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Friday, January 27, 2017

You know that whole "white dress means virginity"? Yeah, not actually a real thing.

A bride in a white wedding dress. (If you search "wedding dress" on google images, all the results are white women. What's with that?) Image source.
Good news everyone! When I was in the US a few weeks ago, I bought a wedding dress. It is TOTALLY AWESOME and I'm really excited about it. (Hendrix and I are getting married this summer.)

And yes, it's white. Let's talk about that.

I grew up in purity culture. The most important thing was you HAVE to be a virgin on your wedding day. Then you wear a white dress. (If you're a woman, that is. For men, the rules are exactly the same in theory, but in practice women's value is tied to their "purity" much more than it is for men.) There was so much talk about how that's what the white dress is supposed to mean. And how nowadays brides wear white even though most of them aren't virgins, and that's BAD, their dress is a LIE, and they don't value marriage. There's a well-known purity culture book called "And the Bride Wore White"- because that's the entire goal of purity culture; that's how success is measured. If you haven't had sex, then you get to wear white on your wedding day, and you get to wear it with confidence, as a sign of accomplishment, as your reward for working so hard to be "pure." Your white dress actually means something, unlike those other brides who wear white dresses even though they obviously don't value marriage or themselves, because they had sex.

And then on the other end we have the feminist brides who adamently oppose the entire concept of "white dress means virginity." The whole thing is based in patriarchy, with the pure white color indicating that the woman (and her virginity) is a high-quality piece of property being passed from one man to another. Feminist brides getting on internet forums and asking, "Is it okay to wear white, as a feminist?" They like the look of a white wedding dress, but they're worried about participating in a tradition which has such incredibly misogynist roots. (And my opinion on that is, it's your wedding, wear whatever you want. Maybe the white dress meant that in the past, but not anymore. None of your wedding guests are going to be sitting there thinking, "Her father is handing off a high-quality piece of property to the groom.")

I also see the idea of "white dress means virginity" referenced in TV shows and movies occasionally. For example, there was an episode of "Friends" where Ross's monkey was humping everything. Rachel, who is incredibly annoyed with this monkey, says, "I have a Barbie who's not going to be able to wear white at her wedding now." (This joke is pretty horrifying if you think about it- I'm guessing the Barbie did not consent, and wow that's messed-up, to imagine that somebody's choices about their wedding clothes should be restricted because of something that was done to them in the past without their consent.) The idea of "wearing white at her wedding" is referenced in TV shows and other media as a euphemistic or joking way to say someone has had sex.

So the concept of "white dress means virginity" is very well-known in our society- either as a goal to strive for, or a sexist tradition to avoid, or an indirect way to joke about someone's sexual experience. But when I actually went and bought a wedding dress, nobody said a single word about it.

I was totally shocked. I went through the whole entire process- looking at photos online, picking styles I liked, going to a bunch of stores with my mom and sisters to try on dresses, narrowing the choices down as I got a better idea of what I liked, going to stores again to try on more dresses, and finally choosing one- and at NO POINT did anyone say anything about "white dress means virginity."

(And, not that it's anyone's business, but, I have had sex.)

I half-expected that there would be a salesperson at one of the stores, talking to me about colors, who would say, "Some women choose to wear white to show their virginity, I don't know what your opinions are about that, but it could be something to think about." That NEVER HAPPENED. And OF COURSE it never happened, because wow that would be an incredibly inappropriate thing for a salesperson to say to a customer. But when you grow up in purity culture, that's what the white dress means- it means you're announcing your sex life (or lack thereof) to the entire world. If you grow up in purity culture, it doesn't seem too far-fetched to imagine that a salesperson at a wedding dress store might ask about your virginity. But no, they did not. Of course they did not.

And at no point in the process did a Christian say to me, "Don't you think maybe you shouldn't wear white, because... you know..." (And I would like to point out how MESSED-UP it is that they would assume I've had sex, just because I live with my fiance. I will definitely be writing a post about that someday.) Actually, I avoid Christian culture as much as possible- maybe if I had more Christian acquaintances and I went to church, somebody might have said something like that. I don't know. But still, I'm astonished that I bought this amazing white dress and throughout the entire process of finding and buying it, not a single person said anything to me about "white dress means virginity."

Let me tell you what they did say, at the wedding dress stores. As it turns out, all the dresses at the store are white- or rather, an untrained layperson would call them white. Actually in the wedding dress industry, there are a whole bunch of different shades, like "ivory" and "champagne"- and there's one they call "white" which specifically refers to the brightest shade of white. (For the purposes of this post, I will use the term "white" to mean all the slightly-different shades that an untrained layperson would call "white", and the term "white white" to mean the brightest white, which salespeople at wedding dress stores refer to as "white.")

Here is a summary of all the things the wedding dress salespeople said about dress color:
  • They asked what color I wanted, but they expected that my answer would be one of the shades of white, not like, blue or something.
  • They said some women don't like to wear white white because it doesn't look good with their skin tone.
  • I tried on an ivory dress, and the salesperson said that dress can also be ordered in white white, and she's seen it and it looks really good. Some of the dresses don't look as good if you order them in a different shade of white, so that's something to be aware of when you're trying them on and making a decision about color.
  • I said I wanted white white, so before having me try a dress on, the salesperson checked to make sure that particular dress was available to be ordered in white white.
And that's it. I can't remember anything else that was said about color. The only recommendation that was given about choosing a color was the skin tone thing. And when I told them I wanted white white, they never questioned it; they took it very seriously and made sure to check that the dresses they picked for me to try on could be ordered in white white.

And now I have my dress. And nobody said a word about "white dress means virginity." And have I mentioned how totally shocked I am?

Maybe the only people who care about "white dress means virginity" are the ones who are way into purity culture and see it as the ultimate goal, the reward, the guarantee of a good, godly marriage, and the ones who are way into feminism and see it as a very very shady symbol of patriarchy. But for everyone else- particularly those of us who are buying and selling wedding dresses in the real world- "white dress means virginity" just doesn't matter and isn't true at all.

Wow. This whole wedding thing is so different from how purity culture said it would be.

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