Little girls don’t grow up fantasizing about getting married in dresses that aren’t white. But designers sure want them to, judging by the latest round of bridal fashion shows that recently concluded in New York and boasted more colored wedding dresses than ever. Non-white bridal gowns have been shown on the runways every season for years, but it’s always hard to tell if these dresses actually have any traction in the market or if they’re just a wedding dress designer's way of evading having to show another white dress. (I've always wondered if all the bridal industry's names for white — eggshell, ivory, cream, silk white — were merely a reaction to white fatigue.)
Vera Wang, arguably the most influential and popular bridal designer in this country, didn’t show any white dresses at all in her spring 2012 show, but the opposite: black. The gowns that weren’t black were nude. It almost felt like a gag reflex, not only to wedding culture but to all the stark white runway looks that have been forced on us for two springs in a row now.
Wang told WWD that the dresses in her “Witchcraft”–themed show would also be available in white and ivory, of course, but that stores were placing orders for black gowns. Hey, it’s not unheard of — Vogue cover favorite Sarah Jessica Parker married Matthew Broderick in a black gown in 1997. Twelve years later, she said she still regretted it.
As it turns out, colored wedding dresses aren’t entirely shunned. The colors that are the most popular right now are those that are, well, close to white: blush pink, platinum, champagne, apricot. Yet Tiffany blue is gaining traction, and David’s Bridal boasts of stellar sales of gowns made with its printed fabric, resembling a whisper of watercolor paint dabbed onto white cloth. The small yet increasing number of colored gowns seem symptomatic of an age in which spending thousands on a big white dress that’s only worn once seems much more impractical and frivolous than it has in previous decades. And for a fashion-conscious woman with modern taste and style, traditional bridal gowns are likely to feel about as appropriate as meatballs at a vegetarian restaurant.
David’s Bridal’s fashion director Catalina Maddox is among the most optimistic about the growth in popularity of colored wedding gowns, having just introduced them a year ago. "Within a year we have gone from zero percent of sales being non-white or non-ivory to probably 10 percent. That is revolutionary," Maddox says. (She can also see the store carrying black gowns in 2013, if Vera Wang wants to make them for the chain.) Bridal designer Romona Keveza, who has been showing color on her runways for the past eight years, says that blush pink has become such a popular shade that about one in five of all her wedding dress sales are non-white. And wedding dress mecca Kleinfeld’s, which reality television junkies might know best from TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress and its plus-size spinoff Big Bliss, also stocks more colored dresses than usual, but not in any great quantity. "Say we buy 15 dresses from a collection, or 12 dresses from a collection, maybe two of them will be in color," says store co-owner Mara Urshel (the new runway styles won't hit stores until January). "It’s not a major commitment, otherwise we’d go in the eveningwear business. But there are girls who want to be different."
Molly Guy, 34, who got married last year, was one of those brides. Her wedding-dress shopping experience was so disconcerting that she felt inspired to start her own store for alternative brides, who don’t want to wear what often feel at best like bleached Miss America pageant costumes. She spent eight months going to bridal boutiques, trying on gowns that "really felt like they were out of 1951" and that were "so stiff and puffy and synthetic and not cool," she says. Brides can purchase tie-dyed gowns, if they so please, from her shop, Stone Fox Bride, when it opens in two weeks. "I’m not carrying anything that has been made exclusively for the bridal market," Guy says. "I don’t think the bridal market represents real taste and real style."
Yet she will still carry a lot of white options. And she should because the truth is, for most brides, wearing color down the aisle might be scarier than actually getting married. Guy herself purchased a red-and-pink Alexander McQueen dress off the rack for her wedding, only to have “a meltdown” the week before, sell the dress on eBay, and buy a white Temperley dress off the rack to wear instead. “I wasn’t listening to my instinct that was like, wear what you want — who cares?” she says now.
But she probably got so scared because a lot of people do care. Hillary Cowan, 26, bought a blush pink dress from Vera Wang’s David’s Bridal line to wear for her wedding in August of next year. "I tried on a lot of white dresses before I tried on the pink one," she explains. "When I walked out of the dressing room and saw it in the mirror, I fell in love with it. There was nothing stopping me." But she remains keenly aware of the "stigma" attached to colored gowns: "Of course, when I told my parents what color my dress was, my dad was like, 'Pink? Why did you get pink?'" she says. Though her parents came around, not every bride's will — she's not the only one the event has to please, after all.