Monday, October 27, 2008

Bridal Skank

Ms K and I went to the Rose City Bridal Show this Sunday. It was interesting, perhaps even fascinating, but in a way that left us feeling like we had slummed just a little too long amongst a crowd just a little too questionable. Having worked at the Chamber, to say nothing of hob-nobbing with video producers, I've seen my share of trade shows, but I don't think I've ever been to one populated with vendors quite so aggressive. It was rather like tales I've heard of the souk, and reminded me of the 'craft market' gauntlet I ran at Quilatoa in Ecuador this summer.... only substantially creepier. Large men loomed out at us, stepping outside the confines of their booths to challenge us, coming darn near close to blocking our progress: "Have you thought about your honeymoon yet," they rumbled suggestively. "You got your venue yet," they sleazily crooned. Heavily made-up women with clouds of stiff hair larger than I've seen for years outside of beauty supply stores in Dallas, pitched laser hair removal at us and, unbelievably, make up and hair consultations.

The fashion show was narrated by an MC whose oily suggestions of "dream days" and floating off into the fairy dust of "happily ever after" had my married friend barely able to contain herself. I think I'm just about fed up with hearing or reading this stuff and nonsense about "what every little girl dreams of," as if the greatest wish and goal of females is - naturally - pretending to be a princess bride for one day of their lives. At least this guy suggested that Wedding Day Bliss is what all little boys dream of, too: "All little boys dream one day of being just like their dads." That may well be so in many cases, but this is the first I've heard that dressing up in an ill-fitting tux to play court jester with his buddies at his wedding was a part of that future dreaming. I've kind of gotten the impression that men, as a general rule, would just as soon skulk off somewhere and get it all over with quickly, maybe followed by a round of beers at the pub down the street.

But that's a stereotype, too, as is whatever motivated the event organizers to set up a playpen (a.k.a. "groom's lounge") for male attendees complete with "leather couches and sports." Leather couches and sports. I left my groom at home where he spent the day sitting on his son to get homework done, grading papers, mowing the lawn, trimming some bushes, and, it has to be said, sitting on leather furniture watching sports. I'm marrying a male stereotype, apparently. The difference is that when he does accompany me shopping, I don't have to stick him in the adult male version of the Ikea ball-room. Come to think of it, when we "go shopping," it's usually me accompanying him. So there.

"Groom's Lounge," with one lone, camoclad, [presumed] groom sitting on a leather couch and looking listlessly at the big screen TV that was not working.

But back to the fashion show. There were dancing grooms -- insert Jets and Sharks imagery here... just picture them in tuxes from Mr. Formal -- most of whom carried themselves in a way strongly suggesting gay. I will have to say, though, that one can never know, or at least I can't. My groom has been mistaken for gay on more than one occasion because of the way he talks. Fifteen years of spending one's days surrounded by ten year olds and women will do that to a guy's vocal inflections, I suspect. He does not, however, snap and prance down runways.

There were cute flower girls and an impish ring bearer and prancing, jesting groomsmen and brides trying to maintain some semblance of dignity until they got to the "older brides" bit. "Forty is the new 20," the MC unctuously oiled, "and 50 is the new 30." They then sent out onto the runway the grooms in their Mr. Formal and Mens Wearhouse tuxes, stringing them out in a line. And out come three women, dressed in costumes ranging from reasonably tasteful if one squinted one's eyes, to downright desperate. The gal in the electric lime green mini sheath and jacked up on Lucite platform heels was perplexing. I'm going to be a 47 year old bride. This is how I'm supposed to dress? Heck, why didn't someone tell me? I can get a polyester skank dress from Fredericks of Hollywood for under $70, and I can get a pair of Lucite platforms for under $25.

The "older brides" came out in full "cougar" mode, toying with the young grooms, pushing them to their knees, leaving them quaking. And then comes the eight year old ring bearer. These "older brides" leave off stroking and teasing the too-young-but-at-least-adult grooms, and chase the poor child down the runway. Ms. K exclaimed loud enough for a woman of a certain age sitting next to us to hear, "You mean they're so desperate, they'll sleep with children?!" I pondered out loud, "What do you suppose would happen if they sent a bunch of adult male models chasing after one of the flower girls that way...?"

And as the ring bearer played at skittering away in escape, the MC oozed, "He's running now, but someday, he'll love it."

Other highlights:

Ridiculous get-away cars, one of which we might win, because I entered into just about every drawing I came across, short of the Sandals honeymoon package.

Gangster grooms.

Men in male lingerie.

And of the possible door prizes I could win, I doubt it will be the ridiculous "get-away car." I'm making book on the towel wedding cake.

Go Towel Wedding Cake!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


We have begun our house search in the southwest and southeast Portland area. I've decided to make something of a sacrificial compromise and not rule out West Linn (where the man works) or even Milwaukie. I will say, though, that it would have to be one heck of a house for me to be able to happily accept either of latter two.

So here's what's going on the Portland housing market, from what I can tell so far; there are a fair number of houses on the market, and the prices are dropping, despite what I overhear agents telling people at open houses, but a lot of them either need work, or have been badly worked already by house flippers; developers and who buy a place cheap and remodel it on spec., hoping to make a tidy profit once the value goes up with the remodel. The problem is that most of these folks wouldn't know how to remodel a house appropriate to its era of origins and general scale to save their lives. They buy up cute little cottages and bungalows in Sellwood, for example, then finish off the basement and remodel the kitchen in a style reminiscent of the cookie cutter, subdivision, "neo-Craftsman" houses they're building out in the 'burbs -- lots and lots of contemporary attempts at slickness totally inappropriate to a 1920's bungalow. I am so sick of faux granite kitchen counter tops and beige floor tiles.

Worse is what they do with the space. It's not at all uncommon to see these remodels with two or three "bedrooms" jury-rigged into the attic with no bathroom. We've seen only one house that had a good floor plan, and it was the original 1965 floor plan. In fact, if we were in the position to make an offer at this point -- right now, we're just doing our "due diligence" explorations of the market and neighborhoods -- I would have been ready to lay one down for this place. And it was even in West Linn. Unbelievably, it was a classic '60's split level, and certainly nothing that one would expect me to jump up and down about, but the use of space was such a refreshing departure from what we have been seeing, that I came darn near close to falling in love. Granted, the place needed some work: new roof, new windows, ripping out carpeting and refinishing wood floors, a kitchen remodel, and possibly replacing some of the cedar planks making up the siding. All that said, it's a ten minute walk to David's school, a ten minute walk to the bus stop into the city and has a fantastic, huge yard... plus that comparatively livable floor plan. But, alas, at $360,000, though not terrible, especially for West Linn, it's probably a bit high given the work that needs to be done.

We can watch it to see if it comes down, though. One place we had looked at weekend before last had dropped in price from $440,000 to $390,000 this past weekend. The use of space was awful in the private quarters, however. What are these developers thinking? I imagine life is not being particularly kind to them right now. Flipping was a fine way to make a living in the market of just a few months ago, but it has to be making for a lot of unhappy builders now. They have all these poorly designed remodeled houses hanging around their necks that they will be lucky to sell at a loss.

Channeling Sophia

Diving into the world of the bridal salon was an eye-opening experience, and I'm not speaking in terms of a cultural critique here. First, those dresses are forces unto themselves. They come with foundation garments completely built in -- all they lack is the underpants. They have so much structure, they can stand up and walk around on their own. The amount of fabric in some of them probably comes close to being about as much fabric as makes up my entire day-to-day wardrobe. Getting into them is either like climbing a small mountain (stepping into the dress) or undergoing a rebirthing procedure (having the shop attendant pour it onto you from above).

What was truly eye-opening, though, was the styles that looked particularly attractive on me. I've been envisioning full-skirted Fifties-ness, petticoats and all. Just for yucks, though, I put on some that were ruched, wrapped, surplice numbers encasing the body rather far down the hips in close formation, and lo, there I stood channeling Sopia Loren, which I have to say is rather an ego-boosting experience.

Now, I'm still not going in for the pale wedding gown thing. I want a party dress, not a wedding dress, but the experience of trying on genuine wedding gowns gave me a much better notion of what would work than would trying on ready-to-wear "formals." Poking around Saks and Nordstroms, I only found a bunch of unstructured stretch polyester and polyester taffeta hardly any different from what I would find at Ross Dress for Less. At Saks, I tell you. It was shocking.

The dress in these Sophia stills is the 'gawdy' gold dress given to her character, Cinzia, in the movie Houseboat by Carolyn (Martha Hyer), who recognizes Cinzia as a rival for Tom's (Cary Grant) affections. Carolyn picks this dress, because in its original permutation, it has a long string of nasty lavender flowers cascading down the diagonal seaming, and it's clearly meant as a message to Cinzia to stay in her 'lower class immigrant' place. Cinzia takes the flowers off, does a little tweaking, and comes out looking unbelievable. Of course.

That's what I'm talking about. More examples of that surplice styling on the sidebar slideshow titled "Channeling Sophia"....

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Pitching Fantasies and the Making of Bridezilla

On another bridal blog (they tend to not be terribly interesting for the casual observer, but they do show the peculiar interests of women who are planning a wedding) the blogger linked an online quiz titled "Are you a bridezilla" on TheKnot.

"No worries," I was told upon completion, "you're totally laid back."

"You're handling your wedding planning and all the bumps along the way like a champ. Just make sure you're not too laissez-faire -- you still want this event to be a reflection of you and your mate. Pick your battles and decide when it's important to keep the peace (a concept that you get) and when it's important to stand up and say no (which may be harder for you). Make a list of things that you feel most strongly about -- maybe it's your gown, the menu, and the music -- and make sure you're getting exactly what you want in those areas. However you proceed, keep up the good work!"

If my style is "laissez-faire," wouldn't sticking to that methodology be a reflection of me by default? I supposed David is not quite so laissez-faire about anything as I am. Watching him pack for the trip to Ecuador was an eye-opener there, to say nothing of his everything-in-its-place garage. That said, I still don't have a guest wish-list with contact information from him... I want a larger audience, damn it. Never mind the wedding; it's all about a readership.

But I digress. I now officially declare "bridezilla" a meme. Once something becomes a meme in the Land-O-Blogs sense (a 'viral' idea, sometimes in the form of a questionnaire, that makes its way from blog to blog), it is surely a meme in the Dawkinsian sense (a cultural unit -- idea, behavior, etc -- that passes from person to person, analogous to genes). And as I've noted before, this fascination with, possibly even acceptance and expectation of brides behaving badly is nothing if not viral.

I took the test again, picking all the responses that were obviously the least 'laid back'. For instance, one of the questions is:

"Your mother-in-law tells you that she's decided to wear ecru to the wedding. You:"

I selected the answer:

"Send her a scathing email, telling her that she may not wear ecru to your wedding and demanding to see a swatch of whatever color dress she does decide to wear."

Answering the total "bridezilla" route, I got this:

"Yup, you're a bridezilla!

"How can we put this gently: Somewhere along the way from "Yes!" to "I do," you've lost your subtle sensitivity. Your admirable ambition to create the best possible celebration for friends and family has turned into somewhat of a crusade, and those around you are suffering. It's time to relax a bit and probably take a little break from the planning. Go for dinner or drinks with your guy and your gal pals, and don't talk about the wedding – not even once. Because remember, once you're married, these people will return to being your family and friends -- not members of your wedding party. Cut people a little slack."

The bridal magazines, it has to be said, are prime agents in the creation of brides of destruction. One of the earlier Fab 50 (the men I met during my year of dating venturously, if not dangerously) was of the opinion that women's self-esteem cannot possibly be negatively influenced by fashion and beauty mags, and that women who claim to be so affected are just looking for excuses and permission to "let themselves go" and force the acceptance of willful female unattractiveness on men. (Yes, really. I actually did meet men who think and say such things. If any of you are wondering what I see in David, you can cease your wondering.) Anyone who suspects that people are not influenced and affected by the media, only has to look at a whole bunch of bridal magazines, then look at a whole bunch of examples of women planning their weddings. On TV or in person, if you know anybody other than yours truly, me being not adequately representative, or so I say, you'll not wonder at the excesses some people go to around the wedding and how emotionally invested they get in their "dream day." The mags are written to make the reader covet, and to convince the reader that they must have the coveted items, or "your special day" will be ruined. The wedding is billed in no uncertain terms as the only opportunity for a "dream day," a "perfect day," "your day" that a woman will ever have. One bridal salon clerk even told me, "Stay away from the bridal magazines. They mess with your head."

I guess that the women who did not have a satisfactory "perfect special dream day" are the ones going in for vow "renewal" ceremonies some years down the road with full white bridal gown action. I saw one of those on a show called "Say Yes to the Dress," a truly mesmerizing production on The Learning Channel. A couple who has been married for about 15 years or so are doing a vow renewal ceremony (that's something I don't quite get; they could only manage 15 years before feeling like they should do that...? I smell a woman who hasn't been able to let go of the "dream day" fantasy...). The woman hits the bridal salon with husband and two young adolescent sons in tow so they can help her pick something. Those boys, by the way, were surprisingly into it. She ends up spending several thousand dollars on a full-blown bridal gown for a vow renewal.

Apparently this wedding day redux thing is not so terribly uncommon. Ms. K and I went bridal gown exploring Monday, and encountered one 50-something shop owner who had done it, complete with white gown. She talked of a population of customers who buy dresses for renewals. I suppose if a woman is simply enamored of weddings, and in particular, wedding dresses, it's cheaper and undoubtedly a lot less trouble to just keep marrying the one husband over and over again than to trade him in for another model.

Or maybe it's just that we don't have enough opportunities in contemporary society to dress up to the nines in spectacular evening clothes. If any of you are feeling that empty spot in your soul, by all means wear something fabulous to our hoedown.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Feminist Departure

Okay, this is not on a wedding theme, but I could make it so. The picture was sent to the groom in a mass mailing by the woman he dated before me. So there... this makes it connected to the wedding in some fashion: