Designer Manal Waugh never expected to be splashed across headlines this week after a wedding gown she first marketed for her label Bowie Rae last year went viral over a very controversial detail – nipples.
The Melody bodice paired with the Diana skirt from the Aussie fashion label was recently shared by dress directory The Dress Tribe, where it caused quite the stir amongst wedding enthusiasts over the completely sheer bodice that left the bride’s nipples exposed.
“There has for a long time been a very restricted and narrow definition of what a bride ought to look like and be like and that particular image did not speak to everyone,” Manal tells Yahoo Lifestyle of the reaction to the Melody bodice. “I wanted Bowie Rae to represent a bolder woman who wanted a fashion-infused, less traditional wedding 'dress'. Central to Bowie Rae is the idea of choice – Bridal Your Way.”
It seems the idea that mainstream culture hasn’t yet cottoned on to yet, however.
When a video of the dress being modelled without lining was shared by The Dress Tribe Instagram page this week it attracted some very vocal criticism around the inclusion of female nipples in a highly traditional market.
What many didn’t realise is that the dress was never actually intended to be worn sheer by brides, rather it was an artistic take on the gown – not that that should matter, the designer realised upon reflection.
‘A very dangerous idea’
“What I think we have stumbled on, culturally, is a very dangerous idea that as a collective, we ought to decide and vote on whether women should be allowed to actually wear a sheer wedding dress,” Manal says.
“I wouldn't wear a sheer wedding dress that exposed my nipples, I never expected a real bride to do the same, having said that I absolutely would sell the Melody bodice without lining to a bride who wanted to wear it sheer.”
“I think in the end, we need to come to the same understanding that when it comes to choice for women, only the individual woman can decide. There doesn't need to be a collective vote or consensus - you can wear what you want. I think this is as simple as it gets.”
Sheer, opaque, long or short – it’s undeniable that no item of clothing sparks as much commentary and censorship as the wedding dress, and it might just be time to ask ourselves why that is.
Sure, most of us wouldn’t want to expose our nipples at a gathering of family and friends, but why is the mere concept of someone else doing so horrifying to us?
What is it really about the bridal gown that sparks such a collective sense of protection and opinion?
In an unsurprising twist, it seems to come down to some very old fashioned, and actually quite sexist concepts of femininity and ownership.
Manal says once she started hearing feedback from voices outside her community, she realised there was one message coming through loud and clear: “You can't mess with the sanctity and virginal representation of the bride.”
“We are challenging older, traditional and oppressive paradigms and I feel that representing a bride with a sheer bodice touched a very deep nerve with people - we've messed with the traditional 'storybook' representation of the bride and it seems some people just aren't ready for that,” she reflects.
“We are essentially talking about dismantling one very clear and protected image of what and who a bride ought to be.”
A quick peruse through history explains this phenomenon somewhat. For a long time and still in some places today brides are essentially chattel – objects to be bought and sold that quite literally come with a cash bonus, the dowry.
You don’t have to look much further than Bridgerton to realise that maybe our compulsive desire to control bridal fashion stems from a very recent history of needing to have full legal control of brides themselves.
To embrace modern brides, modern weddings and modern femininity, we’re probably going to have to put down the measuring tape and the pitchforks, and let live a little better.
“As the designer of Bowie Rae, I can confidently say there are many other versions of a modern bride,” Manal says.
“I think it's time we all just accept that people will think and act on behalf of themselves, particularly when it comes to what they wear, and most especially what they wear on their wedding day.”
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