Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why Pippa Wore White

A continuation of last week…

Right now we’ve got a bride, groom, bridesmaids and groomsmen. The job of the first two in that list didn’t change over time (to get married, duh), while the jobs of the latter two underwent personnel, title and job description changes. Caught up? Okay, let’s keep going.

What, exactly, did these bridesmaids and groomsmen do back then?

In addition to dressing their respective member of the couple, bridesmaids and groomsmen were charged with protecting them. Bbridesmaids’ involvement was intended to foil the efforts of evil spirits. For this purpose, they wore white. The idea was that, the more similarly-dressed people in a church, the harder it was for evil spirits to identify the bride, attach to her and, in doing so, ruin her and the groom’s marriage.

In Britain, although centuries passed and no evil spirits succeeded in their…well, evil…plans, the all-white color scheme continued. This, dear readers, is why Pippa wore white.

In America, however, the trend of all-white-clad bridesmaids changed as the country’s social class structure developed. During Puritan times, only white, black and grey-colored clothes were available due to 1) a lack of imports of colored cloths, 2) a lack of imports of dyes and 3) Puritan ideology (colored clothes = showy = pride, one of the seven deadly sins). Therefore, at its very beginnings, bridesmaids wore white because every Puritan female owned a white dress and because white symbolized purity, the reason why a bride wore white on her wedding day. (If you really want to delve into wedding history, the reason white represents purity in Christian countries is because Jesus was covered in a white shroud after the crucifixion.)

As the country and its economy grew, and as some inhabitants became wealthy, many Americans became able to afford dyed fabrics. The appearance of colored bridesmaids’ dresses, therefore, was a symbol of the wealth of the bride’s attendants. The ability to attire bridesmaids in different colors indicated the ability to afford large amounts of clothing dye.

With that, America came full circle in the meaning of bridesmaids’ involvement in weddings.

The history of groomsmen attire is a lot less intricate. Since forever, men from the same vicinity, town or area possessed a piece of clothing that was the same as every other man (for example, a plaid kilt of certain colors and pattern). This showed solidarity and enabled men to easily identify who belonged and who was an outsider. More often than not, this was also the item of clothing the men wore into battle, serving the purpose of allowing fighters to identify who was friend and who foe. The idea of solidarity among men by a show of outward appearance remained intact even as the staples of male clothing changed from tunics to kilts to suits.

The role of groomsmen is related to their unified attire: to protect the couple. Wearing the same clothing allowed groomsmen to identify who was friend and who was foe should an enemy interrupt the ceremony and try to harm either the bride or groom.

(Every wonder why weddings are “formal”? Because, historically, only men’s formal outfits allowed them to wear a sword, thereby allowing him to fulfill his job of providing security).

Okay, it’s 2012 and we’ve got everyone dressed, now what?

Today, the roles of bridesmaids and groomsmen are vastly different from the jobs with which their historical counterparts were charged. Essentially, they’re much more fun-centered than protection-centered (And, it’s certainly fine with us here at HJ that weddings are less disruption prone than they were in the past).

Bridesmaid and groomsmen tasks are pretty generally. Both usually:
  • Attend the rehearsal so they are aware of what to do on the wedding day
  • Supervise any flower girls or ring bearers before the ceremony
  • Assist during the reception, according to the bride’s request (such as during the garter toss)
  • Give a gift to the couple

However, groomsmen also:
  • Help with special seating arrangements
  • Hand out programs prior to the ceremony
  • Lay out the aisle runner
  • Provide guests with direction to the reception cite
  • Clean out the church

Who would have thought that, technically, groomsmen have more duties than bridesmaids? Ha! 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Powerful, The Mighty, The Many...Bridesmaids?

Whoa, that's a large bridal party.

Way back when (well, when Queen Victoria sat on the British Throne, actually), a couple’s wedding attendants weren’t necessarily relatives or friends of the betrothed couple. What they always were, though, was important.

Historically, a couple’s wedding attendants were asked to participate so as to act as a symbol of the power of the families of the marrying couple. Having more attendants showed more 1) strength in being able to command a person’s presence, 2) money in being able to dress and feed more people (yes, the bride’s family paid for all the bridesmaid’s dresses back then), and 3) power by knowing more people to invite to the event. It was one of the few times where more actually equaled more.

It didn’t matter if the attendants were personal friends or relatives of the bride or groom; in fact, it didn’t matter if they knew them at all. This is because the higher a person’s status, the more important the event and, by correlation, the marrying couple. Therefore, the highest level of the bride and groom’s acquaintances were usually invited to participate. In turn, those individuals from whom a family wished to disassociate themselves or, at the very least, hide their connection to, were excluded from the couple’s attendant lists.

*Note: they still had to know them somewhat; one couldn’t approach the Queen and ask her to walk before you down the aisle without being at least introduced…

Talk about a not-so-subtle way of showing who the couple and their families thought the crème de la crème!

Have you noticed that at no point so far I used the term “bridesmaid” or “groomsmen”? Not only did those terms not exist back then, but, when they finally did appear, were quite literal. A “maid” was actually the maid a bride used to help her get ready for her wedding. Usually, this was the household’s “ladies maid”, but because of the special day a “bride” was typically given her own maid for assistance.  A “groomsman”, likewise, was the male servant who dressed the groom.

Why? Clothes back then were a tad more difficult to put on and off (no zippers, no elastic…). A well-dressed man or woman, therefore, literally might not be able to get dressed without some help.

As clothes became less difficult to wear and as the use of personal servants declined after World War I (the first due to the shortness of fabric and the latter due to casualties), the terms “bridesmaid” and “groomsmen” appeared (the latter appearing more in terms of the direction to who it was aimed than in the true sense of being a new word). This time, however, they were directed to different people, meaning non-servants.

Because maids were no longer the norm, brides began to ask friends and relatives to help her dress on her big day – essentially because, despite the changes in society, wedding dress designers insist on having their garments be virtually impossible to don single handedly, even today. Help was needed, but “help” in the form of in-house servants wasn’t around, so bride’s naturally turned to close acquaintances.

Close acquaintances? Yep! Attiring oneself in wedding gear means undressing, a quite personal thing. Therefore, most brides and grooms wanted someone they were comfortable undressing in front of to help with them dress for their weddings.

Over time, what started out as a symbol of power turned to one of basic need.

Today, the basic need still exists, but – true to modern-day form – brides and grooms have made that need fun! Most bridal parties consist of close family members and friends. Moreover, as society evolves, the traditional gender lines that dictated women on the bride’s side and men on the groom’s no longer apply.

Phew…we’ve gotten this far…I’ll let it sink in. Tune in next week to learn about traditional and modern-day attendant/bridesmaid/groomsmen duties. What they were and how they’ve changed just might surprise you! 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Seeking a Planner: Experience Required

Bad planning?

In the wedding industry, experience is key. Here are a few indications that the planner you’re interviewing might not know their stuff:

Spells stationery: “stationary”
Doesn’t know the difference between an escort card and a place card
Calls votives: “candles”
Has never heard the word “bengaline”
Doesn’t understand “pipe and drape”
Advises on menus for each person when you’re having a buffet
Doesn’t ask a venue about the need for a dance floor
Has never heard the word “chiavari”
Thinks a ‘parcan’ is a bird
Doesn’t factor tax or gratuity into your budget conversation

So how do you know if you’re dealing with an experienced professional? After all, it is quite easy to exaggerate about work accomplished at prior weddings (and to just downright lie, for that matter). A handy-dandy little device for determining whether a planner is truly experienced (and a mnemonic device in homage to the start of the school year) is HJ PLANNERS:

Honest: HJ promises to be fair, honest and open with all its clients. We are willing to meet with clients beforehand to discuss costs, options and any other aspects of working together. A planner who isn’t willing to explain how they work and why they charge what they do before signing a contract should raise suspicions.

Judgmental: a good planner only recommends vendors with whom they have previously worked and been happy with the outcome. This means that planners must be judgmental about who they work with. Ask if there are any vendors the planner refuses to work with; you don’t need names, but rather an explanation of why they choose not to recommend the vendor.

Professional: wedding planning is a job. Any experienced planner recognizes that and treats it and the industry with the respect it deserves. This means being on time and organized, as well as acting courteously to you and other wedding planning industry members.

Logical: a large part of planning a wedding is logistics. A planner should recognize if something won’t work – for example a venue fee that exceeds your budget – and inform you of it ASAP. To test a planner’s logic, ask them whether your basic plans make sense for your budget. Be worried if the planner stays mum about something you’re worried about being able to afford.

Active: wedding planners never stop working, and can usually be found online or at their desks most nights and weekends (ahem…I was up at 3:15 today). Moreover, many engage in work-related activities, like seminars and industry meetings, after work hours. If your planner is always available, it’s a sign that they don’t have much work on their plate. This doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve instant responses, but hounding you night and day to for an initial meeting may mean you are the only potential client on their books – and it’s not a far step back from only to first client.

Negotiator: a good planner knows that everything is negotiable. If a planner has negotiated special deals with vendors, it’s a good sign that they’re established and experienced.

Nearby: this doesn’t refer to the proximity of you and the planner, but rather their accessibility. Throughout the wedding planning process, it should feel like you always have your planner (near)by your side. You can tell early on how accessible a planner is by how fast they respond to your calls or emails, even if they’re just to tell you that they’ll call you later.

Educated: HJ’s planners possess graduate degrees and are certified. While not necessary to work in the field, knowledge about contracts, negotiations and business operations is essential to interacting with vendors. At the very least, you should be impressed by the planner’s verbiage and inside information they demonstrate when first meeting you. For a tried-and-true test, ask any planner you interview to define “bengaline”.

Record: planning one wedding does not a wedding planner make. Compare the number of weddings to other events that the planner has finished. If corporate events, birthdays or other large social events vastly outnumber the amount of weddings on the planner’s record book, it’s quite likely that they’re new to the field.

Stress-free: (at least to your eyes) It’s impossible for a person to never be stressed, but a planner should never show transfer or show that stress to you. A planner that appears overwhelmed or nervous when meeting you might just mean that they’re uncertain of what they’re doing and stressed out because of that. And, as any couple knows, it’s really easy to transfer stress from one person to the next.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why Dogs Shouldn’t Marry Cats, Ever

Today, while out walking our dog together, I asked my husband what should be the subject of this blog post. His response: “How dogs shouldn’t marry cats, ever.”

It might be a stretch for some of you dear readers, but not only did that make me laugh, but it also raised the fact that, as of yet, I have not discussed the strain that planning a wedding can put on a relationship.

Before delving further, I want to say that, yes, weddings get cancelled. It happens and is not shameful, but rather something personal for the couple involved. However, for couples that make it down the aisle (which is the vast, vast majority), planning a wedding means fighting.

I’m no psychologist or psychiatrist, but I believe that most couples fight. The intensity, type and amount of fighting differs for each couple, but that fighting occurs at all is almost universal. If you’ve even so much as glanced at one of HJ’s previous blog posts, you know that I repeat “wedding planning is stressful” enough times to turn it into some sort of game. Well, play away, because it’s true.

At some point, you and your partner will fight. You will fight about the wedding; you will wonder why you decided to have a big wedding at all; some of you will even fantasize about running down to the courthouse, tying the knot and then hosting a nice brunch (at least I did).  What you fight about is unknown, but when it happens is not. You’ll fight when you’re the most tired, sick of, frustrated and just over wedding planning, which is always about two months into planning.

Oh yeah, that two month mark is BRUTAL. In fact, many of our couples disappear at that time. We don’t worry because, with two months under the belt, there’s still plenty of time (usually) to plan the perfect wedding. We don’t worry because we know it’s been two months (if we’re uncertain, we check our calendars). We don’t worry because they resurface about two weeks later.

At two months, the stress and pressure of planning a wedding hits most couples. The amount of information received from multiple parties (friends, family, complete strangers who notice that you’re not yet wearing a wedding band to supplement your engagement ring, (yes, this happened to me, thank you total stranger at Harris Teeter), number of decisions that need to be made and the fact that all the decisions that have been made are big ones (venue, budget and guest list size) wear down even the most even-keeled couple.*

So, you will fight; you will fight like cats and dogs. Just realize that, unlike cats and dogs, your marriage should occur, and will be just fabulous.

*As a side note: my husband and I are darn even-keeled, if I say so myself.

My dog drew this.