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The DIY Wedding 

click to enlarge Photo by China Jorrin (www.chinajorrin.com)
  • Photo by China Jorrin (www.chinajorrin.com)
I suspect the propensity for large weddings, with pastel Jordan Almonds and matching bridesmaids’ gowns, lies within our DNA. But, for better or for worse, I lack it. There is an intrinsic body of wedding lore I had no access to. Who knew, for example, that the candy-coated nuts, which were my second-favorite movie theater fare (after Sno-Caps), were considered aphrodisiacs at Middle Eastern weddings? Not I. Who knew the “right” number of Jordan Almonds to give as a wedding favor was five (symbolizing health, wealth, longevity, fertility, and happiness)? Again, not I. I didn’t know my ring size, or anything about headpieces or grooms’ cakes.

My wedding fantasies were more Jean-Luc Godard than Modern Bride. There was usually a getaway car involved, lots of cigarettes, and a guy with a quiff. I dreamed my wedding would take place in the Metropolitan Museum’s Temple of Dendur. My poodle-skirted, black-leather-clad guests and I would be dancing in and around the sandstone temple, underneath the watchful eye of Isis, the capo di tutti capo of all goddesses. One thing that hasn’t changed is my ability to dream big. Dreaming big is one thing. Paying for it is quite another. At 44, I was one of the last among my friends to marry.

According to costofwedding.com, the bare-bones cost of nuptials in Kingston is $42,257. This includes clothing for the bride and groom, basic flowers, basic food, and the venue. It doesn’t include designer duds, vintage quaff, or nifty food—nifty costs extra. In Brooklyn, where we actually did marry, this would have been $61,164.

If money is no object, put this article down immediately and book everyone who did TomKat’s wedding. If not, read on about how my husband and I brought our bill down to about $1,000, including clothes, dinner, cake, and flowers.

It was the day after Thanksgiving of 2001 when we decided to get married—on New Year’s Eve. And so the race was on.

The first thing to do is decide where to splurge and where to save. For us, it was largely about the food and wine. For someone else, it might be about flowers, music, or a favorite place. Whatever your focus is, organize your wedding around the most expensive (and important) aspect of it and work your way backward. For some people, it might be about flying friends and relatives in to attend. I am a lifelong thrift shopper and yard-sale aficionado, so going that route for my wedding attire made perfect sense.

As a woman who had been with her then-boyfriend for six years, something long and white was just silly. Red leather was out of my budget—so what was next? Well, I found a ballet-length pewter satin skirt for $20 in a thrift store, and at another, a bustier with silver satin, black tulle, and lavender and green beading for $50. At a jewelry supply store (rather like Woodstock’s Bead Emporium) I found a pair of sterling silver pterodactyl earrings for $15. And for $2, a tiara from a stoop sale (Brooklyn’s yard sale equivalent) rounded off the accessories. I already had a Persian lamb coat to don for the journey from house to ceremony ($20). Eric wore traditional navy blue pants and a gray tweed jacket and a skinny 1950s tie I’d gotten him at a stoop sale and a toy praying mantis in his lapel. Thrift-store wedding dresses, unless you really luck out, are one thing I don’t advise—mostly out of superstition, and my obsession with the stories around the clothing. Why is this dress here, in this thrift store? Did the marriage fail? Would my marriage fail if I wore it? Was the bride so hardhearted she just wanted the tax deduction?

For selfish as well as economic reasons, we had our reception at home: We wouldn’t have to wear shoes at our reception, and our cats could come. And home was, simply, home. It spoke of the life Eric and I had crafted together, antique chocolate molds adorning the dining room; secondhand furniture mingled with antiques throughout the house; dining room windows looking out on the backyard, the scene of many a stray cat rescue. Ivan the Terrible, oldest and most alpha cat, hosted our wedding. Black and white, he glided around the reception like a seasoned maitre’d, only with a much better tail. Two months later, at 17, Ivan died. His attendance at our wedding is a treasured memory. We weren’t as lucky when it came to our parents. Marrying when we did, our parents had died years before.

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  • Sukey Pett dreams big and spends small for a wonderful wedding.

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