I enjoy weddings big and small, but I'm definitely not a typical wedding junkie. I'd never picked up bridal magazines until I agreed to have one of these things myself, and they pretty much confirmed the idea that "traditional" bride-dom was not for me. As a bride-to-be I've become more curious about how my the people who share my genes (and aversions) have celebrated marriage. My grandparents' unfussy wartime wedding (photo here, bride and groom center) and my parents' elopement (the few blurry Polaroids documenting the occasion could not be located) gave new meaning to tradition for me. Having that big white wedding I never wanted would not be following in the footsteps of anybody I'm related to.
In the process of working on this blog, I've found lots of great old family photos from weddings in which it appears no wedding professionals were involved. My family's casual weddings were not unique. Many of my favorites are the photos of WWII-era couples. "Retro" weddings have been popular for a few years now, with brides inspired by pin-up hair and make-up and dress styles of the forties and fifties. They're popular good reason--ladies looked great back then. While most brides were younger than the average bride today, they dressed like grown women in skirt suits and dresses that were flirty and feminine, but far from skimpy. The reason these styles continue to be popular is that they flatter all sorts of ladies.
In addition to their style, I love the practicality of brides of this era. With celebrations planned quickly to accommodate men on military leave and resources limited due to rationing, weddings were simple affairs. Many men wore their uniform and women wore their best dress, a corsage taking the place of a bridal bouquet. I imagine the lack of wedding perfection did not detract from the romance and excitement of the occasion. For people who grew up during the depression, a celebration on the scale of most modern American weddings was probably not what they had in mind anyway.
There are lots of ways to get married and modern weddings reflect the personalities and preferences of the couple involved to a high degree. Even with this level of personalization, there exists for most people a positive sense of being a part of a tradition and an institution. Filling the roles of bride and groom, or in the case of same-sex couples, making a life-long commitment, connects us to couples throughout history, transcending the particulars of time and place.
For me, looking to the past has inspired a revision of how I think of tradition. At a time when it's commonplace to live beyond your means, being honest about what you can afford can be difficult. I've found it helpful to look to couples who might have felt differently about their modest means and to be inspired by the commitments people make in spite of lack of personal freedom.
And so my love letter is dedicated to small-budget brides past and present. My wedding will be a little retro in spirit, in the sense that I will have the wedding I can really afford and I will not feel bad about that. It's a wonderful thing to make peace with what you have and to share what you truly can. Details aside, I'm looking forward to celebration that's happy and memorable because of what it represents.