WEDDING- Trashing: New fad means dress distress




Few rites of passage are as regimented as a wedding. There are the bridesmaids, the vows, and, then, of course, that white dress. A bride can spend months agonizing over the perfect pristine gown– at one time a symbol of her virginity but now simply tradition– and it's not uncommon for the wife-to-be to drop thousands of dollars on yards and yards of snow-white chiffon, organza, or silk. Add some Swarovsky crystals, and whew! 

But despite the often five- or even sometimes– gasp!– six-figure price tag, it's a garment that will be worn only once. In the past, this meant a bride would have the dress cleaned after the ceremony, then hermetically sealed and plastic-wrapped for some yet-to-be-born descendant who might care to sport her grandmother's duds in the year 2047. That heirloom tradition could all change, though, if a trend that's just taken off on the West Coast makes its way east.

The trend's name– "Trash the Dress"– adequately describes what happens, but it doesn't explain the appeal or the reasons why any bride would willingly spend a day after her wedding wearing her gown in an unusual location for a photo shoot in which the dress will quite possibly be damaged beyond repair.

The reasoning, says photographer Jen Fariello, is a bit more complex.

"Brides are looking for something personal," she explains, "and a way to break out of the 'princess' tradition that most weddings follow." To be sure, there's also an element of vanity.

"They like the idea of a 'high fashion' shoot that makes them look like they stepped out of the pages of Vogue or Vanity Fair," she says.

Fariello points to the website for examples of how some brides choose to express themselves. There are brides in barns, brides in mud, brides in the ocean. But in some of the more striking images– particularly those taken by photographer John Michael Cooper, who coined the phrase "trash the dress"– the brides actually appear to be deceased– or at least well on their way there. 

In one trick photo, a bride is ablaze, with licking flames devouring the back of her dress and veil. In another Ophelia-inspired Cooper pic, a glassy-eyed bride floats in the water as if she's just drowned. And in a particularly disturbing series by Cooper, a groom leaning against a vintage car wields a shovel next to his bride stuffed headfirst into the open trunk, her bluish-tinged feet the only visible part of her body.

Once again, and all together now, why?

"Why not?" answers the website "You've made a commitment to your husband. He's your one and only true love, right? Then you'll never need the dress again. And no, your daughter won't wear it in 20-30 years. So you have two choices: 1) Suffocate it in plastic and throw it in a closet; 2) Show your husband how committed you are by trashing the dress, and get some great fun pictures while you do it!"

The New York Times style section ran a feature on the trend last June, in which Cooper revealed his motivation: boredom with traditional wedding photos.

 "In fashion photography, they often put really pretty people in very ugly places," he told the Times. "I'm applying that technique to weddings."

Several local photographers say the idea hasn't caught on here in Charlottesville.

"I haven't had anybody ask me," says Lynne Brubaker, who expresses some misgivings about the new tradition. If a bride specifically requested a trash-the-dress shoot– particularly if it involved travel to some exotic locale– "I'd do it," says Brubaker, but she adds that she won't be suggesting it to anyone.

"It's cool," says photog Will Walker, "but no one's asked me about it."

Fariello says she's had just one bride trash her dress– in 2006, following a wedding at the beach.

"We woke up at sunrise," she says, "went down to the water, and they ruined their clothes."

Calling Charlottesville brides! Anyone brave enough?