Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A Tale of Two Dresses (and Disaster)

I have not posted for quite a while, and here we are one month from the big day. Many of you know that I have been in hospital for rather major surgery, and I have been spending my time balancing work and wedding preparation with recuperating. Thank God for the internet, is all I can say.

On my last post, I promised the male spin on wedding planning. Well, to be honest, there is not much to tell as Nick is being rather calm about the whole affair. He is busy with the guy stuff - getting the music and sound system for the church and the reception sorted out, transportation for guests and bridal party, that sort of thing. Anything with wires or tyres, that's his remit. 

I will, however, tell you about what can only be described as Disaster. I have previously shared with you my anxiety over The Dress, and thought I had that one licked by having a dressmaker whip up a bespoke little something which ticked all the boxes. Having checked out her website, her references, had a consultation with her and examined frocks that she was working on for other clients, I felt reasonably sure that this lady could handle the very plain and simple dress that I wanted. At the first fitting, all looked to be going well. When I tried on the finished article, however, all my blood sank into my feet. 

It was miles too short. The gores of the skirt hung crooked. The hem was curling up. When I pointed this out, she said 'oh that will press out'. I was so panic stricken that I didn't even say to her 'well why didn't you do that, then?'. As for the crooked gores, 'you should wear an underskirt with that, and it will press out'. Everything would press out. There was no sense left in my head or breath in my lungs and I could have made a scene but I didn't want her to touch anything else on that dress, so I just left. Besides, she was going away for the rest of the summer and didn't have time to do anything else. 

Calmly, I made a plan to take this wretched garment to the best dressmaker I know, who has never put a stitch wrong in the 10 years or so I have been using her. I knew Sue would be able to sort this mess out. Why, you ask, didn't I use her in the first place? Because she swore that she would never make another wedding dress again, as brides are too wing nut crazy to work with and she didn't need the stress. Fair enough.  I rang Sue and asked when I could bring the unfortunate garment to her. She was so busy she couldn't see me for three weeks, so we made an appointment for August 1st.  

In the meantime, it turns out that I needed to have surgery. The date was set for me to go into hospital on August 2nd.  Hmmm....

When I eventually turned up at Sue's and put the dress on for her, she declared that this dress was only good enough to wear to a barbecue and she wouldn't touch it with a barge pole as she didn't want her name even remotely associated with it. I asked her, choking back tears, if she could make me a new one. Then SHE started choking back tears, pointing to an enormous rack of bridesmaid's dresses she had on the go, apologising that she didn't have any time to do so, but if I found something else she would alter it for me even if she had to stay up all night before the wedding. Between the two of us we were trying very hard not to burst into tears.  The full enormity of the situation hit. It was less than 7 weeks before the wedding. I was going into hospital the next day for two weeks. I had been told to expect a long and slow recovery but that I should be ok for the wedding. I would not be in a position to go out guerilla dress shopping after my operation, and I therefore had about 5 hours in which to find a new dress.

I hurried to the local large department store, and all they had were a few tattered size 8 wedding-y looking things and a salesperson who would not do any more for me than to tell me about a bridal shop located 'behind the police station'. Not exactly overflowing with hope, I found said bridal salon, and again tried not to burst into tears as I explained my sorry story to the very nice lady who worked there.

'You have to have something off the rack, there is no time to order anything'. She pulled out everything that was even remotely my size and we started trying on. Meh, meh, meh.  There were several more dresses to try on when I realised I had 40 minutes to get to a meeting 20 miles away. I left, and at 4.00pm reappeared back at the bridal shop. There were only two left and I could feel a rather large, black cloud shot through with panic starting to descend upon me. I then rifled through a rack and hauled out a dress which I never in a million, billion years thought I would even look twice at. I stared at it. I asked to try it on. It fit. It looked nice. 

At that moment, my Inner Fairy Princess brazenly walked into the bar where my Inner Librarian was sat sipping a small sherry. IFP grabbed IL by her Peter Pan collar and took her out in the car park, gave her a body slam, a double over the top back flip and made her cry 'Uncle' pinned in a half Nelson, before throwing her mousey little butt over the fence into a junkyard full of hungry, menacing dogs and rusty oil drums. Wiping the dust from her little fairy hands, she marched back into the bar and ordered a bottle of Taittinger. 

You will have to wait for the photos! 

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Too. Much. Stuff.

I haven't posted for a while as life has a habit of getting in the way when you would rather do other things, right?

What I have been doing is spending an unjustifiable amount of time on the myriad of wedding websites which exist to give inspiration to hapless brides, because obviously no girl ever got it right before Martha Stewart and her ilk came along. Most of these sites have a section called 'Real Weddings', and we are invited to inspect photos submitted by thousands of other couples on their big day to get ideas for our own nuptials. The over-arching idea behind all this 'inspiration'  is to gather together ideas to make it a day that is totally and uniquely ours. However, what I have discovered after voyeuristically devouring all this wedding eye candy is that, apart from every couple being young and beautiful and blessed with good teeth, most of these weddings look disturbingly similar. Beautiful and joyous, of course, but similar. I appreciate that there are fashions with weddings as with everything else, but the photos that I have enjoyed the most are from couples who have done something different and broken the mold, eg, red or purple wedding dresses, or retro/rockabilly styling (you won't find such photos on Martha Stewart's wedding site, you have to search 'alternative weddings'. Which is a ghastly term - these people aren't 'alternatively married', they are just imaginative and some of the brides have visible tats).  My tastes, and Nick's, are a bit more mainstream though and while we wouldn't personally want a rockabilly wedding or a purple dress, they do seem to be a bit of fun. Possibly I have OD'd on too many photos of strapless white gowns, cupcakes and tulle chair bows. (Disclaimer: there is absolutely nothing wrong with strapless white gowns, cupcakes and tulle chair bows.)

But let's not kid ourselves: the main reason for the proliferation of all this wedding porn is to get you to Buy More Stuff. And there is so much more Wedding Stuff to be had these days. It is mindboggling the choices which are now available in clothing, cakes, flowers, decorations - you name it. And it truly is a tyranny of choice. I actually had to have a discussion with poor Nick this morning over the cornflakes as to what sort of 'vibe' we wanted to express on the day - romantic and elegant? Country chic? Rustic? Village fete? Vintage?  Beer mats and darts? This matters, you see, because you have to decorate accordingly and you don't want to be buying The Wrong Stuff. Decorating the venue is what is striking terror into my heart. I have not even decorated my own home halfway competently, but, if you believe in the Gospel of St Martha, there appears to be an expectation that I must transform our venue into something wondrous. I am not sure how I am supposed to achieve this working with the limitations of a pub interior, even a nice pub such as the one we will be taking over for the day. In the end, I think I will settle for 'it looks nice, dear'.

I have been on an amazing site called Etsy, which is full of wondrous creations made by artistic entrepreneurs. If you have never visited this site, treat yourself:  www.etsy.com.  I have already ordered my cake topper and a wreath from two of the artists who have shops on the site. I think it is a wonderful way for creative and talented people to showcase their wares.  However, there is an entire section devoted just to weddings and you will start to feel dizzy after a while looking at everything on offer. It is enough to challenge the stamina of even a black belt shopper such as myself. One of the things which is new to me this time around are wedding favours, little gifts you put on the reception tables to give to your guests as thanks for coming to the wedding.  It is a nice idea, but immediately jacks up the cost of your event.  Some people make their own jams or chutneys or olive oil to give to their guests, but they probably have staff.  I am useless at making anything except possibly cookies, so no prizes for guessing what will be on our tables!

As for the wedding cake, back in the day, if you were a bride in the UK the only choice was fruit cake with inedible rock hard royal icing. If you hailed from the US, you had vanilla sponge with white buttercream icing.  In 1986, I dared to have chocolate cake with raspberry filling, although the icing was white to avoid gossip - the baker was only slightly scandalized. Today's choice of cakes is absolutely mindblowing. And, er, so are the prices. This is one wedding project that I am happy to take on myself. But for a bit of wedding cake drool factor, check out these gorgeous cakes from Peggy Porschen: www.peggyporschen.com.  If you have to ask how much they are, you can't afford them.

Speaking of affording stuff, only those who have never been near a wedding won't understand that the insertion of the W word in front of any noun,such as dress,cake or flowers magically quadruples the price.Which is why the sketch below really gave me a chuckle.Till next time, when I shall be discussing how men handle the experience. (Nick's just gone white...).

Video: 'Man Stroke Woman' - just about sums everything up.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Dress

Where do I even begin with this one?

I never imagined that finding a dress to get married in as an older bride would be so problematic. I have, thankfully (and thanks to some good advice from my sister) sorted this out, but I shall take you on a little journey on what it has been like to find The Dress.

Once Nick and I actually decided to get hitched, I started noodling about on the internet looking at websites for bridal wear and wedding ideas and general fluff and nonsense with which to squander time. I quickly discerned that apart from one sorry little chatroom populated by brides over 40 which I found, nearly everything out there is pitched for younger, first time around brides.  I half-heartedly dipped a toe into this faintly pathetic chatroom scene, and quickly realised that a prerequisite for acceptance from the other brides there was the inability to spell properly.  Let me give you a taster:


This jolly little sorority was not for me.

Anyway, the first thing that enters the mind of any normal woman when faced with attendance at an event is 'What on earth am I going to wear?', usually accompanied by just a wee bit of terror (well, at least that is what happens with me, especially when I realise I need shoes and a bag to match). When it dawned on me that I needed a proper frock in which to enter the bonds of Holy Matrimony, utter panic set in. It's one thing  buying a dress for a day at the races, or a cocktail reception - the world of ladies' wear is positively awash with these sorts of outfits, and one can browse quite easily from websites and  magazines. However, it is an altogether different prospect in choosing a dress that you MUST look amazing in (think of all those photos) BUT it has to tick the following boxes:

  • Sexy, but not too sexy 
  • Modest, but not too modest
  • Comfortable, but not too comfortable as this implies Lycra, elastic waistbands and bedroom slippers
  • Fashionable but not trendy (you don't want your children to die of embarrassment)
  • Fashionable but not vintage (it is virtually impossible to successfully pull this look off if you are over 50 unless you are at a barbecue or garden party, involved in amdram or attending Goodwood Revival)
  • Not look cheap but not look like you've raided your retirement fund to pay for it
  • If long, it must not look like a nightgown
  • If short, you must be very confident of your legs
  • If tea length, not hit you at the fat part of your calf
  • Not make you look like a complete fool. Possibly the most important consideration of all.
These are entirely different sartorial concerns from those a twenty something bride would have, as it is a universal truth that anyone under 30 looks good in a bin liner with just a hint of Vaseline for lip gloss. Younger women are also able to wear clothes which pinch, bind and dig and not bat an eye. If they know they look fantastic, their nerve endings can take a herculean amount of abuse.  Ah, yes, I remember those days....

Anyway, I marched off to our local bridal shop hoping that I might, just might, find something hidden away which would suit. Upon entering the shop, I immediately felt like an intruder. I looked up at the rails holding massive wedding dresses inside equally massive plastic bags, like a hundred giant cocoons hanging in perfect symmetry, remaining undisturbed until such time as a happy young woman frees the snowy white butterfly from within.  The sight of all of these amazing dresses would excite any woman's Inner Fairy Princess. However, my IFP was lounging on a sofa somewhere with a glass of Merlot, watching Steel Magnolias for the ninth time, and was unavailable for comment. 

 I glanced around the shop realising that I was seriously in the wrong place.

'You've nothing for me here', I said to the lady behind the counter, and I turned on my heel. 'But look at all these dresses!' she countered. 'Surely there must be something here for you?'

'Look at me', I said. 'Now look at your dresses. Can you honestly say that I, of more mature years and with a short and maternally built frame, would not look entirely ridiculous in one of your strapless, spangled, Cinderella gowns? Really?'

The owner of the shop heaved a sigh. 'You know, I opened up six weeks ago and if anyone had told me that I would need to have stock for women over 40, I would have laughed. I seriously underestimated that part of the market - you are the fifth older bride that's come in to the shop.'

'Were you able to find them a dress?' I coolly enquired.  The owner pulled a green bridesmaid dress off a rail. 'I ordered this in ivory for the last lady who came in. I can order it in ivory for you too.' I had visions of a job lot of this dress being ordered, and then a small army of identically dressed older brides springing up. 'No thanks, I'll keep looking'. 

Although I'm not sure of the statistics in the UK, I did find out that over 50% of marriages in the US are the second, third and fourth time around for people. This is a hugely untapped market. I found to my chagrin that if you type 'wedding dresses for mature brides' into Google, nothing really very useful comes up. I did find one site for a bridal salon in the US which did have a 'Mature Brides' button on it. I hovered my mouse over it and voila! What came up? A post about Botox. I was also enlightened about the type of casual and carefree weddings today's Encore Bride (that's what we are called in the US) is throwing: a shindig in an Italian winery complete with grape stomping; a beach bash in Hawaii; candlelit dinners for 100 in the gardens of art museums with the local philharmonic providing the background music - that sort of thing. As we are having the local church, a pub, and an iPod, I didn't exactly relate. And while the text on that post was telling me that Encore Brides don't want the same sort of long, white Cinderella dress a twenty year old yearns for, by golly, the beautiful six foot tall size two grey haired models in the photos had on those very same dresses.  Hmmm.

After much emailing of links to dresses on wedding wear websites, my sister and I were close to exhaustion over this. She then stated the bleeding obvious: 'Find a dress in your wardrobe that you like and makes you feel confident and great, and either wear that or go have one made up in another colour'.

Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and the best ideas are the simplest.

But where's the fun in that?

Friday, 27 April 2012

A Blog for the Older Bride (and Groom!)

My name is Robin. I am a mother, a lawyer, and a Been Around the Block Bride.  My mission in writing this blog is to offer help, advice and a shoulder to cry on to other brides like myself who do not fit the stereotypical bridal image which is so prevalent in the media today.  I wanted to connect with other women like myself who want a special, glorious day but feel quite frankly like a bit of an idiot when furtively leafing through bridal magazines at the newsagents.

In five months' time, at the age of 53, I will be going down the aisle one more time. To most people, this might seem a rather unremarkable, though felicitous, state of affairs. However, let me assure you that the entire process of getting to that point has been, and will continue to be, rather mind-blowing. I am not referring to the actual process of Getting the Groom. Hell, that was the easy part in comparison. No, I am referring to the actual wedding itself.  Weddings have always been big business, but a completely huge mega billion $/£ wedding industry seems to have sprung up since my last nuptials in 1986, when I managed to coordinate a wedding for 100 people in three weeks,  before the age of the internet.  I was living in London at the time, and  my mother and I did shop for a dress a couple of months beforehand. Try doing that these days - you will be laughed out of the bridal salon - that is, if you can even find one that will cater for brides 45+ years old and where the staff won't steer you towards a rack at the back of the shop, filled with unlovely shiny bridesmaid dresses, saying pityingly 'we can order this in ivory if you want'. 

Three weeks before my 1986 wedding, I flew back home to my parents' house in suburban Chicago and hired a marquee for the garden, a string quartet, the caterer, photographer, florist and even the minister with two/three weeks to spare. My father and I ordered the wedding cake together from our local bakery the weekend before. It was big and beautiful, and everything I could have wanted in a wedding cake. Invitations ordered by my mother from a local stationers (I didn't even know what they looked like - she just told me over the phone that they were grey!) were mailed out six weeks in advance of the big day, and everyone who was invited, save for a very ill uncle, made the trip.  The groom showed up a few days before hand.  It was a lovely wedding, and it's just a shame that the marriage went pear shaped rather quickly after that.

My point in rehashing this is that to try to do the same thing today would be virtually impossible. The wedding magazines these days (which are all aimed at twenty-something brides) all advocate at least a year to plan the wedding. I suppose this advice is all well and good for young people with time on their side, and who are also perhaps waiting to finish school or to find a better job, but for those of us for whom time has become an ever more precious commodity, I frankly don't feel like putting things off for another year, and neither does my fiancĂ©. 

The flipside of this is that because of my very laid back first time around experience, I am actually looking for a bit more involvement in this wedding. And happily, so is hubby to be. 

So watch this space as I report back to you on the rollercoaster ride that is a 21st century wedding for an older couple!