Madison Alexandra knew she wanted to wear a black wedding dress to her nuptials ever since she was a little girl. “I originally wanted to have wings, but I cut that out,” she says. Still, when it came time for her big day, the model and lingerie educator did want that fairytale gown. Inspired by Queen Ravenna (played by Charlize Theron) in Snow White’s film adaptation, Snow White and the Huntsman, Alexandra walked down the aisle wearing a black gown covered with an armour-like shoulder plate in May 2021. “I thought she looked very regal, and I wanted that kind of look,” she says.
She is not alone in choosing to forgo the traditional white ball gown for a black dress in order to express her personality during what some consider one of the most important moments in life. “I think that sometimes with these traditions, we can get so intentional that we can't even see that someone may just not have that same preference,” says Alexandra.
For decades now, brides have worn black wedding dresses: Sarah Jessica Parker wore a black ball gown by Morgane Le Fay for her 1997 wedding to Matthew Broderick; Selling Sunset’s Christine Quinn sported a black princess-like dress in 2019; and Chloë Sevigny chose a skin-tight long-sleeved black dress with matching booties for her City Hall nuptials in 2020. But while these A-listers have normalised the idea, it's still rare to see everyday brides sporting the look.
While “black” has been associated with evil and solemn rituals like funerals — which could explain why brides stay away from the hue — back in the 14th century, the high-quality dyes that the colour required cemented the hue as a must-have for nobility to distinguish themselves. Over time, the concept of the “Little Black Dress,” credited to Coco Chanel, made it an essential part of everyone’s wardrobe.
Yet, despite the color's popularity in ready-to-wear, there is still limited availability when it comes to black wedding dresses. When Starr Lively started looking for a “big and poofy” black gown in 2019, she was unable to find the look she envisioned despite looking “everywhere.” Finally, she opted to go directly to an independent designer who could custom-make her one: “They were able to take a design that I created and bring it to life.”
On the other hand, Skyelar Kowalewski had to rely on shopping for her wedding dress online because she couldn’t find a gown that she could try on in person. “There was a major lack of black wedding dresses. So that was kind of a hard thing to deal with because I was wondering, Am I actually going to be able to find something that looks like a bridal gown?” she says. “Or am I just going to be looking like I'm just wearing a black formal dress?” In the end, after spending a lot of time looking, she ended up finding a dress that matched her expectations — an A-line tulle dress with a matching veil that she paired with a flower crown.
While it’s hard for many brides to find their perfect black wedding dress, more brands and boutiques are slowly incorporating the color into their collections. Brands like David’s Bridal, Galia Lahav, Maggie Sottero Zander, and Markarian have included black wedding gowns in their selection, while others like Honor and Monique Lhuillier have added black details — like ribbons and prints — into their traditional white dresses. Recently, Spanish brand Sophie Et Voilà unveiled its “Black Label” collection, which featured a selection of five black bridal dresses.
The lack of black wedding dress options is what inspired designer Hannah Chivers to start her own boutique focused on black bridal gowns. Similarly to Lively and Kowalewski, Chivers had a hard time finding a black dress, so she decided to make it herself, which eventually prompted her to start her label, Hannah Black Bridal.
“I got loads of messages from people asking, like, ‘Can you make me one?’” she says. “I thought, Why don't I just actually make it into a business because people want it?” Since then, Chivers has mainly focused on widening the alternatives for brides who want to wear classic silhouettes and traditional gowns but in black: “I really wanted to have black wedding dresses that were a really gorgeous, beautiful dress and just happened to be black,” she says.
While the choice to wear a black wedding dress may be perceived as a statement, many brides don’t think about it this way. “I think that people have this idea that when you wear black, you are trying to buck tradition because it's like the opposite colour, right?” says Alexandra. “It's really just an expression of the woman who's wearing it.” For Alexandra Lima, who married in March 2022, white was never a choice: “90% of my wardrobe is already black. That is actually one of the reasons why I wanted to do that [wear black.]”
Meanwhile, Lively considers this rising trend a result of brides realizing that white is just one of the many options they have available, not the rule they need to subscribe to. “I had heard from friends who liked wedding dresses that weren’t white and would ask, ‘Can you even do that?’” says Lively. “You can do whatever you want on your wedding day.”