The flush of new engagement is a wonderful time. For the briefest of moments everything else fades into the background and suddenly there is only two, stepping out into a world lit by the rosy glow of anticipated celebration. What will be and what has come before meet in a glorious crescendo of love and intention.
Blink and the moment passes.
Approximately 12.5 seconds after the announcement is made the battle-lines of meaning and the rights to its imposition are drawn. Everything else is cast asunder. The groom ceases to exist; he is of little relevance to the planning process, while all eyes look to the bride. Me. Keenly trained and awaiting indication of exactly what kind of bride I will be as determined the purchase of “the wedding dress”.
Let me add here that the significance of ownership in the process of wedding planning is not exclusive to costume. There is a veritable myriad of topics for debate including musical choice, venue hire, photography, floral arrangements and jewelry (again one’s choice of man becomes a mere blip on the radar once deposits are paid and rings selected) but the dress becomes the chief informant. Will I be a classic bride, boho bride, sexy bride or demure bride and what will this mean for all involved?
There are times when I think I might cope with this process better had I not been a scholar of Cultural Studies. Had I not become a critic of the whom, what, how and most importantly why of human social rituals, with particular emphasis upon the messages of adornment? Perhaps I’d be one of those effortless, sparkling brides, coyly giggling behind glove-clad hands from the mountain of bridal magazines taking over my coffee table. Alas I am resigned to the path of greatest resistance and as a Cultural Studies graduate I know resistance is where the most interesting politics lie.
Though it’s been a good six years since I last set foot in a Cultural Studies lecture theatre, these lessons have left an indelible impression upon my psyche, serving to up the ante of choice and its meaningful outcomes. I know this is a decision that will result in whispered conversations, elation, or possible horror and all the while I must walk a precarious tightrope. I must hold on to “me”, simultaneously express “bridal me” (a seemingly new and wondrous identity) and stay wary at all costs of the unrelenting risk of being sucked into the wedding day void of monotony and sameness, or hurtling from the precipice of purposefully different to the point of tasteless.
Now one may well ask at this point, if all together too much thought has been invested here? “Who cares what everyone else thinks?” “Just do what you like - it’s your day.” “The world is full of crime, disease and chaos - let’s not turn this into more than it is …”
That’s all very well and good but here’s the thing - weddings aren’t really about the people getting married as much as what they mean to the people around them. And in a world gone mad - with terrorism, global warming and the high cost of living - the social ritual of the wedding has become a touchstone for the idea that joy and unity still exist - and that’s kind of a big deal. The trick is not to muck it up.
I’d like to ask you to appease me for a moment. Close your eyes and think. When you imagine the scene of a wedding what comes to your mind? Loving family and friends gathered round the starry eyed bride and groom …? What, more importantly, is the bride wearing? I’m willing to bet that the answer, more often than not, is white.
Herein lays the crux of my problem.
White is not white, in fact, but rather a construction of historical and cultural embellishments. White represents purity, virginity, nobility and most significantly, in today’s context, a rite of passage. It is now possible to purchase magazine after magazine dedicated solely to the “great white dress” worn in a manner befitting armory - I’m woman, I embrace marriage and I don this garb in ceremonial recognition of my feminine empowerment!
This is a fine and worthy statement indeed. I rejoice in an era that allows women to simultaneous express notions of femininity and feminism without these ideologies being viewed as definitively mutually exclusive, heaven help you though if your personal form of expression should lead you to the selection of a colour other than white.
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