Thoughts on life after the PhD
Despite the glut of wedding-reality programming on channels like We, Oxygen, and Lifetime, despite endless movies and TV shows depicting everything leading up to the big day, despite a culture that shoves fairytale wedding images down my throat on a regular basis, I still don’t think I ever really knew how much work it was to plan a wedding. How many strange details had to be decided upon, and how many arbitrary customs had to be followed or rejected (is it really normal for bridesmaids to dye their shoes to match their dresses?). And I doubt I’ll know the full story any time soon, since marriage is a pretty distant speck (if there’s even a speck) on the horizon. But for the first time a dear friend has asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding, giving me a little more of an inside view than I’ve had in the past.
Today I ventured for the first time into Wedding Land via David’s Bridal, one of those large chain stores that provides everything from wedding dresses to champagne glasses. It was bizarre to realize that at thirty-two I’d never been to one of these places, though I suppose it’s not the kind of store you just wander into. This is the wedding industry at its most industrial–the staff do their jobs like polite drill sergeants who also manage to play the role of gushy girlfriend. From the dress to the bridesmaids to the place settings to the bachelorette party accessories, they’ve got you covered.
I went to David’s Bridal with the bride and another friend to pick out bridesmaids’ dresses, which was surprisingly painless–a lot of the stuff on the racks looked garish and drowning in taffeta (does anyone ever really choose the bright orange color?), but the one we picked out was very pretty. All around us women stood on pedestals (yes, the store provides each bride-to-be with her own pedestal and enough mirrors to make anyone dizzy) and tried on huge masses of white fabric. My friend wanted to try on a dress just for fun (she’s having her dress made elsewhere), but apparently that involves a pre-arranged appointment and a small army of staff to stuff, pin, and fluff.
It’s bizarre how many little wedding customs there are that have become a money-making venture for stores like David’s Bridal. Lace garters (sometimes in blue). Ring pillows. Guest books with silver covers. Invitations. Flower girl dresses. Bouquets. Wedding dress lingerie. Strapless bras. White shoes. White stockings. Veils. Picture frames with “My Wedding” written on them. Hope chests. Wedding dress storage boxes. Purses dyed the same color as the bridesmaids’ dresses.
My favorite section was the “humorous” accessory section, which included baseball caps with “Bride” and “Groom” written on them (so THAT’S where all those obnoxious people who travel together for a wedding get their gear), mugs and bags that said “Mother of the Bride,” “Bridesmaid,” and “Maid of Honor,” a trivia game called “Know Your Bride / Know Your Groom,” and enormous glass wedding rings. There was a whole section of sporting goods with “Bride in Training” written on them–not entirely sure who these were for, or how exactly you “train” to be a bride.
I’ll admit that I had a great time–I suppose as a lefty academic type I’m supposed to scorn the wedding-industrial complex with its patriarchal, heteronormative standards and its focus on ruffles over real love and partnership. But somehow I just can’t bring myself to feel cynical. I love my friend, and her fiance, and even though the planning will be crazy stressful I know their wedding will be a lot of fun. Though that’s probably easier to say when you don’t have to do the bulk of the planning.
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