Saturday, December 3, 2011

         Wedding Etiquette or Manners Matter

Browse through the bridal section at your local book shop or library, first you'll notice glossy books featuring glamorous layouts of youthful, vibrant brides.  A second glance may reveal a small section devoted to etiquette tucked away discreetly on the bottom shelf. You may encounter a single tome whose cover proclaims it to be the "bible" of correct behavior. Is there all that much to it? Perhaps at no time in life does etiquette seem to be a major concern as when planning a wedding. We want to manage this lifetime event as graciously as possible, yet often we do not have a lot of up-to-date experience. 

Many of our present-day American wedding customs stem from the royal court of Victorian England. Ever since Queen Victoria wore a white wedding gown in 1840, she set a fashion standard that many brides follow to this day. The young queen wore a gown with features still considered traditional today--a   fitted bodice with a floor-length skirt puffed up with petticoats. When presented later to the court, she wore the white gown with alterations made to the bodice. Many of our manners of proper behavior come from the royal courts of England and Europe.

Mother of the Bride
Your daughter's or son's wedding is a public celebration of a personal relationship. Much more is involved than the bride and groom. There are relationships -- new and old -- and heightened emotions to consider. Understanding and observing  etiquette can help maneuver this life transition with as much graciousness for everyone. For the mother of the bride, your own wedding may have been the last time you gave much thought to this topic and might want to know how times have changed. For the groom's mother, you might be wanting to contribute a lot more that social custom seems to permit. We consult  etiquette books to negotiate the changing relationship with our now-adult children as well as welcome into our lives the families of our daughter's or son's fiance.

Has much changed? When it comes to styles and fashions, much has changed,  on the surface. When it comes to human nature and the tender sensibilities of a young bride and groom, nothing has changed. This is their special day, more so than anyone else's. Emotions may run high around the planning of the wedding for a number of reasons. There is the stress of planning a lifetime event, along with emotions surrounding this rite of passage. The young couple are the ones most affected. In the past, mothers undertook the planning of the wedding under their direction.

Today's bride is likely to take a more active role. Often, she has been on her own and is accustomed to managing her own life. She also may have very different ideas of what she wants for her wedding than her parents' generation. Weddings today are often seen more as personal celebrations of private lives already being lived rather than formal announcements to the community of family and friends of a social union being formed anew. For some brides, the wedding is an opportunity to step into a traditional role, for others, it is an opportunity to celebrate her individuality. 

 It is wise to be aware of basic etiquette, however, the finest expression of manners is to be mindful of the frame of reference of those involved in order to be gracious and charming in welcoming new family members. Sometime a bride's mother wants to help or even manage the planning process. A mother who is taking charge will want to consult with her daughter in most decisions. Even though mom might have more experience in event planning, the daughter is the reason for the celebration. The groom's mother is sometimes uncertain of how much she may contribute. Some grooms' mothers want to be involved in showers and other events and have the time and energy for it. Others, not so much. Some mothers--of either bride or groom--are fashion-conscious and excited about looking for a new dress. Others are reluctant to start the process and inquire if they can wear something they already have. Some might be intimidated by the process as they have not shopped for a fancy dress in a long time. Others are "always on a diet" and use that as an excuse to procrastinate. We have met  who might need some coaxing to those who wait until two weeks before the wedding. Our advice is encourage but do not pressure. The wedding is primarily about your daughter or son being married to their beloved and families coming together to celebrate. Fashion always takes a back seat to personal values. A wedding is not a "photo op," it is a celebration. Being gracious and respectful while building new relationships is what matters. 

Meeting of the mothers

The bride chose black and white for her destination church wedding in England.  Her American mom, in bisque lace, greets the groom's mother, dressed in the English style of a suit and hat. Bridesmaids in black tea length dresses hover in the doorway. 

The idea that a mother, especially the mother of the groom, should not wear black, had a social meaning that stems from a time when women were more guarded about openly expressing their opinions. It may have been seen as coded language for disapproval of the son's choice of spouse. Today, that meaning does not apply, black is considered fashionable, but in the minds of older folk who may be attending the wedding, that meaning might still linger. You would not want to give your relatives and other guests pause to wonder if there is a hidden meaning. For that reason, unless the bride suggests a mother wear a black dress because it goes with her color scheme, we say you look for another color. We have seen black as a practical choice for a destination wedding to a major city because it can be versatile. You can change its look with a simple change of accessories, and it is less likely to show wrinkles. That would be a deliberate choice of the bride might like the idea so much, she might ask both mothers to wear black. 

The "little black dress" or LBD has become a staple in many women's wardrobes, brought out whenever a woman is uncertain as to what to ear, especially for women in major cities in the northeast.  For a formal black tie wedding, a bride may feel that black is perfectly acceptable for her guests. However, a mother of the groom who wears black routinely and is planning to attend an informal wedding in another region of the country, will most likely want to consider color instead. She may retain her accustomed level of formality in choosing a structured suit or long dress, and will surely find a becoming color that will be youthful. 

There can be numerous reasons why a mother, or another significant relative, is not able to match the dress code of the wedding. Perhaps their are other pressing matters in their lives the prevent them from giving their attire undue focus. It could be that they do not choose to disclose the reasons why. For the sake of gracious inclusion, their attire should be overlooked and the guests made to feel welcome at the time of the ceremony. The reverse can also happen, a mother might feel under-dressed in being asked to wear casual attire that she chooses an outfit that is dressier than most. That is also to be accepted as a reflection of the respect and honor she wishes to bring to the occasion.

If such an event is your worst nightmare, and if you are traveling to a wedding destination at the last minute, we suggest that you bring in your carry-on the outfit and accessories that you will wear to the wedding. Luggage can be lost and not delivered in time. One solution for such an event is to pack coordinating separates in various stages of dressiness so that if an impromptu outfit needs to be hastily assembled, you will have the basic ingredients and accessories. It is in such situations that a black dress or neutral color scheme seems to be most flexible. Although we are not recommending a black dress for the mothers, simply remarking that some have considered this to be a solution.
Bride and Mother
It is normally suggested that only the bride should be attired in white. In the case of divorced families, where there are step-parents, the mothers of the bride and groom may dress with whatever level of formality they desire. Step--parents tend to dress as other guests, wearing street-length suits and dresses with jackets.

Walking down the steps
              Mom walked Victoria to her ceremony in similar dresses in white and red.

In California, among younger couples, while the bride and groom,  wedding party and parents are more formally attired, we have seen some extremely casual outfits in younger guests. This happens with more informal weddings in a garden party or beach resort setting. This casualness seems to be a fashion statement among the young in relaxed, intimate environments such as smaller church settings where nearly everyone is a close friend or family member. Such weddings express unique charm as there tends to be much informal mingling as if it is a big family party. Our advice for the mature generation is to dress as they customarily would, and leave the trends to the young. 
In cases where families are blending cultures and traditions, the bride might sometimes want a two-phase wedding, one, an American style, with a white dress and the groom in a tux. For the second phase, both change into folk costumes and may have some traditional music and entertainment. This helps introduce the family and guests to the two different major influences in the couple's life. If a couple from two different backgrounds chooses an American-style wedding, there can be variations. We have seen brides make three changes of outfit. We have also known of many weddings where there are several receptions, one on the east coast, and one on the west. Couples who choose destination weddings often have a separate reception back home where more family members may be present. All of this will need to be discussed in detail with the bride, her mother and the groom's mother to ensure that expectations of what a makes up a proper wedding are understood by all.

Mother and the bride
To view color schemes for dresses and wedding themes, look at the following website.

Whether you tend to be traditional or have a casual outlook, do visit Joanie Char Boutique in San Francisco, CA for special occasion women's clothing. This designer specializes in dressy-casual looks that are chic, contemporary and youthful. Elegant, clean lines are figure-flattering. She offers a range of mothers dress selections as well as custom-made outfits for all the festivities associated with a wedding, such as shower, engagement, rehearsal and brunch parties. Call for a phone consultation, swatches and photos can be sent. Monday - Saturday 10 - 6 PT.   

Samples of Joanie Char fashions for mother of the bride and special occasion attire can be viewed on the post below,"Mother of the Bride/Groom Ensembles," dated Saturday, 11/26/2011.                              

Joanie Char Boutique
537 Sutter Street
San Francisco CA 94102
Tel (415) 399-9867                               (c)2011 Joanie Char Design Group

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