If you ask me, the true star of the UK documentary Big Fat Gypsy Weddings is Thelma Madine, the woman behind the series' big wedding dresses- complete with humongous skirts, long trains, Swarovski crystal-encrusted bodices, and glowing fairy lights.
Most all wedding dress designers are fascinating people, tasked with the inspiring job of making women's lifelong dreams come true and creating bridal apparel that may range from subdued to fantastical, but designers of Gypsy wedding dresses certainly take the cake, as the bridal wear they design for their clients blasts beyond the realm of surreal right into a parallel reality of fluffy Disney princess acid trips.
Where did Thelma Madine come from? How did she get started designing Travellers' wedding dresses? And who else is involved with this interesting subculture of dressmaking? We'll take a peek into the world of Gypsy wedding dress designers below.
Thelma Madine - Humble Beginnings
Traveller wedding dressmaker Thelma Madine got started in the dressmaking business by creating christening dresses for young girls. She went into dressmaking after going through a bad divorce and realizing that she had to support her three kids on her own. She was actually jailed for a year for continuing to claim benefits after she began making a profit from her dressmaking business, but found that her experience made her stronger - and also gave her a greater respect for the Traveler community.
"I'm not proud of what I did but I learned when I was inside not to judge," said Madine, in an interview with The Daily Mirror. "That is why I'm supportive of the travellers. They get knocked from pillar to post. Yes, there are a few bad ones... but most of them are decent people."
Madine's Foray into the World of Traveller Wedding Dresses
Thelma Madine began working more and more with Travellers when she got a flood of inquiries about three Gone With the Wind-style dresses she designed and displayed in her stall. At first, the dresses were for children, but eventually, clients requested wedding dresses as well, not to mention coordinated apparel for large bridesmaid parties.
Most of the styles Madine developed (20-foot trains, fairy lights embedded into skirts, Swarovki crystals) were at the request of clients, hence Madine's work is more a manifestation of subcultural trends than couture-style trend setting. This client-request-driven system of dressmaking is more reminiscent of eighteenth century fashion culture than that of modern times.
The coverage Madine is getting through the UK Channel 4 documentary series has been a boon for business. After Big Fat Gypsy Weddings made its debut in February 2010, Madine saw a huge increase in orders, and even started getting requests from overseas.
An Interview with Thelma Madine
Where is Thelma Madine Now?
Thelma Madine continues to own Nico's Dressmakers, which is based in Liverpool. The shop has been around for quite a few years and is known for amazing feats of design (for example, the world's biggest wedding dress, which Thelma Madine designed for 16-year-old Carly O'Brien in 2006).
The shop's address is:
136 London Rd.
Liverpool L3 2926.
If you have visited the shop, let me know! I would love to know what you think of it.
Thelma Madine's most recent widely-covered stunt was to create an impressive pink and red wedding dress using actual human hair. The dress weighs around 95 kilograms and contains over 250 meters of hair! The dress made its debut at the Alternative Miss Liverpool pageant (how appropriate), and absolutely blew the crowd away.
If you'd like to get updates from the wedding dress diva herself, you can follow Thelma on Twitter @ThelmaMadine.
Who Else Designs Gypsy Wedding Dresses?
There has been some speculation, online, as to how many other people are out there designing these out-of-this-world wedding dresses. Though we know that Thelma Madine works with a team of eight other professionals, including 29-year-old Leanne Phillips, there is not much additional information on this particular niche of wedding dress designers.
This comes as no surprise, seeing as the Traveller community, though impressive, is not exactly huge in proportion, and can therefore only support so many dress designers. That said, it would be safe to assume that there are other local dress designers that specialize in this style of dress, and may focus their marketing efforts on the insular Traveller community rather than blasting their work to the world at large.
More on Traveller Wedding Dresses
- Gypsy Wedding Dresses - Photos & Video of Impressively Big Wedding Dresses
I used to be under the impression that large wedding dresses had gone the way of the dinosaur and that slim silhouettes would be reigning supreme for the foreseeable future. This might be the case for most...
More on Wedding Dresses
- The World's Most Unusual Wedding Dresses
Because weddings (theoretically) only take place once in one's life, wedding dresses are a big deal. While many wedding dress designs are classic and generally uniform, there are some highly unique, unusual,...
chantelle townsley on March 13, 2013:
Hi I'm a Scottish tracker girl in courtin n gettin marred next year in 16 just now but not all travlers R like them on the tv they just wanna be filmstars if its a real gypsy\travler\romany then its not about thebest scars or the best dress its about LOVE xx
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on January 24, 2013:
Very interesting, Shanti! I hadn't heard anything about Roma weddings before. I'm glad you brought this up!
Shanti Perez from Spokane, Washington, U.S.A. on January 21, 2013:
There's been a lot of confusion due to this show, because the people known as "Gypsies" are ethnically different from Travellers. The Rroma people originated in India, as DNA tests have shown, and are the group known throughout most of the west as Gypsies. Travellers, while a distinct ethnic group as well, did not originate in India.
Traditional Rroma weddings are simple, not garish, and generally do not follow any religious ritual. However, some have taken on the traditions of the culture in the country where they reside. Some Rroma groups perform rituals where an elder in the tribe oversees a ceremony where the bride and groom drop their blood onto a piece of bread and then they exchange the bread and eat it, sealing their bond.
Maria on September 20, 2012:
I love all the dresses Thelma makes for the young ladies,It's so nice of her. It's nice to see how happy the young ladies in their dresses.. My question to Thelma is what do these young ladies do with their dresses after the wedding.. I would love to buy a couple of them..
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on May 23, 2012:
Good question! I'm sure they're carefully stored.
Maggie on May 19, 2012:
What do the girls do with their dress after the wedding is over? I can't see how they could possibly store a massive dress like that in those small trailers they live out of!
no1 gypsy gel on May 05, 2012:
travelers are the best no contest
chezza on April 19, 2012:
I love Big fat gypsy weddings and some Travellers and gypsy's are not like that I should know because I'm a Traveller but its funny when they cant walk in the dresses LOL xxx
Caila layne on April 17, 2012:
I am irish traveller but i live in america. I personaly love the style of the dress but i would never go that far. Honestly i think because of pressure. I don't want to stick out so much and i have a different life style. I love my culture and i love how i would be living, i just love what i have and where im at.
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on April 06, 2012:
Wow, that's awesome! Thanks for letting me know, Rachel. I'll have to check that out!
Rachel on April 05, 2012:
Thelma has written a book now and it was a really fun read. Made me laugh out loud at some of her stories. A lot of people say the dresses are ridiculous but most girls I know would kill to be a princess for the day in one of these creations!
Moon Daisy from London on March 20, 2012:
Nice hub. I love this programme, I'm watching it now in fact! It's interesting and sometimes astounding. It's a real insight into the gypsy (or rather traveller) culture. Although sometimes I feel like they are being exploited.
Zoey from South England on March 19, 2012:
I am a fan of 'my big fat gypsy wedding' but always feel sorry for the girls who can hardly walk in their heavy dresses. They get scarred from their dresses, and in one episode i remember Thelma saying that the gypsy girls compare their scars, and say the bigger the scar the better the dress was lol. Great hub and voted up :)
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on February 23, 2012:
Indeed, I find them fascinating- and I'm all for that!
Gypsy bride on February 18, 2012:
The dresses r beautiful and really show us travellers have to have the best!
kksmom on December 19, 2011:
i love the gypsy style wedding dresses.they definetly exceed even the most expensive designs ive seen here in the sates..im getting married soon and would love to be able to wear one of this huge fluffy sparkly dresses!!simply beautiful.
samantha mcdonagh on December 13, 2011:
i have to tell the truth,she is some women for making clothes and can believe me you don't have to tell her what to do cause she already knows.................all the travellers is on about her.
Paperwing on November 12, 2011:
It's an interesting show to watch and I, like many others that have posted here, enjoy learning about other cultures. The sad part for me is that the girls' goal in life is marriage and to tend to her husband. They can't even think of having a career. If someone wouldn't get married, I can only imagine the pressure on her or words that she was 'unfit' for marriage.
Also, the men get to live whatever wild life they choose to; before and after marriage.
Double standard for sure!
shea duane from new jersey on October 20, 2011:
jnxcjvn xc on September 30, 2011:
I want a gypsy wedding dress so bad!!!!!!
ruby-jo thurston on September 29, 2011:
anyone know how to get hold of her?
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on September 02, 2011:
That's awesome, SxcCaseyBure!
Thank you so much for sharing that, XxsxctravellinggurlxX. It is very impressive what a huge role personal honor plays in treveller culture, especially as honor seems to be waning in so many other cultures. It's great to hear about things from your perspective!
Very interesting, SnapHappy! I wonder if the culture has changed dramatically in a short time, been portrayed very differently by the 'reality' show, or if it just varies a lot based on region and the like. At any rate, I'm glad you find the dresses interesting, and thanks for reading the Hub!
SnapHappy from U.S.A. on September 02, 2011:
Wonderful hub. I watched several episode of it. When I was growing up, we had several Gypsies around us. They were very different from the featured folks here. Never saw a wedding gown like that. I was actually surprised to see another (beautiful, fashionable) side of travelers.
XxsxctravellinggurlxX on August 30, 2011:
In a traveller gurls life we can nvr be alone wit a boy we always hav to hav a sister r cozn wit us so dat da boy cant spread no rumours . We cant go ou or mix wit boys bcuz evn if da boy is r cozn somwob mite nt no dat nd say dey saw me wit a boy n it wud get bak to my pernants lyk evn if its just a cozn they dnt no dat. Cuntry gurls can hav boyfrends n evn childreb bfore marriage bt for a travellin gurl we hav to make sure or reputation is clean nd decant . R wedding day is the biggest day in r hole life its da day wen wecan b real life dolls. Goin from a princess to a queen . Im a traveller so I can telvya the onest truth abou us traveller so coment if u want to no more abou r life n culture x
SxcCaseyBure on August 30, 2011:
Wen im older I wAnt to work makin dresses lik thelma nd I want her to make my weddin dress
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on August 30, 2011:
Good points, Nonnie!
As for contacting Thelma Madine... well, you could try going through Twitter! She's @ThelmaMadine.
Nonnie on August 28, 2011:
Interesting culture info.But what a waste of money. Why not put that money toward bigger better trailer. When do children enter the picture? Where do they sleep? What becomes of those horrid dresses?
star on August 27, 2011:
how can i get the phone# of the lady who makes the dresses??????
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on August 15, 2011:
Hey Kool Jewels Michelle! Thanks for the comment! I'll send you a message via Facebook to ask if you might like to do an interview with me so we can include some info about your work in my online articles about these dresses.
Kool Jewels Michelle on August 12, 2011:
I don't know how i ended up on this but hay!! ...
I make wedding jewellery & custom clothing (havnt ventured into the wedding dresses just yet!)for travellers in Ireland and there exactly the same as the ones on the show!! More more more!! They are amazing clients, straight up & no messing ... you can be sure that every new creation is going to be wwwwaaaayyyy different than the previous so its why i love my job!!
They still get a lot of abuse for being travlers blah blah ... you get the good & the bad in all cultures, there no different ... & whos to say there choice of clothing is wrong?? Us country people are influenced by the media on what is right or wrong ... I admire some of there designs ... there living out there fairytale, with is more than a lot of country people can say!!
You can see some of my creations on facebook:
kool jewels michelle
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on July 28, 2011:
She really is, isn't she vocalcoach? I would really love to meet her in person and watch her work!
Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on July 26, 2011:
Thelma Madine is amazing! Loved the story about her humble beginnings. Remarkable wedding gowns. Big rating and big thanks.
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on July 26, 2011:
fashion on July 25, 2011:
Fantastic hub.I have no knowledge of such thing as Gypsy Wedding Dress before.Thanks for information.
SHAJEEL on July 13, 2011:
This hub is very informatic. thanks for sharing
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on July 06, 2011:
I'm with you on that, Sues! It is a most fascinating culture indeed. I don't know if I can advocate for super young marriages, but I can ABSOLUTELY advocate for all the fiber-fiber. Tulle FTW!! Someone ought to bring back the big poofy skirt- and not just for weddings :D
Sues on July 02, 2011:
I am completely mesmerized by this culture. I am also impressed with the moral fiber and strict adherence to Catholicism. I think the dresses are beautiful and the girls are charming. I am an American woman, old enough to be a grandma, and would like to see some of the Traveler moral fiber injected into some of these American girls in our culture.
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on July 02, 2011:
That they do, Aoife. And WHAAA? It's airing here??? What channel? Well, I suppose I should look it up. Thanks for the tip, Mythriel!
Mythriel on July 01, 2011:
I love this! The show is airing in the US and I haven't missed one yet. I enjoy seeing the inside of other cultures and of course, the weddings. Thank you for this hub.
Aoife on April 20, 2011:
Gypsy have lovely dresses
Aoife on March 26, 2011:
Thanks for agreeing with me
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on March 24, 2011:
Travellers do seem to be really nice people :D
Aoife on March 24, 2011:
I think gypsy nice
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on March 22, 2011:
Thanks for reading thedutchman!
thedutchman on March 21, 2011:
This information is good. thanks for sharing!
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on March 03, 2011:
Thank you, mysisters! I don't think there was really such a thing until recently - I think it started as somewhat of a trend amidst the Traveller community, then with My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, Gypsy wedding dresses became somewhat of a cultural item.
Thelma Madine, the wedding dress designer, is very guarded about how much the dresses actually cost, but I imagine they cost just as much as any custom designed wedding dress- and then some- because of all the extra fabric and special features.
mysisters on March 03, 2011:
Great Hub. I guess you learn something new everyday! I never actually knew there was such a thing as Gypsy wedding dresses. What is the price range for this style of wedding dress?
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on March 01, 2011:
Thanks for reading, crystolite! I imagine the show depicts a rather skewed view of Gypsy / Traveller culture, but it is fun to get any sort of peek into cool subcultures, no?
Emma from Houston TX on March 01, 2011:
Thank you very much for the knowledge of Gypsy
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on February 20, 2011:
Thanks, Les Trois Chenes! I imagine it must be a very entertaining show- perhaps you'll have a chance to see reruns of it!
I'm wondering if it might make it to the US eventually- I bet American audiences would get a real kick out of it. Wedding shows seem to be big everywhere right now :D
Les Trois Chenes from Videix, Limousin, South West France on February 20, 2011:
I saw this advertised but didn't watch any of them. Wish I did now, the dresses look gorgeous. Many thanks, Simone, for giving me a taste of what I missed;
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on February 20, 2011:
Thanks for reading, bestforbride!
bestforbride from Toronto, ON, Canada on February 20, 2011:
Never known there is such thing as Gypsy Wedding Dress. Thanks for the hub, found it interesting.