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

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

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

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

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

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

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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