In a private lake in rural North Carolina, yards of satin and organza glide ethereally around former cover bride Nicole Nelson. Photographer Darren Cassese frames the shot, capturing the future of wedding photography through the lens of his camera. With her elegant white dress, flowing locks of chestnut hair, flawless makeup and brilliant pearls, she is the ideal image of the classic bride. But beneath the surface is a woman at the forefront of a revolution – a leader of ladies dirtying their dresses in the name of true commitment. In a time when the institution of marriage is at its greatest decline, a new breed of bride has emerged – one intent on proving that the success of a marriage is unrelated to the preservation of its symbols. This is Trash the Dress: an artistic answer to the growing dichotomy between what constitutes a wedding and a marriage. And brides across the country are signing up for a glamorized roll in the mud, dip in the ocean, or even burning or ripping their dresses to illustrate this concept. The exact origin of this growing trend is still a matter of debate. Hollywood directors have encouraged character brides to embrace dramatically unconventional behaviors for decades. On the show “Sunset Beach,” for example, one such bride ran into the ocean fully clad in her wedding gown when things did not go as planned. Life soon imitated art, and photographers from Mexico to Canada began expanding their wedding services to include dress-trashing shoots as early as 2001. Darren Cassese of D&J Photography first noticed the trend hit the Carolinas late in the summer of 2007, and demand has been growing steadily. “Brides are different now,” he says. “There is a kind of bride who wants to capture a nostalgic experience through pictures, rather than having the dress just hang in their closet.” Nicole Nelson’s sister-in-law Erica Nelson had no plans to keep her dress. After seeing photographs of a sharp-shooting Canadian bride aiming at a high-flying bouquet, Erica approached Darren with the idea. “My husband is an avid hunter, and I wanted to do something that incorporated our interests,” she says. When Nicole saw Erica’s photos, she immediately wanted to do a shoot of her own. “I spoke with my mom and she was horrified! But I just said, ‘Why keep it hanging in the closet getting cobwebs all over it?’” While Darren still encounters many traditionalists who can’t bear the thought of removing their pristine gowns from the closet, he finds that most brides fall in love with the idea after seeing the limitless possibilities of this kind of shoot. “Brides want to relax and pose in ways they couldn’t before the wedding. Some are preferring these shots so much that they are actually replacing their formal shots with these.” What was once a financial contract between two consulting families, today’s marriages are based upon the promise of everlasting love, friendship and commitment. Much like the demise of the dowry and the transformation of traditional roles, the institution of marriage and its symbols must adapt and change to survive. The destruction of the wedding gown is a promising indication that weddings and marriages are synchronously evolving with today’s sophisticated women.