On my studio days I load my daughter into her buggy and we roll on down the river to her nursery drop off, then I continue to the studio to get on with editing your beautiful weddings. I love this walk because not only is it quite pretty (as only a bit of rubbish strewn patch of marshland in East London could be!) it’s also when I get to slip on headphones and catch up with my favourite podcasts. And this morning’s walk to work sure did deliver.
One of my most beloved podcasts is Stuff Mom Never Told You, where my pretend BFF’s Cristen & Caroline tackle the most amazing range of subjects from a feminist standpoint via history, sociology, biology and psychology. All while being super funny and people you’d love to have a beer with. Today they got onto the subject of feminist weddings, speaking with the author and founder of A Practical Wedding about many things, including how the wedding industrial machine got so crazy and how you can outwit that monster and have an affordable, practical wedding that doesn’t tow the patriarchal line. Listen to it here. It’s a U.S. based perspective but I still found it super relevant to anyone planning their wedding who has a serious side-eye to the more gender-biased aspects of getting married. And there are a few of them!
I am a feminist and I love weddings. I love them even more when my couples are thoughtful about what certain traditions mean and how those traditions relate to them. I can easily mist up during an eloquent, proud Father-of-the-Bride speech, but hearing great stories from the mum, the bride’s best girlfriend, and the bride herself will give me all the joyful feels and I’ll be that weird photographer lady in the corner weeping and raising a solidarity fist (metaphorically speaking of course)! Sure, the bride and bridesmaids all look gorgeous (said every best man ever), but they also have voices, they are eloquent and they are becoming less shy about standing up and telling those stories.
Another wedding tradition that I get a huge thrill out of seeing inverted is the whole big white meringue dress. Does it indeed mean purity and unsullied femininity? Historically speaking, no. Brides just used to wear the best dress they could get their hands on, until Queen Victoria got married in a cloud of highly-prized and highly-annoying-to-clean white lace. In an era that was pre-bleach and liberally coated in layers of coal dust, making, wearing and maintaining yards and yards of the fluffy white stuff was pretty much the most extravagant fashion statement you could make. That fashion statement took a vice-like hold and eventually morphed into the ‘traditional’ dress Princess Di wafted down the aisle in and populated the dreams of romantically inclined girls everywhere for ever more.
As an interesting historical side note, not only was QV’s white lace a symbol of wealth, it was also a symbol of patriotism and supporting English artisans. Queen Victoria commissioned the lace to be made by traditional Honiton lace makers who were suffering a decline due to the explosion of textile industrialisation. The wealthier brides emulating her choice did actually help save the Honiton lace makers. Good for you Queen V! Another pretty cool thing she did was alter, re-use and get a lot of wear out of her dress, including her and Albert just dressing up in their wedding finery and posing for pictures for fun, which is pretty cute when you think about it.
Anyways, I didn’t mean to fall down the hole of Queen Victoria and her wedding dress, but I just did! Hope you found it just as enthralling as I did.
What I initially set out to say is that wedding traditions change and the meanings are often not exactly what they say on the tin. People are changing things up, bringing in and mashing together different traditions from different cultures, questioning old ways of doing, re-purposing and re-making, creating ceremonies of togetherness that are deeply meaningful, beautiful, loving and inclusive. And I’m so, so glad I get to photograph them.