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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 ‘gawadjลn’ 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 ‘vฤdas’ 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 โšฝ๏ธ๐ŸŽ‰.

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.

๐Ÿ‘
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War and Weddingwear ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฆ

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.

๐Ÿ’›๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ’™

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. ๐Ÿ˜Š

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 fiancรฉ 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.

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Why White?

How Queen Victoria, new-fangled photography and rubbish laundry facilities created the iconic western tradition

Ever wondered why western brides wear white? Queen Victoria sparked the trend in 1840 and actually raised eyebrows by choosing white, which was usually only worn by debutantes for their presentation to court.

Victoria & Albert on their wedding day, and her trend-setting dress displayed at Kensington Palace.

Before then (and for a while after), brides would wear their best dress, whatever colour(s) it happened to be. There wasn’t even a concept of a wedding dress as something you wore just for your wedding day. It was expected that you’d wear your wedding dress again for other functions ans indeed, Queen Victoria did.

A bride and groom in Chicago in the 1890s

This expectation helped make the white wedding dress aspirational as it was only really practical to wash and maintain white fabrics, especially silk, if you were mega-rich. Ideally, you had staff to take care of that for you. European royals and nobility did of course and so the white wedding dress became associated with wealth and high social standing.

Simultaneously, photography was becoming more advanced and accessible and white dresses looked good in the early sepia photographs. Even nearly 200 years ago, we were all about the ‘Gram.

All of this means that you can still consider yourself a traditional bride if your dress isn’t white. This week, I took delivery of this stunning lace-satin-glitter (yes, all of them, in one fabric) fabric and I am ridiculously excited about it.

Satin, lace AND glitter all in one fabric. BIG plans for this beauty. HUGE.

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Typical!

My brides and dresses are all so different. Do I even have a typical customer?

What do a pink glittery ballgown, a satin ivory shift mini-dress, and a two-piece embroidered lehenga have in common? Or a backless, barely-there lace dress with a long-sleeved, high-necked, satin-twill number?

Some of my 2021 brides in their bespoke gowns on their wedding days. L-R: Emma, Steffi, Gemma, Isobel and Immi

I mean aside from the obvious, that they are all wedding dresses. And made by me.

The answer is in why I made them. Or rather why I had to.

UK brides are spoiled for choice whatever their budget with independent bridal boutiques, concessions in Harrods and Selfridges, chain stores like Wed2b and David’s Bridal, second-hand dresses and hell, even Asos is getting in on the bridal scene. If, and that’s a big if, they want a traditional ivory dress.

Not all brides do. Some don’t want ivory. Some don’t want a dress.

The very variety of styles I’ve made in the last year might suggest I don’t have a typical customer. But I have found that my brides tend to have some common traits:

1. All of my brides have a strong personal style. They know what works for them, what looks dynamite, and what doesn’t;

2. They know exactly what they’re looking for. Some had mood boards, others had lists of elements such as neckline, silhouette, embroidery details, etc, some had even produced sketches.

3. They couldn’t find what they were looking for ready-made in any shop. It didn’t exist.

That’s when they looked into going bespoke and found me.

So, do I have a typical customer? Yes and no. Do the traits above sound familiar to you?

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Is the make-up-free Miss GB contestant empowering women and girls? What about brides?

One of the top ten most read BBC News stories this morning concerns Elle Seline, a contestant in Miss GB, who plans to appear without make-up at this year’s competition. Ms Seline, who was bullied about her appearance in her teens (as I was), says she is doing this to challenge patriarchal standards of beauty and to empower other women and girls.

But does it? And why does it have anything to do with me, or weddings?

What I find more interesting than the story itself is that a woman choosing not to wear make-up on a particular day is such big news. I often don’t wear make up; when I’m working, I usually end up inside wedding dresses between layers and don’t want to leave marks. Sometimes I just don’t want to wear it. Hardly hold-the-front-page stuff though, right?

The difference is of course the context, i.e. an event at which a woman would be expected to wear make-up. Weddings, specifically being The Bride, are another example. So here’s the relevance to us.

Some brides (like me, a natural extrovert) relish the attention on their wedding days while they, as tradition dictates, look their best. But this pressure to look “your best”, what your best self actually looks like, AND being the centre of attention makes many – maybe most, in my experience – feel very vulnerable. Judged. Absolutely bloody terrified.

So I believe Ms Seline’s message for brides is empowering: (with apologies to my make-up artist friends), you can go without make-up when you’re expected to wear it and still be beautiful. Your best self. Stick THAT to the patriarchy.

However, let’s not get carried too far away from the feminist track. Ms Seline is taking control of her own narrative to stick one to her former bullies, yes. However, entering a competition that judges and ranks women on their appearance, whatever standard employed, is a massive self own in this narrative. It says: how women look is still the best way to judge us.

You don’t defeat bullies who think you’re ugly by changing their minds into thinking you’re beautiful; you slay them by demonstrably not giving a shit what they think of your appearance. And that can’t include entering a competition to be judged on just that. So her message is NOT empowering for women and girls generally.

For brides, wear the make-up, don’t wear the make-up. Just know you are giving your best self to the person you love the most, whatever that looks like.