July 2, 2018

{Why Royal Weddings Matter} No. 10: Tokens of Abundance & Love

Here's the latest installment of my "Why Royal Weddings Matter" series for Confluence Daily...excerpts from The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride with updates from the recent wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Enjoy!

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Tokens of Abundance & Love

Most wedding rituals today are “rooted in the potent mix of tradition and superstition,” wrote Barbara Tober, former editor-in-chief of Bride’s magazine.  

Take the rhyme, something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence for your shoe—the familiar little verse that became a beloved personal ritual for generations of brides. The rhyme itself may not be that old (first appearing in print in the nineteenth century according to my research), but the customs it describes have been around for centuries. In cultures worldwide and for as long as we know, there was some sort of ritual conjured up out of superstitious notions encouraging brides to tuck “tokens of abundance” (pieces of bread, a lump of sugar, bits of ribbon, a silver charm or coin) into their purse, glove, or shoe; or sew the item into their bodice or dress hem. This was all done in the desire to call forth good luck, great fortune—including the birth of a male heir—or some magical promise of love forever!

Shoe historian Cameron Kippen declares that throughout ancient times “it was widely accounted wearing something borrowed was lucky. The something borrowed varied to something golden or something stolen. A common belief was the bride would enjoy the same luck as the previous owner if the shoes of another happy bride were worn.” (And the good-luck superstitions extended to the groom by wearing old boots loaned to him for his wedding.)

The historian also reminds us that “a long standing bridal superstition stated no harm could befall a bride wearing blue.” Through the ages, wide-ranging references to the color blue surround it with compelling, even divine properties. The color is often associated with Mary, mother of Jesus, and Brigit, the Celtic goddess of healing and the arts; and in Ayurvedic wisdom, the color blue is linked with the throat chakra, or energy center, and inspires balance in our true self-expression. It is cited in Geoffrey Chaucer’s fourteenth-century The Canterbury Tales as a symbol of truth and faithfulness and Shakespeare fondly considered the “blue of heaven’s own tinct....”

With such rich folkloric history, it stands to reason that somewhere along the way a sentimental poet neatly put it all together in a romantic rhyme—some think derived from an old Italian saying, others believe it’s British in origin. Proving, once again, that wedding traditions have “complicated roots”—to borrow a phrase from Carol McD. Wallace’s book, All Dressed in White. Whatever the origin of the rhyming verse, nineteenth-century Victorians popularized it and even royal brides followed its feminine directives for their wedding day.

Princess Diana’s wedding gown designers, Elizabeth and David Emanuel, shared how they custom-fit the rhyme’s legacy for their royal bride:

The old was represented by the piece of Queen Mary lace that we used on the bodice and flounces while the new was obviously the silk dress itself. The tiara that Diana wore was a Spencer family heirloom—so something borrowed—and to complete the tradition, we hand-sewed a little blue bow into the back of the dress.

Following the rhyme continues to be a treasured ritual for many modern brides; not because of any “superstition,” but because it has a way of bringing together generations of women in conversations and remembrances over things we hold dear. A grandmother unpacks a precious family heirloom; a great-aunt shares something from her own trousseau and recalls stories from her mother’s wedding; a sisterly friend offers love, support and deep listening.

Meghan Markle, bride of Prince Harry, extended the rhyme’s sentiment to their post-wedding-ceremony evening party. After changing into a sleek and sexy white halter-neck dress, Meghan wore designer high heels with soles painted pale blue and a fabulous ring with a large aquamarine stone once belonging to her late mother-in-law. (Was the ring a surprise from Prince Harry? Was he in on the “something blue” conversation? Or do you think he simply opened his mother’s jewelry box one day for his beloved to select something of her fancy?)

The “something old, something new” rhyme seems to be infused with a kind of fairy-tale quality and delights of feminine mystique—is the mystery part of its appeal? I call the old-fashioned rhyme the most feminine of all wedding rituals. Whether a bride borrows her grandmother’s handkerchief; wears a gift of birthstone earrings or an antique lace veil; pins a blue silk ribbon to her corset or slips a sixpence coin into her shoe or his pocket, they have put something magically mysterious into motion. And what woman doesn’t become more attractive wearing a bit of mystery? ~

[Excerpts from The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding, available on Amazon, with updates from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s recent “something wonderful” wedding celebration! www.CorneliaPowell.com]


June 13, 2018

{Why Royal Weddings Matter} No. 9: What The Veil Reveals


Hope you've been enjoying my "Why Royal Weddings Matter" series on Confluence Daily! Latest installment reprinted below with yummy images!

What the Veil Reveals

Bridal veils made a comeback with Princess Diana in the summer of 1981 like they did in the nineteenth century with Prince Charles’ great-great-great grandmother. Although Queen Victoria’s short lace veil—a lyrical masterpiece of handmade Honiton lace—was “decorative only,” pinned to her chignon and falling softly over her shoulders, Diana’s was long, lush and sparkly and, breaking with royal tradition, covered her face for a much fussed-over “virginal” arrival into St. Paul’s cathedral on her father’s arm. Many feminists called it a “shroud.” And for some modern young women just beginning to revel in their independence and sexual freedom during this time, wearing a bridal veil did, indeed, seem a bit out-of-date, if not out-of-touch.

Not insensitive to world politics in the 1980s and ‘90s—the years I had my bridal art-to-wear shop in Atlanta—my focus, however, was helping a bride feel just as beautiful inside as she looked outside. I loved the look of the sheer illusion veil like Diana wore, it seemed to connect a woman with something deeply feminine and quietly mysterious. Worn over the face, enveloping the bride in a quiet reverie, the veil helped block out a busy, distracting world, moving her attention inward. Fashion designer Vera Wang considers “nothing quite as transformational as a bridal veil. The blend of sensuality and ritual is positively seductive.”

The bridal veil in the European-American tradition went in and out of fashion during the last two-hundred years or so. But Queen Victoria followed “royal rules” more than fashion for her wedding in 1840. “Since the earliest centuries,” explained author Maria McBride-Mellinger, “royal brides, who very often had never met their affianced, could not conceal their faces, preventing a last-minute substitution.” (And this practice for Windsor brides continued until Diana.) British historian Ann Monsarrat described the trend for the rest of us: “Wearing a veil over the face did not evolve until the 1860s and ‘70s; and the custom of arriving at the church, veil demurely down, and leaving triumphantly bare-faced, was an even later refinement.”

Most ancient civilizations have something in their heritage around maidens and bridal veils. “The most important element of a Roman bride’s dress was her veil,” reported McBride-Mellinger. “In fact, nubere, the term for veiling, was synonymous with marriage, and the day after consummation was known as the unveiling.” Modern brides, nevertheless, may choose to wear a bridal veil simply because it’s fetching and pretty, whether a “maiden” or not!

Of course, the new millennium brought the first of modern royal brides in 2011 when the lovely Kate Middleton wed Prince William. “When she came in with that veil over her face, it was almost ethereal, like she was coming through a cloud—an angel coming into the Abbey,” said one dazzled wedding guest. The sheer layer of ivory silk tulle, finger-tip length and edged with hand-embroidered flowers created by the Royal School of Needlework, was rather magical as it caught the wind and became the perfect accessory to complete Kate’s exquisitely crafted silk and lace gown.

Like Kate, Meghan Markle, the bride of Prince Harry, chose the romantic style of entering the wedding chapel wearing a sheer veil over her face, attached to a royal diamond tiara. Yet, as Kate’s father had done for her, it was Meghan’s groom who performed the intimate “unveiling” at the altar: lifting the veil covering her face, meeting his beloved’s steady gaze, and melting our hearts at the same time.

However, Meghan’s approach to her veil was unique. “The veil was a big part of the story for me,” couture designer Clare Waight Keller explained about Meghan’s bridal ensemble. She had created an unadorned, pure-white architectural prism-of-a-gown with a sweeping train for the bride, so the veil became the captivating showpiece, embracing royal connections:

Expertly stitched by artisans working hundreds of hours, there was over 16 feet of gleaming white silk tulle with distinctive botanical motifs hand-embroidered in silk and organza fluttering in three-dimensional delight along the veil’s edge. (Flora representing each of the 53 countries of the Commonwealth—orchids, water lilies and pansies; a daffodil from Wales, bunchberry from Canada, and Scottish thistle—as well as California poppies and wintersweet to honor Meghan’s old and new homes; forget-me-nots to honor the groom’s late mother; and the mythological crops of wheat symbolizing love and charity.) The countries, memories and sentiments represented in this trailing “wild garden” enchantment—carried by gleeful twin pageboys as though they were displaying the most precious and charmed work-of-art—all went on the journey up and back down the aisle with Meghan, just as the designer had envisioned.
 

Both Kate and Meghan followed Diana’s lead with their veils, bringing this spirit of beauty—femininity and stillness, sacred yet seductive—into the hearts of modern brides worldwide. And, in turn, Meghan brought a fresh modernity to the bridal veil beyond any “fairy princess myth” into something so irresistibly feminine and confident about feeling beautiful and mysterious: Cocooned in sheer silk tulle with her veil floating behind—leaving “princess blessings” in her wake—and being revealed into the eyes of her beloved. ~ 

[Parts of this article are excerpts from The End of theFairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the GreatWhite Wedding, other parts are, of course, inspired by the recent royal wedding.]


June 1, 2018

{Why Royal Weddings Matter} No. 8: The Language of Flowers


The Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle has come and gone...yet its ripples of beauty and diversity, gentleness and humanity are still with us! And my series "Why Royal Weddings Matter" on Confluence Daily, online magazine especially for women, continues as well. The next installment, No. 8: "The Language of Flowers," is reprinted below with some lovely flower images....


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The Language of Flowers

Bridal folklore throughout history, inspired by ancient mythology, tells of maidens entwining creamy white, aromatic orange blossoms into a bridal wreath for their hair, to ensure fertility; or carrying a bunch of sweet-smelling white lilacs, representing innocence; or tucking fragrant herbs into their bouquets, rosemary for remembrance and dill, believed to provoke lust. (Both herbs were also eaten for their supposed powers!)

Along came the French, picking up where the ancient Persians left off by assigning meanings to flowers and herbs, and in 1819 published Le Langage des Fleurs. The etiquette-driven, ritual-loving Victorians, as passionate as they were sentimental about flowers, followed suit. With so many rules and restrictions about what was proper to say to whom (and outright flirtations certainly prohibited), they adopted the romance-filled language of flowers and, to help sort it all out, created their own dictionary-like books, lyrically illustrated.

This romantic language was perfect for weddings since many brides, including royal ones, lead with the heart when it comes to their wedding bouquet. Queen Victoria carried a nosegay of snowdrops, noting friendship (they were her beloved Albert’s favorite flower); and Grace Kelly, after much thought, selected lilies of the valley as her simple wedding bouquet, meaning return of happiness. And along with the other all-shades-of-white flowers, Kate Middleton, of course, had blooms of Sweet William, signifying gallantry.

Princess Diana’s massive bouquet—to match the scale of her bouffant gown—was filled with fragrant cream and yellow flowers and greenery from gardens all over England and included (by special request from the palace) “Mountbatten” roses, a glorious shade of yellow mimosa rose named for Prince Charles’ adored late uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten. However, according to the Kate Greenaway version of Language of Flowers, yellow roses have the unfortunate, but in this case prophetic, meaning of decrease of love and jealously. (Ouch!)

Yet nothing could be as sincere and sentimentally dear as Meghan Markle’s small, almost childlike arrangement bound in a raw silk ribbon. The morning before their wedding, Prince Harry picked a handful of white flowers from the couple’s private garden at Kensington Palace for the florist to use in his bride’s bouquet—including scented sweet peas, jasmine and forget-me-nots; other petite blossoms were astilbe, lily of the valley and astrantia. Sweet peas represent delicate pleasures; jasmine, sensuality and grace; and the fabled forget-me-nots (a favorite of Harry’s mother) speak for themselves—yet for an added heart-tug, they also indicate true love.

The bridal bouquets of Diana and both her daughters-in-law had green sprigs of myrtle, Victorian-era symbols for fidelity. Like the last several generations of royal brides, the myrtle came from shrubs at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, planted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The legendary connection continued when stems from the 1947 bridal bouquet of then Princess Elizabeth, Harry’s grandmother, were also planted amid the mythical landscape. So through the language of flowers, the hope of fidelity—and love forever—continues. ~

[Bits excerpted from The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding—and other bits added after the flower-feast and love-fest wedding of Harry and Meghan!]


May 23, 2018

{A Day of Gracious Gestures and Love Power}



The wedding celebration of Prince Henry of Wales and “princess-to-the-whole-world” Ms. Meghan Markle was truly a “Windsor knot” of love and diversity, beauty and harmony, inclusion and passion, acted out on a world stage in perfect archetypal timing as only old souls on a spiritual mission can do. Lighting up the world for the rest of us!

I was touched by the news a few days before the wedding about the gracious gesture by the Prince of Wales (Harry’s beloved father and future king) accepting Meghan’s invitation, in the absence of her own father, to be her bridal escort. And it played out even more beautifully and mythically than could be imagined.

Meghan, confidently and joyfully on her own, entered St. George’s Chapel to the sound of trumpets on a sunlit noontime, carrying a small, sentimental bouquet of forget-me-nots and other delicate flowers picked by her groom the morning before in the gardens of Kensington Palace (where his late mother had lived and he now made a home with Meghan.) The radiant bride, in designer-sculpted shimmering white silk and the most feminine filigree diamond tiara—“something old and something borrowed” from the Queen—began her walk down the aisle as the voice of a lyrical soprano lifts in “light divine and glory” with two delighted pageboys holding up her floral-embroidered, nod-to-the-monarchy, long silk veil. 

As Prince Charles met her under the archway marking the end of the nave—lush with locally-gathered greenery and white flowers—offering his arm to escort Meghan through the Quire and the rest of the journey to the altar to stand beside his youngest son (“Thank you, Pa,” Harry acknowledges with a smile), it was as though the grand old patriarchy was bowing to the young goddess, honoring her lineage, and delivering her safely and gallantly to the far shore, where she would then help ignite a new world that genuinely knows of love.

Of course, the imagery of Meghan, a successful woman of experience and substance, self-assuredly walking down the aisle alone on her wedding day could be taken as a bold feminist statement, especially for a royal wedding—needing no one to hold her up, give her away, or speak for her—so any action otherwise would simply have been an outdated tradition. (Although an escort, how I consider it, could be appropriately offered, just as it was, as an act of courtesy and respect.) Nonetheless, what truly struck me as the defining moments of the day were these archetypal gestures by kindly menfolk: offering their attendant arm, handpicked flowers, and pure exuberance. The father, the groom, the boys; the past, the present, the future—giving of themselves in the most respectful, tender, even reverent way. After all, on some level I would wager, they knew this fresh wave of feminine consciousness now sweeping the world is the future we all long for...and this day represented its promise in every expression. There was something much deeper brewing here.

And the preacher-man got there—right down into the heart of the matter: the redeeming power of love! Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry, who traveled to Windsor from Chicago, declared that “love is the only way.” With soulful hand-gesturing passion, he reminded the audience (even the upper-crust British members, perhaps accustomed to their less emotional, don’t-knock-tradition way of doing things): “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.” Going off-script, he mentioned some of the most horrific practices of the old patriarchy that denied love in the world—and had us squirming in our seats! But how else do you stir up the resistance, re-ignite the revolution, awake the ‘unwoke’ to the power of love?

Harry and Meghan are on a mission, accepting each other’s wedding request to “stand by me” as they lead their power-of-love revolution, taking on nothing less than changing the world. Their wedding-day ceremony, a reflection of their own mixed histories, included archbishops and reverends from various religions; guests from all backgrounds and locations; music from classical British composers, an American bluesman and a Welsh deacon—there were hymns, an orchestra and a gospel choir; readings from the Song of Solomon—the most sensuous of biblical references; a teenage cellist from Nottingham playing like an old master in the midst of royal Medieval heritage; there were the ancient and the possible. This gleaming day also included lots of handholding, “a room full of happiness,” and fiery love prophets; a proud and teary, independent, free-spirited mother-of-the bride as well as the fragrance of white garden roses arranged in memory of the groom’s own unforgettable mother. Then there were those gentlemanly gestures in honor of the emerging modern woman and the legacy she represents. There is indeed something deeper brewing here and we are all invited to the love revolution! ~

May 19, 2018

{Why Royal Weddings Matter} No. 7: Royal Wedding Redux


Continuing the series for Confluence Daily, “Why Royal Weddings Matter,” we celebrate Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding with a look at a past bridal remembrance, reprinted here:

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Royal Wedding Redux

in British tradition, wedding vows are a morning affair, and if we were to catch the first glimpse of the beautiful bride, we needed to be “front and center” very early. My friends and I were a little old for a slumber party, but as we gathered in our pajamas at 4 a.m. in front of my clunky television in Atlanta, Georgia, the anticipation and giddiness was “ageless.”  It was July 29, 1981, and like millions of people around the world, we prepared to watch the royal wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Charles, Prince of Wales. (We even had snacks to match the occasion: scones with homemade fig jam and Earl Grey tea with lemon—perhaps to not only feed our early morning hunger, but also some inherent dreams of being a princess.)

As the world welcomes a new “princess” today, we are reminded of another celebrated royal wedding almost four decades ago. It was a landmark event broadcast in 74 countries and watched around the world by over 750 million people—including me and my pajama-party friends!

The moment Diana stepped out of that fairy-tale-inspired glass coach on her wedding morning with endless yards of silk train magically materializing with her—"like seeing a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis,” her gown designers wrote later—she had us hook, line and sinker. Princess Diana did not invent our fascination with royalty, nevertheless, her wedding ushered in a whole new ballgame—and the world was never quite the same.

As the first worldwide media spectacular, and probably the defining event of the eighties—a decade in which style so often trumped substance—the glittering happening brought ceremonial weddings back in style almost overnight. It resurrected the bridal industry from the social upheavals of the previous two decades and set the pace for a new era of fancy wedding hoopla: elaborate designer gowns; staged over-the-top productions; refined Martha Stewart details; and the wedding as a “consumer rite.” (Sound familiar?)

Since the same media blitz followed Diana and Charles’ soap-opera marriage and thorny divorce, many people became wary of fairy tales and princesses. However, the endearing William and Kate, with their dignity and realness, made us fall in love all over again! And, of course, the royal buzz was on once more last fall when charming Prince Harry and lovely Meghan Markle announced their engagement. But there were and are differences.

Like her now sister-in-law Kate Middleton, Meghan is not “blue-blooded” (not even British, yet that will change after she marries the prince), but like what attracted William to Kate, Meghan has other qualities that were more important to Harry. Thanks in part to the princes’ mother cracking open the staid and out-of-touch British monarchy, revealing how “dynastic duty” has little to do with love and happiness, and, to insure they didn’t get boxed-in by the past, insisting her sons have the grounding of real-world experience. All of which helped to free William and Harry to choose to marry from their true heart’s desire. (Tweaking a quote from journalist extraordinaire Tina Brown, who has covered the weddings of Charles and Diana, William and Kate, and now Harry and Meghan: “Everything Diana had wished for her sons has come to pass. They each found the woman who would bring them the personal contentment she lacked.”)

So not only is the return to elegant wedding pageantry part of Diana’s legacy, but her most lasting legacy just may be Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle—and the more egalitarian world available to them as the two young women bring their confident, modern, compassionate and open-minded “princessdom” to a world ready for some genuine graciousness. Thank heavens for royal weddings! Tea, anyone? ~ 


[Excerpts from The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding … a book for anyone who likes their wedding pageantry tossed with a little fashion history and princess brides! Available on Amazon.]



May 15, 2018

{Why Royal Weddings Matter} No. 6: Wedding Vows


The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is almost here! I'm happy to reprint the latest in my series, "Why Royal Weddings Matter," published on Confluence Daily. Enjoy remembrances of royal weddings past.... 

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 Wedding Vows

The bride’s entrance into the majesty of St. Paul’s was announced by a fanfare from trumpeters high inside the cathedral’s celebrated dome. Perhaps they were not only announcing a princess bride, but prophetically heralding in, for better or worse, a new era. Thirty-seven years ago, Lady Diana Spencer’s charismatic appeal as a bride, combined with the grand splendor of the British monarchy, revived the “great white wedding”—helped along with society’s need for order and tradition, a little Reaganomics, plus a dash of glam and glitter!

Or as author Maria McBride-Mellinger described changes following the royal wedding in 1981: “After more than a decade of swinging singles and disco infernos, suddenly everyone wanted to be married and every bride wanted a gown fit for a queen: regal and ornate, with a lengthy train, and a jeweled veil. The big white wedding was back in style and no expense seemed too great.”

Signaling another change of the times (something more archetypal, affecting the archaic structure of relationships), the bride and groom made royal history that day with a break in tradition even before becoming husband and wife. Removing some outdated words from the Church of England’s 1662 version of the Book of Common Prayer, as the couple stood before the archbishop of Canterbury, and witnessed by nearly a million-fold television audience, the bride’s marriage vows did not include the promise “to obey.”

A London byline in The Washington Post a few days before the wedding reported that the archbishop of Canterbury revealed “the decision to drop this vow was made very quickly in his discussion of the service with Charles and Diana and that he told them, the usual clergyman’s joke. ‘It’s a bad thing to start your marriage off with a downright lie.’ He told reporters that many couples now omit the vow, which was a remnant from the Middle Ages, when a wife would pledge ‘to be bonny and buxom in bed and board.’”

I don’t doubt the archbishop’s knowledge of history regarding marriage vows including “to love, cherish and obey.” However, my understanding of the Latin meaning of the word “obey” as used in the old marriage text is “to hear, to deeply listen”—a promise that would be beneficial, even essential, to any successful marriage, yes? If that’s the case, my only complaint with the original marriage vows is that the pledge “to obey” (i.e., “to listen”) was in the woman’s declaration but not in the man’s. Is the promise “to love and cherish” truly possible without “deep listening”?

The gift of giving someone your focused attention, the gift of “deep listening,” is most precious. Perhaps because such a connection was so painfully missing in Charles and Diana’s relationship, they instilled in their sons a sixth sense about finding, cherishing and protecting love and harmony. We saw this intimacy of connection during the marriage vows of their first son Prince William and Kate Middleton—“their chemistry lit up the screen,” as Tina Brown wrote in Newsweek following their wedding. “Everything about her actions, to and for William, is about creating a feeling of safe continuity: You know me. I am here.”  We’ve seen this soulful closeness continue in their marriage and now in the relationship of second son Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, kindred spirits who found each other although from vastly different backgrounds.

I look forward to the upcoming royal wedding, the marriage ceremony of Harry and Meghan—not just for the “glam and glitter,” but especially to be present to the intimate recognition of the other, the deep listening of love in action, and the “set the world on fire” changes possible when wedding vows are made inside a spiritual partnership like both of these modern-day princes and their beloveds have created. All of life, then, becomes an awakening to “love and cherish.”

Certain wedding “traditions”—royal or otherwise—are indeed outdated and need tossing aside; others are keepers in their own right. Then there are those traditions that simply need the wisdom of a woman’s touch! ~

[In part, excerpted from The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding, available on Amazon.]

May 9, 2018

{Why Royal Weddings Matter} No. 5: A Whiter Shade of Pale

Enjoy this fifth column in my series "Why Royal Weddings Matter"....reprinted from Confluence Daily.
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A Whiter Shade of Pale: 
Meghan Markle and Bridal White

 The centerpiece of the “great white wedding”—a tradition we’ve inherited in all its Victorian glory—is the bride’s gown. Once white became the bridal color in the nineteenth century, the wedding dress became steeped in dreams and emotions and lots of “meaning.”

By the time of Princess Diana’s royal wedding in 1981, bringing weddings back from the brink of nearly two decades of social unrest, the notion of “virgin white” had not been completely swept away with the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ‘70s. There were still underpinnings of deeply entrenched beliefs about the “rules” of wearing different shades of white—ivory, cream, beige—inferring one’s “virginal status.” (“If I wear cream,” a concerned bride-to-be asked me in the early ‘80s, “will people think I’m not a virgin?”) Costume historian Donald Clay Johnson believes the decades’ long “acceptance of white, symbolizing ‘purity,’ is a reflection of the pervasive power of English Victorian society to impose its value system throughout many parts of the world.”

Now, however, in our Internet-equalizer, glam-image crazed world there is a near universal popularity of the gown that turns any bride into a “vision in white” (no matter her age or how many times she’s been married, whether widowed or divorced) and evokes some kind of “princess” tingling down to her toes. Has the color white—once reserved for “maidens” only—finally lost any cultural and emotional symbolism and is now just a “pretty preference” for brides?

Fashion designers think so! The appealingly “unspoiled” nature of white is why many couturiers still have a wedding gown as their theatrical runway finale. When “stripped of religious and outdated cultural meanings, white—pure and dramatic—is the perfect canvas to showcase the intense craftsmanship of couture,” Eleanor Thompson wrote in her book featuring fifty iconic wedding dresses. 

Of course, Meghan Markle is not just any modern, savvy, independent woman getting married again. Her second wedding will be a very publicized, talked about, viewed world-wide royal wedding. So, naturally, there has been much curiosity about Meghan’s choice for her bridal gown: what designer, what style, what silhouette—but very little conversation about what color she will choose. Even though she is marrying into one of the oldest monarchies on earth, in a grand religious ceremony brimming over with ancient tradition, to a man whose grandmother is head of the church—will Meghan make a choice based solely on her good taste and good fashion sense?

Vogue magazine, which thinks Meghan “demonstrates a growing sense of ease and confidence with her fashion choices for royal engagements,” advises the soon-to-be royal bride about her wedding gown choice: “You can’t go wrong with the classics.” (It sounds as if “wearing white” is merely assumed. We, along with the British monarchy, have indeed come a long way!)

In the mid-1980s, on the glittering culture-changing wave following Diana and Charles’ royal wedding, I opened a bridal art-to-wear shop in Atlanta for the emerging modern woman, a “grown-up bride” as I called her. (I closed the store in late 1999; I thought the end of a millennium was a good transition point to complete one life phase and begin another, especially with the coming feminine energy powerhouse of the next thousand years—but that’s another story!) During these shop years, when brides-to-be asked me about the symbolism of white, I suggested that if they had it “mean” anything then why not choose “celebration”—and joy and inclusion and love. I find that wearing white always has a ceremonial and regal quality, for whatever occasion, taking on a kind of radiance. And I think Meghan Markle will choose from this spirit-centered, radiant place where a woman simply knows her true self and her heart’s deepest desire. ~


[Want to know more about the “great white wedding”? The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding tells all! Available on Amazon.]