By Princess O’Nika Auguste
On March 5th 2020, one of my favourite pop singers, Katy Perry, released her song Never Wore White in which she reveals her pregnancy and where she discusses her relationship with actor Orlando Bloom. It is a beautiful song, but I believe that song is very problematic.
In the song, Katy sings “she never wore white” and is saying she wants to do it right and say I do. In my analysis, she believes wearing white is the right thing to do and maybe her eventual wedding to Bloom will last. Perry was married to British comedian Russell Brand, and it is reported she did not wear white at that wedding. The marriage didn’t last, so hence, I am assuming wearing white and doing it right means that she is thinking it will save her from divorce.
While I have loved Katy Perry since she released her first secular single I Kissed a Girl in 2007, I believe in our Christian-privileged Western Culture, the white dress suggests purity and virginity. Thus, a woman wearing white is a virgin and “pure.”
Historically, however, the white wedding dress was not the norm. The first incident of a white wedding dress was in 1406 when Eric of Pomerania married Philippia of England. In the article, “History of Matrimony,” it is stated that Philiippia wore a tunic with a cloak in white silk with squirrel borders (Feb 2006). The article, “History of the Wedding Dress,” states that Mary Queen of Scots wore white dress when she married Francis of France.
Nevertheless, white became the trend in 1840 when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert. White became popular after their marriage. In the pictures in the Royal Weddings 1840-1907 collection, Queen Victoria wore a white dress with lace. Thus, the white wedding dress is a recent occurrence in the history of weddings and marriage. Before that, women married in any color including black, especially in Scandinavia. In Finland, black was popular (Pelo, 2019).
Jude Stewart notes that in the West, many wedding dresses are usually white (which includes ivory and eggshell) (Stewart 2011). Because we in the West tend to privilege Christianity, many of our norms are based on Christian imagery, so white became the symbol of purity and virginity, although the color blue, associated with the Blessed Mother, also means purity, piety, and faithfulness.
Katy’s song plays into the Christian patriarchal notion that a woman must wear white and may do it because it denotes virginity and celibacy and suggests getting married is doing it right.
This is very problematic because it is assuming theologically and even secularly that when a woman wears white even if she is not a virgin that she is pure and if a woman decided not to wear white it is not normal.
Never Worn White brings into discussion the problematic views of the church fathers’ obsession with virginity, purity, and women’s bodies.
St.Augustine of Hippo wrote, “Virgins who are consecrated a unique and transcendent glory” (De Virginitate), which suggests that it was better to be a virgin because being a virgin means one is pure, and since white is associated with purity and virginity, a woman wearing this white dress is pure. Even Gregory of Nyssa, who I deem as a more liberal church father than Augustine, praises virginity as purity in his work On Virginity. Thomas Aquinas, in his work Summa Theologia III, states that a virgin is given a special crown. Therefore, again, virginity is purity and a white dress is an outer sign of purity.
Never Worn White and in a sense the white dress is a way to police women’s bodies. Therefore, the white dress is a play on purity and virginity and impurity and “harloty,” i.e., if you are not pure or a virgin, then you are evil.
That message is probably not Katy Perry’s intention, but even she cannot escape the Christian-centric norms of our society, especially since she was raised by Pentecostal pastors and released a Gospel album.
But this song with her wearing a white dress in the music video enforces the notion that the female body and female sexuality can be defined by the white dress.
Purity and virginity are associated with a dress that lets people assume you are a virgin or celibate.
Today, many women do have a choice. Some, like me, may choose not to wear white if they get married, but many still choose the white dress because it is tradition and so engrained in our societal norms.
The white dress is a symbol of Christian Western patriarchy. You don’t have to wear white to be pure or a virgin or to illustrate the illusion that you are. You don’t need it “to do it right” nor are you impure if you’re not a virgin.
I have many problems with this song because I believe it denotes the problematic narrative of Christian patriarchy or religious patriarchy in general.
This includes the line where she sings that she thanks God that he was man enough to answer her mother’s prayers. Maybe she was Indicating he was a man and proposed, which I don’t ascribe to.
I do hope Orlando Bloom and Katy Perry tie the knot and Katy gets to wear white, but if other women don’t wear white and don’t do it right that is ok, too.
But society has to abandon the notion that the white dress and marriage, a.k.a., “doing it right” denotes virginity and purity and that wearing the coveted white dress is always the best thing.
This is damaging and the church is to blame for encouraging such notions, but I digress while blasting I Kissed A Girl.
Princess O’Nika Auguste is from the beautiful island of St.Lucia. She has a BA in English Literature from Grambling State University, a Masters of Divinity with concentrations in New Testament and Church History from the Interdenominational Theological Center and a Masters of Theological Studies in Biblical Studies from Claremont School of Theology. She has contributed articles to Christian Feminist Today. She is an avid blogger contributing blog articles to Perspectives and Opinions. She has self-published her first collection of poetry called From A Dark Place. She is a huge fan of sci-fi and fantasy and historical and period pieces.
Pelo, June. “Old Marriage Customs in Finland.” Sydaby.eget.net. Retrieved from http://sydaby.eget.net/swe/jp_marriage.htm.
Stewart, Jude (14 February 2011). “The Bride Wore Chartreuse: Why (Most) Wedding Dresses are White”. Retrieved from https://www.printmag.com/imprint/the-bride-wore-chartreuse-why-most-wedding-dresses-are-white/.
The History of Matrimony. Amalfi Wedding Planner. Archived from the original on 6 May 2006. https://web.archive.org/web/20060506232925/http://www.amalfi-wedding-planner.com/eng/StoriaMatrimonio.htm.
“History of the Wedding Dress.” Retrieved from https://m.azazie.com/blog/history-of-the-white-wedding-dress/.
“Royal Weddings 1840-1947.” Royal Collection Trust. Retrieved from https://www.rct.uk/collection/themes/exhibitions/royal-weddings-1840-1947/windsor-castle-drawings-gallery.