In a break from popular tradition, Queen Victoria wed Prince Albert in a pristine lace and heavy silk, white satin gown. In 1840, an era when coloured gowns where the custom, this represented a radical fashion statement. This bold move by Queen Victoria inspired a trend that has been emulated by brides across the western world in the centuries since.
Following in Victoria’s regal footsteps, in the most high profile wedding of the year, Meghan Markle, a divorcee, married Prince Harry in an elegant white gown by Givenchy. Markle then wowed, in a stunning backless floor length gown, by Stella Mc Cartney, for the evening reception. Similarly, Eva Longoria wed third husband, Jose Baston in an exquisite white gown by BFF Victoria Beckham. Never one to be outdone, Kim Kardashian wore three white gowns at her second wedding to sports star Kris Humphries.
These brides preferences for white, were in contrast to Audrey Hepburn, who wore pale ballet pink at her second wedding to Andrea Dotti. Elizabeth Taylor, who was a bride an astonishing eight times, wore many colours including green, canary yellow and violet.
There was broad agreement that the now Duchess of Sussex, Eva Longoria and Kim Kardashian each looked sensational. However, given the example of fashion icons such as Hepburn and Taylor, it has prompted some to consider: Should the Bride Wear White when it is not her first foray into married life?
Elizabeth Bessant is a talented designer who moved into couture dress designing twenty years ago, following a successful art career exhibiting at the Royal Academy and around the world. Her instinctive eye for colour and detail – plus her insistence on perfection – has led to a loyal following of celebrity and society clients. Elizabeth Bessant says. “Today’s brides are independent women who know what they want from their wedding day. The rule book went out of the window a while ago and brides are no longer restricted to a church or registry office ceremony followed by a hotel or marquee wedding breakfast. Likewise what the bride wears no longer follows traditional rules of white, long, covered up, a train or lace. Brides now choose from an array of styles, colours and lengths of gown, low backs and illusion bodices.”
Many modern second time brides seem increasingly free to embrace other cultural trends and this has contributed to a seismic shift in wedding colour pallets. Some brides are influenced by Hinduism whereby red is worn as a symbol of prosperity. Others are inspired by Spanish culture, where black was traditionally worn by a bride to symbolise her commitment until death. Elizabeth Bessant advises a note of caution though; “Coloured dresses must also be chosen with the same care, it is your wedding dress and you still need to think about your skin tone and colouring however much you love a design.”
Cultural change is probably most evident in the colour choices of many high profile second time brides. Oscar winner, Reese Witherspoon, choose a pink, Monique Lhuillier gown for her nuptials with Talent Agent Jim Toth. Julianne Moore wore lilac Prada at her 2003 wedding to director, Bart Freundlich. While fashionista, Sarah Jessica Parker wore black “off the rack” for her second marriage to current hubbie Matthew Broderick. Vera Wang, the Globally renowned designer, even debuted an entire line of black bridal gowns in 2012.
Elizabeth Bessant considers this vogue; “Although designers and influencers set wedding and bridal wear trends, I believe it is brides themselves who are behind the rise in coloured and patterned wedding dresses. Many brides are second time around and they want something different. Some will opt for a short wedding dress, bridal suit or even wedding trousers rather than the full traditional white gown and veil. But some still want a beautiful white dress and that is fine too.”
A factor, which may have influenced Meghan Markel’s choice of dress colour, is that at 36, she was a relatively young second time bride. Many second time brides are more mature. SoSensational, the leading fashion site for women of 50-plus, has been showcasing dresses and outfits for mature brides since 2010. Jan and Cyndy who founded SoSensational, recognised that many women were remarrying at 50-plus. They wanted to look gorgeous on their Big Day but probably did not want to wear the same style of dress they wore the first time around.
Jan Shure, of SoSensational, says: “Every bride, whatever her age, wants to look sensational on her wedding day. The important thing for any second-time bride, but especially an over-50 second-time bride, is that she feels confident in whatever she wears. We would usually suggest the bride chooses a dress or outfit in a cut that most flatters her shape.”
“As for colour, it definitely helps if the outfit is in a shade that most flatters the bride’s skin-tone. But the decision to wear or not wear white is not really about skin-tone, since there are so many shades of white available, there is certain to be one which is flattering. The decision by the modern bride to wear or reject white is primarily a fashion choice as wearing white is no longer a symbol of purity and innocence. Because of its symbolism, however, the decision to wear or reject white takes on wider significance for an older, second-time bride.”
“For the older, second-time bride, therefore, her choice of outfit is about striking a balance between being suitably ‘bridal’ and being ‘appropriate’. Thus, a long white dress could easily seem inappropriate (though less so this season thanks to the ubiquity of the maxi and the midi). But so could a navy-blue tailored suit, which is more suitable for a boardroom than a bride.”
“For an older second-time bride, either a maxi dress or a chic tailored suit rendered in a ‘bridal’ shade (such as silver grey, coffee, blush pink or eau-de-nil) could strike the right balance. Aged over 50, it’s about looking just bridal enough; but not too bridal!”
There is consensus that what every bride wants is to look radiant on her special day. Elizabeth Bessant advocates; “I believe that it is down to each bride to live her dream – and if that is walking down the aisle in a white dress then she should be free to make that choice. I do find that brides who are 50+ tend not to want to wear white and instead look just lovely in a pastel suit or dress and coat. Whatever you choose, it’s your day and your time to enjoy being the centre of attention be it in white, pastel pink, or even black!”
For most brides to be, selecting the perfect gown is truly one of the most crucial decisions in the planning of a wedding. Finding “the one” is notoriously as applicable to the wedding dress as it was to the future groom. The decision is all the more crucial and precarious, second time around.
Future second time brides may opt to follow in Markel’s Givenchy couture footsteps and embrace a shade of white. Others may choose a colour that flatters their complexion and decide not to be constrained by any particular culture or tradition.
In the midst of agonising over choices of colour, fabric and silhouette it is worth a bride to be taking a breath and reflecting upon the wise words of fashion power house, Yves Saint Laurent. The astute and incisive designer once famously imparted words of wisdom that all future brides should pause and contemplate; “Over the years I have learned that what is important in a dress, -is the woman– who is wearing it.”
By Paula Logan