Bells ring. Birds sing. After months, sometimes years, of taste tests, dress fittings, nervous breakdowns, rehearsals and celebratory weekends in Vegas, it's go time. The angelic bride, resplendent in her big white gown glory, reigns for a day.
But then what? The DJ packs up, the $5,000 cake digests and the programs the bride and groom agonized over are crumpled on the floorboards of the guest's cars.
In a photogenic temper tantrum, some rebellious brides are taking their post-wedding angst to the streets—and the beach, and the swamp and the back of a horse, in some cases, in defiant photo shoots called "trash the dress."
"It was amazing," says Ali White, a twenty-something recent bride from Sacramento, of her trash-the-dress experience. Hip, casual and artistic, Ali and her husband Danny are trash-the-dress prototypes. "We're always down for whatever," Danny says.
"Whatever" includes crashing a friend's dinner party, photographers in tow, to access a backyard river for a photo shoot unlike most. Submerged in river water, hair soaked and leaning against gnarly tree-trunk roots, Ali's was not the typical bridal-portrait experience. "I loved the artistic freedom, the ability to get the pictures I wanted," she says.
Las Vegas wedding photographer John Michael Cooper invented this new tradition. Cooper is hailed by some as the most inspirational wedding photographer around. His company, altf, stands for "alternative fucking photography."
Bored with the stale poses common in bridal portraits, Cooper convinced a bride to take her $2,500 gown and go on a romp in near freezing spring weather in Nevada. What resulted were bridal photos worthy of Quentin Tarantino, and a copycat phenomenon that hasn't yet begun to slow down. Another infamous Cooper photo is Burning Bride, which shows an exultant bride, her arms gleefully outstretched, wearing a gown almost entirely engulfed in flames.
After seeing Cooper's photos, New Orleans wedding photog Mark Eric lit onto the idea and created the website TrashTheDress.com, cementing the trend's popularity by exposing it to photographers nationwide. Many photographers now offer "Trash the Dress" packages as part of the entire wedding package price, and some offer a Trash the Dress session in lieu of a traditional engagement photo session.
"It's totally original," says Chris Stewart of Jen Stewart Photography in Sacramento. "We can go beyond any boundaries to see how far we can take the artistic look without being crazy." Unless, of course, the bride wants to be crazy, in which case, it's more fun.
Not all young brides are keen on the idea, however, showing that trashing the dress is decidedly not for the sentimental of heart. "I would never trash my dress!" says Fernanda Borras, 21, whose 200-plus guest list wedding is slated for July 26 of this year.
"That would take away from its meaning. Plus, my husband would be totally offended; he wouldn't understand." To her, the dress will appreciate in value as time goes on; destroying those precious threads is about as likely for Borras as taking a hammer to her wedding ring.
"It's about creation, not destruction," says Mark Eric, noting that a bride can take the idea as far as she wants to, with her dress remaining intact or not. Some brides plan to sell their dresses, so their TTD sessions are a little more genteel, whereas others take a pair of scissors and start choppin', tradition be damned. As TTD becomes more mainstream, trash-the-dressers are turning to used dresses from eBay and the like, in which the bride can have a dirty romp without ruining her actual gown. Hardcore TTD-ers scoff at this idea, maintaining the stance that's it not meaningful unless it's final. Kind of like wedding vows.
Still, others say it's all good. Ali White, who opted for a used ensemble, employed her TTD pictures as a kind of avant-garde engagement photo session. In this way, she was able to have the pictures displayed at the wedding and still have her real wedding dress intact for the big day. She even did a bridal party trash, where her attendants donned miscellaneous short black dresses, kicked off their shoes and climbed onto an old railroad track.
"It's really just about letting the couple do what they want," Stewart says. "It's about getting the photographers out of the way and capturing real emotions."