I was one of a number of designers and writers asked to contribute a piece on this image of Kate Middleton’s wedding dress for the first issue of a new pop culture journal by student Xanthia Hallissey from the London College of Communication.
As a woman, rather than a journalist, there’s my purely personal view first. I find white wedding dresses intriguing because as a child in an Asian home I had a gut feeling that I would never wear one. In fact I’m sure my decision to take First Holy Communion at Catholic school, was partly because I knew it was my one chance to put it on. The modest simplicity of Kate’s dress was fabulous; much classier than either the strapless column that has been the recent vogue (taking no account of one’s actual shape) or the frumpy crumpled meringue, as worn by poor teenage bride, Princess Diana. So you get a lesson there straight away in how much more aware and sophisticated Kate is. I noticed that a prominent makeup artist told Radio 4’s Midweek that he felt she was wearing rather too heavy makeup. I also wondered if she shouldn’t have put here hair up? There’s something about that mane that is quite little girlish, when surely one should be proud to be grown up?
As for the veil, it’s just part of the dressing up. Ask Lady Gaga. Like the virginal white, it’s just about playing the role, enjoying the tradition. It’s not had any meaning in Britain for ages compared to Asian culture. In Indian and Pakistani weddings the bride often has a very heavy veil covering her head. When I was young brides were supposed to be so shy that they would keep their eyes closed all the way through the ceremony and reception. Guests would come up to meet the couple, seated at the reception and lift the bride’s chin and veil for a look at her face (and beautiful wedding makeup and jewellery), and then lower it again. She’d keep her eyes closed throughout. I used pretend to be an Asian bride in childhood games with my friends. It was just something we accepted, but also thought was fun. It was a big deal in the mid 70s when cousins would stop doing that and even dance at their own weddings. I don’t think many middle class Asian brides do it now so the veil is losing its meaning there too.
Anyone politically aware would question the message sent out by wearing such expensive couture lace at a time of real economic hardship, in a way that I don’t think we did so much in the early 80s. It wasn’t made by child workers in a Bangladeshi sweat shop, but the account of its stitching at The Royal School of Needlework seemed an odd thing to boast about. The Daily Telegraph reported that “conditions were so stringent that the embroiderers were required to wash their hands every 30 minutes to keep the lace pristine, and the needles were renewed every three hours.”
What concerned me most as a feminist was informed by my status as a journalist. Most women work, most women do not regard marriage as a career in itself. But most mainstream reporting of Kate Middleton’s preparations for the wedding — including the dress — seemed to infantilise her (publishing photos of her as a child) and fabricate “facts” about women’s status in society (being a Housewife is apparently now “sexy”). Reading the coverage as a working wife and mother I imagine it was rather like how it must have felt to be black in the 1950s and read newspaper coverage of “the coloured problem”.
Capes, Wedding dresses and Doctor Who: Wonderful blogpost by science fiction writer Sophia McDougall about the wedding dress and female and male heroes/heroines.