Having It Your Way

January 08, 1995|By Jill Gerston

Tradition, tradition.

Time was when you knew just what to expect when you attended a formal, traditional wedding, from the the first notes of the "Wedding March" to the classic white wedding cake festooned with spun sugar flowers.

But times have changed, and modern-day brides and grooms are turning away from standard, cookie-cutter celebrations in favor of more distinctly personal festivities. "Weddings today are not as cut and dried as when the rules of etiquette for them were established generations ago," says Cele Lalli, editor in chief of Modern Bride. "Personalization is the key to what's happening ,, now. Flexibility is in, rigidity is out."

Adds Barbara Tober, editorial adviser of Bride's magazine: "Our new etiquette book is more than double the size of our first one, which was issued in 1948. That's because there is such a wealth of options and choices. People aren't sheeplike anymore. They won't be dictated to."

The trend to personalized weddings is in part attributed to the fact that Americans are marrying later. (The median age in 1991 of first-time brides is 24.1 years and grooms, 26.3 years, according to Bride's.) Their tastes are more developed, their careers are more advanced and their budgets are usually large enough to accommodate their desire for individuality.

"When you're 18, your tastes aren't as defined as they are when you're 25," observes Ms. Tober. "Today's bride and groom want their wedding to be a reflection of their personal style, interests .. and heritage."

Instead of "Here Comes the Bride" a couple may be more inclined to choose something by Bach or Beethoven -- or have a guitarist strumming "True Love" or a Dixieland band playing "Chapel of Love."

Rather than opting for a traditional reception site -- a hotel ballroom, country club or restaurant -- today's couples often select a more unconventional spot like a museum, art gallery or historical mansion. Amusement and theme parks also have been selected as sites for formal celebrations, not to mention such off-the-wall venues as the center ring at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

One of the newest wrinkles in tradition is the honeymoon-site wedding. Guests are invited to romantic locales like Hawaii, Bermuda or Paris to take part in a round of celebrations after which the bride and groom may either go off on their own or "vacation" with their friends and family.

Long-weekend weddings, which start with a Friday-night cocktail party and include a Saturday-morning breakfast, picnic and Sunday brunch revolving around the wedding ceremony, also are gaining favor. Progressive weddings, in which the newlyweds travel to visit relatives and friends in other cities -- or countries -- are yet another new spin on tradition.

Though white and ivory are still by far the most popular colors for bridal gowns, bridesmaids dresses are no longer the beribboned pastel confections of old. Sophisticated "wear-again" outfits are in vogue, and palettes now include citron yellow, aubergine and even black.

"Black velvet bridesmaids dresses are very elegant," says Ms. Lalli. "The idea that you can't wear black to a wedding is an old bride's tale. There's absolutely nothing wrong for a guest to wear black either. Miss Manners might be shocked but few [other] people are."

Indeed, the time is long past when a bride rushed out to buy a copy of a celebrity's wedding gown. Instead, a contemporary bride sometimes selects her finery to reflect her heritage, be it an Indian sari or a bow of colorful kente cloth entwined in her bouquet.

"Every bride has a fantasy of how she wants to look, whether it's a medieval gown or something short and sassy," says Ms. Tober. "She may borrow an amusing detail that she saw in a celebrity wedding, but I really don't think she's going to copy something line for line."

According to Bride's, the diamond solitaire is still the favored engagement ring, but there is an increase in three- and five-stone rings. Some brides even skip the engagement ring in favor of a jeweled wedding band. And while most grooms prefer simple, understated wedding bands, perhaps one man in five gets a ring with a diamond or two, according to the Diamond Information Center.

Trends don't seem to affect food; still popular is the traditional sit-down dinner or buffet featuring beef, chicken or fish. However, an increasing number of couples are choosing menus in keeping with their culture. Feasts run the gamut from a Russian buffet of piroshki, blini and chicken pojarsky to a dinner of barbecued chicken, black-eyed peas and corn bread to a country-western brunch of steak, omelets and home fries.

The familiar tiered white wedding cake is still the favorite, but beneath the buttercream may be Italian spongecake or carrot cake. Some extravagant confections are fashioned to look like a stack of beribboned gifts or a Gothic cathedral. And instead of the usual bride-and-groom topper, couples may choose any variety of substitutes, from two butterflies to Mickey and Minnie.

"With weddings, tradition reflects your links to the past and your bridge to the future," says Ms. Lalli. "But nothing is written in stone."

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