African themed wedding dress: Crystal shares her story

African themed wedding dress: Crystal shares her story

I hold nothing against white wedding dresses, I was just tired of them. Seeing so many over my lifetime brought me to a place where all I saw was – white. The detail in design was lost to me. I needed something different.

Thankfully we now live in this great era where women can choose a lot of things for themselves. It’s also the information era where the instant availability of knowledge helps us to question long-held traditions. Society questioned whether women could shine in democratic politics; we now have female Heads of State. Are English names the only valid Christian names? Can God be female? Are weddings necessary? Is Heaven real? Does one have to have a wedding reception? Is slavery bad? Is meat healthy? Can humans fly? Questioning things is a timeless quest and society always emerged the better for it. I too, questioned many traditions and trends that aren’t compatible with my innate preferences. Central to this piece of writing was the question: Do I really have to wear a white wedding dress?

The Research

Because Ms. Google is my friend too, I consulted her and was pleased with my findings. Many articles said the origin of the white wedding dress was rooted in Roman tradition over 2,000 years ago. Possibly associated with Vesta, the virgin goddess of hearth, home and family who was served in a temple by priestesses dressed in white. White represented their purity and chastity. After the fall of the Roman Empire, white wedding dresses fell out of fashion and were popularised again in the British Victorian era when Queen Victoria donned a white wedding gown. Long story short, white wedding gowns were not always a thing. I felt validated in my decision to wear full-blown kitenge, because I much like the bright-coloured multi-patterned print that society has decided is representative of African dressing culture. Until we signed up for pre-marital counselling. 

My church has a wonderful pre-marital counselling program. Each intending couple is assigned a mentoring couple for private sessions, in addition to the general class sessions. Our mentors challenged us to look to the book of our faith to derive meaning in our wedding party choices. It is during my Bible study that I meditated on scriptures like Ephesians 5:20-33. For a Christian like me, marriage on earth is a reflection of the union between Christ and the Church. The Bible speaks of God washing our crimson sin white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). Biblically, white, among other things represents purity. 

When Christ returns, He will be a groom coming to be reunited with His bride, who’ll have been given ‘the finest of pure white linen to wear’ (Rev 19:7-8 NLT). The Bible speaks so gloriously about this union, that if I was like my pink-complexioned Caucasian friends, I would have claimed to be white too. 

As one desirous to embed Biblical principles into my lifestyle, I am sure you are beginning to see my dilemma. But did I really need to wear a white wedding dress to mirror the marriage between Christ and his Church? Remember in the pre-Victorian eras, many Christian ladies didn’t wear white gowns but still had Christian marriages. 

My beloved seamstress seemed to be reading from another 'Bible' and she gave me the aha moment.  

The tailor:

One of the best tailors this country is graced with, Esther Babirye knits with such finesse that I believe God used to create nature. Good things emerge when her fingers combine with her mind! It was her idea to give me the best of both worlds- following tradition while keeping my personal style. 

Because Pinterest is Esther’s friend, she turned to it for company. Shocked to find that such gowns existed out there already, confirming the notion that there’s nothing new under the sun, I needed to add my original touch to an existing idea. 

Esther, my maid of honour and I had a ‘gown-sketching’ meeting. She made sketches from the description of what we wanted. I did not exactly want a changing dress. I wanted to go for my honeymoon in my wedding gown. But explaining that to everyone seemed weird. 

Not Esther! She came up with a three-in-one dress. The base dress was lined with kitenge at the bottom. 


The base dress with the Kitenge at the bottom

The next piece was a beaded, laced armless-jacket that was pinned at back collar and at the lower back below the base dress lining. 

The third piece was the tail, decorated with white detail on the outside, and then kitenge on the inside. The overall design was exquisite- a unique blend of colour, design and culture!

The three piece-version of my wedding gown

The idea was to wear the full outfit at church, then take off the tail and wear the base dress and ‘jacket’ to the reception. I didn’t get to do that because of time but I got to take photos of this after the wedding in a space beautifully designed by Kwanzi Accents.

For the changing dress, I took off the jacket and wore a kitenge ‘belt’ that Esther made. Esther went all out. I got to keep my vision of wearing my wedding dress to the honeymoon, while also pleasing the hordes of guests that were eagerly looking forward to analyzing the changing dress. 

The changing dress was just an accessorized version of the wedding gown

The accessories

In addition, Esther designed hand-made accessories for mine and the bridesmaids’ hair, lined with kitenge. She also designed the bangles I wore with my ‘changing dress’.

The different accessories I wore with the changing dress

To top it all up, Esther made gowns for us to wear during our make-up and dress-up sessions in the morning. They were on the house. That is to say, they were free. Her gift to us. I loved the way Maria, my makeup artist, set our hair and makeup to suit the theme!

African themed night gowns were an added accessory

Help from the Maid of Honour

It’s important to surround yourself with the right people. In addition to a prayer team at the time with friends like Barbara, Mendie, Vivian and Jimmy, I had a ‘team of matrons’ as I like to call them, people who stood by me from the moment my husband started ‘vibing’ me to the day we walked down the aisle. Conversations with my married friends; Rita, Rukie, Hellen Patricia, Elone, Proviaus – conversations with them helped make my journey to the wedding day enjoyable. They helped me navigate the emotional rollercoaster that preparing for marriage can be. Key among these was my sister, Carol. She was ‘on the ground’ with me. She understood my style and got with the program. We looked for outfits for the bridal entourage that reflected my love for kitenge. She found the perfect designs for our bridesmaids and groomsmen.

The African theme was extended to the bridal entourage designs 

The Photographer

This article would be difficult to write if I didn’t have evidence of it captured by the highly talented Baker and his photography team. Baker is the best. His humility made it easy for me to pour out my vision for the photography and videography. Above the noise of all the committee members and entourage and all, he made sure he trailed me throughout the day, watching out for any indication of a moment I needed captured. For a moment, I thought the day would end before I got snapshots of my third pair of shoes. 

You see, Esther forced me to at least wear wedges to Church because I absolutely refused to wear high heels. My sister Catherine who knew I could not be forced to wear heels had bought me a pair of white mocassins. I wore the mocassins for the first part of the reception. But when I went to change, I wore shoes Esther crafted. They were a last minute idea, so just a few days to the wedding, Esther walked me through town to find basic white sandals. The rest was up to her. She bought white beads and lace and glue and what-not, to create customised sandals befitting the theme of my dress. Because they came in a bit late in the morning, I almost missed having photos of them. But Baker had overheard me talking endlessly about them. He made sure he sneaked a photo of them before I left the changing room. 

The wedding shoes were designed to match the African wedding theme 

Another highlight of the day, was a blessing I’m forever grateful for. I was blessed to have both my parents walk me down the aisle in Church and they too dressed in traditional African outfits befitting of parents.

My parents too got the memo and dressed in African wear


The rest of the wedding went well. I am grateful to family, mentors and friends for seeing us through. My counsel to future brides who want to have an African-themed white wedding and reception, is START EARLY. My wedding was scheduled for December 2019. Esther started designing my wedding dress (and kuhingira outfits) in April 2019. By October, I was just fitting into them. My entourage was sorted by mid-November. This killed a lot of potential for stress, for those who keep commenting about how happy I was on my wedding day. Decide early the kind of wedding you’d like to have, whether big or small. 

Find the right service providers early, and enjoy the journey, because, hopefully, it will only happen once!

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Comments (1)

Beautiful all around!! I know this was about the dress BUT the cake was too cool too :) Soooo you!! 💃 Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts with us!!

Sheila Nabuuma W
Posted On: Jan 30th 2023, 5:23 pm
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