The Bride From Hell

Practical Advice to Help You Avoid the Wedding Bell Blues

The Bride From Hell
Photo By Todd V. Wolfson

It's been said many times that if more couples would spend as much time planning the actual marriage as they do the wedding, fewer marriages would end in divorce. Sister, we're here to tell you: It's the truth. So, in the interest of creating the fabulous and heading off the calamitous, we have interviewed a crack team bridal professionals and gotten their feedback on how to avoid the Wedding Bell Blues. This one's for the ladies, as most of you do all of the planning, anyway.

The Time of the Season

We are careening headlong into the holiday season, again, with all the attendant hoopla and fanfare. There's the family bonding of Thanksgiving looming perilously ahead -- it's too late to swerve around that, so just hold on tight and hope you survive. Past that, up on the right, you can see the pageantry of Christmas, and look a little further down and the lights of New Year's Eve come into view. Fasten your seatbelts, it's always a bumpy ride.

The holidays are known for many things, and one of the things they are known for is the sale of engagement rings. As the year -- any year, but especially 2000 -- draws to a close, the ring boxes are going to be popping open like popcorn, setting forth a chain of events that will alter your life forever ... your big day ... your night of nights ... the moment when all your dreams will come true. You will live out the fairy tale fantasy that you've cherished since infancy. It's your wedding day. The day when all the details -- the dress, the flowers, the food, the hair, photo- and videographers, the music ... oh, yeah, and the groom -- culminate in the ceremony and celebration that will commemorate your passing from childhood into glorious wifedom and, in many cases, motherhood. You are splendorous in your gown, and adored by all as you are tearfully passed from the hands of your parents into the arms of the man you love.


You are a ragged wreck -- you are exhausted, delirious, and possibly under sedation. Thank God for the video camera, or you wouldn't remember a thing. You have been poked, prodded, fêted, catered to, kissed, hugged, and congratulated to death. You have fought viciously with your fiancé, your mother, your maid of honor, the dress shop, hairdresser, florist, caterers, the venue, and the department stores. You have been under excruciating pressure from all sides to be something you were supposed to be, but it wasn't like you were led to believe. You will probably become violently ill on your honeymoon. It is a nightmare from the word "go," and everybody expects so much out of you and tears you into a million pieces.

So you do what you have to do. You become the Bride From Hell. But does it have to be like that?

It's all in the planning, of course -- too much time to plan can be more torturous than a last-minute celebration that you throw together, but a last-minute celebration at your local bar may not be the ceremony you've dreamed of. So, if your beloved is about to pop the question, and you agree to his proposal, pretty soon you're going to have a lot more on your hands than an engagement ring.

Dear Mom --

"The worst brides are the ones who involve their moms in the decision making" is a sentiment echoed throughout the service industries. Without any intention of vilifying Mom, for she can be the one providing stability and perspective, the trouble often stems from the fact that Mom has a certain amount of control, since she's usually paying for it. The mother of the bride plays a major role in the scheme of things, not to mention the fact that it is a rite of passage in her life, too. It is essential to keep in mind, however, that the wedding really is about the bride; it's her wedding, not Mom's. Naturally, of course, all of Mom's friends will be there, and they'll have given you lovely gifts, and she'll want everything to be perfect -- including you. But that can be a very tall order to fill, and it's best to try and establish in advance what Mom's role is to be.

Says one veteran stylist and survivor of many bridal battles, "The worst bridal experiences are always the ones in which they bring their mom with them. Women need to remember that this is no one else's wedding. The mother of the bride has a tendency to question and critique the bride and all her decisions. Most brides will give up on what they want just to try to appease her. Keep your own goals and ideas very clear." But, other advice is that if the reality is that Mom is involved, it's critical to determine which things mean the most to you, but let her have her victories, too. She means well, so be kind.

Or elope.

Planning to Plan

Imagine the scenario on Christmas Eve -- you and Dreamboat are alone at last. You're tipsy from the evening's festivities. You present him with the remote-control toy car he admired at your nephew's birthday party, and he presents you with a ring and pops the question. Suddenly, you're transported to the months ahead, busily filled with sewing and shopping for your life together, and it all crashes when he finishes his statement, "We could get married next week and get a break on our taxes!"

Now, that option may appeal to you or it may not. An alternate scenario might be one in which you decide on a long engagement. Either way, in all areas of wedding planning, the advice is the same. Hire a professional and let them do their job. There are such things as wedding consultants who will arrange everything for you, from your flowers to your honeymoon. Definitely go that route if you can -- how wonderful to have someone narrow down your choices for you, and present you with your options, at your leisure. You can also do the whole affair at a hotel, and have a coordinator handle most of the arrangements. The best advice from them is to make a list of what you insist on having, and another list of the things you're more flexible about. This is good advice to apply in all aspects of bridal planning.

Advice From the Pros

The best brides are the ones who realize the marriage is more important than the wedding. The myth that a better-planned wedding equals a better marriage is just that.

Pick your battles. Decide what your priorities are and let the rest go.

You get what you pay for. Let the chosen professional do their job and don't haggle over the price. There is a reason they get paid what they do. Don't turn your wedding into a flea market. They have probably done a lot more weddings than you have.

The Dress Mess

Okay, young brides-to-be, this is perhaps the most anguishing part of the whole business. Deciding on a dress. This is where your childhood dreams crash into the ugly reality that the dress you've always imagined yourself wearing makes you look like a large floating iceberg. The bridal magazines are marginally helpful -- but the more you look at them, the more everything seems to fly by in a flurry of white. It's like a blizzard and you become snow-blind. You can no longer tell one dress from another, and you fully subscribe to the idea that it's not pretty if it doesn't hurt.

There are portrait necklines, fichu necklines, sweetheart necklines ... there are Basque waists, dropped waists, Empire waists ... there are sheath skirts, gathered skirts, circle skirts ... there are sweep trains, chapel-length trains, cathedral-length trains ... there are gazars, paper taffetas, peau de soir, there is Alençon lace, Chantilly lace, and Guipure lace, beads, flowers, jewels, veils, gloves, and shoes. It is a dizzying array of decisions to make, and you must look like a princess. Or else.

A wedding gown should not make you look like something that you're not -- a Las Vegas showgirl, for instance. Let's avoid large plumed headdresses and thigh-high slits at every cost. What looks great in Italian bridal magazines, like Sposabella, is probably only appropriate if you're marrying a prince. Conversely, the traditional high-necked gown is always appropriate, and can be more alluring than an expansive show of skin.

Be it a medieval princess or a Thirties glamour queen, make sure the look is right for you; you decide. Note about the magazines: These are fashion photos. You may not look exactly like that in your dress. Vera Wang, for instance, is known to airbrush out the seams of her dresses for the photos. One bride was devastated when she saw that the dress actually had seams. Yes, even the best dresses have seams. And the best dresses are the best. But beware of gazing too much at gowns beyond your grasp. "If you fall in love with a $3,000 gown, and you only have $300 to spend, you have to be realistic about what you're going to get for $300. Don't be disappointed when you open the box and it looks like a $300 dress. Letting that type of devil in the details get to you is exactly what will turn you into the Bride From Hell."

Advice From the Gown Pros

Make an appointment.

Trust yourself and what you want.

Buy the best dress you can afford. A cheap dress usually looks cheap.

Have your dress made for you, if you can afford to -- and not by your friend's mom who once made some curtains.

Allow your professional dressmaker to help you decide on correct fabric, proportions, and detailing. Be flexible. On an off-the-rack gown, figure in enough for alterations -- usually $100 or more.

Don't try and lie about your dress size to your dressmaker. They know better.

Allow a professional to help you select the correct undergarments and wear them to each fitting, along with your shoes. No exceptions.

Don't pick at yourself. If there's something bothering you about your dress, say so.

Be realistic. If the dress makes your hips look big, they probably are. Choose another style.

Appropriate wedding attire only, for everyone involved. No bathing suits, no "Bride" and "Groom" T-shirts. No snakeskin print hip-huggers. No pastels for the groom -- black only.

Chapel of Love

"Go-in' to the cha-pel and we're gonna get ma-a-arried ..." A church is the obvious place for a wedding, but doesn't really suit the needs of every bride. There's a variety of clubs, halls, farms, mansions, etc. available. Careful attention must be paid to ensure that they serve the twofold purpose of enhancing the occasion, as well as accommodating the number of guests. This part can require a great deal of shopping around. But relax. If your wedding is a year off, there's nothing you need to do right now, except read magazines.

"The worst brides are the ones who have had the most time to plan the wedding," says one veteran of the bridal biz. The best advice is from a prominent local wedding coordinator, who counsels, "The planning part is all you're going to get. The day of the wedding? You're not going to remember a thing -- but you'll remember the planning. Have fun."

It's only as fun as you make it, and where it happens and what you serve is what people will remember most. They'll compliment you on your dress and hair, but the next day, it's the food they'll remember. Good or bad, it's the food. And it doesn't mean you have to hire Martha Stewart or rent out the Four Seasons. "I believe if you walk into 7-Eleven and it's the perfect amount of space for you and you like the atmosphere, you're going to have a good event." offers our coordinator. "Whether it's the Radisson or Howard Johnson's, it's whatever you're comfortable with. Any of those places can give you a good event."

Again, get the best you can afford -- you only do this once, but if your ambitions are high, be ready for the cost. A nice middle-of-the-road price on a lavish spread and open bar in a swanky hotel is going to run an average of $100 per person. Yes, you can spend less, but often these are package deals, and chipping away at specific items won't alter the cost a considerable amount. Be prepared. As always, you get what you pay for. "Everything can be worked within a budget," says the coordinator. "It's all going to cost more than you think when you first get into it ... but you have the rest of your life to make money. You'll never be able to buy these moments again."

Advice From the Caterers

Know what you want.

Trust yourself.

Make an appointment 10 months in advance.

Book your venue early

Do it right the first time. You don't get to do it again.

It never hurts to have a list of questions.

Don't pay too much attention to the magazines. They are great for ideas, but work within your means.

It's important to try and remember to enjoy it along the way. It is supposed to be fun.

Notes on reception: At no time, in any setting, is it appropriate to be subjected to full-grown adults dancing to "YMCA" by the Village People. Who could have ever imagined that a jaunty disco song about anonymous gay sex in an all-male establishment would become a staple for heterosexual nuptial receptions?

The Hair Don'ts

The incapability of making a decision is the worst quality in a bride. But you're in the hands of a professional, and they do this a lot more than you do. So, get down to business and make the decisions. There is an ugly myth perpetuated by certain bridal resources that it is unwise to stray very far from your normal look. After all, they say, you want to look like who you are, right? Wrong. Otherwise, why not just put a scrunchie in your hair and get married in your sweatpants in front of the TV? So, go get beautiful, but go about this carefully, for it can be fraught with danger and heartache. "This is your moment of drama, and even if you're not the 'spotlight' kind of person, rise to the occasion," say the pros.

Tips From the Salons

Be flexible!

Plan at least two appointments with your hairdresser prior to the big day, with your headpiece or veil.

Never trust a hairdresser that will do your hair on the day of the wedding without having seen you first. And do you really want that kind of stress on your wedding day?

Try to pay for all salon visits before the big day. You don't want to be writing checks while you have hot rollers in your hair.

Make an accurate count of all the people needing hair and make-up for the day of the wedding. A good stylist has a certain amount of time committed for each person. Don't assume your family members can just "squeeze in" and get done too. This adds unnecessary pressure and takes time away from the bride.

The Gift Racket

This is the part where your real dreams come true -- where the Material Girl takes over and the entire world is obligated to pay their respects with expensive gifts. Gifts of your choosing, that is. As long as people are going to give you all this stuff, it might as well be stuff you want, right? That's why you register your "preferences" in one or more establishments. There are many kinds of registries, from lingerie to lumber, and everything in between. Pier One, Home Depot, Target, Breed & Co., Bed, Bath & Beyond, Dillard's, Foley's, and JC Penney all offer registry services with varying approaches. Some offer more personal service, with assistance in selecting and registering the items, and some turn you loose with a gun that zaps the item's barcode and records it electronically. All are worthy establishments offering a variety of merchandise in a range of prices.

Professionals in the field are among the privileged ones who often see the Bride From Hell at her worst. A full-service bridal registry -- one with a personal consultant for all phases of the selection and management of the gift-giving ordeal -- will offer options to suit the financial realities of the family and friends of the bride (and her fiancé, and her mother, and possibly her best friend, as well). These consultants can help as the bride chooses from a bewildering array of merchandise.

Most guys don't much care what plates they eat off of or what color sheets they sleep on. They occasionally get worked up about the cookware, but mainly it's the electronics department that holds the allure -- or at least serves as the "husband-care" department, until the bride and her mother have finished furnishing the new home.

While mothers can be problematic throughout many phases of the planning of the wedding, in the case of registry, Mother usually really does know what's best: the best china, the best crystal, and the best sterling. Besides, she can help you select things that will complement or match the treasure trove of loot she will be passing on to you at some point. You may wind up with a lot of it, so it might as well all work together for a unified statement of luxury and privilege, right? She's probably alluded to it repeatedly during your life, or maybe even outright held it over your head ... now's the time to listen to her in these matters. She does know what's best, and she wants only the best for you. Of course, in the event that there's no mother in the picture, or that Mother has really, really bad taste, rely on the guidance of a professional who can help you select the best quality merchandise in the price range your guests will appreciate. If worse comes to worse, seek out your wealthiest friends for advice since they probably have nicer things than you do.

These selections are registered on a list made readily available to your guests by the store, or online. Then the guests can all gasp how expensive everything is, while scanning the list for something in the $15-$20 price range. The system itself is barbaric and a bit of a racket. These are supposed to be gifts! What happened to the idea that a gift was something you gave someone because it's what you wanted him or her to have? Says one consultant, "The worst scenario occurs when the couple returns all their gifts and trades them in for a big screen TV to watch football. What do they tell their family and friends when they come to visit? 'Hope you enjoy this TV, the crystal vase you picked out for us helped pay for it?'"

Advice From the Registry

Make appointments in advance and keep them.

Trust your instincts; pick what is right for you.

Don't be greedy. If you're registering at several places, divide the number of items you want between each store. Do not duplicate your wish list at each store.

If you don't want a certain gift, and you don't know where it came from, it's okay to bring it into a store to see if they'll take it back. But don't get mad if they won't. Especially when the item is clearly marked from a different store.

Just because a gift arrived in a box from a particular store does not mean the gift inside was from the same store.

Stores do not give cash back for returned wedding gifts. Ever. So don't ask. Store credit only.

Some stores make you responsible for the balance of merchandise that is not purchased. This serves to dissuade reckless registering.

Advice for Wedding Guests

Woe to they who travel off the registry for gift purchases. Invariably, the bride and groom will work long and hard to discover where the item is sold so they can return it for something else they really want, often trotting the item from store to store until the packaging is ragged.

Considering making a personal statement with a gift? Forget it. They don't want it. They want what's on that list. That's why they registered it, stupid. It doesn't matter if the groom was in your fraternity.

Just give them a gift certificate to the store the couple's registered at -- just because an item's on their list doesn't mean they have any intention of keeping it.

Assorted Indignities

Flowers, invitations, showers, photographers, videographers, music, the honeymoon, thank you notes, says one pro, "Contrary to popular advertising hype, this is not the most important day of your life. It might be one of the most important decisions you ever make, but so is buying your first house. Keep things in perspective." But that's hard to do with a plethora of businesses competing for your bridal dollars. "The commercialization of the bridal industry is rivaled only by Christmas," she continues, and with everyone offering freebies and discounts, it can be a bewildering experience. Brides can become so inured to being catered to that they come to expect it, and that bridal dollar wields a lot of power.

What's the best way to wield that powerful dollar? Decide what you want, trust your instincts, and stand your ground. Oh, yeah, and make an appointment. end story

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