Hooked By The Wedding Industry
Even Today’s Modern Woman Can Get Hooked By The Wedding Industry
It’s my wedding day, and I’ve overslept. There’s no time for primping, or even showering. I roll on deodorant, throw my gown over my head and run to the church. When I arrive, my dress is speckled with mud. The organist has settled in the choir loft; the guests are nestled in their pews. The photographer must have overslept, too, because my dad is pressing a distant relative with a disposable camera into service. I refuse to accept the gravity of the situation, opting instead to repeat the refrain that has soothed me countless times over these seven months of planning.
“Everything will be just fine.” I peer down the aisle. Two-hundred guests stare back, rubbernecking as if they were witnesses to a 10-car pileup on the interstate. There is no pretending. Nothing is fine. My wedding is hell. About 2 million American women will marry this year. As my recurring nightmare indicates — I’ve had it four times in the past two months — I’ll be one of them, come July. According to a Bride’s magazine survey, I’m also in the 85 percent planning a formal wedding, the 43 percent who have argued over the guest list and the 23 percent fretting that everyone will have a wretched time. I do not, however, fall into the 33 percent who has dreamed of the Big Day since girlhood. Quite the opposite.
I never asked my mother for Barbie bridal wear or longed to be a flower girl. As I grew older, I did not envision color schemes or draft guests lists in my mind. I loved attending weddings and serving as a bride’s maid when called into service. To me, the bride’s lot looked wholly unappealing. All the emphasis on planning and perfection struck me as prehistoric — or at least pre-Gloria Steinem. My wedding would be a significant moment in my life, but I didn’t want anyone to mistake it for my crowning achievement. So I vowed that my big day would be small — a swift private ceremony stripped of pomp and circumstance rather than the list-making, stamp-licking, chicken-dancing alternative. Hearing one too many ex-brides tell me over and over: “If I had to do it again, I’d elope” cemented the conviction. But that was then. Everything changes when you move from the conditional tense — “If I were to get married I would not wear a fluffy white dress” to the real-world present tense — “I am getting married, so let me wear a fluffy white dress.” When the ring is on, and you’re surrounded by misty-eyed family members uncorking champagne, a five-piece band and three-tiered cake makes all the sense in the world.
You don’t want to keep this happiness restricted to the two of you. The Olympic planning committee must be involved. So you swallow the myth that “This is Your Day,” and you embrace the idea of becoming fluent in cakespeak. You assure yourself that you will be wiser than the brides who have aisle-walked before you. But in no time your hope chest is replaced with a hard-reality chest. The all-consuming Bridal Tide sweeps you away to the sea of minutiae. Love and Other Catastrophes Most days, it’s not ” Till death do us part” that freaks me out. It’s the little stuff. Should my veil extend to my fingertips, my shoulders or some point in between? What are the advantages of a 6-year-old flower girl carrying a nosegay instead of a basket? Smoked salmon on pumpernickel — or crab puffs? More to the point: Who cares? The reality is, once you say “I do” to a traditional wedding, you must. Knowing your freesia from your larkspur is not your right; it is your duty. Fluency in cakespeak is requisite. Minutiae must matter. This poses a problem for any woman who believes her purpose in this world extends beyond the length of a Rayovac’s extension cord. While your subscription to Ms. magazine goes unread, you scour Bride’s World from cover to cover. In between writing a grant proposal to promote citywide literacy, you call your cake maker to debate the merits of royal icing over butter-cream frosting. If such prenuptial preparations look retro to our ’90s eyes, that’s because they are.
Once upon a Beaver Cleaver era, a woman’s wedding day was the high point of her life. She knew that implicit in “I Do” was an agreement to make sock balls and Hamburger Helper for the rest of her days. Given her fate, she couldn’t just settle for a big day. It had to be epic. Yet today, fully emancipated from Betty Crocker, her granddaughters cling to prenuptial tradition. For example, about two-thirds of brides will have their fathers “give them away” this year. Susan Faludi — “Backlash” author and social critic extraordinaire -keenly understands why this is. She faxes me a response that is as disheartening as it is enlightening. “The snide answer, and partly true, is that the wedding industry wouldn’t have it any other way. But more than Bride’s magazine stands in the way of ending traditional wedding bells. “In spite of the advances made by feminism, women still rarely get to be the center of public attention and, when they do, it is rarely without a lot of judgment and hassles. Just ask Hillary Clinton. “Maybe the wedding day remains because it is one day when the culture unequivocally puts a woman center stage — and the man in the shadows. Or maybe it’s that as marriage becomes more problematic and uncertain, the wedding dress becomes more talismanic as a reassurance.
“The dress assures that you are going into something known and predictable when, in fact, you aren’t.” Delegate, sister When I ask wedding-book writer Leah Ingram how to reconcile my wedding self and my bridal self, she offers a no-nonsense tip: Fake it. “This really becomes a role you play. After it’s all over you think: How the hell did I get through that? That’s so against who I am. But you get through it. “My advice to brides today is: Treat this as a you would a project at work. Delegate. Have people help you. Understand this is a short-term project, and it will be over soon.” Her advice promptly reminds me of Channel 7 reporter and fall bride Helen Tederous.
As of late Ms. Tederous has been excited about her Vera Wang gown, obsessed with chair covers and depressed that her reception site cozies up to a car dealership. “I never in a million years thought I was the type of person who would devote whole weekends to deciding whether my bridesmaid dresses would be silk shantung or velvet. But no matter how cool or ’90s you are, you have to admit that you get caught up in this stuff. It’s like a weird sickness. I always feel woozy.” While waiting to report a story recently, Ms. Tederous jotted down a to-do list for her special day in her reporter’s notebook. Seconds before she was about to go on the air, she flipped to the wrong page — her wedding checklist. “I found my notes right before I had to go on, but could you imagine? ” ‘The photographer has been called and we almost have our band. The deposit is due in two weeks, and we have to pay in full next month. ” ‘Reporting live from American Axle, this is Helen Tederous.’ ” Obstacle Course to the aisle My conversion from eloping advocate to China pattern picker has been a rocky one, to say the least. In the planning checklist I tore out of a bridal magazine, I am consistently two months behind schedule, making my late-for-the-wedding nightmare a mathematical probability. I learn nothing at a bridal show — except, with all those brides sizing up each others’ engagement rings, what it feels like to be a naked guy in a locker room. At the floristry I am asked to name my favorite flowers. I tell the florist I have none. “Well, what have you envisioned?” he asks. “I, um, have no visions.” He pushes a catalog across the table.
The death arrangements are indexed right before the wedding arrangements. The catalog author informs brides that we must pick the sort of flowers guests will remember, because this is The Single Most Important Day of Our Lives. I scan photos of altar sprays, bouquets, nosegays and corsages for nearly two hours. I am plagued with indecisiveness. Somewhere between the lilies and gardenias I bury my head in my hands and mutter: “Why am I doing this?” The florist hears this. “I was wondering the same thing myself.” At the bridal boutique, a woman with a measuring tape around her neck chastises me for entering without an appointment. I didn’t know you had to make one. When I return with one the following week, she furrows her brow and looks toward the door. I assume she is wondering where my estrogen cavalcade is. Most brides invite a passel of females — mothers, bridesmaids, other friends — to partake in the trying-on ceremony. I’m alone. When I slam the dressing room door on her hand, I am sure she realizes it was a mistake. I didn’t know dressing room protocol around these parts calls for a saleswoman to put the gown on you.
By dress No. 10, I’m expert at this drill: Head up, arms down and turn to the mirror. By No. 20, I have mastered the more-is-less rule: The more faux-pearl sprigs and jazz-recital sequins adorning the gown, the cheaper the gown. A simple dress costs more than a mortgage. By the time I choose my dress, I have tried on 30. At the first fitting, as I stare down my bridal reflection in the mirror, the reality of the situation overwhelms me: 200 guests and a 150-foot aisle. The blood drains from my face. I feebly mutter apologies to the seamstress as I falter off the pedestal and crumble to the floor, a life-sized mushroom of satin silk organza. “I hope I didn’t wrinkle the dress. I was about to faint.” She sighs. “You brides really have to eat more.” I Do, after all It’s lunchtime, and I’m complaining about wedding plans to one of my brothers-in-law. He and my sister have been married a decade. Since that time I’ve rarely heard him wax sentimental.
Just as I am about to bemoan the state of veils in the ’90s, he does just that. “You know what? Watching your sister walk down the aisle was one of the best moments of my life.” I am humbled into silence. I am back in that old uncynical place, where misty-eyed family members uncork champagne bottles and say things like: “We knew he was the one. When did you know?” A current of optimism zaps me. This doesn’t have to be the three-ring circus if often feels like. The significance of the day will prevail. I can make it through these last two months unscathed. After all, we wouldn’t want any unsightly bruises on The Most Important Day of Our Lives, now would we?