Brides say unique goodbye to wedding gown in Trash the Dress
Published: Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 6:09 p.m.
Of all the symbols in a wedding, the bride's gown is arguably the most iconic.
Costing thousands of dollars — the average in 2011 was $1,121, according to the Real Weddings Survey — the gown is at the foundation of a $70 billion wedding industry. One of the most popular shows on cable television is "Say Yes to the Dress;" gowns sold to these brides generally cost WAY more than the average.
Yet, typically the dress is worn only once — and even then sometimes for only a few hours. What then?
Nowadays, some brides sell their gowns on consignment, or donate them to a "previously owned" or a "something borrowed" shop. Traditionally, though, the dress is cleaned, pressed and carefully packaged in a special box for long-term storage, often for a daughter to wear. It's up to the bride and her new husband to figure out where to keep it till then.
"I have so many friends and I see their dresses in a heap in their closets," said Ocalan Kelly Hall, who married Mark Hall April 6 at The Plantation Inn, their favorite hangout in Crystal River. She shuddered slightly, thinking about her friends' gowns: "They're not serving a purpose, they're not very beautiful."
She resolved the traditional route is so not for her.
Next week, Hall and Ocala photographer Sarah Miller plan a trip to Pinellas County where Hall will don her $550 dress bought on the Internet for one final frolic in it — in a lagoon, maybe, or on Caladesi Island's famed Gulf beaches.
"It's my 25th birthday gift to myself," said Hall, who turns 25 today. "I can't wait to trash it."
Trashing The Dress, TTD for short, is essentially an after-wedding photo session where the bride does the unthinkable to her iconic garment: roll in mud, frolic in salt water, drench it with paint or red wine, even rip it to shreds. Sometimes the groom is involved as well
And a photographer is there to capture the whole episode, rounding out their wedding experience.
"They're really fun, really freeing," said Miller of Pink Rae Photography in Ocala. "You don't have to pose them; it's more relaxed and the bride's personality really comes out."
Still, it's more than girls just wanting to have fun.
"It's one way to get to wear the gown one last time, to say goodbye to it," said photographer Jeremiah Stanley with Chic Shot Studio in Gainesville, who shot a memorable TTD session with Stacey Stevens Schmiedecke a year ago at the University of Florida's Katie Seashole Pressly Softball Stadium.
Kristina Sutton, who this month submitted a Master's thesis at Louisiana State University titled "The Creation of ‘Trash The Dress' A Solo Play," concluded: "Women trash their gowns for many reasons — for love, commitment, vanity, fun, heartache, celebration, art, etc.
"Having trashed my own gown twice in real life (once for fun and once for empowerment) and other gowns twice on stage for art, I can honestly say for whatever reasons people trash their dress, it is invigorating. … I feel that if society put as much energy in preparing for beautiful marriages as they do beautiful weddings, people might have a better chance of avoiding toxic marriages that end in divorce."
For Hall, it's a way of saying goodbye to the dress and closing the book on her recent wedding. Hall said she knew when she saw it online that this dress was hers. "I didn't go to one shop," she said. A nail technician, Hall added she wanted a dress that was more understated. "I deal with sparkles all day."
But the dress, she said, is just wrapping. "It doesn't make your marriage, it doesn't make your happiness. So why not showcase it one more time?" Hall asked.
She rejected the idea of saving her dress for a daughter. First, she said, there's no way to guarantee she and Mark will have a daughter. And if they do, "I want her to have her own experience," Hall added.
Trashing the dress has been an après-wedding phenomenon for about 10 years now, though by some accounts it's beginning to wane. Photographers say they do one or two sessions a year at most now. While some mention TTD sessions in their promotions, usually a bride or couple needs to request it.
Care needs to be taken, though; a Canadian bride drowned during a TTD session last year when her water-soaked gown dragged her under before anyone could get to her.
More basic is to "make sure you really, really don't want that dress again," Stanley said. "Once it's trashed, it can't be donated."
Yet on it goes. "It's a symbolic gesture," said Yolanda Crous, features director for Brides magazine. "With all the stress that goes into planning a wedding, the wedding is done, I don't have a need for this anymore; I imagine it could be cathartic.
"Brides also are getting more creative, searching for different ways to be photographed, unique ways to be photographed," she added. "They want to prolong their time in public, and have other unique photos they can be proud of."
But not all sessions decimate the dress. Some brides are captured walking barefoot in a field or woods or on a seashore; essentially, only the hem might be stained; a good dry cleaner can get that out. But paint — "that's a little more complex," Crous said.
"I do think it's a lovely idea to have a wedding shoot a day or week or a month after your wedding," she added. "You're more relaxed, not worrying about getting a little dirt on your dress. I personally wouldn't, but brides are different …
"I think it falls into that category of it seems like a good thing at the time," Crous said, "but you may regret it five years down the road."
Stacey Stevens Schmiedecke doesn't expect to regret it. Now a Navy lieutenant in her first year of residency at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, she was a star pitcher on UF's softball team between 2004 and 2007, picking up a bushel full of honors. It seemed appropriate that she and her husband, Rudy, trash her dress in the clay of the softball stadium where she played so many games.
"I watched my older sister go through the hassle of cleaning, preserving and storing her dress, and let me tell you I had no interest in that," she wrote in an email interview.
"Don't get me wrong, I loved the dress," she added. "And my husband did too, But after the majority of our reception was over, I just wanted out of it and into something I could dance in!
"You don't actually have to ruin your dress. It's just meant to be more of a relaxed after-wedding shoot, but I wanted to go all out," Schmiedecke wrote. "So by the time it was over, I was covered in clay. We had a blast!" She said she got the idea from Pinterest, which boasts more than 250 "pins" on ways to trash dresses.
"When the shoot was over," she continued, "I handed my mom the dress and asked her to toss it in the dumpster (seriously); she suggested I take the decorative piece off to keep as a reminder, and I'm so happy she did because at least I still have a part of the dress I got married in."
Las Vegas photographer John Michael Cooper said he didn't expect to kick up this wedding portrait trend when he shot his first "anti-bridal" portraits more than a decade ago. Credited as the godfather of trashing the dress, he prefers his term "anti-bridal" because, to him it's more about expanding his art.
"I just wanted to do something new for myself," he said by telephone. "It gives a piece of art some conversational value. You take a beautiful person and put them into a world that's not so."
Cooper has produced some stunning images; among the most notable is Joan, a photo of a bride ablaze — this was long before "The Hunger Games'" Katniss Everdeen became "the girl on fire."
"Yes, the bride was in the dress. Yes, the dress was on fire. But not at the same time," he said, explaining "a little bit of Photoshop" completed the spellbinding photo. Another is Ophelia — as in Hamlet's girlfriend — floating as if dead in a pond, her gown billowing out about her.
He didn't expect his photos to go viral, or that they would launch the trend. He still does maybe two such shoots a year — if it's something a bride really wants, and is for art's sake.
"It's very outside-the-box photography," Cooper added, "a way of expanding the art."
Rick Allen can be reached at email@example.com or 867-4154
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