Thursday, 16 August 2012

Wedding dresses: colours, ethics and will you wear it again?

White wedding dresses under-whelm me. There I have said it. Almost every time I see one, I feel that I have already seen that same style in a guilty pleasure rom-com or a magazine; the ‘wow’ factor is diminished. Even more under-whelming to me is the fact that you wear a dress only one day of your life, and it may be your most expensive clothing purchase as well as your most beautiful. There seems to be a glamorous wastefulness that is encouraged in the ritual of purchasing your beloved bridal gown that exists as a ‘one dress stand’. Although mothers’ may hand down their dresses to their daughters, judging by the amount of bridal shops and magazines, the majority seek a new one out. Renting is a good option, but I still wonder about the labour behind the label of any rented or purchased dress as well as the general politics behind the white corset and flouncey skirt, the bridal livery.

First of all, the white dress: No one even wore white dresses until Queen Victoria, the matriarch of repressive sexuality, made it fashionable. I actually think this colour is what holds people back from wearing their wedding dresses casually to their garden parties. Once it is white, it identifies the woman as a bride, and she is only a bride at her wedding. Therefore the dress becomes a costume slut, only good for one thing, and out of place for everything else (apart from maybe a Halloween corpse bride). Of course you need to look like the centre of everyone’s attention, but I am unconvinced that white is the only way that can distinguish you from the crowd, especially as half of the crowd wore or will wear white too. But it isn’t just a crowd issue, it’s a political issue. White on your wedding day, as everyone knows but doesn’t always care, traditionally means pure virgin land for the groom to plough where none has gone before. If you don’t mind the history of the colour or the idea of spending so much time, money and effort on a dress you aren’t likely to wear again, let’s move on to point two: the labour behind the label.

This year I am going to be a bridesmaid for my housemate from university’s wedding. Her name is Katy and we have always had good-natured debates, agreeing more often than not. For a fresh approach, I took her to an Indian & ethical bridal wear shop, just to try on a couple of dresses that were a bit unconventional for a Greek Cypriote. These dresses were fabulous and the shop inspired her to start thinking about making her own dress. Alas, as a busy PHD student finding a cure for asthma, with a wedding only a few months away, this romantic idea seemed more of an idea than a reality. I asked her a few questions about finding an ethical wedding dress for her special day, whether white was an important colour and would she want a dress she could wear again.

So, Katy! Was buying an ethical wedding dress important at all to you?
Yes it is important to me. My yaya (grandma) took me to Organics to buy my wedding dress, and the dresses are made on site!

Did you want a white wedding dress?
Yes, I like the tradition of it!

Even though the tradition is a virgin being ploughed by a groom?
Well, the thing is, it’s more than that. Maybe that is how it started, but it’s now a symbol of being married.

But your dress is Ivory. Ivory isn’t quite white?
Ivory is just a more flattering version of white. Whether it’s got virgin connotations or whatever, it doesn’t really matter. It’s like looking outside and seeing the pretty snow on the grass. I really like the idea of wearing a white dress and I think it suits me as well! And it’s very Greek.

Do you think you may ever wear your dress casually to a garden party or the opera? Can you get away with it, or is it definitely a wedding dress?
No, it’s definitely a wedding dress. I think I might put it on, on anniversaries. I definitely wouldn’t sell it. Some people sell their wedding dresses but I would keep mine. I think it is a sentimental thing more than anything, like keeping your birthday cards. I know it’s expensive, but…. I think getting married is essentially special, and actually the dress is it’s own party. And back in the day the villagers used to kill the calf that was a year’s worth of wages. It’s traditional to make an effort!

Thanks Katy!

So whether you decide to wear white or another equally exciting colour, I think it’s important to make sure that your dress, which is worthy of a party in itself, is an ethical purchase, like my good friend Katy has done. Here are a couple of ethical wedding dress retailers House of Beth recommends:


By Rosalind Kendal


  1. Great post! I have to confess that when I was getting ready for my wedding at the end of my 4 year undergraduate degree, the ethics of my wedding dress wasn't at the forefront of my mind. With exams, flat and job-hunting and the whole 'what am I going to do with the rest of my life' question, I wasn't as mindful of the product process as I perhaps would be now.

    As a serial charity-shop shopper, my dress was by far the most expensive item of clothing I've ever owned. I got to wear it twice because we had two celebrations, but I have recently decided to sell it on. It's a decision I hope goes some way towards redeeming its ethical value: a) it's being sold through a wonderful one-woman business ('Brides of Bath') - it's exciting to support an independent boutique that provides more affordable dresses; and b) if it doesn't sell there after a few months it will be donated to the Oxfam bridal shop.

    I always thought I would keep it, but two years on I'm realising that as beautiful as the dress is it's nothing compared to the beauty of our marriage. Keeping the dress in a box under our bed doesn't add to that, but by passing it on someone else can hopefully enjoy it.

    I also completely agree with your point about wearing something that you feel is appropriate to yourself and your relationship, but I don't resonate at all with the idea of a female virgin being 'ploughed' by the groom. I was really proud to wear a white dress (ivory actually - as your friend mentions, it's more flattering). Both of us were virgins, and it was great to celebrate the almost superhuman effort it took to choose to prioritise growing close in other ways in the 3 and a half years we were together before we got married. There are other ways to see the mutual choice to explore and enjoy your sexuality in marriage, and trusting ourselves to the wisdom of delayed gratification was and continues to be one of the decisions we're the most proud of - it was special to symbolise that in the dress.

    Thanks again for the thought-provoking post.

    inklings & afterthoughts

  2. A very nice article exploring the different approaches to a wedding dress. I would like to ask on a few of the points in this article
    1. Queen Victoria was not the first person to wear a white wedding dress. It was first coined 2 thousand years ago, see:

    2. It is not in fact true the white in the wedding dress only respresents the old age custom for a girl to be a virgin on her wedding day, given that women who were married before, either divorcees or widows also get married in a white wedding dress. In fact, and it is clear given the same origins proven in point 1, that in fact white represents both the man and woman getting married having all their sins forgiven as they start to forge a new life together of love.

  3. Thanks Jimbo and Liz for your comments, I love sparking a debate!
    Really interesting about the origins of the white dress, and what it truly symbolises. From the Victorian/medieval notion of the virgin as property, to Jewish ideas of purity and to contemporary choices! A cultural commentary on the wedding dress! :)