Friday, 14 September 2012

Friday Focus: The Wedding Dress

Talk of Blake Lively's (or should I say Reynold's?) wedding dress is dominating our twitter feed at the moment.  She has surprised everyone by not opting for a Chanel or Gucci number, but rather a custom-made wedding gown by British duo Marchesa. We, like you, are dying to see it!

It got me thinking about the hype around wedding dresses.  Let me just clarify that I have not experienced the wedding dress phenomenon personally, but this has been a fairly busy wedding year for me with close friends (including Chelsea) getting married.

I think, like everyone else, one of the most exciting things for me is seeing the bride's choice of wedding dress. I spend time hypothesising what it is going to be like based on their style, personality and taste (well I didn't with Chelsea as she obviously couldn't keep it a secret and showed me photos - it was still a surprise to see it in real life - it was spectacular!).

This was the moment we saw Chelsea walking down the stairs in her dress - we are all in awe. 

Now, I have warned you that I am writing a thesis on clothing and it just so happened that a chapter in the book I'm reading at the moment (Through the Wardrobe) is entitled "The wedding dress: From the use value to sacred object" by Susanne Friese.  This chapter probably isn't relevant to my thesis topic but I read on with intrigue...

Little research has been conducted on the meaning of wedding dresses for women, despite it being a significant and highly treasured item of clothing. So Friese conducted some, what I'd describe as 'fun' (but I'm a geek), research in a bridal store in Midwestern America and observed and interviewed brides-to-be trying on their dresses. Friese concluded that marriage symbolised a ritual process moving from one social status to another - moving from single to married, with the dress playing a significant part in this process of transition.  She categorised this meaningful process into two stages: selection and purchasing activities and wearing the dress on the wedding day.

1. Selection and purchasing activities: From single woman to bride
Most participants in Friese's study described entering the bridal store feeling nervous, hesitant, ambivalent, joyful and excited. Perhaps representing similar feelings to those that one feels on their wedding day.  One participant in Friese's research described the selection and purchasing activities of the dress like this:


 "Before entering the store I was just an ordinary person walking around in street clothing, just like everyone else. When I entered the store suddenly everything changed. I was allowed to try on all the fairy-tale wedding gowns I had previously seen in magazines. And also, I could try on as many as I liked. All the attention belonged to me. It was fun being a princess for a little while."


The selecting and purchasing moments hold significant meaning for brides. It is in these trying on experiences that the dress starts to convey meaning and the bride realises the reality of her impending marriage and identity as a bride.  

After trying on however many dresses, the actual selection of the 'one' was seen to be based on intuitive reasons rather than specific attributes of the dress:


"...once I put it on, I just knew this was the dress I had to have"


It's almost as if, magically, a dress presents itself to the bride-to-be as the one for her. Interestingly, advice and guidance was valued and considered important to brides-to-be during the initial browsing stage, whilst they were still assimilating this massive role of being a bride, however towards the end of the selection process if advice was given which conflicted with the bride's sacred dress, no notice was taken of these significant others! The bride had identified with her role as bride and that was that. 
An important factor for the brides was that their dress invoked their own sense of identity - that they "felt like me".  It needed to incorporate all aspects of the bride's self-concept not just their bridal identity.  Additionally, personality played a part in the decision-making process. For example a "follower" took advice from friends and family who told her to keep looking, whereas an individual with a "practical" personality made a more abrupt decision based on the fact that it fit, it looked good and it was a good price.


2. The wedding day: From bride to married woman

The long awaited wedding day has arrived and it is time to wear the dress. A monumental day in the history of your life as you transition from bride to married woman. Most of the participants in this research felt able to perform the role of bride having prepared themselves during the identification process in the trying on and selecting process. The wedding dress in the context of the wedding day stimulated a certain behavioural response in the participants aiding in their role performance as a bride. The participants confidently described themselves as feeling "gorgeous, beautiful and very special, like a princess" but explained that this was in contrast to their everyday lives, suggesting that their bridal outfit had a significant impact on these feelings. 


Wearing the dress enables the bride to take on a role that she has never enacted before.  She draws on her experiences of attending weddings, watching movies and the media to assist her in acting out this role.  The dress represents a social symbol and wedding guests and family give the bride necessary positive and complimentary feedback by also taking on a role in response to this symbolism. This reinforces and validates the role the bride is playing. Who would have thought all these underlying social processes and functions are in place? And does that mean you can really trust the feedback of your beloved guests?!


After the wedding day, the wedding dress was still seen to have significant meaning.  Participants of the study made great effort to get it cleaned and most of the participants could not imagine selling the dress that held significant meaning and emotional value in their life.  It is a piece of a history marking a significant transitional process in a girl's life, turning from "an object of use value into a sacred good".


Friese concludes her study by stating that "it is not possible to adopt the bridal role by simply putting on a piece of clothing. If the necessary feedback and appropriate social context is missing, a woman could try on as many wedding dresses as she wanted without ever experiencing the same kind of feelings brides do".  

She also mentioned having informal chats with friends, commenting that friends who had not "made a big deal of their wedding and who just wore a 'nice' dress'" told her that they still did not feel as if they were married. She explained that it is likely that they feel this way because they "did not allow for ritual process (ie investing in the wedding, choosing the dress) to bear on this life change".  Fascinating.


So clearly a wedding dress holds massive meaning. It is the item of clothing you wear on the day when all eyes are on you, where a million photos will be taken which will be framed in your house for life and when you transition from single girl to beautiful bride to married woman. 

I cannot fathom how one possibly makes the choice when so many beautiful dresses are available, so I decided to complement Friese's research by conducting some of my own*.  Below is an extract from an interview with Chelsea**.  

Q: How many dresses did you try on?
A: Between 20-30.

Q: What were you looking for in your wedding dress?
A: Something unusual, girly and show-stopping.

Q: Were you surprised with your dress?
A: I only tried it on because the shop assistant suggested to, so I was surprised with how much I loved it on rather than off.

Q: How did you know it was the one?
A: As soon as I tried it on I knew, as it was so different and my mum and sister cried.

*I am making a huge claim calling this 'research'. 
** This may or may not be the entire contents of said interview. 

So there we go,  it seems like it is worthwhile trying on some dresses that you are not automatically drawn to on the hanger! And mothers and sisters, take note - tears of joy are well received! 

Let's take a look at some of the wedding dresses of some of our dearest celebs/actresses/bloggers.  Do you remember the anticipation and speculation surrounding Kate's dress?

Cheryl Cole in Roberto Cavalli and SJP in Vivienne Westwood
Here we have Nicole Richie in Marchesa (she had "Nicole Richie & Joel Madden" embroidered into her lace sleeve) and of course, Kate Middleton designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen.

Hillary Duff wears Vera Wang and Chelsea looks like a princess in Ritva Westenius 

Katie Holmes chose a wedding gown by Giorgio Armani and Blair Waldorf looks stunning in Vera Wang

Kate Moss in a beautiful John Galliano wedding gown, Bride Wars' characters Emma (Anne Hathaway) & Liv (Kate Hudson) both in Vera Wang and Kim Kardashian in Vera Wang.

Were you surprised by some of these dress choices or do you think they all reflect the bride wearing them? I'd love to know which one is your favourite?

So, are you getting married? Are you in the process of choosing a dress? Click this link for some beautiful Spring 2013 Designer Wedding Dresses. No pressure, but choosing the right dress is vital and I hope that this post has helped somewhat in understanding the process and meaning of choosing a wedding dress!

I better draw this post to a close, but before I do I thought I'd share with you this beautiful dress that I came across whilst researching. 

Lots of lace, sparkle and poof,



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