Brideness earns you entrée into a strange world you never had access to before and (god, spouse, and lawyers willing) never will need access to again. Witness: the bridal show.
Technically, I suppose, anyone could go to a bridal show. For the disinterested, it would be a strange and uneasy universe. When I was younger I considered crashing just to see what magic lay behind the lacy white curtains. But I suspected the free cupcakes wouldn’t compensate for the sting of being surrounded by members of a club I wanted to belong to but hadn’t been asked to join.
Now I’ve got my credentials and the club is open. But I’ll be darned if they still don’t look at me funny when I come knocking on the door.
Bride’s Night: Boa Contradicter
Back in the fall, I invited my girlfriend Melissa to join me at Bride’s Night, a biannual event put on by Caroline LaRocca Event Design that travels to different wedding venues around town. It’s marketed as a girl’s night out, with a fashion show, stylists on hand doing quick up-dos, an on-site mobile spray-tanning booth. I’d modeled for a previous incarnation, but I’d never attended as a bride.
Melissa and I met at the venue, the beautiful Corinthian Ballroom. At the door, Melissa saw someone she knew and stopped to say hello, so I went ahead to the check-in table.
The greeter’s eyes slid across my face then quickly flicked to either side of me, checking for companions. She hesitated and said, “You’re not…are you…a bride?”
Sigh. I gave her the nicest smile I could muster and crisply declared, “Yes, I am.”
She quickly turned on the fawning. “Oh, you ARE a bride, congratulations!” She wrapped a white feather boa around my neck, fussing with it for a moment.
Note to greeter: I waited a looong time for the privilege of wearing that feather boa. Best to assume everyone who walks in is a bride until they tell you otherwise.
Melissa and I headed upstairs to the vendors, who were spread out across two upper floors. In the ballroom proper, we posed for silly pictures in the photo booth, and I played “bra pong,” courtesy of the Pure Romance vendor, to earn a merchandise discount. We sipped on specialty cocktails from the cash bar and sampled the offerings of several pastry chefs. (Just say yes to red velvet cake-pops!)
Though we were having fun, it was hard not to notice that, aside from one other middle-aged woman sporting a white boa, I easily had ten to twenty years on all the other brides. And despite brutally cold weather, most of them tottered around in heels and short dresses in filmy crepe and lace. Melissa and I had deliberately opted for knit dresses with boots and tights (and yes, we discussed what we were wearing ahead of time). We both looked cute (if I do say so myself), and I was happy to be warm. But the double takes I got from some of the youngsters told me our difference was noted.
The vendors themselves were friendly and welcoming. We visited more booths, collecting skin care samples and admiring some kicky personalized champagne flutes. Lingering by the runway set up on the lower floor, we missed most of the bridal fashion show, which had been moved up to the ballroom without much fanfare. But I used the opportunity of the relative quiet to ask Melissa to be my maid of honor, and I was thrilled when she said yes.
So Many Roses…
As we made our way back into the ballroom, a hunky guy wearing a suit jacket and pants but no shirt stood onstage, speaking into a microphone. The fashion show had included not only women modeling white gowns but also some handsome fellows in tuxes—or, in this case, part of a tux. I didn’t catch everything he said, but in another minute or so, he had pulled a lovely young woman up onto the stage with him, explaining he was engaged. Maybe he felt he needed a shield. For a group of women who’d met their matches, the crowd was pretty rowdy.
Someone took the mic and announced the prize giveaways would begin shortly: Shirtless Guy and the other male models would gather along the railing of a balcony overlooking the ballroom and toss long-stemmed red roses with prize tags into the simmering brew of brides below. The Bachelor meets the bouquet toss. Except the women weren’t competing for love; they wanted free photo shoots and discounted catering.
I found a spot amongst the other hopefuls, noting again their comparative youth. Part of me envied their fresh-faced loveliness, the fact they’d found someone with whom to share their lives when there was still so much left to share. But I also thought about Groucho Marx’s famous line: “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” For me to wish I’d found lifetime love in my twenties would be to wish away the life I had lived, to wish away the love I’d since found. How could I ever wish away the happiness I’d discovered with Steve?
The ladies around me jostled for position. Bridal show prizes were good, the raison d’être of the event. But I’d long had a policy about bouquet catching and related rituals: any object I was truly supposed to catch would come within reasonable reach; if it didn’t, I refused to flail or fling or force myself into its path. Dignity over desperation. Under no circumstances was diving allowed.
The fellas lined up along the railing, roses at the ready. The thing about long-stemmed roses is, they have long stems.
And long stems snap.
The guys tossed the first few flowers, their trajectory taking them either far behind me or way on the other side of the crowd. When another fell maybe eight or ten feet in front of me, the mass of bodies pushed forward as one. Finally, a rose spiraled my direction. I reached up with my left hand and took hold just as another woman in a pink dress grabbed on to the lower stem. The top broke off in my hand. The young woman holding the stem reached up and plucked the bloom from my closed fist. She gave me a smug little smile.
I held her gaze for just a moment, then turned to face the balcony again. Remember, I said to myself, you’ve already won the lottery. You’re engaged to a great guy, and your awesome BFF just agreed to be your right-hand wedding woman. Besides, I was pretty sure Pink Dress Girl had had hold of the bottom of the stem before I’d wrapped my fingers around the top. I let it go.
A few more roses flew in far directions. Then, a second came my way, this one a little to my right. I craned up on tiptoe, reached high, and grasped the stem just below the bloom. A young woman standing at my right elbow grabbed the stem dangling alongside my arm and snapped it off.
That one was mine, fair and square. Not missing a beat, I reached across with my left hand and plucked the stem from hers.
Facing down the eat-shit-and-die look the young woman turned on me, I briefly flashed to Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes when two women in a shiny red convertible steal her character’s parking spot, then taunt her with “Face it, lady, we’re younger and faster.” She responds by repeatedly ramming her boat-like Ford into their Volkswagen, laughing maniacally, and yelling, “Face it, girls, I’m older and I have more insurance.”
When I read the tag attached to the rose, I threw back my head and laughed aloud. Somehow I’d scored the one rose most likely to be fully appreciated by an over-forty bride: a gift certificate for professional teeth whitening.
I wove my way out of the throng and found Melissa. We linked arms and walked out the door and down the stairs, so I could collect my prize.
Now that engagement season (December-February) is over, bridal show season has begun. Betcha didn’t even know either of those was a thing, did you? Welcome to brideness. Seriously, if you’re in the market, check out this spring’s Bride’s Night on March 13th, 6:30 at the Patrick Henry Ballroom–it’s a fun evening!