THE NEW YORK TIMES

Saying goodbye to the plain white wedding gown

Saying goodbye to the plain white wedding gown

Elizabeth Arasevi had no intention to follow custom when it came to choosing a wedding dress.

“Any bride wants to feel their most beautiful on their wedding day, and stuffing myself into a sugary sweet white dress for the sake of tradition was not an option for me,” said Arasevi, a 36-year-old auditor who lives in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Arasevi, who added that she was not keen to present as a “pure, delicate and demure bride in waiting,” instead donned a custom-made red gown with black lace at her June 2021 nuptials to Michal Arasevi, a 32-year-old acupuncturist, in Pepin, Wisconsin.

She was surprised by how well her dress went over, saying that guests told her that it and the wedding overall was very “me and very beautiful.”

Soon after Queen Victoria of England wore a white satin gown at her 1840 marriage to Prince Albert, the shade became synonymous with wedding dresses, which before then were more vibrant. But Elizabeth Arasevi is among a cadre of contemporary brides and bridal-fashion designers who, 182 years later, are again embracing gowns in more colorful tones.

A study published in November by Brides and Investopedia, which surveyed 1,000 people who are planning to wed in the next two years, found that 28% of participants want to ditch the white gown and classic suit for an atypical alternative.

Another study published by Etsy in December, which examined site data from September-November 2021 and the same three-month period in 2020, found that searches for colorful weddings items including gowns, suits, veils and centerpieces jumped by 223% year over year.

“This generation of brides is very concerned about the online visibility of their weddings,” said Anastasia Stevenson, a fashion designer and destination wedding planner who lives between Los Angeles and Savannah, Georgia. “They need to do something different to stand out from the hundreds of thousands of other posts” by brides on TikTok and Instagram.

Plus, with cohabitation even more common than marriage today, according to the Pew Research Center, the idea of a white wedding gown symbolizing purity is an outdated notion, said Lynzie Kent, a wedding planner and founder of The Pop-Up Chapel Co. in Toronto.

Still, most brides are hesitant to make the leap from white to bold swaths of yellow, red or the like, according to Heather McReynolds, the vice president and general merchandising manager of bridal and dresses for David’s Bridal, where 1 out of 4 brides is choosing a gown in champagne or other nonwhite-but-neutral hues such as pink, blush or cashmere, McReynolds said.

Pink has been the most popular nontraditional gown color at David’s Bridal, she added, but over the past 18 months, the chain has expanded to include black, red and blue wedding dresses. Colorful gowns now make up about 10% of its collection, which is about a 30% increase from last year.

“Black in particular has really resonated with brides who are seeking a chic, dramatic wedding look,” McReynolds said.

Amber Lee, 41, originally purchased a white gown for her wedding to Michael Lee, a 45-year-old speaker and relationship coach, at the El San Juan Hotel in Puerto Rico on Dec. 30, 2021. But Lee, who had been married before and wore an ivory dress to that ceremony, never loved the way she looked in shades of white.

“When I saw this black gown, I fell in love with it,” said Lee, the CEO of Select Date Society, a matchmaking firm in Richmond, Virginia. Though nonwhite dresses can be a more common choice for brides who remarry, wearing black wasn’t as much about hers being a second wedding as it was about doing what felt right for her, Lee said.

She snagged the dress, made by Rachael Allan, to the dismay of her mother and mother-in-law, neither of whom thought the color was appropriate. “But when they saw me on my wedding day, they both loved the dress,” Lee said.

Lazaro Perez, the lead designer of Lazaro bridal and Tara Keely, said he likes to find the perfect nonwhite hue by layering different colors together. Drawing inspiration from artworks including Monet’s ballerina paintings, he has created gowns that incorporate shades of blush, sherbet or ivory with silver accents and antique gold.

Sarah Holway, 25, looked to fairy tales and fantasy as inspiration when shopping for a dress to wear at her September 2021 wedding to Braydon Badger, 27, who works in a coffee shop. But none of the boutiques she visited stocked styles that completed her vision. Though she hadn’t totally ruled out the color white, she said she was looking for something unique.

“I wanted something different for my dress,” Holway, a homemaker, said.

The blush dress she wore to her wedding in Edmonton, Alberta, was embellished with pink flowers and custom made by her mother to match the couple’s primary wedding color of dark sage green. While some of the couple’s guests were surprised to see a bride in a gown that wasn’t white, Holway said that many told her that her dress was “memorable” and “very me.”

Andrew Kwon, a fashion designer in New York who has made yellow and green dresses for his bridal collections, says a benefit of wearing a colored gown is that it can easily be repurposed after a wedding day.

“I know some of my brides have thought about how they could incorporate the gowns for some galas or events they’d have coming up,” Kwon said.

In choosing a bolder dress, Justina McCaffrey, the founder of the bridal brand Justina McCaffrey Inc. in Ottawa, says brides should beware of going overboard with other colors at their weddings.

“My recommendation would be to have everything in the same tone, but not the exact same color,” McCaffrey said. “If the color is lavender, I would choose a light antique lavender gown and a slightly darker lavender color for the bridesmaid.” Proceed with the lavender in the cake color, flowers and any other little details, she added.

As with finding any wedding dress (or lifetime partner), identifying the right colored style can first require a lot of rejections.

Shelby Henry, 25, fell in love with a nude-colored Berta Balilti gown adorned with 3-D florals and pearls that floated down the back. Initially worried it was too nontraditional, Henry, the COO of The Sixpence, an events venue in Whitestown, Indiana, went on to try close to 50 other dresses before returning to her original favorite.

“Ultimately, I decided to choose that dress because I felt it was exactly what I wanted: Something very unique,” Henry said in an email, and something “that didn’t immediately strike me as a wedding gown.”


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.