In the hours before her 2006 wedding, Amy Stover, 26, didn't feel anxious about her upcoming nuptials. But once the white stretch limo pulled up to deliver her to the nuptials, and her father got out of the car to open her door, she began to cry.
And although her four, black-clad bridesmaids were lined up to greet her, along with her florist, she felt all alone.
"And it was the first time I was alone all day," says Stover, a financial-aid officer from Johnston, R.I. "And I started to tear up. And he opened the door, and I was almost on the verge of bawling."
But as she emerged from the limo, tears in her eyes, Stover's florist noticed that she wasn't wearing traditional 4-inch high heels or even white satin pumps. Instead, she was wearing flat, lacy wedding sneakers, a gift from the owner of KnotTheOrdinary.com, an online boutique specializing in wedding sneakers and flip-flops.
"And he was like, 'Oh my gosh! She's wearing wedding sneakers,' " recalls Stover. "And everybody started laughing."
Instantly, her nerves disappeared, and she was ready to march down the aisle.
From glittery white tennis shoes to sequined flip-flops, brides like Stover are choosing comfort over sky-high stilettos and wedges. The wedding sneaker business is just a niche in the $82 billion wedding industry, according to Shane McMurray, author of The Wedding Report, an online resource for industry insiders.
Wedding sneakers made their debut as a trend in the 1991 hit movie "Father of the Bride," when the character Annie Banks wore a pair of sneakers in her wedding, says Cheryl Mayer, owner of Damichi Designs, an online wedding sneaker store.
"That was the very first time you saw this, and then it was a fashion trend. It exploded all over the place and then it kind of died down. And now, it's not so much of a trend as it is an accessory."
While there is no way to estimate the average age of brides who buy wedding sneakers or flip-flops over the Internet, many of the them are in their late 20s or 30s, according to Janice Sullivan, owner of KnotTheOrdinary.com. Most brides change into their sneakers or flip-flops after the religious ceremony, so they can comfortably dance the night away.
But that doesn't necessarily mean the brides have to sacrifice fashion for comfort. These are no ordinary tennis shoes. Wedding sneakers and flip-flops come in a range of designs and colors, depending on the company, many of which are online stores.
Brides can choose from a leather platform tennis shoe with an iridescent shine and tiny pearl edges from Damichi Designs, flat sneakers dotted with pale purple flowers and a matching sheer bow from Wedding Sneakers LLC or Keds-like sneakers from KnotTheOrdinary.com with satin ribbon laces and touches of Swarovski crystals. The sneakers can cost from $60 to $85.
"Women's evening wear or footwear is pretty uncomfortable," says Sullivan. "So we like the look of them, we like to make a nice entrance in our fancy shoes. This is a way to have something that is still attractive, that you still feel good about, you're not running around the floor barefoot, and you're much more comfortable."
And reflected in what may look like an ordinary pair of tennis shoes is the telling story of the current face of American weddings — and the businesses attending them — many of which are becoming more personalized, with a greater emphasis on the tastes of the bride and groom.
While wedding shoes have been symbolic of prosperity and fertility throughout history, wedding sneakers and flip-flops now symbolize greater individualism, according to Lori Verderame, an art historian and certified antiques appraiser.
"That has much more to do with a post-modern thought for individualism," she says. "But for the most part, what we see is the idea for individualism in a wedding ceremony — everything from not only the gown and the favors, and the way the reception room looks, but also down to the shoes."
Wedding sneakers and flip-flops are traditional in the sense that wedding shoes, historically, are often fancy, decorated with beads, laces and satin, and are usually white, a precedent started when Queen Victoria of England wore white shoes to her 1840 wedding, explains Elizabeth Semmelhack, curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.
But don't put away your stilettos and platforms just yet!
There is still no end in sight for often inhumanly high, yet beautiful bridal shoes. Women still fawn over Manolo Blahnik sandals or Christian Louboutin pumps.
"When I see wedding shoes in a store, I see them looking higher and higher and higher, and more and more uncomfortable looking," adds Sullivan.
The notion of a bride wanting to look like a princess for a day dates back to Victorian times, and continues to influence the types of heels and attire that a bride wears, says Semmelhack.
"I think a lot of brides are tripping down the aisle in uncomfortable high heels," she continues. "I don't know that comfort has ever been a goal of a bride. I don't think the first thing in her mind is, 'I got to get me a pair of comfortable shoes.' I think it's that she wants to look like a princess."
And while footwear is symbolic of prosperity and fidelity, at the end of the day, wedding footwear is just that: footwear.
"I think [a wedding day is] important enough not to take yourself too seriously," says Stover, who changed into flip-flops after the ceremony, along with her wedding party.
"It's such an emotional day that to have that funny thing, just to know you're wearing sneakers under that big poofy dress. It just kind of lightens up the mood."