|photo by Jodel M.|
One day, Jean and Robin and I exchanged wedding dress stories, and thought it would make a great post. Imagine how hard it is to get three people together, much less three wedding dresses, one of which seems to be in Twilight Zone Storage, where no matter how deep you dig, it just doesn't surface. So, in the first of what we hope might make an interesting series, here's Valerie's wedding dress story, and her mom's.
What happened was, way back in the '80s, my then-boyfriend and I got this great hankering for adventure. I wanted to learn Japanese, and he, with most of the credits toward a PhD in English, easily wangled a two year contract for a teaching position in Osaka, along with the requisite work visa. His (and soon after my) employer counseled us to get a fiancee visa for me, which would save me the time and money needed to leave the country every six months if I opted for a tourist visa. So in April we flew to Japan with one suitcase and one cat each. After about three months, I was called to the Immigration Office, and was asked rather pointedly when we were getting married. "None of your durn business", I wanted to reply, coming from a country with rather lax views toward marriage. But Toto, we were not in Kansas anymore, and the Japanese, having issued me a fiancee visa in good faith, felt that my boyfriend of six years should make an honest woman of me. They wanted us to set a date. And so we did: September 1.
In my one suitcase, I had packed a small starter wardrobe for my new teaching job. I had one smart business suit - which didn't seem appropriate for a wedding - and my favorite dress of the time - a 1950s blue silk dress with matching peplum jacket and belt that I'd found at a Dallas flea market. Its bright colors and padded shoulders fit right in with the prevailing '80s look. It was several sizes too big for me, but vintage lovers don't sweat those little details. (There was a huge slab of buckram in the peplum, so starched and so wide - six inches - that I could have served drinks on it. That part was just too '50s for me, so I spent hours carefully taking it out and restitching the seam.) I had perfect blue perforated leather peeky-toed low-heeled sandals with a little bow and ankle straps to go with the dress. We went down to the Kobe City Hall, signed some papers, and it was all over in five minutes. I refused to have a ring because all the Japanese rings at the time were white gold, and I wanted yellow. It could wait. We kept our marriage a secret from everyone in the United States, even from our parents, reasoning that we wanted to have the real wedding when we returned home at the end of the contract, and who would come to the wedding if they knew we'd already been married for two years?
Here's our wedding certificate, framed by phoenixes and paulownia leaves, traditional Japanese wedding symbols. Decidedly not acid-free paper. I put editing tape over my husband's name (he's a big movie star now and wouldn't like the publicity - just kidding) and over my last name, and as I prepared to upload this I realized it has my birthdate on it, so of course I had to blur that out.
Seven years later we were still in Japan, which never ceased to be an adventure, but the marriage was falling apart. We probably should have consulted an astrologer, or at least a historian. September 1 is a) the anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake, which destroyed much of Tokyo in 1923 (and which is commemorated every year with alarming drills and re-enactments); b) the day Hitler invaded Poland, starting the European side of World War II, c) the national day of Libya; d) the day KAL 007 was shot down by the Russians over Sakhalin Island. What chance did phoenixes and paulownias have against powerful omens like those?
I still have the dress today (detail above) because it wasn't right for Japan's climate, and I packed it away. Ten years ago, the dress was no longer too big for me - in fact I could barely close the belt. Now, happily, the dress is too big again, so I've taken it out of the closet, and decades after I first bought it, I'm wearing it to a completely different job. I've paired it in the top picture with a little nosegay of chubby yellow highlighters and slim blue felt tipped pens. The covered buttons are beginning to get a bit thin, but there's more than enough material on the underside of the peplum if I ever decide to re-cover them. If you think about it, it's definitely an odd feeling to wear your wedding dress to work, but I find I don't think about it. (If anyone asks: no, I'm not married to my job. Or if I am, I'm having an affair with this blog.)
Valerie's Mom's Wedding Dress Story
Mom had a really truly wedding, in France, two years after the end of the war (the second, not the first, you wags!). If you've heard any war stories, you know that everything was rationed - everything. Metal was rationed, sugar was rationed, butter was rationed, gasoline was rationed, silk and nylon were rationed (ever seen pictures of women drawing seam lines on the backs of their legs so they'd appear to be connected enough to have stockings?). You name it - it was all hard to get. Everything went to the war effort. Getting together enough ration coupons to buy material for my mother's white wool suit took some doing. Here's the wedding party, gathered in front of the neighborhood church. My mother was not trying to be fashion-forward by having a short dress. You can see that everyone was wearing shorter dresses as a result of rationing. Shorter dresses became fashionable, but the origins of the trend were decidedly unfashionable.
It wasn't until I was well into my adulthood - after I'd seen countless movies and tv shows in which a wedding dress was reverently taken out of a closet to pass down to a bride-to-be, or thrown away dramatically as a symbol of a bad marriage - that it occurred to me I'd never seen my mother's wedding dress. What happened to it, I asked her. 'Oh', she said, 'I dyed it navy blue after the wedding', as apparently many brides did back then. 'I got a lot of wear out of it, and when I couldn't wear it anymore, I gave it away.'