May 9, 2018

{Why Royal Weddings Matter} No. 5: A Whiter Shade of Pale

Enjoy this fifth column in my series "Why Royal Weddings Matter"....reprinted from Confluence Daily.
A Whiter Shade of Pale: 
Meghan Markle and Bridal White

 The centerpiece of the “great white wedding”—a tradition we’ve inherited in all its Victorian glory—is the bride’s gown. Once white became the bridal color in the nineteenth century, the wedding dress became steeped in dreams and emotions and lots of “meaning.”

By the time of Princess Diana’s royal wedding in 1981, bringing weddings back from the brink of nearly two decades of social unrest, the notion of “virgin white” had not been completely swept away with the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ‘70s. There were still underpinnings of deeply entrenched beliefs about the “rules” of wearing different shades of white—ivory, cream, beige—inferring one’s “virginal status.” (“If I wear cream,” a concerned bride-to-be asked me in the early ‘80s, “will people think I’m not a virgin?”) Costume historian Donald Clay Johnson believes the decades’ long “acceptance of white, symbolizing ‘purity,’ is a reflection of the pervasive power of English Victorian society to impose its value system throughout many parts of the world.”

Now, however, in our Internet-equalizer, glam-image crazed world there is a near universal popularity of the gown that turns any bride into a “vision in white” (no matter her age or how many times she’s been married, whether widowed or divorced) and evokes some kind of “princess” tingling down to her toes. Has the color white—once reserved for “maidens” only—finally lost any cultural and emotional symbolism and is now just a “pretty preference” for brides?

Fashion designers think so! The appealingly “unspoiled” nature of white is why many couturiers still have a wedding gown as their theatrical runway finale. When “stripped of religious and outdated cultural meanings, white—pure and dramatic—is the perfect canvas to showcase the intense craftsmanship of couture,” Eleanor Thompson wrote in her book featuring fifty iconic wedding dresses. 

Of course, Meghan Markle is not just any modern, savvy, independent woman getting married again. Her second wedding will be a very publicized, talked about, viewed world-wide royal wedding. So, naturally, there has been much curiosity about Meghan’s choice for her bridal gown: what designer, what style, what silhouette—but very little conversation about what color she will choose. Even though she is marrying into one of the oldest monarchies on earth, in a grand religious ceremony brimming over with ancient tradition, to a man whose grandmother is head of the church—will Meghan make a choice based solely on her good taste and good fashion sense?

Vogue magazine, which thinks Meghan “demonstrates a growing sense of ease and confidence with her fashion choices for royal engagements,” advises the soon-to-be royal bride about her wedding gown choice: “You can’t go wrong with the classics.” (It sounds as if “wearing white” is merely assumed. We, along with the British monarchy, have indeed come a long way!)

In the mid-1980s, on the glittering culture-changing wave following Diana and Charles’ royal wedding, I opened a bridal art-to-wear shop in Atlanta for the emerging modern woman, a “grown-up bride” as I called her. (I closed the store in late 1999; I thought the end of a millennium was a good transition point to complete one life phase and begin another, especially with the coming feminine energy powerhouse of the next thousand years—but that’s another story!) During these shop years, when brides-to-be asked me about the symbolism of white, I suggested that if they had it “mean” anything then why not choose “celebration”—and joy and inclusion and love. I find that wearing white always has a ceremonial and regal quality, for whatever occasion, taking on a kind of radiance. And I think Meghan Markle will choose from this spirit-centered, radiant place where a woman simply knows her true self and her heart’s deepest desire. ~

[Want to know more about the “great white wedding”? The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding tells all! Available on Amazon.]

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