The black and white wedding theme hummed along for years, occasionally dipping just below the radar. But as every wedding planner knows, it never really left us — and it’s coming back up in a big way. Still, we’re not talking yesterday’s black and white wedding. We’re talking one that reflects today’s greater sophistication in combining shades, textures, prints. And at its best, it leaves guests with the sense that your event was a full-fledged experience.
That’s why we asked two prominent wedding planners you’ve seen on Style Network’s Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?, Baltimore’s Linnyette Richardson-Hall and Philadelphia’s Mark Kingsdorf, to give us the scoop on “Black and White Weddings 2.0.”
“Ten years ago,” says Richardson-Hall, “there was no concept of textural interest, and no depth. Today, everything’s about depth and texture: looking beyond the obvious, digging down, thinking outside the box.
“With a black and white wedding done right, you can knock it right out of the park. But done wrong, the look can be stark and boring. White tablecloths and chair covers, black chair sashes and table runners, red roses on the table — there’s nothing fascinating about that. You want to turn that around: for example, zoot suits and pinstripes instead of the usual tuxes.”
A Star is Born: Black & White Hits the Big Time
If you’ve paid attention to wedding palettes, the question probably crossed your mind: why black and white? How did this retro palette ever manage to muscle in on an endless sea of chocolate brown?
“It’s fun, clean and contemporary,” says Mark Kingsdorf, chief planner at Queen of Hearts Weddings. “Brides are drifting away from that very frilly look, and if you’re looking for another direction and want something almost Deco, this is it.”
It’s all about a stylized blast to the past, confirms Richardson-Hall. “The 40s craze, the return to high glamour, that retro look — you’ve seen it on runways, and it’s definitely driving event planning.”
Both Kingsdorf and Richardson-Hall agree: the black and white trend leans heavily toward old Hollywood, 40’s Harlem, smoky jazz clubs and sultry stars. They also suggest that when going for this look, keep it pure. Skip the accents, except for shimmer — and maybe the most classic of reds.
“When I’m designing around a retro, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie type of thing, I’d never suggest color,” says Richardson-Hall. “This is all about the absence and presence of light. I’d blend in metallics, though. And if the client really felt a color, I’d bring in red roses, for a very, very classic look.
“My ultimate black and white wedding re-creates the 40s, and not just the look, but the feel. I’d be thinking timeless elegance: elegant women in hats, gloves, jewels, classic pumps, cocktail dresses with the crinolines. And the men in white dinner jackets and black bow ties, like Casablanca — or in pinstripes. Even the transportation is part of it: you can show up and leave in vintage cars.
“As far as the bride, you probably want a classic, sleek gown cut on the bias. You want to get away from pooffy, and lean toward the sleek chignon with a gardenia in the hair — and sultry red lips.”
But picking the right venue is critical, reminds Richardson-Hall. “Your average hotel ballroom won’t cut it.” Instead, she suggests ornate, traditional nightclubs or restaurants. “Lots of heavy molding, starched white table linens, even jeweled table lamps.”
Of course, you can hold a big wedding in the traditional ballroom, she says — but skip the chair covers, which disrupt the feel. “Stick with the black Chiavari chairs, or gorgeous velour-back chairs.” Then, bring in a 10 piece (big) band or a jazz band, a hefty dance floor, and you’re well on your way.
While Richardson-Hall envisions a glammed-up fantasy straight from the jazz age, Mark sees an event fusing strong classic roots with fresh flourishes. “Black and white offer a huge advantage when dealing with a typical ballroom,” he says, since ballrooms tend to be both colorful and patterned. “If you do black accents and white flowers, you’re not fighting your surroundings.”
But don’t run too rampant with black, he warns. “You can use black chair covers and tablecloths, and set them off with red sashes and flowers. But you need to pick the right room, and you need to watch your light levels.”
In other words, if you turn the lights down to low or the walls are too dark, the black “just sucks all the light out of the room.” So turn up the lights, he advises, use plenty of red or white, and load up the tables with candles.
“Red works really well with black and white. Red roses are classic, and bring a lot of depth to the room, in addition to having a great velvety texture. I’ve also seen black and white done well with silver and gold.
The other thing that works beautifully — and it’s just a little twist, but still a very clean line — is black and ivory instead of white. The bride goes with an ivory or champagne gown, and ivory china, and avoids stark white.” In that case, he suggests, good choices for the flowers include creamy hydrangeas, lisianthus, and stock, which in this case transcends its “always a bridesmaid” status as a filler flower.
A bonus to the black and white scheme, says Mark — plenty of bridesmaids are using it to raise the fashionista quotient of their bridesmaids’ gowns.
“Brides are telling bridesmaids, ‘It’s a black tie, nighttime affair. Go find a little black dress that flatters you.’ Then they give them the little restrictions involved: it needs to be floor-length, or the chapel wants the shoulders covered. The bridesmaids go to any boutique they like and buy a dress that works for them. They can wear it anywhere, and have it shortened afterward.
“Most of these kinds of dresses have an interesting cut, a bit of glittery ornamentation on the straps, and very clean lines. The final look is completely tailored and elegant.”
My, How Times Have Changed
We decided to really press Kingsdorf on what sets today’s black and white wedding apart from the ones we saw ten years ago. (Of course, he was up to the challenge.)
For one, he says, he’s seeing a lot more patterns — toile, for example. “In a room that’s a blank canvas, a toile overlay on a white cloth adds a lot of character.” He’s also seeing black and white checkerboard prints and stripes.
“We have a popular venue here that’s an old warehouse with huge windows and huge white walls. It’s perfect for bold solids and polka dot accents.”
The wedding cake is an especially fun place to mod it up, he says. “The round white cakes with round black dots: they’re sleek, modern, and Deco-y. So are the black satin bands on a bright white cake — it doesn’t look like everyone else’s. And it matches the type of sleek silhouettes you see in couture gowns — I’m thinking of an A-line gown by Vera Wang with a black satin sash.”
(A more traditional but still current look, he points ou
Another plus for this theme: trendy touches like the candy buffet are a perfect match. “Monochromatic candies are gorgeous, and there are so many retro kinds of licorice.” And let’s not forget the appeal of a crisp white or black favor box paired with a dotted grosgrain ribbon.
But what about the flowers for this hipster spin on black and white? “Actually,” he laughs, “carnations. I used to be a carnations snob, but now I’m finding there are so many cool, hybrid colors of carnations. Naturally-occurring purples and greens,” he says, emphasizing the natural. “And when you bunch them up tight — pavéed — you can’t even tell what kind of flower they are — it’s just a great, super-saturated punch of color.”