Forget the garter, the four-foot gauzy veil, the crash diet. Of the many traditions surrounding the event every girl dreams about, none is more hallowed than the white wedding dress. In tulle or lace, organza or silk, that hue—snowy, spotless, sparkling white—is the eternal signifier of a blushing bride.
Or is it? In fact, white has only been donned by Western brides since the Victorian era, when, for her marriage to her cousin Albert in 1840, Queen Victoria set a trend by slipping into a colorless lace confection. The notion that white represents an unsullied wife-to-be seems to be an off-the-mark urban legend as well, with the color blue taking those honors (“married in blue, you will always be true,” goes the old poem). And though the most iconic brides in recent memory—Lady Diana Spencer, Carolyn Bessette—walked down the aisle in the expected shade, designers have begun to offer alternatives, whipping up colorful gowns that some first-time brides are delighted to wear, tradition be damned.
“I think because of the challenge of doing so many collections over so many years, it’s become important to find a way to express myself in something other than white,” says Vera Wang, who has designed dresses in everything from platinum to eggplant. “It started off to keep myself from getting stale, but then it served as an inspiration to brides. It’s a woman who is probably extremely confident who is going to wear color.”
Take, for instance, Sarah Jessica Parker, who wore a black Morgane Le Fay dress at her 1997 wedding to Matthew Broderick, and Gwen Stefani, who pulled off a cotton-candy pink and white ombré Dior gown at her 2002 wedding to Gavin Rossdale. “Gavin had planned the whole thing—it was a pretty major wedding—one of the most emotional I have been to,” recalls John Galliano. “It was part fairy-tale princess, part punk—just like her. We deconstructed corsets as well as played with antique lace, and dipped the hem in pink so it kind of graffiti-ed up the gown.” Jennifer Connelly chose a black Balenciaga frock for her 2003 wedding to Paul Bettany, and the ever edgy Dita von Teese wore a purple Vivienne Westwood dress when she married Marilyn Manson in 2005.
Strong, fashion-conscious women all, though Parker has regrets about her choice, which she says was made in an effort to deflect attention from herself. “I thought it was stunning,” says Morgane Le Fay designer Liliana Casabal. “I’ve been doing a lot of red wedding dresses these days, and black too. They’re a reflection of a woman who is sophisticated enough to know that her wedding is a chance to express herself.”