In the tradition of beloved anthologies of women's essay writing, this collection offers twenty-six true stories from well-known writers and fresh new literary voices writing about a touchstone garment in a women’s lives--the wedding dress. These are intimate stories about relationships; not just those between men and women, but between women and their mothers, friends and children. And, of course, with their wedding attire – a relationship that is sometimes simple, sometimes complex, but always fascinating in what it tells us about individual lives and aspirations.
Some of the tales are humorous – the bride whose skin turns fuchsia on her wedding night or the woman whose shopping-savvy aunt takes her to New York’s garment district. Some are romantic – the woman who puts on her dress eight years after her wedding only to be caught by her husband when he comes home early from work or the quickie immigration wedding that turned into the real thing. Some are devastating – the bride who loses her mother to illness only days before her wedding or the woman whose mother tells of being kidnapped by her future husband. And some are revealing – the woman who wears her first wedding dress for her initiation ceremony into a convent and her second to marry her beloved; the dress that waited patiently in a shop window and then hidden in a box on a closet shelf; the same-sex wedding at age eighty; the thrift shop wedding dress that gets used for everything but a wedding. All are honest, personal and profoundly moving.
“Something Old” looks at how traditions like honouring one’s ancestors affected wedding dress choices, from a grandmother’s gift to a father’s old leather jacket, but also at how such traditions can play a role in ways you least expect. The pieces in “Something New” focus on dreams for the future, whether that means breaking away from the expectations of one’s family or choosing/creating a wedding dress (and a future) on your own. In “Something Borrowed,” writers tell of all the reasons behind borrowing (or trying to borrow!) dresses, for whatever reason, and “Something Blue . . . Or Peach . . . Or Striped . . . Or Floral . . .” looks at exactly that–the non-traditional choices women have made, and why.
These stories run the gamut of experiences connected to the iconic dress and day. If we work away at the seams, even the simplest of wedding outfits reveals all manner of memories and meanings. And whether you’ve ever worn a wedding dress or not, the stories in this collection will have you looking with new eyes on your own life, and exploring what the words “wedding dress” mean to you.
Anita Rau Badami
Anne Laurel Carter
Jessica Ruth Harris
Kathleen Boyle Hatcher
Mary T. Malone
Margaret Goudie Parsons
About the authors
Anne Laurel Carter was born in Don Mills, Ontario. She has suffered from a bad case of wanderlust all of her life, which has taken her all over the world. In between travelling, Anne completed Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Education. Anne loves working with children, and became an ESL and French teacher. She is also the mother of four children, but still finds time to read and write. Anne currently lives in Toronto, Ontario, where she works full-time as a teacher-librarian.
Anne is a multi award-winning author of several books for children. Her picturebook Under a Prairie Sky (Orca, 2004) won the Mr. Christie's Book Award in 2003.
Excerpt: My Wedding Dress: True-Life Tales of Lace, Laughter, Tears and Tulle (edited by Susan Whelehan & Anne Laurel Carter)
As I read many of the stories you’ll find here, the same thing happened: my eyes prickled with tears and I would pause for several minutes, engulfed in memories of my own wedding and all the hope and joy and worry I felt so many years ago. These stories, each so different, each so beautifully written, describe the same emotions – hope, joy and worry. But not all of them. A few also recall irritation, usually driven by a family’s demands or expectations, or panic, coming from a bride’s knowledge that this marriage was going to be a mistake. Some of the stories are simpler–funny, even slapstick. But most of them share three common themes: the complex relationship between a mother and a daughter, the longing for a perfect wedding outfit and the hope for love.
And even when their mothers were impossible and their husbands worse, almost every one of these brides remembers every detail of her wedding outfit, whether it was a traditional white dress with a veil or a trim pantsuit or a silk sari shot with gold thread, or even just something thrown together in a last-minute fit. She remembers how she found it – the store or sister’s closet or grandmother’s attic, the price, the anxiety. But so many of these writers also tell stories of their mothers’ weddings and their mothers’ dresses, showing how family memories and traditions, for better or for worse, end up tangled in their own experience.
Some of the stories illustrates some of the rules surrounding weddings when I was a girl: pregnant brides, previously married brides or widows and, yes, “older” brides (i.e., anyone over, say, thirty-five) almost always wore suits or cocktail dresses, usually pale beige, pale blue or pink, usually at small family weddings held at City Hall or a country club, restaurant, hotel or a large living room–almost never in a church. But when Jackie Kennedy went to Valentino for the short, cream-coloured lace dress worn at her wedding to Aristotle Onassis in 1968, five years after her husband’s assassination, it was considered exactly right. Marrying the froggy Onassis for his money – she required twenty million dollars up front – shocked the world, but she did much to rectify her mistake with a perfect outfit. Not frilly, long, or in any sense bridal, but pretty and celebratory.
Maybe that’s when things began to change. Jackie made it okay to wear white or at least cream for a second wedding. Odd, isn’t it, this whole white wedding thing? For women in most North American and European cultures it seems to have started in the early 1800s, although most women still wore coloured dresses at that time. It was only when Queen Victoria married Albert of Saxe-Cobourg in 1840, wearing a dainty white dress with a little bustle and a lot of lace, that women settled on the colour that remains dominant to this day. Three other wedding dresses have had almost as much influence: those of American actress Grace Kelly, British aristocrat Diana Spencer and American socialite Carolyn Bessette. Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956 wearing twenty-five yards of white taffeta, one hundred yards of silk net and an antique rose-point lace veil, a dream outfit with a high neck and long sleeves designed by Helen Rose and given to Kelly by her studio, MGM. The prince wanted a big dowry, so Kelly’s father gave him two million dollars; Kelly herself had to agree to a fertility test.
Royal weddings have always inspired wedding fashion, even Princess Margaret’s wedding in May 1960 to her second-choice groom, commoner Anthony Armstrong-Jones, who was only slightly preferable to the Royal Family over her true love, divorced commoner Peter Townsend. Poor Margaret, always slightly frumpier than her steadfastly frumpy sister, Queen Elizabeth, had her dress copied all over the world.
Until 1981, Grace Kelly’s dress remained the ultimate for many brides. But that year the sight of Lady Diana Spencer emerging from a carriage at Westminster Abbey in the pouffiest of pouffy cream silk taffetas and, at twenty-five yards, the longest train in British royal history, led to a huge demand for enormous puffed sleeves, vast skirts and lashings of lace. In all, the dress, designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, had a hundred yards of tulle for the crinoline, a hundred and fifty yards of netting for the veil and ten thousand mother-of-pearl sequins and beads. Like Grace Kelly’s, the dress showed nary an inch of Diana’s skin except her smiling face. Even her hands were covered in white gloves.
Everything changed when Carolyn Bessette married John Kennedy Jr. in 1996. Her bias-cut crêpe silk slip-dress, designed by Narciso Rodriguez, was held up with thin straps and showed plenty of skin; only a woman as tall and thin as she could have carried it off. Even her feet were bare. And after the wedding hundreds of thousands of women wanted to look just like her. A dress as unforgiving as Carolyn Bessette’s was impossible for most brides, so many turned to strapless, backless numbers instead and today it is almost impossible to find a wedding dress that isn’t strapless. Not the best choice for many brides, but they persist.
Well, as they say, in my day such a thing was unheard of. Back in the 1960s we all wore modest dresses, usually with sleeves, high necklines, veils and trains, often with white kid gloves, always with white shoes and pearls. Weddings, especially in churches, were considered sacraments and anything that showed too much back or front was . . . highly inappropriate. Well, embarrassing, really. My own always stylish mother, despite the six-week interval between her meeting my father and marrying him, and despite wartime scarcities, found an organdy and chiffon gown with a high square-cut neck, a full, sweeping skirt and a big picture hat; she carried the most beautiful bouquet I have ever seen. Ever. I went upstairs to look at her picture just now and to my surprise she was as gorgeous as I had thought she was and most appropriate. I still have the recipes from the wedding supper party held at our cottage and they still work. The marriage, however, was a disaster.
"The concept of women writing about their wedding dresses is enchanting, and so is this book. I sat right down and read it cover to cover. Then I had an urgent desire to write about my wedding dress. A gray flannel suit, since you asked. Wartime."
"A wedding dress is a perfect icon for an anthology for it shows us that the women's movement can come and go, our image of a housewife or marriage may change dramatically, but each generation frets over her wedding dress as did her mother and grandmother. It is the perfect symbol of hope. If you want to cut through the latest ideology and get to the heart of what beats under the tulle read this great book. I swear if I landed here from another planet nothing would tell me more about the female psyche or the role that marriage plays in their psyche than reading My Wedding Dress."
"Speaking as someone who got married in a purple suit, and then reluctantly, I can only say that the editors of this wonderful collection got it right. Their essayists have done a Martin Luther and nailed their white, beaded, silk-draped souls to the church door. Wedding dresses are the embodiment of purest happiness and deepest trauma. Some of the garments are so soaked in irony it’s a wonder the poor woman is able to stand upright. I read each story sometimes laughing and sometimes utterly aghast. A toast to the editors and their tribe of brides."
“My Wedding Dress is not just a book for brides. It is a thoughtful meditation on every aspect of the marriage ritual — tears, taffeta and all.”