“We’re gonna do the traditions we missed the first time,” says Earl a.k.a. “Pops” (Laurence Fishburne), the Johnson family patriarch on Black-ish, about his impending marriage to ex-wife Ruby (Jenifer Lewis). Then in Pops true form—with perfect comic timing and a mischievous smile—he adds, “…including keeping our vows.”
Sure, the Johnsons’ re-do nuptials, which have been a long time coming, take place in the upcoming episode of the ABC hit comedy. But Pops’s sentiment applies to real life, too. Because encore weddings—whether to a former spouse whose boat you may or may not have blown up or a partner to embark on a new life stage together—allow optimal opportunity for confident self-expression and a full celebration of heritage and culture. It’s the time to fully be yourself, without all those added pressures from the first time around.
For proud Black Americans, Ruby and Pops—who lived through the Civil Rights movement, and raised son Dre (Anthony Anderson) to become a successful advertising exec, now bringing up his own family with his doctor wife Bow (Tracee Ellis-Ross)—a celebration of heritage through wardrobe was an integral (and scripted) part of their second wedding.
In the episode, Ruby commissions a Kente cloth wedding dress with “angel wings” from a designer who supposedly created looks for a famous celebrity (hint, hint: Black is King). In real life, Ruby’s ensemble was created by veteran costume designer Michelle Cole. Obviously, her overzealous angel wings idea was ditched but the final look was something really special.
For seven seasons, the show is lauded and appreciated by fans for its ongoing mission of teaching important history, often neglected from school curriculums, and honestly addressing issues facing Black Americans today. The Johnson family micro-wedding—social distanced and outdoors—also reflects the realities of celebrating major life moments during the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic.
“In the midst of all of this, these two people get married,” Cole tells Brides on an early morning call while driving to set. “With all the hardship and challenging times—and everything that we’re going through—life still does move forward. In magazines and on my Instagram, I saw people still getting married!”
However, planning fake nuptials is still a massive undertaking, especially when it comes to the wedding dress. Usually, a bride enjoys six months to a year to find, buy, and tailor a wedding gown. But Cole and her team had approximately two weeks to build Ruby’s stunning African Kente cloth ensemble. Luckily, Cole, who simultaneously designs creator Kenya Barris’s two other shows, Grown-ish and #BlackAF, along with her key costumer and Project Runway season 11 runner up, Stanley Hudson, are used to excelling under extreme time pressure.
Cole, who earned three of her seven Emmy nods for Black-ish, first dove into research for African nuptials and traditional dress. She also drew from her past experience costume designing ensembles speaking to heritage and cited The Bernie Mac Show and In Living Color, on which she received her first four Emmy nominations. “We’ve always