Nontraditional Wedding Dresses Range From Blush to Black
LOS ANGELES — When deciding what kind of dress I wanted to wear for my wedding this year, I knew what I didn’t want. No lace, no veil, and absolutely nothing long, corseted, traditional and white.
So, for our tiny May marriage ceremony, I went with an off-the-rack, navy blue sailor dress with a film noir flair. For our wedding celebration with friends and family six months later, I wore a shorter, stretch velvet halter dress in red — my favorite color –custom-made by a Los Angeles boutique I’ve gone to for years.
It turns out that unconventional wedding dresses, while still not as popular as their white, floor-sweeping counterparts, are catching on.
“We saw a noticeable spike in the number of untraditional dresses — shorter dresses, the use of color — a couple of years ago,” said Keija Minor, editor-in-chief of Brides magazine. “There’s a move for all couples to want to personalize their wedding and not be the cookie-cutter wedding their parents want. If your dream dress isn’t a flowy white gown, and you want a pop of color, then why not?”
According to the magazine’s 2016 American Wedding Study, an annual survey of engaged and newlywed women, 93 percent of brides still select white and off-white gowns. Yet 11 percent of brides opt now for something “unique,” from cocktail-length and non-white dresses to slinky jumpsuits. The study also found that 73 percent of couples pay for or contribute to the cost of their own wedding.
“If your mom’s paying for your dress, she would probably want more of a say,” said Minor. “The days of the bride’s family paying is so over. With this financial shift, you’ve seen more girls being less traditional.”
Popular nontraditional colors range from lighter pastels such as champagne, blush, pale pink and light blue to glittery gold and silver, said Minor. Besides shorter lengths, high-low hemlines appeal to women who want to show off their shoes. Designer Vera Wang has showcased wedding dresses in black and pink. David’s Bridal stores sell a white wedding jumpsuit.
“Even traditional designers, and in the mainstream, are giving a nod to the feeling that brides can wear what they want,” Minor added.
Recently, at Matrushka Construction, a cozy, one-room clothing shop in the hip Silver Lake area of Los Angeles that makes colorful dresses and other apparel by hand, owner Laura Howe — wearing a slouchy, off-the-shoulder sweater — laughed when recalling the most untraditional wedding dress she’s ever made.
“I once made a tutu dress, like a Degas dress, in lavender, and that was wacky,” said Howe, 49. “Usually people who want alternative dresses are people who have an understanding, an appreciation, for both fashion and handmade fashion. I also have clients who trust me from making dresses for them before.”
Howe started making custom wedding dresses 10 years ago. They range from $200 for a dress based on an existing Matrushka design to $1,500 for a more distinct and complex custom-made look.
Dresses with names such as the Jasmine (in sheer black and embossed green velvet, with long billowing sleeves and a V-neckline) and the Jean Harlow (a clingy Old Hollywood-inspired floor-length and knee-length design, with a plunging neckline and ruching) hang on racks throughout the shop.
For a tall “anti-anything froufy and kind of punk rock” concert pianist getting married in London, Howe said, she designed a silvery silk halter gown with a full-length skirt. For a customer who runs a yoga studio, she made a Jean Harlow in a cream-ish yellow.
“People have said, ‘I want an orange silkscreen with a poppy on it,’ or ‘I want it to be black,’ or whatever color they’re really into. It’s very personal,” said Howe.
When Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Jamie Hardy, 37, and her husband were planning their June 2011 wedding celebration — a lunch and dance party — a year after they secretly married, Hardy asked her architect friend Gerri Davis to make the dress. Hardy and Davis — who plans to make a pantsuit for her own wedding next year — met and hashed out a design. Then they shopped for fabrics, and Davis took a plaster cast of Hardy’s body to work off of.
Hardy’s neutral toned, cocktail-length dress ended up being a sleek and artistic combo of raw silk, clear sequins, upholstery fabric and darker, vine-like embroidery, with part of a multi-colored kimono sash on one shoulder.
“I wanted it to be tree-like and root-like, and Gerri as an architect brought structure to it,” said Hardy, who was then going to school for landscape design. “I also don’t like the color white. It doesn’t look good on me, and I would get it dirty. Comfort is really important. If I’m in a corset or bodice, that wouldn’t work.”
A more comfy, translatable wedding look that can also be worn at other events has a certain appeal. Still, while Hardy wanted her dress “to not just be a wedding dress in my closet,” she said, she hasn’t yet worn it again.
“For a certain bride, there’s something about a more casual dress, if it’s a more casual wedding or party,” said Minor. “I have to be honest, though. I haven’t seen someone wear their wedding dress again. I have a friend who wore cocktail-length gold, and we said, ‘You’re going to wear that again!’ But she didn’t.”