I was not surprised to read about the trend of brides wearing black wedding dresses. After all, I’d worn a $200 off-the-rack black floor-length number to my own ceremony in 1996. That was a year before Sarah Jessica Parker famously donned a ruffled onyx ballgown to her New York celebration when she wed Matthew Broderick.
Since weddings are back with a vengeance after the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of indoor events, brides are making their own rules. And what rules is black.
“It’s our hottest trend,” said Laura McKeever, the Pennsylvania-based head of public relations for David’s Bridal, the largest American wedding dress chain.
Hundreds of requests from brides prompted their merchandise team to turn their best-selling $999 white dresses — ball gowns, mermaids, sleek silhouettes — into black options, too, McKeever said. While they were custom only, the style is so popular that they’ll soon be hitting stores so brides can try them on first.
“Fashion is a way to express your individuality, and a bridal gown is no different. For women who experienced losses during the pandemic and had to postpone their weddings, there’s a sense they don’t want to wait. Now’s the time. Life’s too short,” McKeever said. “And they want their day the way they want it, wearing what’s most comfortable and looks best. Aside from the dramatic, chic, showstopping unexpected look, black can be more flattering — and practical. If you’re spending a lot on a dress, you want to re-wear it.”
Smaller merchants are seeing the same.
“We’ve had about 15 calls for black dresses recently,” said Maria Valentina Talamo, who works at Pronovias, a luxury wedding clothier off Manhattan’s Park Avenue, with gowns priced from $2,000 to $20,000.
The shift started with popular black dresses in 2020, she recalled.
“So many brides had to postpone everything during the pandemic. Now they want to break traditions, stand out, be unique and make a statement.”
When I said “I do” all those moons ago, I certainly did.
After many painful breakups, I felt blessed to find my lifelong love. Yet as a broke 35-year-old freelance writer paying the bills by teaching, I didn’t have cash to waste on a white garment I’d only get to use once, let alone storage and dry cleaning fees. The darker hue was less likely to stain, and also slenderizing. Besides, as a loudmouth with two jobs and three brothers, I prided myself on being a tough-talking urbanite. I banned the word “obey” from our vows and I rejected the white dress that pushed archaic notions of female innocence, chastity, maidenhood and modesty.
It was Queen Victoria’s white silk and lace gown for her 1840 nuptials to Prince Albert that put milky frocks on the map for U.S. brides, wrote Rebecca Mead in her 2003 New Yorker article “You’re Getting Married: The Wal-Martization of the Bridal Business.”
“Custom, from time immemorial, has decided on white as a proper hue emblematic of the freshness and purity of girlhood,” claimed an 1849 article in Godey’s Lady’s Book, according to Marlise Schoeny, a curator from the Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection. In “Why do Brides Wear White?” she explains that “a large traditional wedding with the bride outfitted in a princess-style white wedding gown became a symbol of the American Dream. From WWII through the end of the 20th century, the white gown symbolized prosperity, virginity and a lifetime commitment to one person. For most people today, those meanings are gone.”
Indeed. My hilarious scriptwriter husband laughed off my dark dress shade, but not everyone cheered my sartorial statement.
“If you’re not wearing white to your wedding then I am,” said my nice Jewish mother in Michigan. And she did.
After my wedding, I happily took my black wedding dress to a tailor to get it shortened. Still in my closet, I’ve donned it often over the years.
Channel surfing not long ago, I stumbled on the TLC reality show “Say Yes to the Dress” and was happy to see a Brooklyn bride in a sparkly black ball gown that retailed for an incredible $5,170. I was annoyed when she pivoted to a pale vintage. I felt the same when Sarah Jessica Parker said she regretted wearing black, telling Martha Stewart Weddings she should have chosen a white taffeta or satin gown instead.
Then again, after announcing I was walking down the aisle in Morticia mode, my mom was hurt. She was an orphan without a mother at her own wedding, and I was her only daughter — thus her sole shot at mother of the bride, she told us. What she wanted was to throw a second wedding in Michigan her way — with her rabbi, cantor, chuppah and Midwest crowd, where I’d put on a pearl-colored dress she picked out for one evening. (It was then gifted to her best friend’s daughter, for good karma.)
After an emergency session with my shrink, I ended up in Michigan wearing white. I said “I do” twice in two different cities to the same man, realizing it didn’t matter what material I had on, only that I was lucky to be surrounded by love.
Susan Shapiro, a writing professor, is author of the memoirs “The Forgiveness Tour” and “Five Men Who Broke My Heart,” recently optioned for a movie.