Few articles of clothing hold as much symbolism in American culture as the wedding dress. Often considered a symbol of femininity, wedding dresses can be passed down through generations and usually cost anywhere between a few hundred bucks to thousands of dollars. In workshops presented Monday and Tuesday in the Center for Student Involvement, students were invited to investigate the roll of wedding dresses in popular culture.
Cara Hagan, founder of the Wedding Dress Project, said she started the project as a way to artistically raise awareness about relationship issues, such as dating violence, as well as to open up discussion about gender roles in society.
“The wedding dress is a recognizable symbol – everyone knows what a wedding dress is, and when you see a wedding dress, everyone has a thought,” Hagan said. “We use the wedding dress as art because when people are able to use their hands, it’s easier to articulate thoughts and feelings.”
The workshops are often geared towards different groups, including college students, LGBT groups, domestic abuse survivors and teens. Hagan said most workshops are free, as her materials are almost entirely donated by outside parties.
“Sometimes I actually have much more (supplies) than I can use,” Hagan said. “Occasionally, if there is a lot of travel, schools or organizations will reimburse me for that, but, generally, it ends up being even.”
The workshops themselves consist of several parts, including discussion and creative writing exercises. Attendees are asked about their thoughts upon seeing a wedding dress and what questions they would ask the dress if they could. Then, each attendee is given a pair of scissors and told to deconstruct the dress in whatever way they see fit.
Rochelle Smith, associate professor of English, said she wasn’t sure what the project was about when she decided to attend, but she enjoyed the experience nonetheless. Smith, who is a member of the ethnic and gender studies steering committee, said she particularly enjoyed the deconstruction of the dress.
“The wanton and brutal savaging of this wedding dress was intensely satisfying,” Smith said. “I don’t know why, and it’s a little disturbing, but it’s very enjoyable.”
But a few attendees were a little uncomfortable with the deconstructive process. Some described the feeling as “sacrilegious.”
Attendees were also asked to take the pieces of the wedding dress and craft something new from them.
Kajsa Mullenix, junior communication major, said she decided to craft a collar from some of the fabric salvaged from one dress, and she used some colored thread to create a rainbow attachment.
“The circle shape is symbolic of the cycle of oppression and gender roles and how it brings people down,” Mullenix. “The colors show how marriage isn’t necessarily equal and how it has a lot of diversity.”
Hagan said she is currently presenting the project to groups around the country, and she is using it as a tool for empowerment and education.