On the strapless wedding dress

I’ve been stomping on toes all over the place, so I might as well let you all know that I have never, ever liked strapless gowns, and especially not strapless wedding gowns.

They are not modest, not even a little bit. Please do not send me photographs of you, your sister, your daughter, your best friend, or your cousin’s step-mother’s aunt in a sleeveless wedding gown to prove to me that there are versions that can be modest. You will not convince me, and so you will be annoyed with me. More than you are now, I mean.

I do not understand why it’s considered attractive and elegant to be wed in a dress worn the same way you wear your towel after a shower.

Very, very few women really are at their best in this style of gown, anyway. Really. It is not a flattering style. I promise you, it really isn’t, unless you are quite a young Miss, you have the figure of a willowy and slender grecian statue, and the poise and posture of a dryad, as well as the skin of a newly picked peach. In other words, a Debutante, which is, socially speaking, who should be wearing such a gown, and even then, my objections on the basis of modesty remain.

It is also not an elegant style. Armpits are not elegant. They are armpits.

People have argued with me about this for years, but I am about to be vindicated:

Ivanka Trump chose sleeves for her wedding dress, and you’ve just got to see what the NYTimes fashion editor and other Fashionistas are saying about it.

The fashion editor: “We’re so used to seeing brides in strapless dresses that Ms. Trump’s gown made a fresh statement.”

Actually, the EC made a ‘fresh statement’ last year, and the HG made one this year.=) Friends of theirs made similar fresh statements over the last several years.

And Vera Wang, the designer who had to add the sleeves in the month before the Trump wedding (the bride had converted to her husband’s religion of Orthodox [Jew? the article presumes we know]) says:

“She was actually very much about being covered and I seized on the chance to do a dress that wasn’t naked and very Hollywood.”

… Did she think Ms. Trump might start a trend with her sleeves? “She might very,” Ms. Wang said. “Nothing would make me happier. I’ve been doing strapless dresses for 15 years. It’s tiring.”

‘Naked and very Hollywood.’ Why is that our model for elegance and sophistication?

This trend was old and tired the same year it came out- and three years ago Sylvia Rubin was writing this in the San Francisco Gate fashion pages:

Why do brides covet strapless gowns with an intensity that defies reason, given that this is one of the more difficult silhouettes to wear well? It’s not that women don’t instinctively know the hazards — the too-stiff bodice, the tugging, the back fat — but they cling to the fantasy that it will work out anyway, like dreaming that your betrothed will always pick up his socks.

And she had a lot more to say (really, read the whole thing). She says the penchant for the unflattering strapless gown is based on red carpet, hollywood starlets, and gossip magazines and their glossy, retouched photographs of models who have to stand perfectly still so the gowns are not wrinkled, the pouches of fat are not bulging around the stomach and arm pits and shoulder blades.

“Strapless gowns should be outlawed,” declares Meg Smith of Napa, one of the Bay Area’s most sought-after wedding photographers (www.megsmith.com). “Because even the dresses by the best designers often do not fit properly. They’re either too big and the bodice is like a shelf sticking out inches away from the body, or they’re too tight and you get that extra layer of flesh just bulging out.”

Then there’s all that readjusting. “The brides do this thing where they grab the top of the dress with their thumbs, pull it up and then do this hip shaking thing,” Smith says. This activity does not a good picture make. And besides, she continues, “strapless gowns are boring.” Through her lens, Smith says she’d rather see a dress with a beautiful sash or intricate lace or embroidery. “A strapless gown is not very playful, individual or different.”

And there’s more:

If you want to get technical about it, say the top etiquette experts, a strapless gown is not considered proper attire for a religious ceremony. The most formal wedding gowns — those worn by royals — are never strapless. So many women want to feel and look like a princess, but in real life, princesses cover up, either by royal protocol or personal preference and deference to history.

After all, says etiquette expert Letitia Baldrige, a bride is supposed to look beautiful, not like a babe, when she walks down the aisle.

“Until 10 years ago, strapless gowns were worn only by ‘racy’ traditionless brides,” Baldridge writes via e-mail. “If a young woman wants to make a statement of appropriateness and pride for being married in a religious ceremony in a house of worship, she will wear a dress that is not too low, and she will cover up her arms. … When you’re being married in a nightclub for the third time, who needs to be appropriately dressed?”

But I have saved the best for last. The wonderful Miss Manners writes:

That brides now wear debutante dresses is symbolically baffling to Miss Manners. True, this is only one of many bridal choices that she finds incomprehensible, quite aside from the bridegrooms. Why do brides want to schedule so many hours, even days, of activities that their guests end up crying to go home? Why do they serve elaborate desserts right before everybody is obliged to eat wedding cake? And why are they now wearing the sleeveless, often strapless, white ball dresses traditionally associated with ladies who are out looking for husbands rather than those who have found them?
[...]
Having admitted to such laxness, why is Miss Manners now balking at the bare-shouldered wedding dress? Because its symbolic message troubles her. She has discounted the symbolic associations with youth and innocence, but she is unwilling to let go of the symbolic evocation of solemnity.
A ball dress is a party dress, perfectly suitable for the celebrations that follow a wedding ceremony, but not for a momentously important sacrament or ritual (and easily attainable, by means of removing a jacket). This is expressed by formality, a fact which is almost universally recognized by the choice of clothes that are indeed formal, but merry-making-formal, rather than ceremonial-formal.
The wedding ceremony, which is not “about” the couple, as many mistakenly proclaim, but about their assuming socially sanctioned duties and obligations, requires a certain amount of awed modesty. One is not showing oneself off to society at that point but entering into one of its most cherished states.

Unfortunately, they are wearing those dresses in a religious ceremony because they think nothing of skipping off to church in skin baring and skimpy attire the rest of the time. We have altered our standards for elegance to the level of Hollywood, and Hollywood glamour is a sham glam, cheap and tawdry.

I am so glad to be on nearly the same side as Miss Manners in this matter.=)But for those of you for whom Miss Manners or your own good sense isn’t good enough, In Style also gives us all permission to wear sleeves now that Ivanka has:

nspried by Grace Kelly, Ivanka Trump commissioned designer Vera Wang to create her dream wedding dress for her October nuptials in New Jersey. The result? A stunning lace and tulle gown—with sleeves!

Now brides-to-be can use Trump as their inspiration and opt for something other than strapless on their big day. Check out our picks, hot off the fall 2010 bridal runways!

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10 Comments

  1. time for a change
    Posted July 9, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Quite right, what WAS stopping her? Except she knew what brides would buy…money again, isn't it often that? I also think it's time to go back to what a wedding is really about. I chose not to wear a strapless gown for my wedding because I thought I should show modesty, innocence and purity as a bride but many brides see it as dress-up day in as sexy an outfit as you wish!

    I recently saw a petite bride, marrying a much taller man, she had a strapless dress, with far too full a skirt and train, far too busy – it overwhelmed her. And although from the side, the dress flowed down against her stomach directly under the empire waist, in front-on photos there were times she looked like she might be pregnant!! Because there was nothing above the empire waist except the bust of the dress, she looked quite busty – again kinda pregnant – no straps or halter neck to look at – and as her skirt was so full beneath. But she just beamed like she felt she looked so the business, just undeniably gorgeous! I felt embarrassed for her and she seemed to have no idea at all!

  2. bread
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    i am young person
    I wouldn't ever dream or do wear a strapless wedding dress and a strap wedding dress showing the chest area and arms. It truly isn't modest. The body must be covered, plain simple no matter who one is. It's hilarious to see a veiled lady walking the aisle, while her breasts are about to splurge out LOL WOW ah the irony.

  3. T.J.
    Posted September 11, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Of course, the shoulders and sleeves on Ivanka’s dress were made of mostly-transparent lace, so it was not really much more modest than a standard strapless dress. It gave a nod to modesty, but in practice was your run-of-the-mill strapless dress with an embellishment of lace on top. Ditto for a lot of princesses–the dresses (bride and maid of honor) at William and Catherine’s wedding were very tightly fitted and both had plunging necklines.

  4. Posted December 19, 2012 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    Thank your for this post! I’ve been researching when this sleeveless trend started and not just for wedding dresses but for formal dresses in general. I’m working on building a boutique that has beautiful clothes that all has sleeves and is modest! I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

  5. Becky
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    While I do very much agree with you, I could not find any dresses that were NOT STRAPLESS when I got married two years ago. Our budget was limited to searching the big box stores David’s bridal and Alfred Angelo and their selections of more modest wedding gowns is atrocious. If they ate “modest” it’s usually all lace sleeves and neckline. And I have extremely sensitive skin and can’t where lace on certain parts of my body, neck and shoulders, arms and legs, without getting a terrible red rash. :-( most of the options they had for making a strapless dress more modest were lacy straps. Or a lace bolero. The bolero being even more unflattering on me than the strapless gown alone… I was stuck. The only
    Other option was to order a dress online and have no idea if it was going to fit true to the measurements presented online. :-( I think it’s terrible and feel bad for all brides who feel forced into buying a strapless wedding dress because they are limited on where they can go :-(

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted January 22, 2013 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      My first daughter had her sister sew hers for her, and our second daughter bought hers secondhand at a thrift store- for 20 dollars. Our first girl’s sister-in-law bought her dress new, but had somebody at church sew the jacket. Our sewing girl also sewed the jackets for a friend’s wedding. It’s also possible to buy something online and have it altered locally.

      • Becky
        Posted January 23, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

        Those are awesome options if you know people that sew. I grew up with working women who couldn’t and we didn’t attend church at the time so there was no one to ask. :-( those are all wonderful options available to some though :-) they just weren’t options for me. And ordering a dress online was not an option for me, though I realize it is for many :-)

        • Headmistress, zookeeper
          Posted January 23, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

          Shawls are another option. The thing is, if you feel as strongly about strapless gowns and the modesty issue as we do, you *will* find an option. For myself, I would have gone without a wedding dress at all before I would have gone strapless. That’s not a judgment call, it’s just a way of assessing what one really thinks about strapless gowns. I’d as soon stand up in a beach towel as a strapless gown.

  6. Meewah
    Posted March 10, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    “I do not understand why it’s considered attractive and elegant to be wed in a dress worn the same way you wear your towel after a shower.”
    Exactly my thoughts whenever I see a bride wearing another one of those.

    And also all your other points- I totally agree, too!

  7. Posted September 8, 2014 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to add that bias cut slip dresses with plunging backs and low necklines are also inappropriate for a formal wedding ceremony. This type of dress along with strapless gowns have a place and time but not for a wedding ceremony in a church or synagogue. Just My Opinion. I enjoyed this posting and thank you for putting it so well.

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