Think of a wedding dress, and what comes to mind is probably something white and fairly demure. But that’s not always the reality! These 20 women – some of them modern-day celebrities, some of them historical figures – decided to wear something different for their nuptials, and in doing so they caused stirs.
20. Wallis Simpson
Wallis Simpson might well have been one of the most hated women in Britain by the time she married her intended, King Edward VIII. In fact, by the time of the wedding Edward wasn’t King anymore. Because Wallis was a divorcee, Edward had been forbidden to marry her. So he’d abdicated the throne instead.
The wedding eventually took place on June 3, 1937. The press were kept at arm’s length, but Time magazine nonetheless reported on Wallis’ dress. It was “soft blue crepe with a tight, buttoned bodice, a halo-shaped hat of the same color, shoes and gloves to match.” The article also mentioned “a tremendous diamond-&-sapphire brooch,” but that certainly wasn’t a gift from any member of the British royal family. None of them came.
19. Emma Thompson
Emma Thompson has always been a woman who marches to the best of her own drum. So when she married fellow actor Kenneth Branagh in 1989, she went all out. She wore a brightly colored, vividly patterned knee-length dress with shoulder pads and puffed sleeves to boot. Oh, and a matching hat.
Thompson’s spectacular ensemble is still often mentioned in “Worst Celebrity Wedding Dresses” lists. The woman herself probably wouldn’t give a damn, though. This is, after all, an actress who went on stage at the 2014 Golden Globes and cheerfully threw her high-heeled shoes away over her shoulders. You’ll note that her wedding shoes aren’t very high ones, either.
18. Raquel Welch
Actress and pin-up Raquel Welch caused chaos when she married producer Patrick Curtis on Valentine’s Day, 1967. And she chose a distinctly non-traditional dress. Life magazine wrote of the Parisian wedding: “The bridal-mini-skirt, a peek-a-boo crochet, created pandemonium as 100 photographers tried to crash the district town hall where the ceremony was held.”
Life somewhat sardonically headlined its piece about Welch’s dress “Mini-skirt for maxi-publicity” and alleged that because of the crowds trying to look at her, the wedding ceremony had to be trimmed down to a mere three minutes. Oh, and Welch also wore a fur coat to the ceremony – that definitely wouldn’t fly today.
17. Kate Moss
Model Kate Moss chose a beautiful vintage-style bohemian gown for her marriage to musician Jamie Hince in 2011. It was cream-colored, with spectacular sequined details and a sheer neckline. The dress was perhaps a tiny bit see-through, though, but Moss has always been very daring when it comes to fashion. And according to designer John Galliano, it was inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald.
However, it was Moss’ choice to hire Galliano in the first place that caused the most controversy. At the time Moss walked down the aisle, Galliano was in trial in France for a drunken anti-Semitic tirade. Later on, he claimed that creating Moss’s wedding dress helped him get through rehab.
16. Shenae Grimes-Beech
Beverly Hills, 90210 actress Shenae Grimes decided to do something very unusual for her 2011 wedding to Josh Beech: get married in black. She wore an absolutely gorgeous silk Vera Wang creation, one that would have set her back around $5,000. She also carried some red flowers to add to the gothic vibe.
For fans of Grimes, however, the black wedding dress might not have been a surprise. Because two months before the wedding, she informed Teen Vogue, “Since I have that edgy, rocker-tomboy kind of vibe, it can be very difficult to translate my style for the red carpet… Every time I’ve worked with a stylist I end up with pretty dresses that are nice, but not for me at all.” Looks like she eventually found one that was.
15. Coco Austin
Ice-T and Coco Austin actually got married back in 2005, but they decided to renew their vows in June 2011. It was done for their reality show, Ice Loves Coco, which detailed the entire lead-up to the ceremony. Coco wore a white dress with crystal detailing and a tiara on top.
Not everyone admired the dress, though. Indeed, in 2017 the website Now to Love included it in a list of the very worst celebrity wedding dresses and claimed it “left little to the imagination.” And Inside Edition stated in 2018 that it “showed off her upper balcony.” Nonetheless, Coco herself seemed happy, and she and Ice-T are still married.
14. Jackie Kennedy
Jackie Kennedy’s bridal gown was a beautiful ivory-colored number with a portrait neckline. Tiny flowers appeared all around the skirt. To this day, in fact, it’s remembered as one of the most iconic wedding dresses ever. But the woman who created it – African-American couturier Ann Lowe – was left largely forgotten by history.
Moreover, Lowe actually lost $2,200 on the making of Jackie’s wedding dress, thanks to a flood in her workshop. Even worse, when she delivered the garment, she was told to use the service entrance. And for the rest of her life, she received no recognition for her work – Jackie would reportedly only say that “a colored woman” made her gown. Ann died in obscurity in 1981: definitely a scandal.
13. Princess Eugenie
There was actually a second British royal wedding in 2018 – the marriage of Princess Eugenie of York to Jack Brooksbank. Eugenie’s dress was created by British designers Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos, and many relevant symbols were worked into the fabric, including a York Rose after the bride’s family house.
But perhaps the most important feature of all was the open back of the wedding dress. Eugenie specifically asked for her garment to be left open so that a long scar, a leftover from an operation she’d had at 12 years of age, could be seen. An unusual move for a royal, perhaps, but a brave one.
12. Marilyn Monroe
Perhaps the public of 1954 expected blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe to wear something daring for her wedding to baseball player Joe DiMaggio. If they did, though, they would have been disappointed. Marilyn wore a simple brown dress and jacket, a far cry from some of the other outfits she’d been photographed in.
Chances are, Marilyn chose not to wear white because she’d already been married once, to a man called James Dougherty, when she was just 16. Despite – or maybe because of – the dress’ lack of glamour and spark, it became iconic. And in 1998 it was bought for a whopping $33,000.
11. Celine Dion
When Céline Dion married René Angélil in 1994, her wedding outfit wasn’t the most practical concoction. The headpiece alone was made from 2,000 Swarovski crystals and was sewn right into her hair. As for the dress, its train was 20 feet long and it apparently required 1,000 hours of toil to create.
Moreover, the wedding was show live on television in Canada, so the whole country got to see the singer walk out in the dress. It seems some viewers were impressed while others were simply shocked. To this day, in fact, one camp thinks Dion looked beautiful, but plenty of people still consider her to have simply looked ridiculous. It’s a true divider.
10. Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn was a bride more than once. For her second wedding, which saw her get hitched to psychiatrist Andrea Dotti, she wore a simple pale pink dress and a headscarf in the same color. Hepburn did work some of the traditional wedding day white into the ensemble, though, in the form of her hosiery, gloves and shoes.
The man who designed Audrey’s dress, Hubert de Givenchy, had a close relationship with the actress. Indeed, during an interview with The Daily Telegraph in 2014, he described it as “a kind of marriage.” Sadly, Audrey’s actual marriage didn’t go as well. She and Dotti both had affairs, and they divorced in 1982.
9. Yoko Ono
Yoko Ono definitely wasn’t going to be a typical bride when she married John Lennon in 1969. But then again, it wasn’t a typical wedding, either. The famous couple took a private aircraft to Gibraltar and married in a small, quiet ceremony. The whole affair took only ten minutes.
As befitting the low-key occasion, Yoko just wore a white mini-dress as her wedding gown. Moreover, her accessories were more what you’d expect for a day on the beach: sunglasses, a big hat, socks and tennis shoes. Her husband didn’t dress up, either, yet the relationship worked out – they were together till Lennon’s death.
8. Lauren Bacall
When Lauren Bacall married Humphrey Bogart in 1945, quite a few eyebrows had already been raised over their relationship. Bogart was 25 years older than Bacall, and he’d been having an affair with her while still married to his third wife. Perhaps that’s why Bacall choose not to wear white.
Life magazine described Bacall’s wedding outfit as “a doeskin beige dress.” The publication also noted that “before taking the vows, Bogart drank a Martini, muttered, ‘Oh, baby,’ to his bride. After the ceremony he kissed his bride and she gasped, ‘Oh, goody!’” And believe it or not, they stayed married until Bogart died in 1957.
7. Mariah Carey
In 1993 Mariah Carey married executive Tommy Mottola and wore a white dress with a 27-feet-long train. The dress was great, but the marriage? Not so good, allegedly. Carey has implied in interviews that Mottola was emotionally abusive towards her. Later on, Carey would become engaged to billionaire James Packer only to call it all off before the year was out.
Carey got her revenge, it appeared, via a music video in which she burned the (very expensive) wedding dress she’d planned to marry Packer in. However, she revealed on Watch What Happens Live in 2018 that she’d actually always wanted to burn the Mottola wedding dress on camera but had decided against it.
6. Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor’s fifth marriage, to Richard Burton, was unsurprisingly considered scandalous. The press had already exposed them having an extramarital affair. According to The New York Times, who reported on the marriage when it took place in 1964, a politician from Ohio even called the Taylor-Burton relationship a “public outrage.”
It probably wasn’t surprising to observers, then, that Taylor didn’t wear white for the wedding. Instead she sported a bright yellow dress, created for her by Irene Sharaff, the costume chief on Cleopatra. Taylor and Burton’s union was over by 1974… but then the pair married again a year later. Taylor had actually been married eight times by the time she died in 2011.
5. Priscilla Presley
Priscilla Presley had to go in disguise to buy her wedding gown, such was the interest in her relationship with Elvis. She purchased a floor-length silk dress with a beaded neckline, but rumor has it she didn’t actually like it much. “She doesn’t talk about it much, but she wasn’t a huge fan of that dress,” an anonymous insider told Closer Weekly in 2019. “She loved the veil and her makeup, but the dress wasn’t as shapely as she would have liked.”
The Priscilla-Elvis marriage is still considered a deeply controversial one. Priscilla was a mere 14 years old when the 24-year-old superstar singer first met her. Though they didn’t marry (and reportedly never had sex) until she was 21, there was certainly oddness in the relationship – Priscilla once said that her husband never once saw her without makeup on.
4. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall
The relationship between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles had always been scandalous. Charles had been seeing her while still married to Diana, his first wife. Charles and Camilla married years after going through divorces and the shock of Diana’s death, but there was still tension in the air.
Camilla didn’t choose a wedding outfit anything like the one Diana had worn, of course – that would have been a disaster. Instead, she wore a pale blue and gold dress coat, accompanied by gold feathers in her hair. The media seemed to like it, which she was probably relieved about – there had been reports that she looked nervous at the start of the day.
3. Gwen Stefani
Gwen Stefani’s dress for her 2002 wedding to Gavin Rossdale was a creative blend of old and new. Having a gown decorated with bright pink dye was unusual, even bold, but she made it work. And while the relationship between her and Rossdale didn’t last in the end, people still talk about the gown.
Stefani loved the dress so much that she donned it again for a second wedding ceremony with Rossdale a fortnight after the first. And she’s been spotted wearing very similar gowns since then, seemingly created as updates of the first. The hot pink was definitely a gamble, but it more than paid off.
2. Princess Diana
When Lady Diana Spencer wed Prince Charles, it was meant to be the wedding of the century. The design of Diana’s dress was kept top secret, and people were delighted when it was finally revealed on the day. It was made of ivory silk, and a 25-foot train trailed behind the soon-to-be princess as she walked up the aisle.
But behind the scenes, things weren’t so picture perfect. Eagle-eyed viewers of the ceremony might have noticed wrinkles in Diana’s dress: that was because the designers hadn’t taken into account the small carriage Diana and her gown would have to fit into. Diana spilled perfume on the dress right before the wedding, too. Maybe they were bad omens.
1. Pamela Anderson
Pamela Anderson had a truly scandalous wedding dress… that wasn’t actually a dress at all. During her first wedding to musician Kid Rock, which took place on board a yacht in July 2006, the Baywatch star and pin-up opted to wear nothing but a white bikini and captain’s hat.
Kid Rock decided not to dress up for the nuptials, either – he wore jeans, a fedora hat, and no shirt. People predicted the marriage wouldn’t last, and they were right. Indeed, the couple lasted a mere 122 days in the end. By November 2006 they were falling over each other to file for divorce.