In the Silence of the Gown: How Wedding Gowns Transform the Modern Woman

Today’s woman is smart, sophisticated, and adept at multi-tasking, but when she steps into a wedding dress for the first time, most become aware for the first time of the beauty of being  woman.

In an article published in The Huffington Post, wedding dress designer Justina McCaffrey, a friend of Catholic theologian and author Pia de Solenni, says most of the brides she works with show up in her salon in business attire with an iPhone in one hand and a wedding checklist in the other. They usually ask to see something business like, such as a white suit, and have to be coaxed into something more feminine. But once they step into the dress, the woman-in-charge who walked in the door suddenly disappears.

“I am not sure how this happens but when a woman tries on my dresses, she is immediately transfigured,” McCaffrey writes.

“It may be due to the whiteness of the fabric, or the definition of her body through the silhouette of the dress, and the natural flow of the expensive silk brushing against her legs as she moves. She tries her first dress on and is shocked by her own beauty.”

As the bride slowly begins to trust her, she suggests other fabrics, other looks. Finally, a woman will inevitably ask, “Can we try on a veil?” The minute the veil is placed upon her head, she begins to cry, and then to sob.

“It is the abandoned dream and vision of herself that was once forgotten somewhere between the divorce of her parents, high school exams, and her first broken heart,” McCaffrey writes. “It is the internal struggle of regrets versus survival and that suddenly in the mirror a vision of herself looking like she is in love, and looking like she is vulnerable, and even giddy with joy makes her uncomfortable. It is a woman that she does not know. It is the woman she used to be, even as a little girl.”

All those childhood memories of what it would be like to be in love, the Disney-like Prince Charming who professes his love for her and confirms it in a perfect wedding,  come flooding back. 

“I think that these thoughts are quite typical of young girls,” McCaffrey says. “They dream of being coveted, and they dream of being a princess. As little girls become teens and young women, often their princess fantasies are stamped out and substituted by professional protocol, and corporate culture. They have to fight for themselves to get ahead and protect themselves. They are taught not to rely on others, especially men. Reality and dashed expectations have given them a somewhat hard edge.”

McCaffrey’s work isn’t just about dresses, she’s learned. ” . . . (I)t’s about helping women reclaim their identity, and embrace the truth of who they are. It is showing these beautiful, dignified, and intelligent women through the silence of the gowns, that they should expect to be coveted, loved, and admired not just for what they do and whether they’re successful, but for living within the acceptance, truth, and beauty of who they are.

Part of the creative process is not just creating the dress, she says, but watching the bride become who she is.

“There’s a transformation from the woman who entered the salon as a manager of sorts with a massive to-do list that included buying a dress, to the woman who sees herself as a bride, someone to love and be loved.”

Remarking on her friend’s article, Pia de Solenni writes: “Sure, fairy tales and the Disney princess motif can be taken to excess; but the fact that children, especially girls, are drawn to them seems to suggest that there’s something good and pleasing in them.”

She adds: “After all, is it so bad to teach a young girl that she can grow up to love a good man and be loved by him?”

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