Say Yes to the Groom

My teenage daughter was home sick for a couple of days last week, and somehow we ended up binge-watching the reality show Say Yes to the Dress.  It’s hard to believe anyone hasn’t yet heard of it, but in case you haven’t, the show is shot at an enormous bridal store in New York and follows the stories of several consultants (i.e. salespeople) as they help future brides try on gowns until they find the right one or leave in despair. The shoppers arrive with entourages–friends, siblings, parents, future in-laws, etc, the more combative and critical, the better (not for them, for your viewing pleasure). The tension hinges on pretty much one thing: will the bride find the wedding gown of her dreams? Or will she leave empty-handed? (Okay, literally they ALL leave empty-handed because they try on samples and the actual dresses require like eight months of alterations, but you know what I mean.)

Oddly riveting. The show is a visual form of potato chip: you know there’s nothing even remotely good for you in it, but once you start watching you don’t want to stop. I’m not even sure why it’s so fascinating (although I bet the people who edit it know exactly what keeps people coming back). I guess there’s the wish fulfillment aspect of watching someone get to try on enormous gown after enormous gown–if you’ve ever loved a Disney movie or old Hollywood glamour, this is probably something you’ve wanted to do yourself. And of course they play up the drama–focusing on the young woman whose parents can only afford a three thousand dollar dress but falls in love with a six thousand dollar one, or whose sister hates everything she tries on, or who bursts into tears when she finally puts on THE DRESS, the one that apparently makes all her dreams come true.

Because, you know, buying the right wedding gown is the most important thing a young woman will ever do. They tell you so on the show many times. “This is the most important decision a bride will make,” the consultants tell us over and over again. One girl goes to try on her dress and bursts into tears because the train didn’t come out the way she was told it would–the design ends too high up–and sobs to her mother, “The wedding is in less than a month. This is a disaster. What will I do? What’s going to happen? I can’t get married like this.”

Have you guessed by now that I hate-watch this show? I hate everything about it. I hate most of the young future brides who have terrible taste and think it’s a good idea to go over their parents’ budgets and put them in debt so they can have a ten thousand dollar dress with a see through mesh corset inset that shows their navel. I hate the consultants who encourage the idea that one dress will improve or destroy your entire  life. Mostly I hate myself for watching and enjoying it and since it’s something my daughter and I like to do together, I’m constantly reminding her that this is ridiculous, that no one should spend that much money on something that you wear for a few hours, that a wedding is simply a big party, nothing more, nothing less, but a MARRIAGE is a wonderful and important lifelong (if you’re lucky) commitment.

A visit from my niece, who’s planning her own wedding (and who is thankfully nothing like the brides on the show), prompted my daughter to get my old wedding-gown out of the closet and unzip its plastic cocoon. I warned her that it wasn’t a very pretty dress, but even so, I was shocked at how ugly it was–I got married in the late eighties and that was not a kind era for fashion.

My search for a wedding dress was kind of a sad one. I picked something vintage out with my mother–a long skirt and crocheted lace top–then decided I didn’t like them. She was so annoyed at having to return them (the store owner wouldn’t even take back the top, so it hung for years in my closet, reproaching me with the waste of money) that I told her I’d take care of finding something else to wear by myself and one day wandered into a store, found a sample dress on a sales rack, grabbed it and bought it. I didn’t particularly like it but I didn’t hate it.

It sure is ugly to look at now though, with its cheap beading and pieces of mesh lace–oh, and the ribbons on its puff sleeves. The fabric is some substance unknown in nature. You know Princess Diana’s crazy over-the-top eighties wedding gown? Imagine that made for ten bucks and you’d basically get my dress.

Annie wanted to try it on of course, so on it went–easily, because a crapo dress like this one has a zipper, not a fancy lace-up or buttoned back. She’s fifteen and long-legged and made it look as good as it could look, but even she agreed it wasn’t something you’d want to wear. Still, she played around for a while with the dress and veil, mugging for us and having fun.

I looked at this girl in the ugly dress I had bought quickly and never loved and thought about her and about her three brothers and about everything that has happened in my life since I wore it down the aisle.  Almost twenty-four years later, my husband still has no reason to think I’m much of a dresser–most days I’m in thrift-store jeans and a comfortable sweatshirt–but, man, we’ve been through a lot together, and I can’t imagine facing a day without him at my side.

“You know,” I said to Annie, “Say Yes to the Dress is a ridiculous show. You know that what you wear at your wedding doesn’t actually matter, right? That the only thing that matters is who you’re marrying?”

“Of course I know that, Mom,” she said. Then, “How does the veil go on?”

Trying on the Ugly Wedding Gown.

Trying on the Ugly Wedding Gown.

She’ll figure it out.



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6 responses to “Say Yes to the Groom

  1. I got married less than a year ago and was continually horrified through the gruelling wedding-planning process that so much emphasis is placed on making the wedding day perfect, and not on the effort that goes into making a marriage work. Fortunately, thanks to all the friends and family who pitched in to help create a wedding for 80 guests (most of them relatives, thanks to many divorces and remarriages) for under £5K, I had a pretty good wedding, but I barely remember any of it. It went by in such a blur. I do have a lot of fun memories of snuggling on the couch with my husband and watching crappy TV and eating popcorn after a long day, and I wouldn’t trade any of them for memories of a perfect wedding day.

    Regarding dresses, I did try a bunch on in bridal shops, but wedding dresses are crazy expensive. Like, unreasonably. My mum happens to be a dressmaker in her spare time (and is already turning my old bedroom into a sewing room) and she made a gorgeous lace-overlay dress with a corset back for less than £500. A lot of time went into it, but bridal shops are really ripping girls off and guilt-tripping them into thinking they need to spend ridiculous amounts on a dress. If I didn’t have a seamstress for a mother and an army of friends with awesome skills, I probably would have gone to a registry office rather than wait 5 years to be able to afford the “perfect” wedding.

    Honestly, I don’t think I could have got my “perfect” dress in a bridal shop. I don’t have a typical figure (I’m a white girl with a black bum, a defined waist and a stomach that isn’t flat) and I recall a lot of the sample dresses in bridal shops being absolutely tiny, which made it hard to figure it out if they actually suited me when the sales assistant was trying to squeeze me into them. My mum made me try on her dress (also 80s, but maybe a bit more stylish than the typical ones since she made it herself) which created much amusement given that she was a UK 8 (US 4) when she got married and I’m at least two sizes bigger (and about three cup sizes) and an inch shorter. I waddled around the living room with the dress gaping open over my back and the hem floating around my ankles for a bit before she finally admitted that I did not get my body shape from her. I’m sure I’ll have a similar situation if I have a daughter.

    Also, even having your dress custom-made isn’t perfect. I didn’t find a bra that fitted properly until my dress was nearly finished, and the material on the bra was so shimmery that it made my dress slip down. We had to sew poppers on to the bra and dress and pop them together. Naturally, they unpopped about ten times when I was ceilidh dancing (as must happen at all Scottish weddings). And I didn’t try to sit down in my wedding dress until the day of the wedding, and my mum had to sew the bottom of the corset-back together in the toilets at the hotel because I kept flashing my pants. There is no perfect wedding day, but thankfully a perfect wedding doesn’t guarantee a happy marriage 🙂

  2. Barbara

    The show makes me crazy. The unbridled greed and superficiality of it all just make me itch. And that anyone would be willing to spend thousands of dollars on a dress that one wears for a few hours makes my frugal soul unhappy. Trying on dresses is fun. Seeking the approval of your 6 bridesmaids and disapproving mother is not. The kind of bitchiness that I have seen on that show (yes, I have watched it about 5 times) is awful.

  3. Claire

    Thanks for sharing your story, Rachel! I love it. And I agree with you that the wedding gown industry feels like an enormous rip-off. If I were to do it over again, I would find a beautiful designer dress that’s not specifically for a bride–just a pretty dress in a light color that I could wear again. Because I’d be willing to splurge on it for a wedding, and I’ve never owned anything like that. Whereas I never even wanted to look at my silly gown again after the wedding. (At least it was cheap).

  4. Claire

    Oops, just saw your comment too, Barbara. I agree. Annie and I saw one girl spend 22,000 dollars on a dress on that show. On a dress. And she wasn’t even particularly happy with it. And, yes, the women are also incredibly critical of one another–they’re clearly encouraged to be negative by the show’s producers. Otherwise, where’s the drama?

  5. Ellen Austin-li

    Love this, Claire! I love your comment about this show being “a visual form potato chip.” Haha! I’ve never seen this particular show, but I have “hate-watched” many other equally inane shows. There is something riveting about watching a train wreck right before your very eyes!

  6. Deb Z.

    My 20 year old watches that ghastly show, so I’ve seen bits of it as I walk through the room. It is quite horrible, and I remind her repeatedly that her parents aren’t putting out that kind of money (even if we could afford it), for her or her sisters. I, too, got married in the late 80’s. I designed a simple dress with a seamstress. It cost me $350. Can’t beat the price!

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