Modern girls do not aspire to virginity and purity above all else, according to Ariel Meadow Stallings, the author of Offbeat Bride: Taffeta-Free Alternatives for Independent Brides (Seal Press, $16.95). So why do so many wear a white wedding dress, which symbolizes those things?
“I’m not saying that all nontraditional weddings should be reactionary, or that your wedding is a place to be rebellious,” the Seattle-based writer told the Georgia Straight. “But I think red wedding dresses are a superficial expression of a deeper commitment to doing what you want to do. The woman wearing it shows that she’s willing to do what she wants to do, and take on the challenges and criticism that comes with that.”
On her Web site, offbeatbride.com, Stallings broadcasts her love affair with red wedding dresses. There’s the goth look—billowing red waves under tight red corsets—and the Chinese cheongsam, the fitted, high-necked dress that’s often made of brocade.
Red, however, has yet to hit the mainstream North American market in a big way. At Wedding Fair 2008, at the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre on January 5 and 6, the gowns on display in the booths were almost all shades of white, with just a couple of red sashes among them.
Red has yet to penetrate the celebrity bridal world, with the odd exception. Actress Tamara Taylor, who plays Dr. Camille Saroyan on the TV series Bones, wore a red sari with crystals and beads at her June 10, 2007, wedding to attorney Miles Cooley. Stripper turned U.K. reality-TV star Jodie Marsh contained her gigantic chest in a poofy red number for her September 1, 2007, wedding to BBC radio announcer Matt Peacock. The two have since divorced.
Red is also the default colour for cheongsams. “Red is happiness, like Christmas,” Sandra Sung of Yaletown’s Sandra Sung Bridal told the Straight in a phone interview. “It’s very bright, and you feel different when you’re wearing red. That’s why in Asia, including India, the colour for weddings is red.”
Sung, the long-time cheongsam designer for the Miss Chinese Vancouver pageant, chooses to push these limits. The last cheongsam she designed for the event was made of indigo denim, with a floral cutout, but was worn with red shoes and a red shawl in a small salute to tradition. The audience was shocked when it hit the runway, she said.
Sung specializes in fusion gowns. She makes cheongsams in western white, to be worn with a veil. For a Spanish bride, she once crafted an all-red gown with a red mantilla.
For Stallings, whose Web site just celebrated its first anniversary and is attracting more than 60,000 hits per month, weddings have become a personal style expression, not just an expression of tradition. “Among the nontraditional community, which has trends of its own, red dresses are in,” she said. Whether a red dress is the ultimate expression of tradition or an emphatic denial of it, it definitely ensures the bride is the centre of attention on the big day.