The Bridal Designer’s Guide to Black Wedding Dresses

Payton in a black bridal gown

Modern brides are often looking for non-traditional wedding dress styles as well as gowns in colors other than white for their big day. Black wedding dresses are always a popular choice, and make a bold and memorable statement of bridal style.

Black Wedding Dress Ideas and Themes for Your Wedding Day

Romantic portrait of Payton and Worth at Providence Cotton Mill
Payton wearing her black wedding dress

Making a black wedding gown the inspiration for your bridal theme is a suprisingly versatile choice for building your color scheme. There’s a lot more you can do with black than just a typically “goth”  presentation. A black dress can be the basis of a modern, elegant and even romantic bridal theme.

Black themed wedding invitation
Black theme table setting

Black is a great canvas for almost any accent color, especially gold and silver. Rose gold and white gold are my particular favorites for metallics.

Black theme place setting
Black theme wedding rings

My expert advice: the main thing to think about when choosing your dress inspiration and theme colors is the context and setting of your wedding ceremony and reception. 

How “Bridal” Do You Want Your Wedding to Look?

Payton and Worth posing in a doorway
Payton and Worth at the wedding table

As a custom wedding dress designer, this is a question I always ask my brides. And I think it’s especially important when a bride requests a black dress. Because we can certainly achieve a traditional bridal look with a black gown.  

All the style and silhouette options are the same as with a white wedding dress.

Payton in a black lace wedding dress
Payton over the shoulder look

For a softer shade on a black dress, I suggest using lighter and sheer fabrics like lace and tulle with nude lining. These look great with the traditional themes featuring neutral tones and white floral arrangements.

For brides who want more solid black for wedding day, I suggest a more opaque fabric like satin.

Pay Extra Attention to the Quality of Fabrics and Details

While a black wedding gown can photograph exceptionally well, it can also show imperfections more than a white dress. For example, white lace over nude lining creates a tonal balance, while black lace over nude lining creates a contrast.

This contrast makes any imperfections in the stitching, appliqués and details more apparent. Things like crooked stitching, poor finish and low quality beading will stand out more on a black dress.

Coordinating the Wedding Party

Outfitting the groom in a white tux jacket will create an elegant contrast with your black gown. For a more traditional look, you can have your bridesmaids in white, ivory or beige.

Payton and Worth toasting the big day
Payton with a glass of champagne

If you’re going for a more trendy bridal style, like a Gatsby wedding theme for example, you’ll need to pay more attention to coordinating the entire wedding party, including the attire of the parents, especially the mothers.

Short Black Wedding Dresses

Brides sometimes ask if short black dresses are appropriate for their wedding ceremony. They can definitely be very chic — depending on season, venue and context. However, for such a non-traditional choice of dresses for your wedding day, you need to be even more on top of coordinating attire for the wedding party, as well as the guests. You don’t want one of your guests showing up in a ball gown if you’re wearing a short dress.

Black Wedding Dresses for Petite Brides

As a petite person myself, I don’t usually recommend a black dress for petite brides because black will naturally make you look shorter and smaller. Especially if you’re partner is tall or wearing white, a black dress will make you look even shorter.

However, I think skin tones and hair color play the biggest part in how a black dress will affect the appearance of your height. If you’re a blonde, the contrast of your hair and the dress can work in your favor, especially if you have an hourglass shape.

The History of Black Wedding Dresses

Back wedding dresses have a long history, and were known to have been worn in ancient China during the Zhou (1046 BC — 221 BC) and Han (202 BC — 220 AD) Dynasties.

In the West, black lace wedding dresses were the traditional choice of Roman Catholic brides in Spain. And both Scottish and Finnish cultures had black wedding gowns as part of their bridal traditions.

Detail shot of bouquet and black wedding dress
Payton in a black dress with bouquet

In England and America, the white wedding dress trend became popular after 1840 when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert. At that time, red was the more popular choice for royal brides while white was reserved for women who were presented at court. Prior to Victoria, the first recorded white wedding was the ceremony of the English Princess Phillipa to the Scandanavian King Eric in 1406.

While the white wedding became a trend among European social elites after Victoria, the trend did not spread to the middle class for another couple of decades. Most brides wore the best dress that they owned for their wedding ceremonies, which was often a black dress.

Payton and Worth at Providence Cotton Mill
Payton in a black bridal gown from Angela Kim Couture

In more recent times, black wedding dresses have made something of a comeback. Iconic designers like Vera Wang have featured black wedding gowns in their collections, and celebrity brides like Christine Quinn has worn black for their nuptials.

What is the Meaning of a Black Wedding Dress

Payton and worth posing in front of two luxury cars

Most people assume that a white wedding dress symbolized purity and innocence. Originally it did not, as blue was more associated with the Virgin Mary and the concept of piety and faithfulness. A white dress was difficult to maintain and launder, and therefore a conspicuous status symbol associated with wealth. And it looked good in the early black and white photography of the 19th century.

On the other hand, Black bridal dresses, particularly in the Roman Catholic culture of Spain, were specifically chosen to symbolize the solemn commitment of a bride’s loyalty and devotion to her husband until their parting at death. 

Payton waiting in the limo in her black custom wedding dress
Payton and worth posing with matching black and white Bentleys

A black bridal gown has traditionally been worn to communicate social prestige, formality and elegance. It is a powerful symbol of elite status and sophistication.