trashing the most significant symbol of matrimony in modern society


                                  image from Offbeat Bride

Yesterday I was driving home and caught the end part of a program on CBC radio about the emerging Trash the Dress phenomenon gaining popularity in the wedding industry (yes I listen to CBC like an old man, you would too if the only other radio station in your town regularly played Chumbawumba and Mambo #5).

Trashing the Dress is pretty much just what it sounds like. A former bride, usually a few months or years after her wedding, dons her white gown again and joins a photographer to head to a dirty, texture-ridden locale like an industrial park or a junkyard and proceeds to rip, stain, and destroy her formerly pristine wedding dress. Listening to this program, the sociologist in me wondered what it meant. I wasn’t always a fan of this aspect of sociology, the frantic need to assign meaning to every social ritual no matter how small, but when we’re looking at arguably the most significant symbol of modern weddings/marriages surely this has meaning.

My theories:

1. Emerging groggy and sleepy-eyed (was it all a dream?) the former-bride realizes that she just spent the equivalent of a years salary on a one day party, and now the party’s over. She’s sad and perhaps a little dismayed especially since she knows it’s all downhill from here (see: our cultures’ demonic insistence that this is the MOST IMPORTANT BEST DAY OF YOUR LIFE EVER). By trashing the dress she seeks to prolong the attention, the glamour and the spotlight. Trashing the dress allows another chance to get her hair and makeup done, more photos to put in albums and frame on walls. Another excuse to post professionally shot, lit and edited photos on Facebook for family and friends to ooh and ah over. Basically for her, trashing the dress is a way to prolong the wedding-ness, without doing it again (because of course, part of the fantasy is that is a one-time-only event).

2. The “Wow, this wedding comes with a marriage” theory. Formerly playing the roles of exotic fiancee and excited bride, she now steps into the role of Wife, one that our society has significantly less appreciation for. After the thrill of the engagement and the production of the wedding, her life settles into normalcy and she feels angry, like she’s been duped.

Our society pushes wedding culture with the frantic verve of a meth dealer, however our collective contributions towards the reality of marriage offers little beyond bitter spouses on sitcoms and self-help books. Engaged couples regularly spend more time on seating arrangements and colour schemes than investigating their attitudes towards marriage and relationships in pre-marital counseling. This isn’t a garden variety rant lamenting the sorry state of marriage, not least of all because I don’t believe there IS a problem with modern marriage.

TANGENT: The 50% divorce rate we all hear so much about is grossly unreliable for measuring success rates of modern marriages. The rate is obtained by simply dividing the number of marriages in a certain year by the number of divorces in that same year. This is (obviously) problematic because the chances of being married and divorced within the same year are slim, and as a result the divorce rate typically says more about the success of marriages anywhere from 1 year to 70 years old… but even then not really because in any given year the same number of divorces can result in a higher or lower divorce rate depending on the number of marriages. So by this reckoning, the only way to improve the divorce rate is to increase the number of marriages, this improving the odds. Hey! Turns out that not only will gay marriage NOT destroy the world, it might just make marriage better! /END TANGENT

So, mythical-endemic-marriage-problem not withstanding, the fact of the marriage is often lost in the pageantry and the production of it’s prettier, more fun best friend, the Wedding. Trashing the Dress becomes an angry fuck-you to the pretty, immaculate bride ideal we have all become used to. But, because we are women, and because we are loathe to express anger lest we rock the boat or are overcome with an attack of nerves, we express our anger prettily, made-up and just dirty enough to make a statement. In this case the juxtaposition of immaculate dress and rough landscape mirrors perfectly the divide the former-bride finds herself negotiating daily between wedding/marriage.

3. Quasi-sensible attitude. This is the first theory that occurred to me when I heard this article, and the most-often reason cited by the women interviewed. “It’s going to sit in my closet anyway” they said matter-of-factly, “I might as well wear it one last time.” Quasi-sensible because they are able to diffuse the significant cost of the dress over two wearings instead of one. Quasi-sensible because we are no longer an heirloom culture, we recognize that our daughters probably aren’t going to want to wear their mother’s dress, just as we didn’t wear the wedding gowns of our mothers. So better to go out with a bang, trash the dress and reclaim the closet space. But, actually not sensible because would someone hoping to diffuse the cost of the dress really invest an additional $1000+ for a private photo session? Or would they simply donate it to the Sally Ann or a consignment shop and be done with it? This theory was dismissed pretty quickly.

4. Oh my god OH MY GOD Madeleine, it’s fun! Look at the pictures! Get over it!


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