PANAMA CITY — A year after her wedding, bride Cassidy Bancroft and photographer Robert J. Hill took a road trip to complete her wedding album — and to destroy her gown.
Somewhere near Graceville, they shot images inside an abandoned house, but that didn’t get the dress nearly as dirty as they expected. Next, Bancroft climbed on trees above the Econfina Creek, getting bark and lichen stains on the white fabric.
Finally, they employed an underwater camera and shot her swimming in a blue hole spring like a newly married mermaid.
“We had such a great time,” Bancroft said. “We went to an old dilapidated house, and (Robert) helped me get to certain spots that were surrounded by old, broken wood and probably hidden spiders — it was great! … When we got to the point where he said ‘let’s do some underwater ones,’ I had to mentally prepare myself because the water was cold. It was so much fun, though. He had me hold onto a tree root so that I could stay in one place long enough to take a picture — and he got a perfect shot with that.”
Hill, a Panama City-based photographer and filmmaker, is a big proponent of “trash-the-dress” shoots. The trend has been around for years, he said, but only recently has penetrated into the South.
“It’s never been big in this area,” he said, because not only is the idea of family heritage so ingrained in Southerners, but also, “people are more conservative down here.”
However, women are finding more often these days that their daughters or granddaughters have no interest in wearing an old, out-of-style gown — even if they are touched by the sentiment. And those same daughters or granddaughters see no reason to store their own dresses for posterity.
“So many brides hold onto their $2,000 wedding dress because they think, one day, they may pass it on to their own daughter,” Hill said. “But our culture is transitioning to never passing their wedding dress down.”
Bancroft’s sister, Nycole, first told her about seeing similar photo shoots online, so she did some searching and “just thought it was such a different thing to do with a dress ... better than storing it in a closet and it never seeing the light of day, ever again.”
Trashing the dress usually is done sometime after the wedding day — often on an anniversary. Hill and his bride, Emily, were married last April and have been holding onto her dress to trash it in the springtime.
The method of trashing the dress can be as individual as the bride. Some have done it by climbing trees, wallowing in mud, ripping them apart or burning them. In this area, many brides opt for running into the Gulf surf.
According to Wikipedia, the idea of destroying a wedding dress has been used in Hollywood since at least the late 1990s, when Meg Cummings of the short-lived soap opera “Sunset Beach” ran into the ocean in her wedding dress after her wedding was interrupted.
The modern phenomenon has nothing to do with disrespecting the union, although many women who kept their wedding dresses have chosen to destroy them after a bad divorce. Huffington Post blogger Joelle Caputa released a book in 2011 called “Trash the Dress: Stories of Celebrating Divorce in your 20s,” and trashed her wedding gown for a Style Network photo shoot.
“I have great, funny memories of the experience,” Bancroft said, describing a canoe ride to scout locations, climbing trees as Emily Hill helped her with her dress and Cassidy’s husband, Doug Bancroft, helped Robert with flash reflectors. “Everywhere (Robert) picked was perfect. … Shooting with him was such a fun time.”
The reason for photographing and video recording something like this has to do with a desire to create memorable art, said Hill, 23, who has been a professional photographer since age 16. He also does website and graphic design — but in all these formats, his real interest is in telling tales. (Visit him online at RobertJHill.com.)
“I love shooting weddings for the storytelling aspect of it, capturing a couple’s love story,” he said, adding that what happens to the dress is part of the story. “Why not go out with bang in your dress, instead of it hanging and taking up space in your house?”