There’s Nothing ‘Anti’ About ‘Anti-Bride’

The booming “anti-bride” trend is just the latest attempt by the wedding industry to capitalize on brides' skepticism and anxiety.

In Depth
There’s Nothing ‘Anti’ About ‘Anti-Bride’

Let me set the scene for you. You are at a wedding. The reception and ceremony are taking place in the bride’s backyard, with chairs set up on slate slabs surrounding the house’s cerulean blue pool amidst impeccably gardened hydrangea bushes. There is no bridal party. The bride has opted not to wear a traditional wedding gown with tulle and lace appliqués and the like, but instead an understated, pleated silk slip dress. It still cost, you learn, almost $8,000. Sunglasses, not a veil nor tiara, lay atop her head. On her feet, tasteful cowgirl boots. This is her first of three looks for the evening.

For cocktail hour, oysters on the half shell are served on ice chests and champagne is flowing. Tables are decorated with elegantly long candlesticks and littered with florals and greenery to achieve the look of an overgrown garden party. Dessert will be mini creme brûlées.

How would you describe the event? Alluring? Decadent? Intimate yet lush? What if I told you that the wedding industry, and perhaps even the bride, would use the phrase “anti-bride?”

Publications like Elle and PureWow have declared “anti-bride” the bridal trend of the year, and according to the Zola x Pinterest 2023 wedding trends report, the search for “anti-bride wedding” has increased 490%. One wedding insider described “anti-bride” as “picking an alternative style for your wedding, one that isn’t afraid to bend the rules of a traditional big ceremony.” Another characterized the trend as a “kick-ass approach to celebrating love, where all the rules are thrown out the window like last year’s bouquet toss.” For sure. Rock on. In theory, this is a rejection of stuffy, conventional wedding culture, and an embrace of what the individual woman wants amidst the celebratory chaos. But in practice, “anti-bride” looks to be the industry’s latest capitalization on brides’ anxieties and skepticism. Shrewdly, it has repackaged and regifted those anxieties, selling women the exact crap they say they don’t want, just with a chicer Sandy Liang bow adorned on top.

When I search #antibride on TikTok and click on one of the videos that’s helped the trend amass 61.3 million views, or search through the thousands of Instagram posts with the hashtag, I’m shown weddings like the one I described above. (The Anti-Bride is also the name of a popular, Australian-based online wedding publication that describes itself as “a destination for contemporary weddings.”) “Anti-bride” brides’ wedding outfits wouldn’t be featured on a TLC reality show but are unmistakably bridal: slinky white gowns, or perhaps an expertly tailored cream suit, hair in tousled waves. It’s their wedding, yes, but they seem somewhat casual about it. Often they are wearing sunglasses, or gloves, or fringed and feathered dresses—tasteful and tame alternative accessories that showcase their uniqueness. Don’t mind that they all seem to be unique in the exact same way.

No militant lines of bridesmaids stand beside these brides, nor is their father necessarily walking them down the aisle (though he could! if the bride wants! whatever she wants! that’s the beauty of trend as indeterminate as this). Champagne towers and retro tiered cakes let us know the brides like a good party and not a stale reception dinner of bland chicken and dull wine. They look chic and hip and like they’d give me good gossip in exchange for a cigarette. These aren’t regular brides, these are cool brides.

As I’m planning my own wedding, it’s admittedly an aesthetic I’m very drawn to. Who doesn’t want to look beautiful and cool on their wedding day? I certainly don’t want to look like a try-hard or, god forbid, a bridezilla. I want to laugh with my lover while running through fields of lavender clutching a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, and I don’t even drink! I see photo after photo of these sorts of scenes, and they certainly seem more romantic than standing shoulder to shoulder with my aunts and uncles grinning through a grimace, my hair shellacked into a prom updo.

The brides look chic and hip and like they’d give me good gossip in exchange for a cigarette.

Seemingly unfussy weddings that do away with musty formalities and gendered traditions can genuinely speak to a bride skeptical of planning a conventional wedding. I wrote about those feelings of skepticism with the bankruptcy of David’s Bridal, the traditional wedding juggernaut that sold a pre-packaged, lobotomized wedding fantasy. The advent of (eye roll) “girl bosses” and (genuinely welcomed) knowledge about the honest realities of marriage in the last decade have worked to edge out the aesthetics behind large, traditional weddings. When big, poofy dresses are seen as infantilizing and signal a naivety about marriage, I deeply understand any apprehension in pursuing any of it.

But as I watch one TikTok user’s 36th video about her wedding tagged #antibride (and also #chillbride), I can’t help but feel that the trend isn’t so much for women feeling reluctant about weddings or marriage. Rather, it’s just the latest spin on “the most important day of a woman’s life,” sprinkled with a little 21st century neoliberal feminist individualism.

Understated and elegant, these brides might not have bridal stage makeup caked on, but they’ve surely invested in a year’s long and probably very expensive skin care routine. Designers that Elle listed as quintessentially “anti-bride”—Danielle Frankel, Sophie et Voilà, and Andrew Kwon—have collections that typically range from $2,500 to $8,000. The models are also almost exclusively thin and white. Photos that capture the sentiment often look spontaneous, as blurred and nostalgic as a film camera will allow, but they’re ultimately just as calculated as photographs of the traditional weddings they claim to be in opposition to. In this way, “anti-bride” feels very closely linked to the quiet luxury trend that’s swept the digital nation.

Bridal salons use the phrase to showcase their “anti-bride” wedding gowns. Wedding photographers have described both sleek and minimalist cakes as well as vintage tiered cakes with ruffled ribbons of icing, adorned with cherries, as “anti-bride.” Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter and isn’t worth trying to make sense of what “anti-bride” is as much as who it is trying to capture.

I think the industry’s use of it is an evolved bait and switch. “Anti-bride” seems to take advantage of women who are genuinely overwhelmed by the wedding industrial complex. They have legitimate reservations about fathers walking daughters down the aisle or bouquet tosses indicating who’ll be lucky enough to drop $30,000 on a wedding next. Similarly, they are hesitant to dole out a house downpayment on a weekend of festivities, and have every right to get cold feet spending that sort of money. Terms, then, like “anti-bride” might act as a buoy to hang onto in a choppy sea of Pinterest boards and targeted bridal advertisements. But the industry is not telling you that you don’t have to spend egregious amounts of money in order to be married—or that you don’t have to become a bride at all! “Anti-bride” is not leading you safely ashore.

My allergy to “anti-bride” isn’t about the aesthetic—one that, again, I actually really like. It’s more that if you’re going to tell me something is “anti-bride,” and instead of a small courthouse wedding with a handful of people you’re describing a swanky, modern reception where the bride wears Ray-Ban’s? Well, then, I object!

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