Wedding Traditions: Love ’em or Hate ’em?

By Poison Ivy,

One day recently I was driving through the historic part of a small city, and saw a horse and open carriage going along with a bride and groom in it. Chance-met brides always make me smile. I love looking at their finery, and I absolutely adore seeing the bridesmaid choices, and the little flower girls and ring bearers in their tiny versions of adult clothing. I will never forget one wedding party I saw outside a church once that featured twelve bridesmaids and twelve ushers, in four pastel groups of three men and women each wearing the same colors. The women’s gowns and hats were color matched with the men’s cummerbunds, ties, and boutonnieres, contrasting with formal light gray suits. They looked spectacular.

If you want to see some finery in the flesh, you don’t have to attend a wedding or hang out in a hotel on a Saturday evening. You need look no farther than any large public park, botanical garden, or arboretum on a weekend afternoon. In many cities there are certain garden spots where the locals traditionally go for their formal wedding photo shoots. And not just weddings, but prom and quincerera and engagement photos. I came upon a couple once having photos taken of them with their new car!

It’s only recently that Bridezilla weddings have become so talked about, but trust me, bridesmaid’s dresses have always been a trial. Put people in uniform and all you notice is their body type differences. So the bridesmaids end up being a parade of body types in pastel gowns, and all anomalies look bad, whether weight or height or hair style. As brides have themselves gotten more crazy over their wedding details, they seem to have become more vicious towards their attendants. The People Magazine Amazing Real Life Weddings special even has a section to which former bridesmaids can submit photos of themselves in their frumpy gowns, called “Top Ten Ugliest Bridesmaids Dresses.”People digitally disguises their faces, but the gowns are shown in all their hideous detail. Check it out on line. It’s a hoot. The absolutely worst bridesmaids’ gowns I’ve seen at a wedding I actually attended were wretched two-tone gowns that had huge ruffles and bows—and tight skirts. Not one of those unfortunate girls looked good. In fact they looked so bad I wondered if the wedding might have ended some friendships.

For those of you who don’t know what a Bridezilla is, imagine the natural nervousness of a young woman who is in charge of a large public event at which she is the center of attention. But who has never been in charge of a large public event in her life. That’s why weddings are so scary. This pressure can lead to the bride turning into a monster of selfishness. When brides become Bridezillas, they take out their desire for perfection on all around them, acting like humorless tyrants and throwing tantrums to control others. Not only do they frequently demand that their bridesmaids wear unflattering gowns, often they insist that the bridesmaids make all the accessories for the dinner tables (you know, the centerpieces and the little items wrapped in tulle and a ribbon at each place). This can be fun for some bridesmaids, but drudgery for others, and as the wedding approaches, the bride often becomes more and more high strung and unpleasant to be around and the list of demands grows. Some brides even try to make their attendants write their thank you notes! And if that isn’t enough, these micromanaging brides have been known to order friends to diet, and to refuse to include people who do not live up to their standard of beauty. And worse. Much, much worse. Advice columns are filled with the indignant questions of people who have been bushwhacked by crazed Bridezillas.

Supposedly, the average wedding in America today costs $30,000. This isn’t just inflation. As the norm for weddings has become more and more lavish, endless additional details have become routine, jacking up the total price. And more and more brides, bewildered by the complexity of all the arrangements and also determined to show off to the world, spend additional money on hiring a wedding planner to run this three-ring circus. Yet even as a child I attended a wedding at which no expense had been spared. Obviously: they let a friend’s children come! Usually, the children are the first to go as the bride runs through the list of invitees and starts multiplying the per person catering charge. Still, even back in the day, couples had a choice between elaborate plans and simple ones. I’m not talking about eloping versus a church wedding. I’m talking about having the ceremony and the reception in the back yard (to which obviously anybody could be invited without an additional charge), versus paying to take the vows in a cathedral and then hiring a hotel’s ballroom for a sit-down meal (for which a specified number of meals must be bought), a twenty-piece orchestra, and more. I heard a bride complain recently about how impossible it is to throw an inexpensive wedding, but this just is not true. The bride simply has to make choices about what must be part of the wedding festivities and what can be skipped. It may be difficult to not order every conceivable extra, but just think of the poor, exhausted guests! Who can eat or drink that much in one day? And who should?

I’ve been to a wide variety of weddings, from modest to lavish. Some in churches. Some in synagogues. Some in country clubs, hotel ballrooms, catering halls, or antique mansions and inns turned into event venues. Plus one in a cathedral. One held under an oak tree. One in a judge’s chambers. One in a back yard. One in the UN Chapel. One in a living room. And as for the receptions, where I came from it was customary to hold them in one’s own home or in a church basement or, if it was a fancy wedding, in a country club. City dwellers often hire freestanding catering halls. The venue or the lavishness of the wedding seems to have no bearing on the success of the marriage itself, though it does make a difference in how happy relatives are with the new couple. That’s why the arrangements can be so tricky. Pleasing Bridezilla just is a new trend. Pleasing everyone else related to the bride and the groom is the traditional issue.

There are conflicting cultural traditions about who pays for a wedding, but they’re all about power. Growing up, all I heard about was the bride’s family paying for everything. Then as an adult I learned about a different paradigm, in which the bride’s and the groom’s family share, thus giving the groom’s parents a chance to have a say in the arrangements—and a chance to get into a major battle with the bride’s parents. More recently, as it has become common for people to marry after they are already launched in careers, many brides and grooms foot the bill themselves. Thus giving the women the opportunity to be Bridezillas. The trouble is, Bridezillas often tell relatives what they must pay for. The groom’s family, for instance, is now often tasked with throwing an out-of-towners brunch the day after the wedding. And that can run into thousands of dollars, yet the family has little say in the event. Another sore subject discussed in advice columns.

You’ll notice that I have hardly mentioned grooms in all this. That’s because their main job at a wedding, aside from providing some of the funding and wearing whatever outfit the bride insists on, is to show up. Yet where would weddings be without them?

So, what do you think? Who should be running weddings? How can the awful bridesmaid dress problem be solved? How can we rein in crazed Bridezillas?