Wedding Material Culture

I had a great President’s Day post planned. There were going to be artsy photos of monuments and some deep reflections on American memory and our relationship to our heroes. But then I went to visit my historian boyfriend over the long weekend, and … we got engaged! So I was a little distracted, to say the least.

Now I have plunged headlong into wedding planning, which is basically one giant decorative arts research project culminating in an exhibition and opening party. Wedding dresses are, obviously, some of the most fun details and more curious pieces of wedding material culture. White gowns are inherently eye-catching and crowd-pleasing, but not that historically significant. For every Diana Spencer or Kate Middleton there are several curators wondering what on earth to do with the vintage gowns cluttering their storage areas. I always chuckle at that Sleepless in Seattle scene where Meg Ryan’s mother says the historical society has begged for the grandmother’s wedding dress.

Not only are wedding dresses prolific, they are now ubiquitous. Thanks to television shows like Say Yes to the Dress and the abundance of wedding blogs, gown shopping is no longer a rare and mysterious event. On a single Friday evening you can watch eight strangers go through the most personal fashion moment of their lives. Going into the dress process, I had a world-weary attitude of “I’ve seen it all before.” The textile nerd in me was so bored with polyester satin.

Luckily, the advertising in magazines Bridal magazines are an exercise in fashion connoisseurship. I have learned to read the style clues in the aesthetic of a magazine spread. As I explained to my 12-year old brother, “The more the models look like ghosts or zombies, the more expensive the clothes are.”

Not surprisingly, I’ve also discovered that I am a sucker for certain styling. If you want to catch my notice, reference the past. Put the zombie models among interesting decorative arts, and I will pay attention.

Lazaro 2012. The skirt is not my style, but oh, that iron railing.

Classic Hollywood is always effective, too. For instance, the Demetrios Ilissa 526 gown would fulfill my childhood dream of having a tulle train like Vera Ellen’s in White Christmas.

So listen Mandy…

White Christmas (1954)

Matthew Christopher is more deliberate in his Hollywood homages, naming dress models “Vertigo,” “Bardot,” and “Liz Taylor.” Jagstudio’s ad campaign for his 2012 dresses references classic films, including Singin’ in the Rain.

Matthew Christopher 2012


Singin’ In the Rain (1952)

But please, let’s leave Catherine Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge alone. No more lazy knock-offs of her Sarah Burton for McQueen gown. You are not the Royal School of Needlework. Do something actually creative with sleeves instead.

Thanks, but no thanks.