My Wedding Dress: True-Life Tales of Lace, Laughter, Tears and Tulle
edited by Susan Whelehan and Anne Laurel Carter
Published by Vintage Canada
352 pages, 2007
Buy it online
Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen
"The concept of women writing about their wedding dresses is enchanting, and so is this book," enthuses journalist June Callwood on the inside cover of My Wedding Dress. She must have written that blurb on a bad day. Most readers will be pleasantly surprised to find these wedding day stories to be far beyond enchanting. Using the romantic image of a wedding dress as a jumping off point, the 26 writers have contributed much more than just a description of their tiaras and trains. They've poured out their souls, as women seem so able to do, while exploring memories and emotions that range from frightening to funny, depressing to delectable, whimsical to wise.
The concept of a wedding "dress" is likewise stretched: from an old black leather jacket belonging to a father, to the traditional saris and jewelry bedecking the bride in an arranged Indian wedding; from a specially smudged ceremonial blanket to a painstakingly hand-knitted top of wool, linen and silk strands; from a soiled, mothball-scented dress worn many times and never cleaned, to a smart pant suit worn by a bride in her 80s. The special clothes that mark the decisive days in these writers' lives speak volumes.
Some contributors write of more than one outfit. They eulogize their mother's dress as well as their own, or they trace the distance they've traveled from their first wedding clothes to their second. Some recall their groom's outfit and savour the small, intricate details of that day, while others shrug the occasion off, disinterested in or rebelling against the traditions of marriage. The authors married in order to remain in their lover's country or so that their lover could remain in theirs; they married to escape; they married because it was the thing to do; they married for children. Some married for love and half of those still cherish that same groom.
Most of the essays include pictures of the writers in their bridal regalia, and these images are wonderfully telling. Lorna Crozier, however, did not, and how sorry I was not to see the 53 year old woman in the "wrong dress," marrying her partner of 23 years. For Crozier, the memory of her mother's blue-black velvet wedding dress is much more important than the dresses she wore to her own two weddings. The contrast between the lushness of her mother's dress and the bleakness of the shack she returned to as a bride is pivotal in the story, but of course Crozier is a poet; she knows the importance of a good image.
Then there's Alisa Gordaneer's hilarious marriage. She's the one in her father's black leather jacket, getting married in the Detroit city hall and chorusing "I do" along with dozens of other couples. Although she and her American fiancée had had their dream wedding in Victoria, Canada, several weeks earlier, they had to stop short of actually saying the vows, because an American bureaucrat warned them they officially had to be married in America in order for her fiancée's visa to be valid.
Sadly, many of the contributors wrap their memories around the death of their mothers. Whelehan recalls her mother's death from cancer at 47 while Jenny Manzer recalls the race to get married and to fulfill her promise before cancer claimed her 66 year-old mother. It was a race she lost by the skin of her teeth.
The book is divided into four parts: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed and Something Blue or Peach or Striped or Floral. It seems a perfect arrangement, but to me it was an awkward fit, like some of the dresses most of the brides tried on and discarded. It just simply isn't necessary. The stories will fit anywhere. They celebrate family, friendships and resilience as much, if not more, than romantic love and the right dress and trappings. The brides may have had their hair up, but in retelling their special day, their feet are firmly on the floor. (One bride actually married in bare feet.) They remind us of how far they have traveled in the time between their marriage day and now, a distance from two to 50 years. | February 2007
Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.