Hilaire Belloc wrote, “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, there’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!”
These lines constitute an exclamation of praise for the richness of God’s creation, which He pronounced to be “very good.” A wonderful facet of the Catholic Church is that she embraces the beauty with which God provides us through His material creations. This encompasses everything from good food and wine to music and fine art…and yes, even to wedding gowns.
Two years ago I was an overjoyed bride-to-be, having met the man of my dreams on CatholicMatch, and the search for my wedding dress proved quite simple, as I already had a solid idea of what I wanted. I knew that column-style dresses suited me best, and I had always intended to wear a lace gown with a mantilla veil, just as my own mother had.
Given that I was very particular as to the style of dress that I was seeking, it did not take long to find the perfect gown.
The one I ultimately chose was elegant, tasteful, and yes – strapless. It was neither titillating nor provocative, and though strapless, it was a modest and acceptable choice. It did not have a plunging neckline (as many modern gowns with straps often do) and the heavy, cathedral-length mantilla veil that I selected draped beautifully over my shoulders, thereby providing a level of coverage that I felt was appropriate for the Mass while simultaneously accentuating the beauty of my dress.
When I looked at myself in that gown, my sentiments mirrored those that Ann Gundlach described in her essay as she watched her own daughter try on the strapless dress that she chose for her wedding:
“She fell in love with it because she felt beautiful wearing it…It occurred to me that while I didn’t want her wearing strapless dresses as an unattached teenager, I surprisingly did not feel the same way as she dressed for her groom…I saw her dress reveal her femininity and womanliness in what seemed to me to be all the right contexts…A wedding does, after all, celebrate all the goodness of marital love; dare I say it, even sexuality as God designed it.”
I also appreciated Ann’s reflections on the fashion trends for wedding dresses over several decades; while the favored styles have changed drastically over the years, each seems to have been designed to accentuate the bride’s femininity and to celebrate human sexuality within the context of holy matrimony.
I think this reflects the truth present in Belloc’s words. The role of the Church is to sacramentalize and bring all of humanity and human culture back to God. In doing so, we are not asked to reject or conceal the beauty of God’s creation; on the contrary, in the right context, we should celebrate and praise God for it.
I recognize there will always be controversy over what constitutes an appropriate gown for a Catholic wedding, and while modesty is certainly essential, I do not believe that this requires a bride to cover herself excessively or to reject a lovely, tasteful strapless dress simply because it lacks an inch of extra material over each shoulder. In fact, a wedding gown that is in step with current fashions (such as the acceptable strapless style that I chose) can have the added effect of appealing to a culture that we, as Catholics, should all seek to evangelize.
I see nothing wrong with a bride finding such a dress and – wishing to look beautiful for her husband on their wedding day – accentuating (to an appropriate extent) the femininity with which God has graciously endowed her.
As for me, I chose my gown because I felt beautiful in it and knew that my groom would think so as well. Most importantly, however, I knew I was walking down the aisle to him as a chaste bride, and as Ann so aptly wrote, “true modesty involves much, much more than hemlines and the cut of a bodice.”
-Regina Grace Bailey
The Regina Diaries
The CatholicMatch staff members are big fans of Regina Grace! (Can you blame us?)