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Brides Everywhere Are Saying Yes To The Low-Cut Dress

May 14, 2018
Originally published on May 14, 2018 10:10 am

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all know springtime is a traditional wedding season. But when it comes to the dresses worn by today's blushing brides, we're seeing a much less traditional trend. In fact, other people may be blushing.

When it comes to the bridal bustline, the question these days is ... how low can you go?

"How can I say this kind of politely?" Monte Durham teases. "We have dresses cut to your navel."

Monte Durham works at an upscale wedding dress store in Atlanta and co-hosts the TLC show Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta. Turn it on, or the original Say Yes to the Dress, set in New York, and you'll plunge into constant drama about plunging matrimonial cleavage.

Illusion fabric does little to assuage concerns on the shows, those of mothers-in law in particular. Brides' penchant for dramatically dipping décolletage is not limited to reality television. Durham sees it among customers at his store, Bridals By Lori.

"Ninety percent of the brides want to try on a revealing gown," he says, adding that customers may not end up buying one. Still, he describes one of the top-selling dresses at Bridals by Lori as "extremely revealing." It should be noted, that this is the kind of store where dresses can cost upwards of $10,000. These dresses are not cheap.

Sociology professor Patricia Arend studies the wedding industry. She believes this trend was influenced by red carpet fashion, which itself, she says, was transformed in the year 2000 by the semi-transparent, super low-cut green Versace gown Jennifer Lopez wore to the Grammy Awards. It exposed much of the singer's chest and midriff.

"And [it] actually has been credited with the development of the Google image search, because so many people wanted to see what that dress looked like after the event," Arend explains.

These incredibly low-cut wedding dresses were influenced by more than celebrity couture. People get married these days in barns and on beaches, not just houses of worship. And marriage is no longer widely viewed as an event that transitions a person to adulthood, Arend says. On average, U.S. women getting married for the first time are 27 years old. In 1960, they were 22. And, she says, more than half of couples getting married live together first. Our next big princess bride, Meghan Markle, is 36; her upcoming marriage to Prince Harry will be her second.

"Something like upwards of 90 percent of women who marry are sexually experienced," she says. "And some of them are sexually experienced with other women. So the reference of being this innocent person who's going to lose her virginity on her wedding night, or something like that and needs to be seen as pure and chaste, that is disappearing," she says.

There's no secret — or shame — about brides being sexually confident, and that's reflected in what they wear on their wedding day, Arend says. Perhaps what we're seeing with wedding dresses with super low cleavage, she adds, are dresses that dismantle the tired old virgin/whore dichotomy. They prove that the girl that a guy wants to sleep with — and the girl he wants to marry — are exactly the same person.

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When Meghan Markle marries Prince Harry, whatever she wears is guaranteed to cause conversation. But as NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, these days she's not the only one.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: When it comes to the bridal bust line, the question these days is, how low can you go? Monte Durham works at a fancy wedding dress store in Atlanta called Bridals By Lori.

MONTE DURHAM: How can I say this kind of politely - we have dresses cut to your navel.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SAY YES TO THE DRESS ATLANTA")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Woo.

ULABY: Durham also co-hosts the show "Say Yes To The Dress Atlanta" on TLC. Turn it on, or the original "Say Yes To The Dress" set in New York, and there's constant drama about plunging matrimonial cleavage.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SAY YES TO THE DRESS ATLANTA")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I don't know if this neckline is going to be kosher with our rabbi.

ULABY: Illusion fabric does not help.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SAY YES TO THE DRESS ATLANTA")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: You have way too much boob showing.

ULABY: Perhaps unsurprisingly, future mother-in-laws are often the most concerned.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SAY YES TO THE DRESS ATLANTA")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Are you comfortable with the amount of cleavage that shows? I think it's pretty.

ULABY: Brides comfortable with dramatically dipping decolletage, says Monte Durham, are not all on reality television.

DURHAM: Ninety percent of the brides want to try on a revealing gown.

ULABY: His customers may not end up buying one, but that's also because such a gown can cost more than $10,000. Durham mentioned one...

DURHAM: Cut to here. A Lazaro, stunning gown.

ULABY: And you're pointing to your belly button.

DURHAM: I am pointing to my belt buckle.

ULABY: This wedding dress trend was influenced by red carpet fashion, says Patricia Arend. She's a sociologist who studies the wedding industry. Arend says red carpet fashion itself was transformed by a green Versace gown Jennifer Lopez wore to the Grammys back in the year 2000...

PATRICIA AREND: Which plunged all the way to her navel and has actually been credited with the development of the Google image search because so many people wanted to see what that dress looked like after the event.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SAY YES TO THE DRESS ATLANTA")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Damn.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Oh.

ULABY: The host of "Say Yes To The Dress Atlanta" says more people get married now on beaches and in barns, not in places of worship.

DURHAM: One of our number-one selling dresses at the store is extremely revealing.

ULABY: So Monte Durham cautions brides who buy it to wear a shrug at the ceremony. They can shrug it off before the reception.

AREND: Marriage is no longer an event that transitions a person from being a child into adulthood.

ULABY: Sociology professor Patricia Arend says, today, women getting married for the first time are on average 27 years old. In 1960, they were 22. And today, more than half of couples getting married lived together first.

AREND: Something like upwards of 90 percent of women who marry are sexually experienced. And some of them are sexually experienced with other women, right? So the reference of being this innocent person who's going to lose her virginity on her wedding night or something like that and needs to be seen as pure and chaste, that is disappearing also.

ULABY: Our next big princess bride, Meghan Markle, is 36. And this is her second marriage. Maybe what we're seeing with these wedding dresses with super-low cleavage, says Arend, are dresses that dismantle the tired, old virgin-whore dichotomy. They prove the girl that a guy went to sleep with and the girl he wants to marry are exactly the same person. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.