Wedding Ways

“Marriage. True love. … That blessed arrangement, that dream within a dream …,” lisps Impressive Clergyman in the film The Princess Bride. All weddings have that sentiment at their core even though the details vary. Inside is a collection of stories that reflect a variety of Big Day celebrations. Georgia Freedman discovers that it takes a village to create the perfect hometown wedding; Molly Freedenberg learns what a wedding shouldn’t be about by attending 25 ceremonies in two years; Tyler Blue sees beauty in his rabbi brother’s orthodox nuptials — complete with matchmaker; and Josh Brayer finds bliss in a marriage that makes him a stepdad. Also find out how one couple got sponsors to help defray the costs of their wedding, and what Queen Victoria has to do with why brides wear white.

My Brother the Rabbi - A Traditional Jewish Wedding

By Tyler Blue, February 16, 2006

Holy energy was thick in the air as a procession of rabbis cast the seven sacred blessings upon the glowing couple. A sea of black hats nodded back in approval. The bride beamed with the look of a woman who’s waited her whole life for this moment. An axis amid the action, the groom rocked back and forth with eyes closed, as if in a trance. Somehow unfolding simultaneously in slow motion and at mach speed, the ceremony had transcended time and space. The crunch of glass under my brother’s foot was a slingshot back to reality. Not only was my little brother married, his union had been sealed in the tradition of the Jewish orthodox. Remind me again how this happened?

When I remember Carter’s youth, I think of him as a troubled child. He was deeply affected by being the shortest kid in school and that frustration, compounded with other issues, led him into therapy. Attending college at the University of Pennsylvania he started to shake his feelings of alienation. He took on the persona of the popular frat guy whom everyone loved. Compensating for his lack of height, he logged countless hours in the gym becoming a bodybuilder. Despite all his activities he never could shake the void he felt in his soul. Something was missing.

After his junior year he took the trip that would alter the course of his life. The March of the Living is a program that takes people on tours of many of the Nazi‑era concentration camps in Poland and Germany. The intense sadness of this experience is contrasted with the joy of arriving in Israel at its conclusion. Carter fell in love with “the promised land” and gradually committed himself to learning more about Judaism. Raised in a reform household, there was a depth to the religion he knew had eluded him.

Before long, graduation approached and law school became the hot topic. Expectations run high for Ivy Leaguers and my parents hoped for some return on their huge investment. If there ever was a crossroads for Carter, this was it. I’ve got to give little bro credit for following his heart all the way to Israel to study to be a rabbi at a Yeshiva instead. Only now do I appreciate the irony, considering the emphasis he places on the virtues of the logical mind always trumping the will of the heart. Carter’s extreme transformation of ideology, morality, and general personality comes across as some sort of heavenly intervention. It must be, in order to get the former king of late‑sleeping up every day at 6 a.m. to go pray. He eats only kosher food, which in the U.S. can be quite a chore. Deeply committed to obeying the 613 laws outlined by God in the Torah, it wasn’t long before any doubt was erased that this would be more than a passing phase. He’s been in the Old City of Jerusalem now for more than three years and to him it’s paradise.

For orthodox Jews, getting married is the first priority of adult life. They believe a soul is incomplete until it finds its soul mate. The whole process of seeking a bride is quite fascinating. Carter was assigned a matchmaker by his rabbi’s wife. She would find out about women through various word‑of‑mouth sources and meet them. They even go to such lengths as DNA testing to check for proclivities to specific diseases. The matchmaker orchestrates all the details of the courtship including when to call, where to go, what to do, etc. It sure does simplify what normally can be a complex series of events.

Inevitably feeling some pressure, Carter was discouraged after dating six women and feeling no chemistry with any of them. Once he had taken a break from looking, that’s when it happened. Naomi was visiting Israel from New York and decided to extend her trip. During that time she was introduced to the matchmaker, Sara Faige, who immediately knew Naomi had to meet Carter. They went out virtually every day for a week and that was all it took. Within two and a half weeks they were engaged — a far cry from the six-and-a-half years it took me to propose to my fiancée.

Among the most notable orthodox guidelines is the one restricting females from being touched by anyone except immediate family and their husbands. It boggles the average mind to acknowledge that women like Naomi have never held hands with a guy, let alone been kissed. Moving at a pace only second to Vegas‑bound celebrities, the wedding was planned a mere two and a half months out. It was an elegant affair on Long Island hosting a small army of 375 people. Good thing it all happened so fast or my mom could have had a nervous breakdown.

We all braced ourselves for a stuffy wedding full of religious freaks and separation of the sexes. It turned out to be a lot more fun than anyone expected. The overwhelming spread of kosher delights left little to be desired. The raucous dance floor was a spectacle. The only disappointment was the ceremony, which didn’t get through to the secular part of the crowd who couldn’t understand Hebrew and everyone else obscured by a wall of “paparazzi.” I lucked out with my prime real estate next to the groom.

Immediately afterward the couple retreats to a private room to spend 15 minutes alone for the first time. The intensity of the moment is powerful to contemplate. At the end of the night I gave the toast I had spent so much time preparing. Feeling so fortunate to reflect on sweet childhood memories, I held back tears of joy seeing my brother happier than he’s ever been in his life. It was the perfect affirmation for someone defying rhyme or reason to tap in to his special potential.

Great Expectations - Finding Non-Traditional Bliss

By Joshua Brayer, February 16, 2006

Boy meets girl. Boy and girl date for several years. Boy proposes to girl; girl accepts. And in a ceremony in girl’s hometown, with family and friends in spirited attendance, boy and girl are wed — for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as they both shall live — dance the night away, shove cake into each other’s faces, and leave the next day for their 10‑day honeymoon. Three years later, boy and girl have baby boy and baby girl, buy a minivan, and start planning their children’s future. They will go to private schools, then go straight to college, graduate in four years, and become either a doctor or a lawyer or a corporate exec — if it was good enough for mom and dad, it’s good enough for the kids.

From the moment we are conceived, a plethora of expectations are placed squarely on our little shoulders — from education to employment, marriage to parenthood, life is expected to be lived a certain way. And when it veers off that path of expectation, it often feels — and looks — as if we’re lost.

My first 11 years were spent growing up in a very traditional home. Suburbanite family of four; public schools; dad worked and went to the gym; mom ran the house and went to night school to get her teaching credential; brother and I went to Hebrew School twice a week; youth soccer, baseball, and basketball — the whole works. That lifestyle became ingrained in my subconscious as the way life is supposed to be. Go to school, get a job, work hard, meet a girl, start a family, retire. If I followed that path, surely I will have lived a successful life.

But the wheels fell off the bus on the short road to utopia. For reasons never fully explained to me, my parents split. My dad left, and with that my notion of the picture‑perfect life crumbled. In total denial, I was sure the whole thing was a test, to see how my brother and I would react, but it wasn’t. It was real. I saw a child psychologist, to no avail. I kind of floated on autopilot for a while, going through the motions: school, college, job, dating. My heart was not in it, but I didn’t know anything else. It finally got to the point where I was just numb to everything, and I stopped caring. I was just working and paying the bills. Until, that is, I fell in love with a woman and her 7‑year‑old child, almost one year ago. This relationship goes against just about every surface principle I learned as a kid: Meet a nice Jewish girl, date for a while, propose, have a long engagement, get married, have kids, etc. But it does have everything I really want in a relationship: real caring, substance, love, and support. I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be traditional to be successful — it certainly didn’t work for my parents. The truth is, there is no singular formula for marital success. With marriages breaking up at mind‑numbing rates, there are more of us out there who come from so‑called broken homes; we realize, at least eventually and despite expectations, that there is potential in every relationship, traditional or otherwise. And the more we accept this idea, we will be more accepting and understanding, and we will be more successful in all of our relationships.

With that mentality I soon realized that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with my girlfriend and her son — I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life without them. So last August, on a beautiful beach in Hawaii, I proposed. And I wouldn’t be writing this story, for this issue, if she had said no. These days, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Every day I open new doors that expand my career, and in turn my financial success; I take better care of my body, my mind, and my soul; I get to be with someone who understands me, and she’s someone whom I understand; I get to love and be loved, care and be cared for, nurture and be nurtured; and I get to be a dad. Lately my stepson‑to‑be has been trying on that word — “Dad” — and, I have to admit, it melts my heart every time I hear it.

It’s All About the Dress - Where to Go to Get the Perfect Gown

By Shannon Kelley Gould, February 16, 2006

It’s one of those clichés that will never die: the little girl daydreaming of herself on her wedding day. And while, in those fantasies, the groom’s face may look like nothing more than a question mark, one aspect of her mind’s‑eye wedding day is likely in sharp relief: The Dress. Once the wedding day has been relocated from a soft‑lens figment of her imagination to an actual date on her calendar, she is off. On a mission. A mission to find the dress of her dreams.

Santa Barbara, a longtime wedding haven, is building its status as a dress‑shopping haven, too. Over the past year, three new shops have opened their doors, and between them, they cover every variety of bride: whether classic or elegant, stylish or whimsical, understated or over the top, The Dress is hanging on one of their racks, just waiting to be plucked up by the bride‑to‑be who’s destined to wear it.

Santa Barbara Bridal, the only wedding dress boutique in California to carry the über‑exclusive Vera Wang designs, carries couture wedding gowns the likes of Jenny Lee, Elizabeth Fillmore, Carolina Herrera, and Eliana Ben‑Zeev, and shoes, bags, lingerie, ready‑to‑wear wedding and evening gowns, and an incredible selection of stylish bridesmaids’ dresses (imagine that!). The shop also boasts two full‑time alteration specialists, in addition to tuxedo rentals, invitations, and a Groom’s Room where hubbies‑to‑be can lounge around in front of a flat‑screen TV.

Mary Linn’s Bridal and Tuxedos, in the recently remodeled location of the gone‑but‑not‑forgotten Rumors, carries gowns from nearly 30 designers, including Amsale, Eve of Milady, Pronovias, Jim Hjelm Couture, and Amalia Carrera, as well as shoes, jewelry, and bridesmaids’ and evening dresses. The shop does alterations, and offers designer tuxedo rentals and custom‑length veils, too. Most of the staffers are Rumors alum, and they’re pros at helping brides‑to‑be realize what’s going to work for them, “without telling them.”

Starlette O’Hara, a romantic little boutique located next door to Mary Linn’s, takes a different approach. The shop specializes in rare, stylish finds for evening and daytime that owner Shelly Schafer plucks up while abroad on her twice‑yearly European shopping trips. And while the shop doesn’t carry “wedding dresses,” per se, it has a fantastic selection of white gowns that are absolutely appropriate for the Big Day. All of these dresses are off the rack, of great quality, reasonably priced, and all are one‑of‑a‑kind.

Colorful Canopies

By Molly Freedenberg, February 16, 2006

“Gorgeous dress,” people say after a good wedding. “Beautiful flowers.” But no one ever says, “Did you see those tables?” or “That shade structure was incredible.” Know why? Because they’re usually boring — bordering on ugly. Plastic and vinyl have become the material of choice for everything from canopies to table legs, giving most wedding receptions something in common with weekend swap meets and Motocross sign‑ups.

But yours doesn’t have to be that way. With The Tent Merchant right here in town, importing handmade tents, umbrellas, cushions, furniture, and accessories from India and Morocco, you can shade or shelter your wedding with the class and decadence you dream of — and deserve.

If you want to feel like an Arabian Princess at your wedding, complete with low tables, metal lanterns, and rich fabrics draping from a colorful ceiling, then this is your place. So too if you want to spice up a vinyl tent or indoor room with a decadent interior. Available tents can house anywhere from 10 to 400 people, and range from $55 to $2,400 to rent (and around twice as much to buy). If budget’s a concern, you can get the usual vinyl and plastic fare too, and the Merchants will help you dress it up. If you don’t see what you want, custom canopies can be ordered.

“We’re really into history … I like to recreate the look of the way people lived and traveled” a century or two ago, said owner and New Zealand native John Leenhouwers. “They had the style we’ve kind of lost.”

You can reach the company by calling 963‑6064 or visiting, but neither is an adequate substitute for stopping by the odd, rounded building on the corner of Gutierrez and Garden (the entrance is around the back and yes, it’s open to the public) to see the rich fabrics and exquisitely detailed antiques yourself.

Victoria’s Secret - Why Brides Wear White

By Monica Zemsky, February 16, 2006

My brother was my “best man” at my wedding, and his son Haruki Holden wore a kimono. I carried no flowers and wore no jewelry, although I did teeter on lofty pink satin slingbacks. It was not black tie. It was in a Frank Lloyd Wright building, never before used as a wedding site. There was no wedding cake, no color coordination, no garter, no table‑top favors, though there was security to protect the art on the walls. It was not a traditional affair. As I am not a “traditional” woman, no one expected it to be. Except when it came to the dress.

I found this curious. Well into my thirties, I had a distinct fashion sensibility, which had nothing to do with tulle or lace or hoop skirts, or girlish innocence. Or much to do with convention either. I favored esoteric, conceptual designers, designers with a sense of humor and distance — the Japanese, the Belgians, pre‑acquisition Helmut Lang. My closet was full of texture, if not color: black and white garments that I treasured, even sometimes named, and wore to work, helping defend Death Row inmates. My friends and colleagues had learned to accept this apparent hiccup in the otherwise integrated fabric of my life; my simultaneous loves for virtue and style, my finding deep meaning in justice, as well as the beauty of a perfect fit.

Imagine, then, my amazement, when no one wondered what I would be wearing to my nuptial festivities. There were a few questions of dress detail: would it be really long or merely long? Would it have a train? Was I considering beading? Even my husband‑to‑be, Bobby, who embraced my idiosyncratic wardrobe and all the attention it garnered; the man who had learned to ask whether my dress’s seams were exposed according to the designer’s genius or my inattention; the man who eschews ties at his corporate job, who put himself through law school fishing for Alaskan salmon, rather than toiling in corporate offices; who initially wanted to get married at the beach with a barbecue and keg, assumed, indeed requested, that I wear white. I was stunned. I had to investigate. What was the meaning behind this tradition that clings to weddings, even as the institution they celebrate has shifted and bucked?

Wearing White I was relieved to find that wearing white is not a vestige of Victorian corporeal squeamishness; bridal whites do not represent virginity. I would not be betraying, or commenting in any way, on my sexual history if I wore a white dress. Nor, I found, does it arise from religious stricture. What I learned is that Western brides wear white because of class — that is to say, because they want to look like royalty. Before 1840, when the British monarch Victoria wed her cousin, Albert of Saxe‑Coburg, it was the custom in the West for a bride to wear her best dress, no matter its color. This was practical, as the Industrial Revolution had not yet made fabric, or manufacturing, easily accessible. Clothing was handmade, of handmade cloth, and was expected to last and endure lives of strenuous manual labor. It was not until American ready‑to‑wear, made possible only by industrialization, that middle‑class, working‑class women could afford to shop for clothing at all, let alone white wedding frocks. Queen Victoria, however, was a queen in a crumbling empire; she selected white for her couture bridal gown. As queen, she could afford not only to have a gown sewn for the sole purpose of dazzling her subjects on her wedding day, she could also afford to have a white one preserved, tended to, and protected. Thus, her gesture was one of exclusivity and affluence. She was flexing her royal sartorial muscle. This was rich stuff! All of those princess fantasies fluttering about weddings, the ones that I had vigorously resisted, were more literal than I had ever imagined. Like so much in America, wedding traditions reflect something of our ambivalence about class. Explicitly, we don’t believe in it. Our country was founded on a conviction that all are created equal, that merit rather than lineage should determine a life’s value. And I love this about the country where I was born. It is one of the reasons that I work for social justice: fighting against a system that values the haves more than the have‑nots, the wellborn over the virtuous.

But this is not the whole story. Even as we denounce class, we cleave to it. Witness our celebrity culture, our love for dynasties of “American royalty,” especially those that work to even out the playing field for the worst-off among us. We reject class; no one is less than anyone else. But we want it for ourselves. Consider my own designer wardrobe that allows me to obscure my background, to work for the poor, but look like the rich.

It was true, I realized. I wanted to feel like royalty. Every day, but especially at my wedding. But I didn’t want to recede into a sea of generic wedding rituals: I wanted my celebration to reflect me, and my life with my husband, in particular. I wanted to be The Bride, not a bride. I wanted to rule the day, to lay down the laws, as well as invite my friends and family to feast and drink with royal abandon. And so, the dress was white. It was cut from sublime Italian charmeuse, hemmed asymmetrically, with a modest front and plunging back. No train. No beading. No tulle. And as I looked out at my madcap wedding party — my husband’s college football team, my collection of artist and activists friends, my Japanese‑born sister‑in‑law, Bobby’s brother and his French Canadian boyfriend, his parents, married for 45 years all the way from rural New Jersey, and my own divorced Californian mother and father — I felt so traditional, so overcome with gratitude and love, so whole, as if all the disparate parts of me, and of our life, had exquisitely come together.

The wedding was classy. And I felt like a queen

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