[imgcontainer] [img:pambrideboots530.jpg] [source]Molly Germaine[/source] At this outdoor wedding in Ames, Iowa, all members of the wedding party wore “manly footwear.” [/imgcontainer]
As is typically the case for young women, I went through a phase where each year brought two or three weddings to attend. More often than not, these affairs took place in rural Northeast Texas. Sometimes I was a happy guest, other times, a cheerful bridesmaid.
Where I grew up, when a gal accepted an invitation to be a member of the bridal party, her mother usually made the dress from a pattern and material selected by the bride-to-be. This is how I came to wear a Pepto-Bismol pink lace-and-satin dress that would have made Shelby Eatenton Latcherie neon green with envy. Typically there were a few “other duties as assigned” for the bridesmaids and their families, just as there’d been for my mother when she was a young woman living on a South Texas farm.
We country girls were expected—and more than willing—to help out with a variety of tasks, many of them the kinds of things I understood city brides typically hired a pro to undertake. For one wedding, I learned how to fashion pink, burgundy and grey icing roses (yes, grey–the groom’s favorite color!) using instructions in a Wilton’s cake decorating book. A couple of years later, my artistically gifted mother helped another family create an elaborate floral display for their home’s large, curving stairwell; the bride had raised and dried her own autumnal flowers just outside the house for the project.
[imgcontainer] [img:PPricetub530.jpg] [source]Courtesy of Pamela Price[/source] In 1996, author Pamela Price readied flowers for her wedding reception in her parents’ motel room shower. Although she married in the big city of Austin, she applied several lessons in thrift learned as a rural Texas bridesmaid. [/imgcontainer]
Given that we were all in college and had no professional training, our efforts turned comic more than once. The wedding cake with grey roses was crafted of tiers made by several ladies in the community and assembled at the local volunteer fire house-turned-reception site. We put it together using wooden dowel rods, but someone forgot to remove them when the cake was cut… and so a few slices were served to guests with tiny slivers of wood. For another ceremony, we realized minutes before the processional that one bridesmaid’s dress had been cut from a different pattern than the others. Because the blushing bride was a little, ahem, stressed out, we took her eldest sister’s advice and kept mum. Maintaining the peace was, after all, the central responsibility we signed on to bear.
Since my years on the rural bridesmaid circuit, I’ve researched a couple of wedding-related stories for regional publications. Each time, I’ve been gobsmacked by the national numbers. The Association for Wedding Professionals International estimates the industry to be worth a whopping $82 billion, though
the recession has taken a large bite out of the market. For the second quarter of ’09, The Wedding Report notes that the average cost of a wedding costs $16,546, down 14% from the first quarter.
Even with that price tag and crafty, budget-conscious brides committed to going the DIY route as much as possible, it’s evident that the average American bridesmaid isn’t pitching in to help quite to the degree that our gang did just twenty years ago.
At the same time, rural weddings have become just one of dozens of popular bridal themes, permanently obscuring the line between what constitutes a true city or country wedding. Traditions such as “jumping the broom” and the Ohio-Pennsylvania cookie table were once regional customs; today, they’ve become somewhat commonplace. Curiously, the phenomenon of Southern and Western brides and bridesmaids wearing cowboy boots has yet to take off nationwide, though I’m rather fond of it. What says “country” more than a pair of boots peeking out from under your skirt?
[imgcontainer left] [img:pamKatieWorden320.jpg] [source]Laura Turner[/source] Katie Worden of Lufkin, Texas, married earlier this year in cowboy boots bought by her future husband, Blake: “My favorite thing in the whole world is to ride horses,” Katie said. “I didn’t want to wear heels down the aisle.” [/imgcontainer]
Color me bemused by the many websites and blogs celebrating the idea of the “country wedding.” Snoop around them a bit and you’ll encounter brides spending gobs of money to create the illusion of a “simple” country affair either in the city or at an expensive destination like a vineyard. Meanwhile, even urban couples weary of the static traditional wedding portrait are heading out-of-doors into fields and pastures and alongside abandoned rusty trucks to be photographed in their wedding finery. Looking over these photos online and drawing upon my training as a historian of photography, it’s hard not to regard the popularity of the rural-style weddings and portraits as an attempt to suggest authenticity, wholesomeness, and fecundity in a tumultuous age.
That’s okay, I guess, but I tend to think the “rural theme wedding” notion comes up short in comparison with what we experienced in East Texas. That’s because pulling together to help a gal and guy get hitched was equal parts fun and satisfying. As each happy couple pulled away from the crowd of revelers to enjoy their honeymoon, those of us in the bridal party felt like we’d contributed to the start of their new life together in a tangible way.
We certainly made a lot of memories.