Here comes the bride, all dressed in anything but white

Posted at 8:31 AM, Oct 26, 2012
and last updated 2012-10-26 10:32:51-04

By Sarah LeTrent

(CNN) — By all accounts, it was a storybook wedding.

Eighty of the bride and groom’s closest friends and family watched as the beaming couple exchanged rings under a bridge on New York City’s shoreline in Astoria Park.

Except these weren’t your run-of-the-mill fairytale nuptials. In Joanna Scutts’ storybook, the bride dazzled her husband-to-be in a gold-sequined, boatneck sheath on their wedding day.

“I knew I didn’t want a white dress, as it was really important to me to feel like myself at the wedding — and I never wear white,” she said. “I’m a pale-skinned redhead, and any shade of white makes me look dead.”

Scutts is one of many brides choosing to walk down the aisle in a nontraditional colorful dress.

In this week’s People Magazine, Jessica Biel reveals the custom pink Giambattista Valli Haute Couture gown that she wore when she tied the knot with Justin Timberlake in southern Italy on October 19.

Biel certainly isn’t the first celebrity to color outside the bridal lines: Reese Witherspoon graced the cover of People Magazine in April 2011 wearing a blush Monique Lhuillier gown for her second marriage; Sarah Jessica Parker famously wore black on her wedding day with Matthew Broderick; and Sofia Coppola married Thomas Mars in August 2011 in a violet Azzedine Alaïa dress.

“Brides today want their wedding to be a reflection of their personality — they’re no longer embracing tradition for tradition’s sake,” said Nicole Sewall, the managing director of BHLDN, Anthropologie’s bridal and special occasion brand. “We’ve seen a lot of brides throw the wedding rules, as we know them, out.”

Sewall says BHLDN brides have embraced color in a less dramatic sense; vintage crème, nude tones and very pale pink are all popular choices.

This matrimonial trend is old hat on the runway. In recent years, Christian Dior, Vera Wang and Chanel have showed bridal gowns in various shades of red, while Elie Saab has played with pewter and metallic hues.

When Rani Totman launched her bridal line, St. Pucchi, in 1985, her entire collection of 16 dresses was in color.

“Many cultures believe that the color white indicates purity or virginity and so some women feel that they are required to wear white rather than the colored gowns they would love to wear,” said Totman. “My brides, who have repeatedly opted for color, are ones that do not let this general belief affect their decision.”

Totman said her color palette was influenced by her upbringing in Thailand, where many of the brides she knew wore colorful wedding attire. In many non-Western cultures, including Southeast Asia and India, weddings are often opulent affairs draped with multicolored fabrics.

Just as many women emulated Princess Diana’s and, now, Kate Middleton’s gowns, another royal set the Western precedent for the “white wedding” in 1840.

According to Dalhousie University, the modern bride can attribute the 170-plus-year-trend to Queen Victoria, who married Prince Albert in a white gown at The Chapel Royal in St. James’ Palace.

Since then, the Victorian era wedding gown has come to represent Christianity and female sexual purity.

Scutts says her wedding planning, as well as her dress, was definitely rooted in both her and her husband’s “feminist resistance to much of wedding tradition.” The ceremony did not have a religious element.

According to a recent Pew survey, 13 million Americans identify as either agnostic or atheist; while one in five Americans is religiously unaffiliated.

Shannon Flynn, a 34-year-old freelance writer from Clifton Park, New York, also opted for a nontraditional, nonreligious wedding. Though, unlike Scutts, she did entertain the notion of the traditional white dress.

“Stepping into a layered gown with corsets and organza and lord knows what else, man, it made this jeans and T-shirt gal almost roll up into the fetal position and start sucking my thumb,” said Flynn, describing the one — and only — trip to a traditional bridal salon with her parents.

Flynn ultimately decided on a vibrant red cocktail dress with matching high heels.

“Putting on a show that didn’t reflect our beliefs or interests seemed silly,” said Flynn. “I grew up Catholic and the ‘white dress’ symbolizes something I’m not. I guess, even though I am now nonreligious, it would have felt a bit like a lie.”

Despite shying away from the traditional pomp and “till death do us part” circumstance, Scutts and Flynn had one tradition they both supported on their wedding day: It’s the bride’s time to shine.

“The only rule as far as guest dress code: Don’t wear red!” said Flynn.

“I tried on a heap of dresses in all kinds of colors, wanting something that still stood out and said ‘bride’ — or at least, ‘dressiest person there,'” said Scutts.

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