For a brief time last year, I found myself in the bridal industry niche for women planning their second weddings, a group Miss Manners calls “older” brides. It’s unclear when one falls into that “older” bride group, but on its last cover, the now-defunct Bride Again magazine featured a woman who couldn’t have been more than 35.
I’ve been around longer than that, but until I headed for the altar, I just thought I was “wiser.”
Because the divorce rate is now approximately 50 percent, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, one would think that encore brides would have a real presence. However, most of them must be getting married quietly or in a chapel in Reno.
When I first tied the knot many moons ago, getting married was highly unfashionable. We did it anyway, in a large outdoor party at someone’s house where guests danced the night away to music from a friend’s rock ’n’ roll band. My mother was not amused. She had probably hoped that I would “act my age.”
Times have changed since the 1970s, so I decided to consult Miss Manners, aka Judith Martin, and other bridal experts. Most brides think the second wedding is the only one that counts, according to Martin, so they often decide to do it right, with an “event.”
From Miss Manners, I learned that the older bride wears a suit and hat and holds an appropriately subdued afternoon ceremony with punch and cake.
Like many baby boomers, however, I was not used to acting my age to that extent. I was used to celebrating milestones in a big way. Well, as big as limited finances would allow, considering we were nearing retirement age with the ensuing prospect of fixed incomes.
Several obstacles soon presented themselves. There was the color of my gown – and yes, I was determined to wear one, not a frothy, frilly number, but something that alluded to my experience, in a veiled way.
After my future mother-in-law congratulated me on landing the grand prize – her smart and talented son – she surprised me by saying, “Of course, you can’t wear white.” There aren’t too many black bridal gowns on the market, and actually, I had rather envisioned myself in white.
This idea that you cannot wear white is apparently commonplace but nonetheless misguided. Martin explains on page 409 of her “Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior” (W.W. Norton & Company, 2005) that the white-equals-innocence concept started with Queen Victoria.
However, Martin takes offense, stating pithily that the idea that white packaging advertises untouched goods always strikes her as “vulgar as it is unlikely.” Wish I had thought of that.
Because the bride makes a grand entrance, I did need to consider how to package myself. I called Priscilla of Boston on Santana Row and asked Summer about dresses for older brides.
There’s no separate section, but the store stocks dresses that are “a little more conservative, that cover up more, if that’s what you mean.” She noted that these encore bride dresses were “plainer, for second weddings.”
It’s true that encore brides have different couture needs. I spend time at the gym, but not that much time, so camouflage ranks high on my list of sartorial requirements. Baring my arms, shoulders or even my neck for professional photographs makes me blanch, not blush. So I thought we could drop by Priscilla’s to look at the dresses.
Next, we had to book a venue to nail down a date. We decided on marrying in a winery, a suitably Northern California idea that would underscore our sophistication, or so we thought.
I booked several appointments with winery social directors to get the grand tour. This is when I began to feel, well, foolish, not unlike the older man who chases after women half his age.
The appointments before and after mine seemed to be taken by gaggles of giggling teenagers, though they couldn’t have been that young. They had to have reached the age of majority.
A quizzical look would appear in the über-polished wedding event director’s eyes.
“Is this for you?” he or she would say in a tactful tone.
If you look at the magazines lined up at the local Borders bookstore, you will see dozens of bridal magazines, most featuring young blond women in strapless sweetheart gowns. None of them appears to have weathered a few years.
I asked the public relations director at a recent Santa Clara bridal fair if there were any magazines or booths for the mature bride, and she said, no, though there was one for grooms.
They just have to wear tuxedos, so why do they need their own magazines?