Here comes the bride

July 19, 2013 § 10 Comments

This post has been brewing for a while, but it swung into full flight this morning when it was brought to my attention that engagement shoots are now A Thing. As in, part of getting married. Not only that, but apparently you can even have ‘morning after’ photos taken. Well smack my arse and call me Charlie. This wedding industry thing has got completely out of hand.

The fact that we even have a wedding industry should be cause for alarm. When did a celebration of two people’s love and commitment to each other become an industry? And why have we bought into it? Is there no end to our conspicuous consumerism?

When I see reality shows that focus entirely on someone’s quest for a wedding dress, I want to do the ugly cry. Seriously? Is this what getting married has become? We have to drag a whole entourage of family and friends to choose (and fight over) a wedding dress? And have cameras follow our every move? What happened to choosing a nice pattern or picture and having a dressmaker run it up for you? Or trying on five or six dresses with your mom or your best friend until you find something that works for you? When did these warehouses of white wedding wankery happen? Why have we even allowed them to happen?

And the wedding planners, and rehearsal dinners, and agonising over songs to walk into and walk out to and tie your shoes to and throw your bouquet to. And let’s not forget the limousines and getting dressed shoots, and party favours and lavish receptions and decor what-whats and the megastress and the fighting and the family feuds that ensue. Is anyone even enjoying their wedding anymore?

Perhaps it’s just me, but I thought weddings were about the ceremony – about two people promising to love each other and take care of each other for a long, long time, and wanting all their loved ones to witness that commitment. Because let me tell you, starry-eyed engaged people – that’s the hard part. You can throw all kinds of money at the wedding and have a cadenza because the roses that arrived were cerise instead of pale pink, but none of it amounts to anything.

And just as an aside, it’s outrageous what people spend on their weddings. If you are going into debt to fund your wedding, you’re doing it wrong. If your parents are paying for it and you are spending their money with gay abandon, you’re being selfish. If you’re planning to have kids, trust me, you do not want to know what a good education costs. And you’re spending it all on one day? Get a grip.

In years to come, when life throws things at you that you never, ever anticipated, you won’t be phoning the wedding planner to help you. It won’t matter that it rained on your wedding day, or that your nephew spilled hot chocolate on his pageboy outfit. None of that will amount to a hill of beans. What will matter is the two of you, gritting your teeth and getting through whatever it is together, because you love each other, and you promised you would be there for each other. That’s what your wedding day is all about. That’s what ‘for better or for worse’ is.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t celebrate your wedding – it’s a happy occasion, and of course you should have a party. Just dial it back a little – focus on the things that matter.

And so, before I get any more Ranty McRanty with you, allow me to share some of my favourite weddings with you, and leave it at that.

1. My own wedding, which through circumstances beyond my control was arranged in Port Elizabeth, while we lived in Johannesburg. I took a day off work to make my wedding dress. I remember that someone in the block of flats behind me was taking potshots at the pigeons with his pistol while I sewed. I chose a breakfast reception for two reasons – I knew I couldn’t sit around all day waiting for a wedding, and breakfast is much cheaper per head, and I didn’t want my parents bankrupted. The room only held 100 people, so we really had to choose our guests wisely. The day before the wedding I clambered down a bank to pick some arum lilies for my bouquet because we were struggling to find them at florists. Then I drove past a garden that was filled with them. I knocked on the door and asked if I could have one or two for my wedding, and the woman who owned the house helped me to pick every perfect arum lily in her garden. A family friend did the flowers, another did the photographs, and my beloved grandmother made the cake. I did my own hair and make-up. I scandalised the aunties who clucked around me because my panties showed through my simple sheath dress, so I simply removed them and walked up the aisle with only a strapless bra and stay-up stockings under my dress. My two-year-old nephew – the page boy – read the hymn book upside-down at the front of the church while the minister preached. By the time the wedding photos were done, I was barefoot and the stockings and shoes had been cast aside. We honeymooned in a tent in Fish Hoek, in a campsite that delivered so many great stories and memories that I still wouldn’t exchange it for anything.

2. My brother and sister-in-law’s wedding, which they hoped to hold on Bloubergstrand, but true to form, the wind had other ideas. As we left for the wedding, my younger daughter, then two, was almost blown off her feet. The wedding was held in one of the country’s first Dutch Reformed churches instead. The bride, her mother, and the wedding party, were barefoot. My children were in their fairy outfits. Simple sunflowers adorned the old, dark wood-panelled church, while the wind howled outside. Photographs were taken on the beach and my sister-in-law’s veil blew off into the ocean, never to be seen again. The photographs were magnficent – somehow the wind lifted her dress in just the right way in every picture, and everyone laughed and wore a genuine smile. The reception was held in a nearby hall, which we all helped to decorate the day before, twirling lengths of white cloth and trailing ivy around the pillars. I danced with my brother, windsurfing around that hall with the best of them; my best friend’s three-year-old spent half of the reception stark naked, undecided as to whether she wanted to wear her party dress or her pyjamas.

3. My boss got married and the dress code was jeans. The bride wore a traditional dress, and happily swanned around in it at the reception, but everyone else – including the bridegroom, wore jeans. After the ceremony we retired to someone’s house for  lamb on a spit and simple accoutrements, served buffet style. The speeches were short, and the bride and groom spent time with everyone who attended, perched on the arm of a sofa, or standing around the table. We laughed, we raised a glass or two, and we all left relaxed and happy.

4. My husband’s sister got married in a small chapel on a hill. The day was grey, but the witnesses were so delighted to be there, that no-one noticed. My daughters were flower girls; their cousin was the bridesmaid. I did everyone’s make-up for them and the hairstylist pinned flowers in everyone’s hair. The wedding cake was a tower of carrot cake cupcakes, and the photographs were taken in a nearby field. Thanks to the soft light and the grey skies, they are some of the most beautiful wedding photographs I have ever seen.

5. My husband’s close varsity friend was married in the Greek Orthodox church. Everyone was required to stand through the whole service – except me, because I was heavily pregnant. The flower girls were dressed as fairies – complete with wands, and you have never seen happier little girls. My husband (one of the best men) almost ripped the bride’s dress as they walked around the altar three times. There was (mostly bad) Greek dancing afterwards, but no plates were harmed in the process. The groom’s granny hurt her knee dancing and I gave her some painkillers from my handbag, earning myself a lifelong friend. There was laughter, there was levity, there was love.

In the interests of full disclosure: Long ago I was commissioned to co-author a book on how to plan a wedding, and my best friend and I wrote a damn fine book, I thought. I later discovered it was to carry advertising for the wedding industry, which took the shine off it, somehow.


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§ 10 Responses to Here comes the bride

  • charliesbird says:

    Yip, I gotta agree, the fact that its become an industry is rather scary… I did lots of my own crafty things for the wedding – touches that I was so pleased with! No bridesmaids, just a bunch of happy little flower girls and a lunch spread, so everyone could please go home at a decent hour! It was a day for Charlie and I to celebrate, share with family and friends, and damn the details. Oh yes, and it hailed on our day, at the coast, in the middle of the afternoon…


  • Jackie Hayter says:

    I so agree! I work at a church, and I often have conversations with people who have lived together forever, because they just cannot afford the extravaganza that weddings have become these days. I remember going to weddings as a teenager, that were koek-en-tee affairs with family and friends. In fact, my first wedding was kind of like that.

    Now there is such rediculous pressure to keep up with the Jones’s, that people would rather not get married, than settle for less.

    I felt that pressure too for my second wedding day, as I wrote here:

    Everyone is entitled to do it their own way I guess, but we must get over this notion that bigger and expesive and spectacular is the only way. Because it’s not about the ‘stuff’. It’s about the celebration.


  • Simamile says:

    The wedding industry is just another part of a society which believes the more you spend the happier you are.


  • Tonya says:

    Here is a scary thing, he proposed on the Saturday, we were married on the Thursday, me in black mini skirt with black jacket, long stem red roses, he in some very strange coloured suit! Two witnesses and a slap up meal after wards, Oh yes we indulged in some ridiculously expensive French champagne, honeymoon, three nights in Swakopmund in a little hotel of sorts. Ah yes the memories are good.


  • Fabulous piece, Mandy.
    When Peter and I got married – on a Tuesday afternoon more years ago than I can believe – we phoned a couple of friends on the Saturday and asked them if they’d be able to make it.
    When I say “a couple”, I mean just that. Two.
    Both sets of parents were invited, and Peter’s grandmother.
    My editor was kind enough to donate the day to me without charging it to my annual leave, and Peter took the afternoon off.


  • Kit says:

    So with you on this – love that you got arum lilies from someone’s garden for your bouquet. For our wedding I had three arum lilies that one of the guests picked for me on the way over.
    Our was a braai in his parents garden apricot orchard in Robertson. We were living in London at the time but married here because his family was bigger than mine. My parents flew over and a couple of friends from England. The local magistrate very kindly came to the house to marry us. We rushed around wine-tasting and buying the wine the day before, made the puddings the night before and had no decor, no wedding favours, not even an invitation. But it all felt special to us. And that special feeling is all that really counts.


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