On the fashion rental platform My Wardrobe HQ, there is a black tulle Dolce & Gabbana dress that has been worn “at least three times in the last month” as a wedding dress, said its customer services adviser Rachel Higgins. “The customers say, ‘Oh my God, it’s the perfect dress.’ I think the white [wedding] dress is seen as a bit dated now.”
UK searches on Pinterest for black wedding dresses are up by 85% compared with last May, as brides-to-be rip up the rulebook and instead investigate looks that express their individuality.
“Who says you can’t wear black?” asks Kate Halfpenny of the bridal wear company Halfpenny London, who has introduced a “black edit” of her most distinctive silhouettes. “The past couple of years have taught us to seize every opportunity to be ourselves, and brides are choosing whatever their hearts desire.”
It’s a trend that has been rumbling along ever since Sarah Jessica Parker wore black to her wedding in 1997, as did Pearl Lowe in 2008. In 2019, Christine Quinn of the US reality TV series Selling Sunset wore not one but two black wedding dresses, and in 2020 Chloë Sevigny covered her baby bump with black in a secret wedding. And with nuptials back on the agenda, the trend is tipping into civilian life.
“The pandemic brought about a real independence, with brides breaking with tradition,” said Martha Tobyn, a wedding stylist and the founder of Anemone Style. “Now we are seeing women follow their own style with more confidence.”
When the 33-year-old creative director Lydia Pang got married in 2019, she wore a black ruffled silk organza dress by Roberts|Wood. “Everything about the wedding was about making sure we did it our way,” she said. “Black is my absolute favourite colour – I find it flattering and it makes me feel confident and calm. I felt like the absolute best version of my daily self.” Like many couples, they got engaged after being together for several years – so the symbolism of white just isn’t relevant nowadays.
Of course, the choice for modern brides isn’t just black or white – in between are colourful dresses, short dresses, jumpsuits, suits … but black brings maximum impact. “Black shakes up the traditional expectations of a wedding – it goes against the grain,” said Tobyn.
It was Queen Victoria who in 1840 popularised the white wedding dress when she married Prince Albert in a white, lace-covered gown. Before that, brides could choose any colour, not least so that it could be worn again and not show the dirt.
Since Victorian times, a dress that would most likely only be worn once has been regarded as a status symbol; nowadays, that’s not considered very sustainable.
Black wedding dresses aren’t exactly mainstream, but that’s part of their appeal. “If a bride wants an edgy look, yet still be super chic and glamorous, a black dress ticks all those boxes,” said Halfpenny, adding, “Most of us have that perfect black dress which is our go-to and makes us feel amazing.”
Vera Wang, who has offered a collection of black wedding dresses since 2011, has said that a bride in black is “sexy”.
Wearing a black gown is going to bring extra attention, though, and the etiquette expert Jo Bryant cautioned against buying into the trend for the sake of it. “Heads will turn and people will chat. If you are known for your unusual style, you can expect everyone to wonder what you’re going to be wearing before you come up the aisle. But if you’re not a fashionista, I think it would cause quite a lot of surprise and may be something you’ll regret.”
That said, a black dress can mitigate more immediate regrets, said Tobyn: “A white wedding dress will show up any spillages, grass stains or pollen from your bouquet. With a black dress, none of that happens.”