Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Bridal Shower

Arranged marriages began to decline in American in the 1800s. With their demise, so too ended the tradition of a bridal dowry. In turn, this meant that brides were no longer sent to their new husband’s household with a multitude of items and money to help set up a home.

Yet, brides still needed something to bring with them to their new home, especially since society wasn’t quite yet prepared for them to contribute to a marriage by working outside the home. The result: bridal showers.

Bridal showers developed as a way for friends and family to provide gifts to a bride who would otherwise lack worldly goods to bring with her when officially a wife. For this reason, guests at a bridal shower are expected to bring a gift. Additionally, most gifts are designed for domestic use, usually in the kitchen (the bride’s traditional domain).

This history behind bridal showers means that there are a few rules for guests, the hostess(es) and the bride:

For Guests

Gifts are expected. The term “shower” refers to “showering the bride with gifts”, which is, as is know known, akin to providing her with a dowry. An invitation to a bridal shower requires bringing a gift with you to the event. In fact, shipping one before hand is pretty much a no-no unless it was mailed because it was fragile or easier to travel without and will be available at the event to open. Don’t be the guest who didn’t provide a gift for the bride to open - the discomfort isn’t worth it.

Gifts should be from the registry. A bride sets up and creates a registry to tell guests what she needs for her “dowry”. Respect her time, consideration, and energy by sticking to the list.

A helping hand is always appreciated. A gracious guest offers to help in whatever way she can, even if it’s just to carry a plate of sandwiches to the buffet table. This demonstrates an appreciation for the hostesses and a desire to create a great experience for and take care of the bride.

For Hostesses

Provide shopping guidance. Its entirely acceptable – even desired by most guests – to tell invitees where the bride is registered. After all, how else will they know where to shop so that they can stick to the bride’s list?

Expect gifts. Even if the bride has specified that guests should not bring gifts to the shower, some will. After all, it’s tradition to do so. Have a designated space set aside to receive gifts and allocate time to open them before the guests.

For the Bride

Register with a nod to tradition. Tradition dictates that gifts be domestic-focused. In fact, many bridal shower guests expect to gift something to be used in a kitchen, bedroom or bathroom. Even if you need absolutely nothing for any of those rooms, register for items to fit in them anyway and plan on (secretly) returning them in the future. Many guests, especially elderly ones, are offended if all you register for are items they deem unnecessary (such as an Xbox). This doesn’t mean that all of your gifts have to be traditional.

Don’t expect a lack of gifts. For the most part, shower guests are familiar with the need to bring a gift. Therefore, stating that no gifts should be brought might not be as effective as anticipated. If a guest brings a gift in contravention to instructions otherwise, graciously accept and open it in her presence.

Open those gifts. Part of a shower is allowing guests to see what was gifted. Guests like this because it helps them see the bride’s “dowry” and check out new gadgets and products. It’s not conceited or show-offish to open gifts before shower guests.

The most important part for all hostesses, guests, and the bride is to have fun. A shower is a celebratory event, after all! 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Maids of Honor and Special Privileges

If you watch TLC, you know that “Friday is Bride Day.” Typically, this means marathon runs of “Say Yes to the Dress” and “Say Yes to the Dress: Bridesmaid Edition” for a good 24 hours.

When watching one such marathon a few weeks ago (during lunch! I didn’t spend ALL DAY watching!), I was struck by the Maids of Honor in many a “Bridesmaid Edition” episode. These ladies seemed to feel themselves entitled to provide input for, dictate, or choose numerous aspects of the bride’s wedding, including bridesmaid dresses, bridesmaid accessories, and – shockingly – the hierarchy of other bridesmaids. In one episode, two bridesmaids started bickering in a wedding dress shop over which one should be designated the Maid of Honor. Can you imagine the bride’s horror? On “Say Yes to the Dress” this entitlement often took the form of the Maid of Honor believing she had the right to veto or approve a bride’s choice of gown.

If you’ve read the 2013 Summer/Fall edition of Washingtonian Bride and Groom, you’ll likely have encountered the article discussing how brides should treat their Maid of Honor. I liked this article (which appears near the end of the publication) because it provides a semi-gentle reminder of the fact that brides need to treat their attendants, and especially their Maid of Honor, with respect and gratitude. This includes not being too demanding, understanding the attendant’s budgetary limitations, and not expecting a Maid of Honor to drop everything at any time to help with wedding plans.

But, what about how the Maid of Honor should treat a bride? This, in my opinion, is as important a topic that which the Washingtonian article addressed. And so, brides, here is guidance about how your Maid of Honor should behave:

She should be polite and courteous at all times to everyone: this includes bridesmaids they don’t like, family members who are being overly demanding or aggravating either the bride or groom, and vendors who are rude. This rule isn’t too surprising given that politeness is expected in society; however, a Maid of Honor has a special place in a wedding and is often viewed as a semi-representative of the bride, especially if the bride is running the show with no wedding planner. Therefore, it’s particularly important that a Maid of Honor always be on her best behavior.

She should keep her opinions about the couple to herself and smile: nobody wants to know if she thinks the bride and groom shouldn’t get married or won’t last long, if the décor is satisfactory, or what she would have done to plan the wedding.

She should accept whatever dress and accessories the bride selects: remember “27 Dresses”? In that role, Katherine Heigel states something along the lines of “It’s their day. I want to be there for my friends; if they want me to wear a silly dress, what do I care?” This should be every Maid of Honor’s modus operandi.

This doesn’t mean that a bride can’t ask her Maid of Honor to help select bridesmaid dresses or that the Maid of Honor can’t provide a gentle, honest opinion about which dress she prefers. What it DOES mean, however, is that the Maid of Honor can’t throw a fit about a bride’s choice or have specific requirements (long, short, one-shoulder) about the dress. Think of it this way: the Maid of Honor doesn’t know every aspect of the wedding, how would she know what dress will fit best with the wedding’s atmosphere and décor?

She should do what is expected or asked of by the bride – provided she has agreed: this includes throwing a bridal shower and organizing a bachelorette party, if the bride so desires. It also includes completing any tasks that she has willingly taken upon herself. Note: “willingly taken upon”. This means that she must complete, in a timely manner, those tasks that she has agreed to perform – meaning, in turn, that the bride must ASK her for assistance or she must offer her help.

She should be available on the day of the wedding: this essentially means being at the bride’s beck-and-call. Although a Maid of Honor may have family members, children, or a date, what comes first on the day of the wedding is the bride. Anyone accompanying her should understand this. This may mean that her children need a babysitter or at the very least to have someone specifically assigned to caring for them.

She should be timely: please, please, please, be on time. It sets the example for the rest of the bridesmaids and helps the bride be on time. This is respectful of the bride’s hard work in creating a timeline so that her day goes off without a hitch.

She should be happy: if she can’t be happy for the couple or can’t stop focusing on herself, she never should have accepted being a Maid of Honor.

Reviewing all these “shoulds” reveals a common link: selflessness. A Maid of Honor is, first and foremost, selfless when it comes to helping the bride both before and on the wedding day.

So, what is a bride to do if she learns that her Maid of Honor is less than desirable? Talk to her calmly and gently, explaining what she would like and how she’d prefer her planning with her Maid of Honor to progress. If the Maid of Honor isn’t receptive, it might be time to appoint another (either in addition to or in lieu of) bridesmaid to the job who the bride believes might be more helpful. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

“It may seem odd, but….”

The venue is gorgeous, but where do you put a dance floor?

For many couples, venue searching is (hands down, usually) THE most stressful aspect of wedding planning. After all, venue searching presents the perfect trifecta for wedding stress: size, cost, and appeal. Sheesh!

There are the regular questions to ask at a venue:

How many people can the space hold?
What space will I be allowed to use for a cocktail hour?
Are there any restrictions on event times?
Where are the guest bathrooms?
Are there any noise restrictions?
How do you handle parking?
What tables and chairs come with the space?

However, there are also a few unique questions to ask. These questions provide in-depth information about the venue, which can help couples feel more secure when making a choice.

What entrance do servers use? The means by which servers enter and exit the kitchen should be unobtrusive. A doorway in the middle of a venue can result in servers being the main item in photos or numerous run-ins between guests and servers.

What permits do I need? Most hotels are set up for events and do not require couples to acquire special permits for their ceremony or reception. This is not always the case for private clubs, museums, or other special venues. For these locations, couples might be required to obtain alcohol or special-event permits.

Where is the band or DJ usually located? Power, amplification, and speaker placement are key to ensuring that reception music can be heard and enjoyed. Most venues have a specific location (or two) where a band or DJ works best, but some might not. This may affect the ability to use the space or require more thought about floor plan layout.

Where is the dance floor typically placed? At most receptions, the dance floor is centrally located. However, if the venue has an out-of-way location for the band or DJ, the dance floor might not be adjacent to the music source.

Are there any changes or renovations planned between now and my event? Although venues cannot predict emergency repairs or changes, and although some might not know of the property owner’s future plans, most venues have a good idea of any changes, renovations, or construction that will occur within the next year. Changes or renovations may impact the color scheme, size, view, or availability of a space – all of which can seriously affect a reception.

Where are cocktail musicians usually placed? Where musicians will be located during a cocktail reception is often overlooked because most venues do not have a specific location for placement. In this case, ask for several location options and also inquire into how cocktail tables, food stations, and bars would be set up in these circumstances. If the venue has a piano, ask whether it can be moved and, if so, to where so that it can still be played.

What are the limitations regarding floral arrangements? Florists are usually familiar with local venues, but don’t necessarily know every rule for every location. Additionally, rules can change on the venue’s whim. Ask for a list of what flowers and other décor (including candles with open flames) that you can and cannot have at the venue and whether that list is subject to change.

Does any furniture stay in the room? Inquire into what the venue will let you move out of the reception and cocktail spaces and what must stay. Large tables, chests, or heavy pieces can often not be moved, which not only impacts décor but also table layout.

Are there restrictions on how the furniture that stays can be used?  The grand table that stays in the room might be beautiful, but you might not be able to place any food or drinks on it. That may mean that it can only be used for place cards, which you had in mind to put somewhere else. Asking how you can use furniture that stays in the room tells you how you must arrange your cocktail hour and reception spaces.

Where do you typically place bars in this space? Nothing can impede a room’s flow more than having bars placed in awkward areas. Ask not only where bars have been placed in the past, but also where they are prohibited from being located and how servers access them. This ensures that drinks are easily delivered to your guests in a timely manner.

Choosing a venue is a difficult decision. The more a couple knows about a space and how it can be used, the easier it is to select a reception location.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The 1800’s Wedding

The history of weddings can be divided into two categories: those occurring before approximately 1830 and those after. The timing affected where the wedding was held, what the bride wore, and what guests were served.

Prior to 1830, weddings were very different affairs from the grand, all-night dance parties prevalent today. Typically, a bride and groom married in a church in the morning and followed it up with a brunch-focused reception at the bride’s home.

There also was no true wedding cake at these weddings, not as we know it. In fact, couples served either a bridal pie or loaf of bread. A glass ring was hidden in the pie, the lucky “finder” of which was said to become the next to marry. The bread tradition is a little more disconcerting: it was broken over the bride’s head to symbolize her impending loss of virginity and guests subsequently picked crumbs off her head, dress, and veil to obtain some of her good luck. Yech.

Other foods left out for guests were quite simple - eggs, bread dishes, perhaps some fruit. What was offered was what the bride’s family could afford and, more often than not, what they could make from what they grew or bartered.  Food was served buffet style, because families usually didn’t have enough dishes for everyone.

Why was this the case? Well, during the very early 1800s, much of the U.S. workforce was involved in agriculture. The lifestyle of a farming family simply did not lend itself to extravagant dresses or parties. Then, the economic panic of 1819 hit, the result of which was a change in the nation’s economic focus from agriculture to industrialized production and urbanization. More people had money and lived in cities where more food and locations were available, and so weddings became more extravagant.

With this increased extravagance, gone were at-home receptions. Couples still married in churches, just later in the day, followed by an evening reception.

It was in the 1830s that brides began wearing white dresses and that parties were held outside the home. Prior to this time, it was considered impractical to purchase a white dress, much less one specifically for a wedding, so the bride wore her best gown. The white wedding dress craze (which lasts today) is attributed to Queen Victoria’s choice of the color for her wedding gown.

Food served to guests also changed, and in came wedding cakes and full dinners.  American wedding cakes weren’t like British ones (i.e., fruitcake), but rather similar to what we have today: traditional sugary cake with filling and frosting. (Yum!)

The other food might surprise you, but just because it consists of items not commonly eaten in today’s society. Dishes included cold game (think pheasant), oysters, ices, and poached meats served with aspic (galantines). Food was served buffet style, in the form of how it was traditionally served at a large gala.

Although perhaps not so yummy by todays’ standards, these dishes were luxurious in the 1800s – hence their being served at extravagant celebrations. Of course, you’ll likely select different foods for your reception, but now you know the history that you’re up against.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

See you at the rehearsal dinner!

D.C. weddings are unlike other weddings. Not only does the D.C. atmosphere add a unique touch to each celebration, but weddings in the District are, many times, also akin to destination weddings.

After living here for a little while, I learned that it’s quite rare for someone to be actually from the District. The closest many come to being “from the District” is having grown up in one of D.C.’s outlying suburbs.

Instead, what’s common is for brides and grooms to be from somewhere else, like another state entirely, but to have resided in the District for some time, either years or months. For whatever reason, perhaps their jobs or love of D.C., these couples decide to have a wedding in the District.

The result of this is that almost every guest attending a D.C. wedding is from out of town - or at least far enough away that driving home at the end of the night is difficult. This adds up to – voila! – a destination wedding in the District!

This leads to problems with creating a guest list for a rehearsal dinner. Traditionally, a rehearsal dinner provides out-of-town guests with a welcome, an opportunity to see the soon-to-be married couple, and a meal. It is a “thank you” to those who chose to travel long distances for the wedding. With everyone from outside D.C., however, couples marrying in the District are often unsure who to invite to a rehearsal dinner, or how to draw the line on whom NOT to invite.

The debate is understandable. Inviting every out-of-town guest can lead to a huge rehearsal dinner and, in effect, a second wedding. Not only does this increase the cost of the rehearsal dinner and impact a couple’s wedding budget, but it also means spending more energy planning and organizing something other than the ceremony and reception. 

Before diving into how to avoid turning your rehearsal dinner into a second wedding reception (a pre-reception, if you will), I must explain that guests understand. Guests are not clueless; they know that a couple isn’t originally from D.C. and understand why there is no scheduled traditional rehearsal dinner. 

We’ve yet to encounter a guest who is offended by not being invited to a rehearsal dinner…but only when NOBODY was been invited to a rehearsal dinner. That’s right, its an all-or-nothing situation, folks.

This leaves couples with a few options:

A dinner for immediate family and the wedding party only: this means that no guests are invited to the rehearsal dinner. This option is more than suitable for almost any large wedding, including those where the majority of guests are from out of town.

A cocktail reception for everyone: opting for a relaxed cocktail party with light appetizers means that all guests get to mingle with each other and the couple. It also means that the couple must do much less planning and budget spending for their rehearsal dinner.

A combination dinner and cocktail hour: invite immediate family (grandparents, parents, and siblings) and the wedding party to dinner, then follow up with a cocktail party for all guests. This option requires a little more planning, but allows couples to give every guest something special the night before their nuptials.

A Sunday brunch: morning and mid-day meals are less expensive than dinner. Hosting a day-after buffet brunch in which guests can arrive and depart whenever they want usually takes less of a toll on a couple’s wallet and requires less planning. Eliminating alcohol at the brunch often makes it more affordable.

Whatever option is chosen, the rules are to

  1. Stick with it – exceptions for aunts, uncles, and friends can’t be made without leaving some guest feeling excluded because an exception wasn’t made for them.
  2. Don’t explain – unless asked directly, there’s no reason to tell guests your reasoning behind not having a rehearsal dinner. Doing so opens you up to a barrage of requests for exceptions.
Happy planning!