Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Girls in White Dresses . . .

It’s that time of year. Beaming young women in head-to-toe silk and chiffon sail down the aisle like Rose Parade floats. Occasionally someone notices there’s a groom too. I’m told the tradition of the wedding gown dates back to Victorian days, when the daughters of the wealthy could afford a one-time-only dress of pristine white. But today white wedding gowns are for anyone and everyone, whether or not they qualify as “pristine” in the traditional sense. And the choosing of such a gown can make for high drama, often involving the entire family. Which is why I’ve become hooked on a cable reality show called Say Yes to the Dress.

The version I’ve seen (on one of those treadmill TVs at my gym) is set in an Atlanta bridal salon. Each bride has come in with a small entourage, usually involving her mother, her sisters, and some BFFs. In one case, there’s also the groom, an unfortunate fellow who’s the only one brave enough to tell his bride that the poufy fairy-princess gown she’s chosen is not exactly a good fit for her plus-plus-plus-sized frame. The fun, of course, lies in seeing family dynamics at work. One mother-of-the-bride tries to upstage her daughter by trying on bridal gowns herself. A slim young woman who’s described as a “NASCAR bride” wants a dress that’s classy and figure-hugging, but has to fight a retinue that’s determined to deck her in lace, complete with frills and doodads. A bride planning a church wedding goes head to head with her very religious mother, who doesn’t buy her vision of appropriate garb for God’s house. The salon employees must mediate all this, trying to solve personal crises while also peddling expensive couture.

Most brides look to the movies (as well as to royal weddings) to decide how they’d like to look on their special day. Even the most self-assured bride can find herself aspiring to the fairytale bouffant style of Princess Diana or the sleek modernity of Princess Kate . . . or, back in the day, the demure but elaborately draped lace-and-satin ensemble worn by Elizabeth Taylor in 1950’s Father of the Bride. Taylor’s gown, I’m told, inspired millions of copies. Its popularity may explain why the bridal dress in the 1991 remake, though simpler, shares many of the same characteristics.

There are wedding gowns featured in all sorts of movies, from Camelot to The Godfather to Mamma Mia to Bridesmaids. Depending on the demands of plot and character, they range from the stately to the ostentatious, from the wispily romantic to the boldly outré. The big-screen version of TV’s Sex and the City revolves around the choice of a dress, with fashionista Carrie Bradshaw offered her pick of increasingly outlandish creations before finally, after many twists and turns, settling for simplicity.

When I interviewed legendary costume designer Theadora Van Runkle in 2008, she told me she’d received countless fan letters from brides-to-be who wanted to dress like Leigh Taylor-Young in the wedding scene from the 1968 Peter Sellers comedy, I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! But the fetching Ms. Taylor-Young was not in the movie’s several wedding scenes, which featured chiffon extravaganzas of the most garish sort. The wedding in the film represents the upper-middle-class conventionality from which the leading man flees to take up with a free-spirited hippie named Nancy. He never marries Nancy, but in one key scene she appears in a lacy white minidress with long flared sleeves. Just the thing, I’m sure, for a late Sixties Baby Boomer barefoot-on-the-beach wedding.

Dedicated to June brides everywhere – and their grooms too!


  1. Cheers to all those brides and grooms! Say Yes to the Dress usually finds its way onto our television on our lazy Sunday mornings, and I usually watch a few minutes before tottering off to blog or whatnot. I can't even choose a favorite movie wedding dress. The one Leigh Taylor-Young wore sounds nice though - miniskirts always go over well with these eyes!

  2. And, sorry to bust back in - but I believe I have now read, enjoyed, and commented every post in this blog. It's been terrific, and now I'll be looking forward to each new post as it appears! (And if you turn up one I missed commenting on - please let me know!

  3. Mr. Craig, I definitely applaud your diligence. I hope you don't lose interest now that you're up to date!

  4. Absolutely not! This is one of my favorite blogs EVER!

  5. Glad you feel that way, Mr. Craig! Be sure to tell the world! (Or at least your corner of it . . . )