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“Voglio un matrimono perfetto.”

Don’t we all want a perfect wedding?

Duolingo’s Vikram wants a perfect wedding.

One of Duolingo’s favourite sentences to throw at me to translate (I’m trying to learn Italian) is this one: “I want a perfect wedding.” Another is “Are my shoes electric?” for some reason, but I digress.

Every time I have to translate Voglio un matrimono perfetto, I twitch a little at the casual but crushing pressure on soonly-weds to create an unattainably perfect day, whatever that means for them.

I have heard of a wedding that did run precisely according to the times in the meticulously prepared to-the-minute spreadsheet, but I only did the wedding dress alterations and wasn’t there on the day. The bride admitted that such was the fastidiousness of her planning in Excel, the wedding could have run without her being there.

So, I will say here what I tell all my customers who’ve fretted to me about things not going to plan on the day: I have been to a LOT of weddings, and have yet to go to one where everything ran exactly to plan, but I have never been to a bad wedding either.

I’ve seen the vicar forget the bride’s name, the best man get so drunk that he had to be held up by the bride’s parents to give his speech and the evening disco not show up.

And I include my own wedding in that. Booked for the 9th of August and taking place in a glorious lakeside location, we planned the entire day around being outside. We bought lawn games, booked a bouncy castle and a bungee run, planned reportage photography of leisurely walks around the lake, chose cream rather than dark suits for the groomsmen to thwart the beating summer sun, and included a sachet of SPF50 suncream in the bag of home-made rose petal confetti on each seat, lest the entire congregation be wiped out by sunstroke before we could cut the cake and cut to the disco.

You’re probably way ahead of me, and yes, despite glorious sunshine the day before and the day after, it absolutely dicked it down on our wedding day.

But – and I can’t stress this enough – it was still the best day EVER.

We turned the bouncy castle and bungee run away on arrival, the lawn games stayed in their packaging and my bridesmaid exemplified next-level selfless friendship by holding her umbrella over me, the bride, while her freshly straightened hair succummed to the rain. But huddled in the bar sipping cups of tea instead of iced drinks in the sun, we didn’t care. The day unfolded in raucous laughter, eating, drinking, dancing conversation and love.

We were surrounded by our favourite people and we had just got married. Which is exactly the point. If you end the day married to the person you intended to, everything else is just detail.

Nearly fifteen years, two children and a house move later, I still find the odd, unused sachet of that suncream every now and then.

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Would you do your job free or for a discount?

Have you ever been asked to work for no/less money? How did you respond and how did you feel afterwards?

The Un-Wedding posted this on Instagram today, and it chimed with some recent conversations with fellow designer-dressmakers who have been asked for discounts, or even to work free in exchange for “exposure”.

I’m either not famous enough or too scary looking to have ever been asked to work for nothing by an influencer or celebrity, and the vast majority of people do recognise the value of what I do. (Actually, one influencer didn’t even tell me about her YouTube channel until after she’d booked me).

Who even does that?

However, on the odd occasion I’ve been asked for a discount, it’s been for wedding dress alterations. This tends to be the last thing to be paid for when planning a wedding, because alterations typically happen as close to the big day as possible so your body is the size and shape it will be on the day.

I’ve become a lot stricter – nay, assertive – about discounts, because every single time I’ve agreed, I’ve resented the customer, hated the work, and gnashed my teeth with every stitch. I’m not out to rip anyone off or obsessed with making as much money as possible; I’d have stayed in corporate PR if I were.

I’ve become more assertive about discounts. Sorry, not sorry.

I usually do put in a lot more work than agreed for the sheer fun of it, and on the odd occasion I’ve even waived my fee entirely just because I wanted to.

Top ‘reasons’ people have expected a discount

Below are the reasons I’ve been given for why I should agree to a discount and my response to each:

1. “We’ve overspent on everything else and run out of money.” (Three instances of this)

Think back to before you booked a single thing. Would you have called me – a stranger –  and asked me to buy, say, your cake, or pay for the extra flower arches? Because that’s effectively what you’re asking me to do now. 

2. “The alterations are costing more than half what I paid for the dress!”

Your dress was an absolute steal but is three sizes too big for you, eight inches too long and will need to have most of the lace removed, replaced and re-beaded by hand.

3. “If I pay that much, I will cry.” (Actually the same person as 2, above)

The work you need will take me around three days in my busiest month of the year when im already starting work at 5.30am and finishing around midnight, and if two of those days are unpaid, I will show you bloody crying.

4. Calling me after the fitting: “Can we round it down to £xxx if I give you cash?”

Err, oh. OK. I was caught off, in a flap and acquiesced. But why should cash necessitate a discount? It actually creates work for me because I have to make a trip to a real-life bank to pay it in. Plus I’m far too socialist to not declare any income on my tax return.

This particular person had also given me an unwashed dress to take in that she had worn clubbing and needed for her hen do (lots of fiddly work to the underarm section) and was condescending to her lovely sister in every appointment.

She also spent one fitting on the phone boasting about how much money she’d got another supplier to come down by. I agreed to the discount but hers was the only name I’ve ever made a mental note of to never work for again.

Same same but different

There are some inquiries that might sound or feel like asking for a discount but aren’t, so please don’t feel afraid to ask (and vendors, please don’t feel offended of you encounter them). Asking for a starting price or rough estimate isn’t rude and neither is surprise when finding out the cost.

Not many people have ever bought anything wedding-related before they plan their own so it’s not reasonable to expect anyone to know what things cost.

Manners for makers

A discount means a compromise on fabrics,  my time or both, and you can’t do that with couture. Moreover, I’m not willing to do any of those and still put my name to the result.

Even MORE-over, asking for a discount is rude. Either you value my work or you don’t.

Aah, that was cathartic. Therapy I didn’t know I needed.

Not actually me, but how I’m feeling now
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How to see fewer weight-loss ads when you’re engaged

Planning =/= shredding for the wedding

Fifteen years ago, I was excitedly, a little smugly and absolutely bloody FINALLY making my betrothal to my favourite human official: I changed my relationship status on Facebook to ‘Engaged’.

The effect was immediate. In addition to the flattering influx of likes, comments and messages of congratulations, the adverts in my newsfeed changed. Wedding dress boutiques, honeymoon destinations, venues, and, most noticeably, ways to lose weight. This diet, that meal replacement, hashtag ‘Shredding for the wedding’.

The algorithms that determine the ads you see on social media might be more sophisticated these days. When we changed our relationship statuses again to ‘Married’, I started getting ads for fertility treatments and nursery furniture; my husband to ‘Meet hot singles online in your area.’

However, these algorithms remain slave to market correlations, including that planning a wedding also often means wanting to lose weight. A highly unscientific poll I’m running on Instagram currently says two thirds of people saw more weight loss ads after they got engaged.

Reasons for deliberately changing your body are complex and personal so this isn’t a post about whether ads for weight loss treatments are right or wrong, nor whether anyone should or should not lose weight.

But the issue is close to my heart. Brides sometimes come to me because they dread – or have had – horrible experiences in bridal boutiques. In my own case, I have come through eating disorders so it would have been good to have not had to see these ads.

TIL how to stop weight loss ads on Instagram

So, I thought it would be useful to share a tip I learned today to avoid seeing weight-loss ads, on Instagram at least:

From the menu on your profile page, go to Settings > Ads > Ad Topics. If you’ve not done this before, it’s quite interesting to see what The Algorithm thinks you’re interested in based on your Meta (i.e. Instagram, Facebook, Messenger) activity. If your list was anything like mine, it should also reassure you that the social media companies actually know bugger all about you.

Tap on one you’re not interested in (my first one was Stargate 🤷‍♀️) and you’ll be given to options about it: ‘No preference’ and ‘Show less (sic) ads about this topic’. Even if its slovenly grammar makes you twitch as much as it did me, tap the second option and that should do the trick.

You can then also search all of the ad topics; the one you need is ‘Body Weight Control’. Choose the second option again and you should hopefully start seeing the adverts diminish, rather than your mental health.

The video below shows you all this in 30 seconds.

Please share with anyone who needs to know.

Special thanks to Alysia Cole Styling whose column in Rock n Roll Bride prompted me to find out how to do this.

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With this ring, I thee… bet?

Winter’s Wedding Words: Wedding

Are you a betting person? Fond of a flutter? Paying wages? Planning a wedding is closer to all of these than you might have ever thought.

You feeling lucky, punk?

The word ‘wedding’ comes from the Old English ‘weddian’, which meant to covenant, engage or pledge. Germanic linguistic history gives us loads of similar words meaning pledge, such as ‘weddia’ in Old Frisian, ‘wedden’ in Low Middle German and Middle and modern Dutch and ‘vedhja’ in Old Icelandic. Gothic also had ‘gawadjōn’ which actually meant to marry or espouse.

So it’s no great leap to see the connection to Modern German’s ‘wetten’, which means to wager or bet, as well as pledge. When you think about betting, what you’re actually doing is promising to pay if you’re wrong. Indeed, Old English ‘wedd’ meant being pawned or mortgaged.

Our Modern English word ‘wages’ also has the same linguistic root, wages also being a promise or pledge, i.e. of a reward for completed work.The germanic languages seem to agree; Middle and Modern Dutch ‘wedde’ means wages.

The Latinate side of English’s origins cognates with the germanic too. Latin’s ‘vas’ (genitive ‘vadis’) and Lithuanian’s ‘vādas’ meant surety or bail.

Finally, ‘wedlock’ doesn’t actually have anything to do with locks. It is simply Old English ‘wedd’ (pledge) plus the suffix ‘lac’ which signified a noun. The suffix changed to ‘lock’ by folk etymology, through association with the similar sounding ‘lock’.

Padlock, wedlock… same-same but different
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Old wives’ tales

Winter’s Wedding Words: wife

I’m disappointed.

Not in an epically understated way, like my gracious German cousins last week ⚽️🎉.

More like when I go out for Chinese food and the main course never seems to live up to splendiferous platter of prawn toasts, satay chicken sticks, spring rolls and duck pancakes we had for the starter.

I blame husband. Not my husband, nor anyone else’s, but the word ‘husband’ itself. Specifically, its etymology. Because after I learned that it shares its origin with 007 and bondage for my last blog post, I had high hopes for its feminine counterpart.

Disappointment (1882), by Julius Leblanc Stewart. I don’t know what he did either.

Alas, ‘wife’ began its recorded life as Old English wif, meaning… wife.

However, ‘wif’ could also mean woman, irrespective of marital status. So I researched ‘woman’. And here I found my nugget of geek gold.

An anomalous quirk of English language evolution is that the word ‘wife’, i.e. a woman as a man’s possession (the predominant mentality of the time), predates ‘woman’ as a female person generally.

Disappointed AND retroactively outraged.

So I embroidered the shit out of a veil and felt much better.

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Ooh, Matron!

Winter’s Wedding Words: Matron

Matron. Matriarch. Maternity. Matricide. All share a common root: the Latin ‘mater’, meaning mother. So why does ‘matrimony’ derive from the same?

Hatty Jacques’s Matron from the Carry On… films

As with many marriage traditions, the answer is in its patriarchal origins. Marriage was seen as literally the act of establishing a mother in the household.

Clearly this is problematic. It is male-centric, where the man is the active participant bringing the passive woman/mother figure into his domicile. It is hetero/cis-normative. It also assumes that every woman getting married wants to, and will, become a mother, not to mention that this is the primary purpose of marriage.

So, does this mean that technically only hetero/cis couples planning children can be joined in matrimony? Of course not. It’s not the 1300s, from when ‘matrimony’ was first recorded, spelled ‘matrymony’ at the time. Language evolves. Spellings and semantics change. Mercifully, so do (some) patriarchal social norms.

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Honeymoon is not as sweet as it sounds

Winter’s Wedding Words: Honeymoon

Remember that scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral where Carrie asks Charles why he thinks it’s called a honeymoon? Charles suggests that it’s honey because it’s as sweet as honey and moon because it’s the first time a husband gets to see his wife’s bottom. Well, wouldn’t you just know it? He’s actually (partially) right. Just not about the butt cheeks.

I saw the crescent, you saw the whole of the moon.

It is indeed honey because it’s something sweet. BUT (not butt) it’s actually meant ironically, to describe something that seems wonderful now but won’t last, hence when people talk about the ‘honeymoon period’ of a project or endeavour, etc, with the implicit expectation of it all going to shit.

This is because of the nature of the phases of the moon: it is no sooner full than it begins to wane. So, ‘honeymoon’ is a rather cynical remark on the newlyweds’ long-term prospects for happiness.

Perhaps the last laugh is on the cynics though; they seem to have forgotten that even when the moon disappears entirely, it will start to wax once more and reach its full glory again (and again, and again) soon enough. That sounds sweet enough to me. Peachy even.

🍑
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War and Weddingwear 🇺🇦

Helping brides whose wedding dresses were being made in Ukraine, AND their Ukranian dressmakers.

While Putin’s troops attacked Ukraine this week, two british brides contacted me. Both had ordered wedding dresses that were being made in Ukraine. Now this can no longer happen, they asked if I could make them instead.

I could have rubbed my hands with glee and snapped up the extra orders. But I shouldn’t profit from a loss of business from someone potentially losing everything, just because they happen to have had their country invaded this week, and I haven’t.

So I *think* I have figured out a way to help both the brides and their original dressmakers in Ukraine. I will make what they had ordered, for the same price. Then, after hard costs (fabric etc), I would donate the rest of the price to the ukranian dressmaker (if it was a small, independent operation like mine) or to the Disasters Emergency Committee (if it was a factory contracted by an international brand).

The first bride has just agreed and we tracked down her original, ukranian dressmaker on Etsy. Her name is Vera. She leads a small team and, her shop’s announcement tells us, is currently living in an underground shelter with her family.

Part of Vera’s heartbreaking Etsy shop announcement, which can be read in full here

As a stroke of genius, Vera created digital, downloadable postcards so people can donate directly. So I did.

I’d been wondering how the hell I could offer practical support in a war zone from the UK, with my skill set limited to making wedding dresses and writing the odd blog. I know what I’m doing* is a drop in the roaring ocean but it’s something. I hope.

💛🇺🇦💙

If you or someone you know is in the same position as my two brides, please get in touch and I will help if I can.

To my fellow wedding industry pros, if you’re able to help by doing something similar, let’s work together.

*For what it’s worth, I have also donated to the DEC and encourage those who are willing and able to do the same.

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Couples in Co-ordinated Clothes

I received a press inquiry this week asking whether couples should coordinate their wedding outfits. This question both resonated with and rankled me.

It was a well timed question; this week alone I’ve been working on coordinating outfits for three couples and it’s certainly something I’m seeing more of, for different reasons.

A traditional Ghanaian wedding (in LA). Credit: Kwame Agyei Jr Weddings

That said, my couple planning their traditional white wedding are also incorporating the same fabric for elements of their outfits. In this case, the bride is wearing a hooded cape and the groom a bowtie in the same pale pink velvet. 

A black bride and groom in coordinating pink wedding dress and pink suit sitting on outdoor painted stairs
Pretty in (matching) pink. Credit: Leesha Williams Photography via Unique Rebels Union.

It can be a cultural, which is true for my bride and groom planning their Ghanaian-British fusion wedding. In Ghana, the bride and groom’s outfits are made from the same fabrics, which is what I’m doing for the them, making the bride’s dress from the same traditional kente fabrics as the groom’s outfit.

The third couple are both wearing black with custom embroidered motifs that tell each of their stories.

Now for why the question rankled. First, being for a western publication, it was inherently western-focused but this excluded the cultures and traditions of other countries that are honoured here, such as my British-Ghanaian couple.

I also (politely I hope) asked the journalist not to forget weddings involving two grooms, two brides or non-binary couples who I also see coordinating their outfits, probably more so than heterosexual couples.

Two white grooms in matching brown suits and glasses with coordinating red details on their wedding day
Credit: Binky Nixon via Unique Rebels Union

And finally, the classic word “Should.” I don’t like to see “should” in any question about weddings, other than that the couple should love each other and should wear whatever the hell they want, matching or not. 😊

A white male and female couple on their wedding day wearing dungarees
Credit: Emily Steward Photography via Zane & Willow Zarecki

NB photos are not of my work or couples; their weddings are still to come so the details are top secret!

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2022 – a bumper year for weddings… or postponements?

Today, my first 2022 bride called me to say she is postponing her wedding to 2023.

The uncertainty about new strains, new restrictions and new red-list countries (they’re marrying abroad) had become too much. It buoys me to say that she and her fiancé are happy to have made the decision and can get back to enjoying planning their nuptials.

I’m taking predictions that 2022 will be a bumper wedding year with a pinch of salt.