A few weeks ago I was sipping afternoon tea in a rather nice hotel in London, eavesdropping on a conversation. A young woman was deep in confession: “I found myself weeping in the stationery department of John Lewis (store),” she cried, “because they didn't have the exact shade of cream I wanted for my wedding RSVP cards. What has happened to me? When I sent out invitations to my 30th birthday party I wrote the details on the back of old bus tickets and wore a dress from Oxfam. Now I'm having a wedding dress made for £2,000 (US$3,760).”
It was clear that this woman had gone bridal. There has been a lot of it about this summer, what with Carly O'Brien of Gloucester, England, setting a record for the heaviest wedding dress ever (175kgs) and seeing her achievement trounced a few weeks later by another British bride, Josephine Doherty, whose dress weighed in at 192kgs (she also had a pumpkin-style coach and a 40-tier wedding cake). While these are extreme examples, it's clear that wedding madness can overtake even the most generally unconventional, independent and political women. You and your beloved start off getting matching tattoos as a sign of your love, but when it comes to those all-important wedding plans, independent thought is lost in a whirl of worry about dainty table decorations. As you start to arrange catering for 150 guests, including feuding relatives and never-before-seen second cousins, it's not surprising that the average cost of a wedding in the UK, for example, can spiral to £20,000. It's enough to make a would-be-bride run off to Las Vegas.
Which is what “alternabride” Emily Stracey did. The 34-year-old ceramicist from Bournemouth, on the English south coast, decided to throw tradition to the winds with a western theme, dressing as a showgirl in hotpants and carrying a rented silk bouquet; the groom wore a cowboy outfit. “We had the reception in a hotel where the guests paid for their own buffet meal, US$15 for a huge plate,” she says. “It was an amazing day, and I'm so glad we did it our own way.”
Stracey is not alone in her desire to escape tradition. In America, Web sites such as Indiebride.com, and anti-bride.com (“Tying the knot outside the box”) offer advice on affordable, alternative occasions. Then there are books such as The Offbeat Bride by Ariel Meadow Stallings, and Kamy Wicoff's I Do, But I Don't: Walking Down the Aisle Without Losing Your Head.
Recently, the American magazine Bust celebrated couples who designed their weddings around their shared interests, including the woman obsessed by zombie films who married on Halloween. She sent “blood-spattered” invitations, decorated the reception hall like a haunted forest and had a wedding cake shaped like a tomb, with “Love never dies” iced in Gothic lettering.
You don't have to go far to find women who are following suit. For example, Karen Nicholls, 31, from north Wales, is planning an incroyable et merveilleuse wedding — the dress code is French revolution and there will be a guillotine in situ — guests can take their turns putting their head on the chopping block. The traditional wedding list has been ditched in favor of a request for fruit trees so that the couple can create a “wedding orchard.”
Then there was the recent wedding of “anarchic knitter,” Freddie Robins. Organized by Rachael Matthews of the Cast-Off Knitting Club, and hosted by the Pumphouse Gallery in South London, the bride wore a hand-knitted gown and carried a woollen bouquet; afterwards, there was a knitted cake, sandwiches and bottles of champagne.