I have been privileged to be involved in a few weddings lately as a bridesmaid (or, if you like, a matron of honour, although I don’t much like the thought of being “matronly”). On Saturday, I spent the day with one of my brides looking at bridal dress shops. Ugh! I think it’s fair to say that by the end of the day, we were all exhausted and a bit dispirited. We all agreed that the vast majority of these shops were hideous. Saleswomen tried to pressure the poor bride into all kinds of horrible dresses, and made adverse comments about the way in which she had chosen to organise her wedding or her dress preferences. She is not going to have a long engagement period. These shops seemed to see it as a mortal sin that she hadn’t put aside two years of her life to planning her wedding. But she wants something simple and cream or ivory coloured, reasonably enough: the only problem is that it’s very hard to get something like that without running the gauntlet of these horrid stores.
When I was preparing to get married, I went to two bridal dress stores. The first one was okay, but the second one put me off such stores for the rest of my life. The girl jammed me into a series of meringues, and because I didn’t fit into the size 8 sample dresses, I was told I was fat. I couldn’t actually walk in any of the dresses anyway. So I walked out of there and never went back to a bridal dress store again until last Saturday. In the end, I didn’t wear a white dress and I didn’t get my dress from a bridal dress store. So there.
I remember that when I got engaged, I made the mistake of getting some bridal magazines. I had never really thought about what I would do for my wedding, and after accepting my husband’s proposal, I realised that I’d have to start thinking about it. What a fright those magazines gave me! It was like a glimpse into a different world. First, they suggested that one’s wedding day was the be-all-and-end-all, and that one should devote one’s entire life (and savings) to that one day. Secondly, many of the dresses were both expensive and ugly. My colleague and I spent all morning defacing the bridal magazines, with choice comments such as “$3000 for a tablecloth?”
For some reason, I also went to a bridal fair during my wedding preparations. I don’t know why. Perhaps I had some kind of masochistic streak, or my terrible curiosity got the better of me? Well, in any case, it was an interesting sociological experience. There were some quite extraordinary things on display there. I could pay thousands for sculptures of kissing ice swans. I could get teddy bears made with the same outfits as the groom and I. I could get my bouquet dried and displayed. The dried flowers reminded me disturbingly of the skin of a mummy. One could even get Wanderer butterflies released at one’s wedding ceremony. My mother asked the butterfly lady the hard question: “What happens if you release the butterflies in midwinter? Won’t they die?” I’m sure the lady was cursing my mother, but I was applauding her: it was exactly what I had also been wondering. The lady looked kind of shifty and said, “Oh no, they’re fine, they just fly off somewhere!” Poor butterflies, frozen to death for the sake of someone’s wedding ceremony… The only upside was that I did find a good wedding photographer at the fair.
The thing that strikes me about these wedding magazines and fairs is that it’s all about having the right things – the right dress, the right cars, the right ice sculptures, you name it. What about some reflection on what marriage means? The important thing is not what you wear, or the car that takes you to the ceremony. Of course, it’s nice to have a pretty dress and all that stuff. I loved dressing up and celebrating. But that wasn’t the point of the whole thing. The point was to swear my fidelity to my partner for the rest of my life. It was in a public ceremony which emphasised the seriousness of our commitment, and celebrated our relationship with our friends and family. (I’ve never been able to see why same-sex couples should not also be able to have civil weddings: why should they not have the same opportunity to celebrate with family and friends?)
As my aspiring bride said to me on Saturday, “I’m not so fussed about the ceremony, what I’m looking forward to is waking up every day next to my husband for the rest of my life.” Now that’s what I call being properly prepared for a wedding.
Crazy weddings are not only a Western phenomenon either. Apparently since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the groom is expected to fund the cost of wedding, which is many times the annual salary of an average person. This has created problems for some grooms.