After Talya Ilovitz (née Strauss) got engaged, the hunt for a dress for her Orthodox wedding felt endless. She never imagined her best option would be a sleeveless white cocktail dress a few sizes too big. But after searching widely, every other possibility was either too expensive or didn’t have sleeves.
“I liked this dress more than anything else I could find,” she recalled.
So, together, with the help of a seamstress, dedicated friends and her sister, artist Avra Strauss, her crack team gave the dress a makeover from top to bottom.
“We cut the arms off a blazer to make sleeves and changed the very straight sheath shape to a mermaid shape that flared out. Then we added four layers of tulle to create a much fuller skirt,” Strauss said. “I also cut fabric into the shape of a few hundred leaves and we attached them with beads to the bottom of the dress. I liked that it was a little bit unusual, with a different texture and shape, and had a feeling of movement.”
The unique look of three-dimensional, raw-edge leaves suited Strauss’ personality. The result? A stunning one-of-a-kind creation, reminiscent of a tree in bloom, evoking the bride’s love of the outdoors. The stunning long-sleeve gown put an unconventional spin on a look appropriate for an Orthodox ceremony.
As more brides opt for inventive solutions to classic wedding dress dilemmas, retailers are following suit. Vera Wang and Monique Lhuillier are among the household names of designers now producing bridal gowns in unconventional colors to match their ethereal, dream-like styles, employing shades of blush, nude and (gasp!) black. In fact, Wang’s upcoming fall 2012 bridal collection relies on colors primarily reserved for under- rather than outerwear. But these are far from the only unconventional options for contemporary brides.
Transforming undergarments into outerwear has long been a traditional method of creating non-traditional attire. In fact, vintage trousseau “dressing gowns,” and other slip dresses once worn only at home, are frequently sold on etsy.com and other sites as potential wedding dresses for unconventional brides. The site is a great resource for unique treasures, including an eggshell- and champagne-colored 1930s boudoir gown with matching peignoir jacket found on a recent search. Silk nightgowns and other unusual pieces that traverse unconventional territory can be easily identified by searching with the key words “unconventional” or “experimental” to discover wedding dresses with unusual details such as raw edges in silk chiffon or georgette.
Vintage pieces, unusual colors and Ilovitz’s DIY option are among the appeal of the unconventional wedding dress. As the character Carrie Bradshaw illustrated in the feature film “Sex and the City 2,” some brides might prefer a vintage suit. The look not only expressed Bradshaw’s on-screen personality, but the option also, in theory, presents the opportunity of a repeat appearance at other events.
According to Jewish law, there is no halachic requirement to wear white under the chuppah (the wedding canopy) although it is considered a ritual convention suggesting spiritual purity. Among Orthodox couples, the groom, too, wears white in the form of a kitel, or ritual robe-like garment placed over a suit. The kitel is reserved for life’s most poignant moments: one’s wedding, Yom Kippur, Passover seders and, ultimately, burial.
The Mishnah (Ta’anit 4:8) discusses the tradition of women wearing white dresses in association with marriage. Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel said, “There were no greater holidays (yamim tovim) for Israel than Tu b’Av and Yom Kippur, for on them the girls of Jerusalem used to go out in borrowed white dresses … and dance in the vineyards. What would they say? ‘Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself …’ “ These days, Tu b’Av, the 15th of the month of Av, which falls this year on Aug. 3, is commemorated as a Jewish day of love and is a popular time for weddings.
Like all fashions, bridal attire takes cues from celebrities. When today’s brides say “I don’t” to a conventional gown, their choices may take the form of a two-tone dress. One of the most widely noted examples was singer Gwen Stefani, who donned a white Galliano dress that dramatically transitioned to a bright coral pink as it reached the floor.
Some brides opt instead for more subtle twists, such as adding floral appliques or a contrasting sash, as Wang has done with a vivid black sash against clouds of white skirt for her spring 2012 collection. The look is one of the most anticipated trends for spring 2013, along with her debut of deeper blushing tones for gowns ranging from shocking fire engine red, to maroon, burgundy and deep wine.
Some brides wearing color flip tradition by dressing their bridesmaids in white, with a colored sash on A-line or empire waists to match the bride’s colored gown.
The operative concern when it comes to an unconventional dress is will it evoke regret years later when brides look back on their choices? Despite her on-screen “Sex and the City 2” white bridal attire, when actress Sarah Jessica Parker married husband Matthew Broderick in 1997, she chose a black dress. In a subsequent interview with Bazaar, Parker admitted that if she could do it all over again, she would definitely opt for a beautiful white gown.
As Ilovitz’s experience suggests, with thoughtful attention, even the most personalized white can be far from conventional.
Award-winning journalist Lisa Alcalay Klug has written hundreds of articles for mainstream and Jewish media outlets, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Jerusalem Post. She is the author of “Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe,” a National Jewish Book Award Finalist. Her next book, “Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe,” debuts October 2012, everywhere books are sold. cooljewbook.com.