POPULARIZED IN 1840 WHEN QUEEN VICTORIA wore a white lace gown to wed Prince Albert, white is no longer synonymous with weddings. Brides today have a wealth of color choices. In recent years, designer bridal gowns have appeared in everything from florals to bright red. Vera Wang's fall 2014 wedding dress collection was presented in shades of fuchsia, grapefruit and lilac. Locally, an increasing number of brides in search of something memorable for their special day are embracing the color trend — or at least a modified version.
"When I travel to market nationally, other regions are dabbling in prints and true colors," says Melissa Estess, owner of Bridal Boutique by MaeMe. "Since New Orleans is a very traditional market and often very church-oriented, we see a large amount of brides looking toward alternatives to white, but still staying within the neutral family."
Estess says history, culture and "heirlooming" (incorporating an heirloom piece such as a veil or handkerchief into the wedding dress ensemble) play a role in the Southern bride's adherence to tradition. Colors such as blush, champagne, mocha, silver and gold — all popular requests at Estess' store — allow brides to express their individuality without veering too far from the traditional.
At Hemline's original French Quarter location, owner Brigitte Holthausen sells pastel wedding gowns, though the boutique is not a bridal store per se. Holthausen says the customer who buys them is in the 40-to-60 age range, often is having an island or beach wedding, and may be a second-time bride. "They have the courage to do the non-traditional [look]," she says.
Brides who shop at Chatta Box usually choose white, ivory or a muted neutral such as champagne or blush, yet several other types of clients go for color. Chatta Box stylist April Stolf says brides who have beach weddings often buy colors of the sea, sky or sand – such as seafoam and light pink. Brides from other countries, such as India and Brazil where bridal customs are different, may choose red or, in the case of one recent customer, bright rose.
"Colors can vary depending on the [brides'] traditions," Stolf says.
Popular colors at Pearl's Place include ivory, champagne, blush and two-tone combinations such as ivory with blush or ivory with a coffee-hued ribbon. Owner Courtney Schulman says that like white, these soft, now-mainstream colors are suited to all skin tones. While ivories of yesteryear often leaned toward yellow or brown, Schulman says today's ivory offerings are lighter and easier to wear.
"[The color choices available now] capture a very rich, very expensive look," she says. "They're very classic."
Schulman notes that designer dresses in reds, blacks and other vivid hues and patterns generate press, but are usually sold in very limited numbers to avant-garde brides while the mass market prefers interpretations of the those dresses in softer hues.
Inspired by Pinterest and the continuing fashion influence of shows like Downton Abbey, brides at Bustles and Bows are selecting gowns in a diverse color pool that includes sherbet, a dark blush and a saturated bubblegum shade, as well as neutral colors like champagne, blush and ivory. Manager Stephanie Kass says the store's first blue dress was added last fall and since then, that style has sold better in blue than in ivory, both of which are available.
"We don't see [the color trend] continuing long term, but right now it's rockin' and rollin'," says Kass, who points out that an ivory overlay is often used over colored gowns to soften the effect.
Since the color trend began, the spectrum of hues sold at Wedding Belles has covered everything from champagnes and ivories to blues and grays. But in the last few years, owner Amy Casbarian says blush has been the top seller.
"It's a safe color choice," Casbarian says. "It's not ivory, candlelight or white, but it's close enough. It's a different choice but not irreverent or regrettable."
Along with Pinterest boards and magazines, Casbarian credits photographers' lookbooks with popularizing the color trend. Estess also cites the influence of rustic, barn-inspired venues and decor. "Many brides are having a traditional ceremony with a rustic, romantic reception," she says. "They need a look that can accommodate both."
According to Casbarian, bridal rules have relaxed and color choice is part of the changing tide. With 25 years of experience in bridal retail, Schulman agrees. "There are more choices now," Schulman says. "Designers are showing looks in feminine, pretty colors and brides are very receptive."
Bridal Boutique by MaeMe (3331 Severn Ave., Suite 102, Metairie, 504-266-2771; www.mae-me.com)
Chatta Box Boutique (4114 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 504-454-1527; www.facebook.com/chattaboxboutique)
Hemline (609 Chartres St., 504-592-0242; 605 Metairie Road, Metairie, 504-309-8778; 3308 Magazine St., 504-269-4005; www.shophemline.com)
Pearl's Place (3114 Severn Ave., Metairie, 504-885-9213; www.pearlsplace.com)
Wedding Belles (3632 Magazine St., 504-891-1005; www.weddingbellesstationer.com)