For some, a white, poufy cake topper of a wedding dress is as much a part of getting married as rings or vows. White has reigned as the nuptial hue of choice in Western society since the Victorian era, and the image of the big, splashy bridal gown pervades our culture, from royal weddings to Carrie Bradshaw.
Not all brides are quite so wedded to tradition, however. We talked to six (relatively) recently married women who said no to the dress, as it were, opting instead for rock-star-worthy jumpsuits, hand-sewn capelets, crop tops, and, yes, even denim.
Read on for why they wore what they did, in their words.
Claudia Cifu, stylist
"I'm pretty casual and easy with my style, so I definitely wanted something that felt comfortable and personal. I had no idea what I was going to wear, but I knew that once I saw something, it would be a set deal. Now, that's a risk, because it can take a long time to find the perfect 'dress,' and I was definitely on a tight time schedule. I went to A Current Affair four days before my wedding and found this gorgeous vintage lace and silk dress. I fell in love with the lace and the hand-stitched embroidery around the neckline. As a dress it was not going to work, but as a top it would be perfect."
"I bought it, cut it, and sewed it into a top, and since it was so romantic, I felt like it needed some contrast, to make it a bit rougher, I guess. I immediately thought of pairing it with jeans—vintage Levi's 501s, to be precise. I own a bunch of different washes, so it came down to choosing the right wash. And to top it off, I wore these embroidered red heels by one of my favorite designers, Dries Van Noten. (For dinner I changed into a mustard-yellow vintage Dries silk dress.) I have nothing against white wedding dresses, and I love traditions! But it's just not my thing. I would feel totally out of character. And I think the fact that I was able to incorporate my favorite piece of everyday clothing in a chic way that felt 100-percent me was pretty amazing."
Freddie Harrel, blogger and confidence coach
"We had two ceremonies—our registry in London in August, and our big wedding in the South of France a month later. For the registry, I wore a co-ord in an African print from French designer By Natacha Baco. It was trousers and a fitted top with a cape, and then I had a matching headband with an African cowrie in the middle by Kinanoé Bijoux. And my husband wore a matching tie! I never considered a traditional wedding dress. First, because I don't think that ivory white is the best color for my skin tone—I wanted something bronzy to make my skin glow even more. Second, because I find most traditional wedding dresses ugly—lace is not a good look on me at all.”
"I started to look for my dress a couple of months before the wedding. I think I unconsciously left it to the last minute so I wouldn’t have the time to go for a white classic dress. The dress was the part I dreaded the most—I couldn’t picture it and had no idea what I wanted. Until the day I found it ... on Instagram! It was on StyledByAfrica’s page that I discovered my dress designer, Weiz Dhurm Franklyn, a young Nigerian designer based between Lagos and New York. I saw that beautiful dress and left a comment asking if he could make it longer for a bride. Then we emailed and did the measuring on Skype. I love how unique the dress was—it was honestly breathtaking! The flowers scattered around were what made the dress really special, but its fit and golden hue, too. I really felt like a princess, and in theory, I can shorten it and wear it again and again, which is definitely a plus because I don't really see the point of splashing a lot of money on something you won't wear again. Having said that, I have yet to actually have it shortened!”
Alexandra Jacob, ballerina
"The dress that I had in my head wasn't going to be a standard wedding dress—I knew for my body type it would look funny, and I wanted something that I could possibly wear again. I kept searching for bridal stuff online and nothing was doing it for me, and then on Shopbop I just typed in white dress, and there was this dress that was so gorgeous by this company called Nightcap. It was 50 percent off, and I was a starving dancer, so my budget was so low. I wanted to try it in person, so I found this boutique that had the minidress version and tried it on there, and it fit perfectly so I ordered it online. It had a peephole that went down a little bit that I cut all the way down—we got married in Greece in a Greek Orthodox church, though, so I wanted to cover up a little bit."
"I saw this fringed bolero in ABC Carpet for like a grand, and I was like, Well, I can't do that, and it doesn't look exactly the way I want. So I went to M&J Trimming in the Garment District and got some beaded fringe to sew into a cape. It was a lot of work—it took me like six months, and I had this area that my husband couldn't go near because I was making stuff for the wedding—I think a lot of dancers are tailors in that way. But I didn't have to steam it when we got to Greece, and I've worn it since to one of my husband's punk shows with a couple weird leather pieces added to it."
Lauren Kaelin, illustrator and creative director of Ample Hills, & Jen Mecum, lawyer
Lauren: "Originally, I wanted a jumpsuit—I had my heart set on a floral-patterned jumpsuit. I wasn't really expecting to go shopping at all, but I went out for brunch and asked all my girlfriends who were with me to be my bridesmaids, and we were just playing around and thought it would be fun to go shopping. It was probably the third thing I tried on, and I fell in love with it. It was an ALC crop top and fitted pencil skirt, and it just felt special—I think when you're buying off the rack, you want something that feels elegant enough that you wouldn't wear it every day. We ended up having our bridal party wear all floral, so we tied that element in that way—floral suits, floral skirts, floral jumpsuits, floral dresses."
Jen Brister/Story and Gold Weddings
Lauren Kaelin & Jen Mecum
"It was a gay wedding, and as we were planning and talking about it, it was important to us that we really unpacked all of the traditions and not just accept things for what they were. We didn't have like our parents walk us down the aisle; we both decided to wear engagement rings; the wearing-white thing was weird, because it's supposed to represent virginity, and I was like, 'I don't know, we've lived together for two years, so it seems a little misleading.' But it felt like something I wouldn't normally wear, and like something I'm not necessarily going to wear again—and there's something special about walking around on the day of your wedding and having people know that you're going to get married. I didn't know that I was going to love that as much as I did.
My wife got her suit at Bindle & Keep—her best friends gifted her a suit for our wedding, so she went all out. She got a midnight-blue tux with a shawl collar—all made to her measurements—and we both felt so good and so much like ourselves—I hope that comes through in our pictures."
Jen Brister/Story and Gold Weddings
Courtney Raniszewski, stylist
"When I started looking, I was basically looking for alternatives to dresses, ’cause that’s not really my vibe. I was thinking about maybe doing separates—like wide-leg pants or something; there was a white wide-leg jumpsuit from Stella McCartney that I tried on, but it felt too covered up. I'm not really a dress person, and because I'm also a stylist, I had seen this white Emilio Pucci jumpsuit in the collection, so I saw this in black at Bergdorf’s and ended up ordering the white one through the store."
Maria Carey/Charlotte Carey Photo
"For shoes, I wore silver Miu Mius. I’m not really a heel person—I wear a lot of flats and sneakers—so they were just two inches or so. One of my biggest pet peeves is people who take off their shoes once they're, like, dressed, so I knew that I was not going to wear shoes that I had to take off. I actually hate shopping for myself, but when I found the jumpsuit, I knew that was it—it was very David Bowie–slash-Elvis, and I think I’m going to get it dyed a different color—maybe red or black—so I can wear it again."
Maria Carey/Charlotte Carey Photo
Sheila Peluso, lawyer
"I think I went through ten different iterations of what I wanted—I could look at clothing all day long. My first idea was a really cute romper with a blazer and some kind of wedge sandal—I love weddings, but I personally didn't want one. We were going to get married in May at first, but a few days before, my grandfather died, and we ended up having it in August. That's the great thing about city hall—there are no reservations. I went to Barneys like two days before—I was so busy at work that I just didn't have time to do it, and I just went there and was like, 'Find me something for my city-hall wedding.' And they were like, 'Awesome, let's have fun with this.'"
"It was Stella McCartney, navy, one-shouldered, and classic, but really cool looking. It was perfect for summer. I loved it. There was no vail, nothing white, nothing like that at all—I've always wanted to do something different, not for the sake of being different, but just organically. Sometimes at weddings, the dress becomes the show, and I really wanted the show to be the moment between me and my husband. To me, the wedding was about the two of us committing to spend our life together, and I feel like some of the other things can take away from that. Also, my parents got married at city hall, and my mom still has her dress. They got married in '76, so it's their 40th anniversary, and she has this really cool peach dress—I wanted to find something similar, but there was nothing that worked for my skin tone, but mine was a little inspired—it was the 2015 version of what she wore."