It is a quirk about couture shows that you probably would never have noticed if you weren’t studying the shows like schoolwork. The very last model wearing the very last look — typically the most over-the-top, hardest-to-produce, virtuosic garment in a collection of painstakingly handcrafted clothing — is inexplicably a bride.
She’s usually in a veil and a sweeping, white gown. She might have bridesmaids accompanying her, or a flower child. The looks are sometimes very avant-garde; she has, throughout the years, sometimes resembled a matrimonial tampon and an Ikea paper lantern. Most of the time though, she looks like a very pretty princess bride.
Ending a fantastical display of dress-up with a wedding dress is so random, and yet, so on-the-nose. It’d be like capping off an email with a photo of your hand waving “bye,” or finishing a big meal by receiving a gift of a new pair of pants. It’s a logical non-sequitur. But, it’s also tradition.
Starting at the turn of the century, most collections included an all-white wedding look — it became an institution of couture shows by the late ‘40s. According to an interview with Parsons professor Beth Dincuff on Fashionista, fashion houses like Lanvin and Balmain closed their collections with “a presentation of a bride’s dress.” Today, bridal is a moneymaker for the fashion industry, and for its most niche, most expensive arm — couture — it makes senses to include what many women would consider the most expensive garment they’ve ever purchased.
“It's about money, mainly, but the whole cliché of ending a fashion show with a bride is not unlike the ridiculous lie of Hollywood romantic comedies that predictably end with a wedding,” says fashion critic and author of Fear and Clothing, Cintra Wilson. “Both forms of bride fetishization irresponsibly support a long tradition of social engineering and cultural brainwashing. A young woman is being encouraged now, more than ever before in my lifetime, to grow up believing she will be worthless until a man comes along [and] makes her valuable by putting a diamond on her.”
But as much as fashion can support the status quo, it also can have a hand in rejecting it. This past couture season, only about half of the shows contained a white gown, and a third of the designers opted to uphold this bride-goes-last tradition. But while many of the designers opted for stark rejection of the princess bride (A.F. Vandervorst showed his wearing what looked like a Oscars gown made out of a Hefty bag; Alexandre Vauthier’s wore a black negligee as sheer as her black veil), nearly as many chose to uphold the tradition, creating white dresses that were as froufrou and sculpted as a cake topper.
With price tags as high as six or seven figures for a gown, only the most wealthy and the most traditional women would be interested in a couture wedding look. They are people like Victoria Swarovski, who wore a $1 million couture gown by Michael Cinco beaded with 500,000 crystals; and Chinese celebrity Angelababy, who wore a Dior gown that took five months to create. Melania Trump also wore a Dior couture gown for her marriage to Donald Trump, that was estimated to have cost $100,000, and made with 300 feet of material. Melania, though, got to wear her dress twice; she was also featured in it on the cover of Vogue.
If this seems like some of the most gratuitous displays of wealth (and tradition) we have in this modern era — well, that’s tradition, too. According to Parsons fashion scholar and researcher Molly Rottman, the white wedding dress was not originally a display of virginity and purity like you’d think, but rather, wealth and status. “Women used to wear anything from navy to plaid — dresses that could be used again. When Queen Victoria wore white during her wedding, it was a symbol that she was so wealthy she did not need to wear the dress again, and that she did not need to worry about getting that garment dirty during work, because she didn’t have to work.”
Given that much of the couture trends this season broke with tradition and were surprisingly wearable (consider Dior’s utilitarian navy collection, or Viktor & Rolf’s ode to the army-green flight jackets), that pretty princess allure was still alive and well. In a world turned topsy-turvy, one thing that has remained ingrained is the draw of a rich woman getting married.
For better, or — as they say — for worse.