A full page ad appeared on December 31, 2014 in The New York Times, featuring Bill Maher, the social critic and witty comedian. He was dressed in a tie and jacket set off by a narrow striped shirt. He looked very debonair and had a sly smile on his face. The cut line was, “Yes, I do read the wedding announcements. I don’t know why.” When I saw that ad, running on the last day of the year and in the midst of one of the coldest, snowiest and windiest winters on record, I immediately cut it out to save for a future blog.
It is now March 16, 2015, and “If winter comes….Shelley wrote… can spring be far behind.” Today’s blog is meant to provide a welcome respite from the many disturbing, worldwide news stories we read every day. I hope you enjoy the change of pace.
Do you read the wedding announcements in the newspaper on Sundays? Do you look into the faces of the couple in the picture and muse briefly about them and their lives? How did they meet? What attracted them to each other? Do they look happy? Will it last?
Many of us — particularly women — have been reading these social commentaries for years, observing along the way certain sea changes in life styles and choices for the couple. More women are keeping their own names. Couples are being married “in their home”. Both men and women are doctors or lawyers. And the phrase, “previous marriage ended in divorce” has become very familiar. The New York Times began carrying same sex marriages several years ago. The text identifies by name one of the two men or women in the picture as “on the left”. The entire section has “Vows” at the top of each page.
There appear to be an increasing number of remarriages, what George Bernard Shaw called “the triumph of hope over experience”. And a growing number of announcements share that the couple met through one of the popular dating services on social media. Beyond Facebook, one finds a wide range aimed at specific religious, ethnic, regional and age groups. Almost all post pictures and profiles that describe age, education, interests, priorities and objective. They include: e.Harmony, Jdate, Christian Mingle, South Jersey Matchmakers, PlentyofFish and Okcupid. Surveys show that the picture is the immediate turn-on or turn-off. The profile is important, but “He looked cute” or “She was beautiful” led to reading the profile and deciding whether to send an e-mail.
Today’s weddings sound pretty traditional compared with newspaper accounts of manners and mores in the l970’s. It’s interesting and fun to look back at weddings in The New York Times society pages of that era. Here are a few:
“Westport, Connecticut, July 11, 1970. They were married here today in the woods outside the rough-sawn cedar house the bridegroom designed and built and in which they will live. The bride, whose feet were bare, wore a Mexican wedding dress, and carried tiger lilies she had picked at the side of the road.” Mexican wedding gowns were very popular in the early seventies, long before Vera Wang rose like a meteor on the fashion horizon with her elegant creations.
The groom’s attire often varied. “New Canaan, Connecticut. July 12, 1970. The groom whose hair is almost as long as his bride’s wore what he described as a ‘Plains Indian buckskin shirt’ with leather pants and boots.” Today’s notices have completely dropped the lavish attention to what the bride wore with more emphasis on her education and career. Many of us miss those wonderful fashion details. We delighted in reading about the “cream satin gown trimmed in alencon lace embroidered with pearls” and the “heirloom veil worn by the bride’s great, great grandmother.” These lovely images were the stuff of dreams as well as envy.
“Annnisquam, Mass. March 7, 1971, The bride wore a gown of Canadian wool that she wove on a loom in her home. Of lavender, plum and purple, it had tiny bits of blue to create the look of a stained glass window. ‘They’re my favorite color,” the bride said. The bridegroom wore Levi’s with high leather buckled shoes and a brown leather vest with silver buttons, made for him by a tanner in West Virginia.”
So there, Vera Wang with your exquisitely simple dresses! And you grooms with your staid cravats and striped trousers. How unimaginative you appear in your classic attire. Many of the couples portrayed in The Times in the 70’s appeared to be in rebellion against the long line of ancestors who had come over on The Mayflower. Today’s notices seem dry and distilled in contrast to the candor of that day. One didn’t have to read between the lines to gasp.
“Southhampton, Long Island. The bride’s dress by Sarmi in pink organdy with white satin was above the knee in length. After graduation from Miss Hewitt’s, she made her debut at the Tuxedo Autumn Ball and was a member of the the New York Junior Assemblies…It was not a happy day for the bride’s mother. From the moment the engagement was announced, she has said in rather blunt language that she disapproved of the marriage. ‘He is completely unacceptable to the family in every way’ she said in letters to society editors. ‘None of the family who are living wish in any way to be associated with this marriage, and those who are not alive would never have received or acknowledged him.’”
This writer never learned if that marriage, which was number two for the bride and number three for the groom, lasted. Or if the bride’s mother ever changed her mind about her new son-in-law. The odds on that happening certainly didn’t sound too good.
We bridal announcement junkies will just have to subsist on the occasional celebrity wedding to stoke our need for the in-depth social coverage and fashion comments that continue to fascinate us. But you can be sure we will still be reading the regular notices every Sunday and looking at the pictures. Two faces, usually smiling out at us, as we wonder what the future has in store for them.