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My Wedding Dress: True-Life Tales of Lace, Laughter, Tears and Tulle [Paperback]

Susan Whelehan , Anne Laurel Carter

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Product Description

Review

ADVANCE PRAISE

"The concept of women writing about their wedding dresses is enchanting, and so is this book. I sat right down and read it cover to cover. Then I had an urgent desire to write about my wedding dress. A gray flannel suit, since you asked. Wartime."
–June Callwood

"A wedding dress is a perfect icon for an anthology for it shows us that the women's movement can come and go, our image of a housewife or marriage may change dramatically, but each generation frets over her wedding dress as did her mother and grandmother. It is the perfect symbol of hope. If you want to cut through the latest ideology and get to the heart of what beats under the tulle read this great book. I swear if I landed here from another planet nothing would tell me more about the female psyche or the role that marriage plays in their psyche than reading My Wedding Dress."
–Catherine Gildiner

"Speaking as someone who got married in a purple suit, and then reluctantly, I can only say that the editors of this wonderful collection got it right. Their essayists have done a Martin Luther and nailed their white, beaded, silk-draped souls to the church door. Wedding dresses are the embodiment of purest happiness and deepest trauma. Some of the garments are so soaked in irony it’s a wonder the poor woman is able to stand upright. I read each story sometimes laughing and sometimes utterly aghast. A toast to the editors and their tribe of brides."
–Heather Mallick

My Wedding Dress is not just a book for brides. It is a thoughtful meditation on every aspect of the marriage ritual — tears, taffeta and all.”
–Leah McLaren

About the Author

Both Anne Laurel Carter and Susan Whelehan are experienced authors and educators, and seeing this project come to fruition has been a thrill for them both. The genesis of the idea for My Wedding Dress occurred six years ago at Whelehan’s home, where a group of friends, including Carter, had gathered for an afternoon of writing. The project was this: topics would be called out by different women, and everyone would write on each topic for fifteen to twenty minutes without stopping. Once the time was up, they would all read their pieces aloud to the group. As Whelehan writes in her introduction, the insight and emotions that pour out during activities like this are phenomenal: “There is a place where you go when you put pen to paper and write without pausing… It is not the place you would go if you were to call out a subject and then have a conversation. Oh no. Some say the truths of the heart flow down the arm and out the pen.”

On one particular evening the topic was “your wedding dress,” and all of the writers were surprised at the diversity and intensity of the pieces. The subject was so well-received that Whelehan later used it with another group of women, none of whom were used to writing, and it was a hit again. Right away she knew it would be a great idea for a book, but left it at that. Then, a couple of years later, Anne Carter called, full of memories of that night of writing and enthusiasm for the project of this anthology. So they set about making it a reality: drawing up lists of potential contributors, reading the many pieces sent in by women across the country, making difficult choices about what to include, and finally pulling the great variety of voices together into this anthology.

My Wedding Dress is the first of this sort of project for both of its editors, although both have made a career of the writing life. Anne Laurel Carter’s novel Last Chance Bay won the CLA Best Book of the Year Award while Under a Prairie Sky won the Mr. Christie Award for the Best Picture Book in Canada. The author of fourteen books, she has also been nominated for OLA awards. She lives in Toronto with her husband and four teens. Susan Whelehan works mornings teaching six- and seven-year-old children how to read so that they will some day enjoy the books she writes in the afternoons. She has written sixteen picture books for young readers, poetry for young and old, and co-authored Meditating Mamas: A Spiritual Resource for New Mothers with Rebecca Cunningham. She is currently writing for the award-winning children’s television show The Big Comfy Couch. Her husband and two sons help her with her garden in Toronto. Her wedding earrings still fit.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Stevie Cameron

Foreword


As I read many of the stories you’ll find here, the same thing happened: my eyes prickled with tears and I would pause for several minutes, engulfed in memories of my own wedding and all the hope and joy and worry I felt so many years ago. These stories, each so different, each so beautifully written, describe the same emotions – hope, joy and worry. But not all of them. A few also recall irritation, usually driven by a family’s demands or expectations, or panic, coming from a bride’s knowledge that this marriage was going to be a mistake. Some of the stories are simpler–funny, even slapstick. But most of them share three common themes: the complex relationship between a mother and a daughter, the longing for a perfect wedding outfit and the hope for love.

And even when their mothers were impossible and their husbands worse, almost every one of these brides remembers every detail of her wedding outfit, whether it was a traditional white dress with a veil or a trim pantsuit or a silk sari shot with gold thread, or even just something thrown together in a ­last-­minute fit. She remembers how she found it – the store or sister’s closet or grandmother’s attic, the price, the anxiety. But so many of these writers also tell stories of their mothers’ weddings and their mothers’ dresses, showing how family memories and traditions, for better or for worse, end up tangled in their own experience.

Some of the stories illustrates some of the rules surrounding weddings when I was a girl: pregnant brides, previously married brides or widows and, yes, “older” brides (i.e., anyone over, say, thirty-five) almost always wore suits or cocktail dresses, usually pale beige, pale blue or pink, usually at small family weddings held at City Hall or a country club, restaurant, hotel or a large living room–almost never in a church. But when Jackie Kennedy went to Valentino for the short, ­cream-­coloured lace dress worn at her wedding to Aristotle Onassis in 1968, five years after her husband’s assassination, it was considered exactly right. Marrying the froggy Onassis for his money – she required twenty million dollars up front – shocked the world, but she did much to rectify her mistake with a perfect outfit. Not frilly, long, or in any sense bridal, but pretty and celebratory.

Maybe that’s when things began to change. Jackie made it okay to wear white or at least cream for a second wedding. Odd, isn’t it, this whole white wedding thing? For women in most North American and European cultures it seems to have started in the early 1800s, although most women still wore coloured dresses at that time. It was only when Queen Victoria married Albert of ­Saxe-­Cobourg in 1840, wearing a dainty white dress with a little bustle and a lot of lace, that women settled on the colour that remains dominant to this day. Three other wedding dresses have had almost as much influence: those of American actress Grace Kelly, British aristocrat Diana Spencer and American socialite Carolyn Bessette. Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956 wearing ­twenty-­five yards of white taffeta, one hundred yards of silk net and an antique rose-point lace veil, a dream outfit with a high neck and long sleeves designed by Helen Rose and given to Kelly by her studio, MGM. The prince wanted a big dowry, so Kelly’s father gave him two million dollars; Kelly herself had to agree to a fertility test.

Royal weddings have always inspired wedding fashion, even Princess Margaret’s wedding in May 1960 to her ­second-­choice groom, commoner Anthony ­Armstrong-­Jones, who was only slightly preferable to the Royal Family over her true love, divorced commoner Peter Townsend. Poor Margaret, always slightly frumpier than her steadfastly frumpy sister, Queen Elizabeth, had her dress copied all over the world.

Until 1981, Grace Kelly’s dress remained the ultimate for many brides. But that year the sight of Lady Diana Spencer emerging from a carriage at Westminster Abbey in the pouffiest of pouffy cream silk taffetas and, at twenty-five yards, the longest train in British royal history, led to a huge demand for enormous puffed sleeves, vast skirts and lashings of lace. In all, the dress, designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, had a hundred yards of tulle for the crinoline, a hundred and fifty yards of netting for the veil and ten thousand ­mother-­of-­pearl sequins and beads. Like Grace Kelly’s, the dress showed nary an inch of Diana’s skin except her smiling face. Even her hands were covered in white gloves.

Everything changed when Carolyn Bessette married John Kennedy Jr. in 1996. Her ­bias-­cut crêpe silk slip-dress, designed by Narciso Rodriguez, was held up with thin straps and showed plenty of skin; only a woman as tall and thin as she could have carried it off. Even her feet were bare. And after the wedding hundreds of thousands of women wanted to look just like her. A dress as unforgiving as Carolyn Bessette’s was impossible for most brides, so many turned to strapless, backless numbers instead and today it is almost impossible to find a wedding dress that isn’t strapless. Not the best choice for many brides, but they persist.

Well, as they say, in my day such a thing was unheard of. Back in the 1960s we all wore modest dresses, usually with sleeves, high necklines, veils and trains, often with white kid gloves, always with white shoes and pearls. Weddings, especially in churches, were considered sacraments and anything that showed too much back or front was . . . highly inappropriate. Well, embarrassing, really. My own always stylish mother, despite the six-week interval between her meeting my father and marrying him, and despite wartime scarcities, found an organdy and chiffon gown with a high ­square-­cut neck, a full, sweeping skirt and a big picture hat; she carried the most beautiful bouquet I have ever seen. Ever. I went upstairs to look at her picture just now and to my surprise she was as gorgeous as I had thought she was and most appropriate. I still have the recipes from the wedding supper party held at our cottage and they still work. The marriage, however, was a disaster.
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