Getting married has grown into a billion dollar industry. But unlike other industries that cater primarily to women, the bridal business doesn't seem to be marketing itself towards African-American women. Despite the fact that African-American women’s consumer preferences and brand affinities are reflected in marketing across most major U.S. industries, including food, fashion, and beauty, Black brides are practically non-existent on mainstream bridal magazines and websites. Since 2012, The Knot has featured two Black brides on the cover of its magazines, Brides has only featured five, and Martha Stewart Weddings has yet to do so at all.
To understand how this came to be, wedding expert Bridgette Bartlett-Royall says it's important to look at history. “The love and marriages of Black women have not been celebrated in the United States,” Bartlett-Royall tells Refinery29, pointing to the beginning of Black-American unions when marriages between enslaved people were not even considered legal. Bartlett-Royall, who started the publication Black Bridal Bliss in 2010, explains that, in addition to Black women being an afterthought for the most wedding websites and magazine, their traditions are also ignored: “No one takes the time to learn about jumping the broom at the ceremony, or the significance of a “SpelHouse” wedding (nuptials between people who went to either historically Black colleges Spelman or Morehouse), or Greeks strolling at a reception, or Caribbean black cake favors, or spraying at a Nigerian wedding.”
But understanding such intricacies of Black weddings would require additional reporting in order to thoroughly and authentically tell these stories — which includes hiring Black writers and editors. It was in that vein that bridal websites like Black Bridal Bliss, MunaLuchi Bride, and Black Bride were created. When it was founded in 1998, Black Bride was the first online and print platform of its kind. “We no longer want to be viewed and showcased as the token Black bride because it happens to be a hot topic of the day,” Mary Chatman, its CEO and editor-in-chief, tells Refinery29. “Our platform is a significant part of changing the landscape of the wedding industry as it relates to the multicultural market.”
Bartlett-Royall understands how important it is for Black brides to see other Black brides. “The false stigma that Black women aren't getting married because they cannot is definitely a catalyst for the desire to increase representation of Black women in mainstream wedding media,” she says. “One of the reasons I created Black Bridal Bliss was to actually counter this dangerous notion. All Black women deserve bridal bliss and recognition in magazines and websites like white brides receive. It is imperative to tell our own stories and own our narratives.”
Before Danielle Jackson got married in April, she found herself unhappy with the lack of Black women in mainstream bridal magazines. “It was like people of color, specifically Black women, were not getting married,” Jackson says. She couldn’t find a single reference shot to look to while planning her big day. But, after switching to websites like MunaLuchi Bride and Black Bride, as well following Black Wedding Magic on Instagram, she found a world of inspiration. Jackson says she was adamant about getting her wedding covered on MunaLuchi Bride and Black Bride to add to the positive images and narratives of Black people, rather than the stereotypical stories that seem to be prevalent in mainstream media outlets that present Black women as unlovable.
It’s worth noting that some mainstream sites are listening. In 2016, Jagger Blaec wrote a blog post on the wedding website A Practical Wedding, asking if Black brides mattered to the wedding industry. She ended the article hoping to “shed some natural light on the desperate need for inclusion in a white-washed industry.” In May, The Knot brought Blaec on to assist its director of education and innovation, Anja Winikka, on a presentation about inclusivity beyond white weddings, focusing on plus-size brides, brides from a variety of religions and cultures, as well LGBTQ+ weddings. While The Knot featured a section for “African-American Weddings” on its site, offering a guide to “traditions like jumping the broom to finding the perfect wedding hairstyle,” it appears that the brand still has a long way to go: Stock imagery for its general wedding stories all feature white brides, and you currently have to scroll through eight pages of content before finding an image of a Black woman. Segmenting African-American weddings as a separate section, rather than integrating Black brides into general-interest content, is a faux-diversity tactic that’s thankfully being abandoned by mainstream media. That the conversation hasn’t even begun in the bridal industry is disheartening.
While it’s commendable that publications like Black Bride, Bridal Bridal Bliss, and MunaLuchi Bride saw a need (and created a space) to celebrate Black brides, it’s not unreasonable to expect representation at mainstream media properties, either. But for now, Black brides are turning to the only people who constantly affirm them of their worth: each other.