If there is one important lesson to be learned from Don’t Tell The Bride (OK, who are we kidding, there are many), it is this: it is all about the dress. On countless occasions, brides have screamed, cried and even questioned the marriage itself at the first sight of satin or glimpse of gossamer. Sure, there have been some truly horrific offerings, boldly chosen by sheepish-looking fiancées desperate to please. There have been fishtails, cutouts, high-low hemlines and all manner of sartorial sins committed on the way to the altar. But the fact of the matter is, you just don’t come between a bride and her dress.
The bridal business is something that has captured the hearts and pocket books of young girls and their families ever since people could afford such extravagances. From cream Victorian lace to blood-red silk in the 1930s, the opulent and lavish collection currently on show at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Wedding Dresses 1775-2014, is enough to coax even Bianca Jagger into a corset. But although this is the stuff of fashion fantasy, these dresses do have something real to say. They may be glad rags, but this is no laughing matter. For all their romanticism, the frocks in this exhibition show us that wedding dresses have always been about making a serious statement, whether about wealth, status or style.
For example, in the 18th century, the colour white was apparently a symbol of wealth and connection to the court. In the 19th century, it came to represent purity and virginity. We may have less of a social statement to make these days, and standing a few feet from one’s grandmother certainly isn’t the time to be broadcasting one’s sexual history, but where you fall on eggshell versus ecru can still be very revealing. So what does your choice of wedding dress say about you?
The way I see it, brides on their wedding day fall into three distinct camps. The first: those engulfed in a sea of tulle, possibly wearing Wang, probably unable to fit through standard doorframes. This bride most likely has a mood board stashed somewhere and will inexplicably manage not to get spills on her train, despite it covering the surface area of a small European country. This girl may orgasm over organza, but she’s no fool, she’s had this wedding sussed since she was six years old.
Then there is the bride you can’t help but look at on account of the sculptural headdress/bright red hip bustles/thigh-high boots she is sporting. This bride wants you to look. And knows you know she wants you to look. The wedding invite has a hashtag and the groom may or may not have choreographed a dance routine. If this girl’s outfit could speak, it would say: “Hell yes, I do.”
The third group consists of those brides who eschew the traditional dress-veil formula and opt for a trouser suit, skirt suit or something short and unfussy. This type of bride would sooner drink non-organic coffee than get married in a church, or inside for that matter. It doesn’t matter what colour the outfit is really, as long as she can wear it with brogues come winter.
But whether you are a traditionalist, an exhibitionist or a modernist, the great thing about getting married in western society today is choice. And who’s to say you can’t be all three of the above? A crisp white tux with a canary yellow cape? Yes, please. Frou-frou frills and flats? Go for it. Unlike our sisters of yore, so beautifully represented by the collection at the V & A, we are not constrained by convention and forced into sleeves or corsets. By all means embrace some whalebone, but I will be squeezing myself into Spanx come my big day, thank you very much. Tyrannical mothers or mothers-in-law aside, we have the freedom to wear whatever we damn well please on our big day. Wear virginal shades, don daring red or, hell, even go all Tracy Emin and wear a dress embroidered with the names of everyone you have ever slept with. That’s sure to make for some interesting wedding photos. But one thing’s for sure when it comes to today’s bride; it’s certainly not all white.