedding dresses. "I hate them because of the actual ritual symbolism," continues Lukes. "Whereas his dress spoke of conquest and spoils of war," he notes about Price William's dashing military uniform, "hers was all captured fecundity. The Royal family captured the youth and fertility of the nation into its net and was displaying its prize."
But in a way, the prize factor of the dress is probably the least disengenous aspect of the modern wedding, which hails from a long history of being little more than a business deal, just dressed up and well-fed, celebrating two families allying for mutual economic benefit. And what better way to show off the spoils of wheeling and dealing than with the prize, richly attired for her closeup in a slightly-to-very uncomfortable (whalebone-corseted 16 inch waists, anyone?), wealth-displaying, status-showing-offing G-O-W-N. "As a genre, wedding dresses are a unique female art form that plays a central role in one of our society's most important social rituals," adds Judith Snyder of the Camden County Historical Society Museum in New Jersey (their exhibition of antique wedding gowns proved surprisingly popular). "Few garments -- except perhaps military uniforms -- are imbued with the same kind of potent symbolism as wedding gowns."
When she wore white to marry her cousin Prince Albert in 1840, England's Queen Victoria (left) altered dress history: commoners by the thousands followed suit, switching from colors like blue (associated with the Virgin Mary) and even black, to white. No longer satisfied to simply wear the nicest dress hanging in the closet, women began purchasing a special gown for the big day, continuing to be inspired by Victoria's dress and especially its elaborate embellishment: a profusion of glamorous orange blossoms.
(Wedding dresses dating from this period on through to the present are the topic of a timely exhibition at the Victoria and Albert entitled Wedding Dresses 1775-2014, on display through March 15, 2015).
Other than wedding finery and the Haute Couture - which does a thriving business catering to well-heeled wedding parties - there aren't that many occasions anymore requiring elaborately embroidered and beaded gowns. As a result, there are just not that many artisans left who have the skill to properly sew a daisy made from sequins onto delicate chiffon, transform organza into floral trim, or weave plumes of pink ostrich into a swath as soft as cashmere. Declining demand threatens to decimate several artisanal industries, prompting Chanel to step in and acquire ten Paris ateliers specializing in everything from traditional millinery to shoemaking to buttonmaking to embroidery. Preserving the past and making it relevant to our future, particularly with handicrafts and rare artisanal skills, is one of the characteristics I like best about the Folkspun* fashion tribe. Even if the trip from possible extinction to safety is a tad bumpy. “It’s like we moved from the 19th century to the 21st century in 24 hours,” says Hubert Barrère, the artistic director of Lesage, the famed embroidery house acquired by Chanel. “From Zola to Tron overnight!”
So if it takes an industry of bridezillas to save the handiwork, then I say: I do.
- Lesley Scott
(right: a richly-embroidered & hand-beaded Chanel bride on the Haute Couture Fall 2014 runway)
Podcast music: Kevin MacLeod, Incompetech.com