‘Yes to the dress’ doesn’t mean no to good taste

Strapless is the word when it comes to today’s wedding gowns. For proof, check any newspaper wedding page, bridal magazine, or most of the brides on TV shows such as “Say Yes to the Dress.”

But are strapless gowns appropriate for the sacrament of matrimony?

Most Catholic wedding organizers say no, and encourage brides and bridesmaids alike to remember church teachings about modesty when selecting their garb for that important day.

Some churches include dress rules in their official wedding guides, which are given to all couples and are often available on the church web site.

“The brides aren’t supposed to wear strapless gowns — we have that in our book and try to enforce it as best we can,” said Rosie Ryan, wedding coordinator at St. Mary of the Annunciation Church in Charleston. 

Ryan also reminds women that strapless dresses can be a pain to deal with during what should be a dignified and sacred ceremony.

“I tell them you don’t want to be up on that altar having to pull up and adjust your dress,” she said. “It’s a distraction and it just doesn’t look very good.”

Modesty is also the guideline at St. Mary Church in Greenville.

“We remind them the wedding is a sacred celebration,” said Cathy Markway, a member of the parish wedding committee.

Brides are instructed that their dress should have sleeves or straps, but if they choose to wear a strapless gown, a veil must cover their shoulders. Bridesmaids must also cover their shoulders with a shawl or appropriate wrap. 

Covering up doesn’t mean sacrificing style, however. Major wedding retailers such as David’s Bridal offer a wide variety of shawls, boleros and lace jackets.

Markway and Mary Kay Rushman, a wedding organizer at St. Joseph Church in Columbia, both said they have seen brides who wore beautiful lace boleros, jackets and other cover-ups that were custom made for them.

Rushman said she encourages brides to wear an appropriate cover-up, and save the strapless look for the reception.

It may take some searching, but most bridal retailers do offer non-strapless options, and some, like Beautifully Modest, cater specifically to the bride who wants coverage and style.

Wedding coordinators admit that not much can be done, however, if the bride shows up on her wedding day wearing a strapless gown. Their hope is that Kate Middleton may have set off a more modest trend with her beautiful dress with lace sleeves that she wore in her April nuptials to Prince William.

Perhaps the best way to think about what to wear for a Catholic wedding, whether you’re a bride, bridesmaid or guest, comes from the advice of Msgr. Charles H. Rowland, pastor at Holy Spirit Church on Johns Island.

“If we were invited to dinner at the president’s house, we would wear the finest and the best we had, and our clothes would be decent,” he said. “We tend to lose that perspective for some reason when we come into the house of God. There’s a certain civility that’s expected when you’re in the church. You don’t have to be covered from the chin on down, but a little modesty should be expected.”