Friday, June 21, 2013

You Are Wearing the Wrong Bra Size

 How I learned to rebel against the tyranny of small cup sizes.

Before, I was one of the 80-85% of women who wore the wrong bra size. Talking to my friend recently about bra fit, I explained to her that I was a cup size C. She called me a liar. I explained to her that since my band size was so small, I had to go up a cup size. We have had at least two more conversations about this, and I still don't think she believes me.

I was the same, before (maybe not quite as stubborn). I had been raised, by society, to believe that I was a small-breasted girl (which I am) who would never wear more than a cup size A bra (which I don't). Who knew that what letter your bra size was could be so tyrannical?

Whenever I went to Victoria's Secret to try on bras, I always stuck to size A or even AA. That's how small my breasts are. I can easily go bra-less, unless I'm going running.

But one day at Victoria's Secret, I got measured and was told that I was a cup size B. "That's weird, " I thought. "I'm not sure if I believe that." But because the bra seemed to fit, and because I usually defer to authority, I started wearing a cup size B.

One day, while on vacation in Taiwan, I went with my mom to get measured for bras again. I bought some bras in the Taiwanese/Japanese system, but they felt uncomfortably tight. So I started researching bra size again.

It turns out, just as 80% of women wear the wrong size bra, 80% of the weight of your breasts should be supported by the band of your bra. So if your bra straps are always digging into your shoulders, you are wearing the wrong size bra. However, the band should not be tight enough to dig into your skin.

Then, I found out that if you go down a band size, you must go up a cup size. I'm not making this up. I didn't come up with this system, but if you go down a band size, you must go up a cup size.

Exhibit A: See how a size 34A and a size 32C are both size "S." Even a DD can be considered "M" if your band size is 32" or smaller. Bra size is an interaction between band and cup; it's not just about the cup.
Exhibit B: Notice how a size 34AA, 32A, and 30B are all in the same column. That's because the cup sizes for all of them are equivalent.

So now instead of wearing a 34A, I'm wearing a size 30C (cup sizes equivalent). My bras fit me very well, and I don't have trouble with my shoulder straps anymore.

There are plenty of resources to help you find your proper bra fit, whether you run large, small, or medium. Wearing the right bra size can not only help you look better, but can improve your posture and is better for your health. Here are some resources:

Look and feel better!
Guide to Proper Bra Fit and Measuring

Monday, June 17, 2013

Capsule Wardrobe by Math: Can You Actually Get Away with It?

Can you get away with it?

I've been fairly obsessed by capsule wardrobes lately. It started with Putting Me Together. Then I started thinking about how to pack lightly. Somewhere along a Pinterest board I came across it. A quick google search led me to this minimalist website.

There's two main arguments about why you should adopt a capsule wardrobe. One is the idea of the signature look. Most likely you already have one, but just don't know it yet--hence all of the clothes that you like, but never wear because it's not you or just doesn't fit your lifestyle. While it's fun to change it up, if you believe in personality, as in a pattern of traits stable through time, then it makes sense that one might have a fashion personality. We usually call it style. After all, isn't the main point of fashion to express our identity? If so, you might want to give a stable impression.

The second reason is minimalism. Minimalism does a lot of things. It makes your closet easier to navigate. It makes your bag easier to pack. It makes you spend less money, but it makes you buy higher quality items (supposedly you save on cost per wear). It forces you to wear those high quality items instead of saving them for a special occasion. It's good for the environment and all those kids in India sewing their hands bloody factory employees working in unsafe conditions in Bangladesh. It also makes you happier because you have restricted choice. Your boundaries make it easier to make decisions, for example, about what to wear.

The downsides of a capsule wardrobe are that you might run out of clothes or get bored with what you have, or people might start looking at you weird.

No, you can't wear the same thing every day. Not even if it looks awesome.

Also, looking at a lot of capsule wardrobes online, I found them to be unrealistic. For one thing, they didn't take into account exercise attire. For another thing, they seemed to be limited to cold weather.

Then it hit me: these capsules are only meant to last one season. Now I understood how any red-blooded woman could stand to only have 10-30 items of clothing. They really had 40-120.

Either this person doesn't have summer where she lives, or this capsule wardrobe is just for winter.

It seems like most capsule wardrobes are 10-30 items including shoes, but not including accessories and essentials such as socks and underwear. There are some nice examples of 9 pieces 14 ways and whatnot, but it's not really that impressive. It's simple permutational math, as my high school calculus teacher pointed out. Except, as my calculus teacher's wife pointed out, most women are picky about what shoes can go with what outfit, so the real trick is to make sure everything can go with everything else. Still, can you get away with wearing the same 30 things for three whole months?

Enter my nerdy spreadsheet:

Okay, so it's 32 items, but notice that it includes a category for exercise. I decided that I had 4 dimensions in my life. Depending on your lifestyle, you may have more or less. For each dimension, I had 8 items of clothing. While there are specific exercise items that I would not want to wear for any semi-formal public place (sweat pants probably are a no-go), it also gives me a chance to cheat (I'm never going to wear a dress while working out--but it's great to have four different types of dresses).

Scarves are an accessory, but I decided to include them because I want to cut down on my scarf collection since I always wear the same ones again and again anyway. It might even encourage me to use the ones I'm too afraid to wear for fear of ruining them. Also, scarves are great wardrobe expanders. 

Wendy's Lookbook

So would this get me through winter?

Disclaimer: I only really care about tops. I don't care if you wear a shirt with jeans one day and with slacks another--to me it's still the same outfit. But if you wear slacks with one shirt one day and then another shirt another day--to me that's a different outfit.

Assuming that your casual shirts, fancy shirts, and at least one of your exercise shirts can be worn to work, then you have 8 different outfits including your work dress. Let's see how many times we can repeat these tops without getting boring.

1. Plain
2. Work cardigan
3. Fancy cardigan
4. Thick belt
5. Thin belt
6. Work scarf
7. Fancy scarf
8. Casual scarf

More tips from Putting Me Together here.

That's 64 combinations right there. Also, though I don't consider wearing a top with a different pair of pants a new look, skirts are a different matter. So if you can wear all of the tops with a skirt, then multiple that times 2. So these 32 pieces will take you through winter and fall easily. Also, to be honest, I'll wear some of the tops from my Summer/Spring capsule as well. Technically I have 64 items, but it's for the year.

With this type of logic, you can do the 33 in 3 challenge in no time.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Women's Work Is Still Work

 There are many reasons why women only earn 75% of what men make.

All of these are more interrelated than you think.

Women tend to go into fields such as media (which we all know is fucked), education, health care, and administration (i.e. become secretaries). Men go into fields such as finance, technology, engineering, and construction. I'm not saying these fields are not important, but I think that education and health are pretty important. For that matter, I think childcare is important. But society doesn't. We don't even pay most childcare workers. And when we do, we pay them less than we pay parking lot attendants. We are willing to pay people more to look after our cars than our children.
Childcare has traditionally been free, and despite many studies showing the importance of a child's early developmental years, it is considered a low-status job that needs little to no training. Really, as most parents will tell you, it's one of the most demanding jobs there is.

So how do you juggle the demands of being a parent with the demands of your job? People who can afford private nannies and people in New York State spend a lot of money on childcare. That's just the average. There is a nursery at UCLA where my developmental psychology professor sent her child--for $17,000 a year, but she said, "You're smiling when you sign the check, because you know your child is going to be well-looked after." More and more people are willing to spend a reasonable amount of money to have their children well looked after. But what a "reasonable amount" is actually very high. So high that some women quit their “hard-core corporate life” jobs to take care of and educate their kids themselves. Some women choose to be the child-carer because they were making less money than their husbands anyway (such as in social services). Even women with a “hard-core corporate life” do so though, possibly because childcare, not earning money, is women's work.

Of course, if you're going into a job such as education, the idea is that you'll automatically have more time to take care of kids (whether or not this is true is up to debate), which may be one of the reasons women go into these fields in the first place.
Education has always had a low status in the United States. It was traditionally performed by recent (male) college graduates, before they could move into more profitable, higher-status jobs. As more and more children started getting educated, more and more women entered the field. Sometimes there were not even high school graduates. Many were required to be unmarried. In this way, education was not only feminized, but treated as a young person's temporary job.

To a large extent, this has not changed. Educators are mostly women, and educators stay in the field for an average of 11 years. Women are also paid less than men. Primary school teachers (and as a previous TA for elementary school students, I say that their job is not any easier. Think you know long division? Try explaining it to a 7 year old), make less than secondary school teachers. Teacher make less than administrators, who are mostly men.

Why is this? Education is a government-subsidized career, but so are certain astronomers, and teachers in the private sector are, if anything, being paid less. The real reason is this: we as a society deem women's work less valuable. The more women are in a field, the less money we think people in that field should make. What's the lowest paying field? Household work. Why pay anyone to do it when your wife will do it for free? Even if she has a job. Especially if her job pays more than yours.

Just as men are a majority of educational administrators while women make up a majority of teachers, 93% of executive chefs are men, but women cook 78% of home meals, make 93% of food purchases, and spend 3x as many hours in the kitchen as men. Is this because women want to stay at home? Because they aren't ready for the rigors of executive cooking? Maybe. Or maybe because A) it's difficult for women to become executive chefs because of discrimination B) aforementioned work-life conflict and C) men are less willing to work for free.

I think our society needs to reevaluate its values. Larry Summer basically got ousted as president of Harvard because he claimed that women didn't put in as much work in the STEM fields. But women do just as much work as men, if not more. Maybe instead of women leaning in at work, men should lean in at home. It's not just about work-life balance. Rearing children, taking care of your home, educating children, taking care of the sick, the poor, the abused--this is work. Noble work. We need to start valuing it as such.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Would Swishing by Any Other Name Be as Cheap?

Swish (v): to rustle, as in silk,
or your friends' clothes.
I swished this weekend. Or rather, I went to a clothing swap. It was awesome. Free clothes, timed conditions--it was like being on a game show. There was also socializing and snacks. One group I hooked up with had a whole strategy down. While we were still arranging our discarded clothes, they gathered their favorite items into a corner.

The way it worked (at this particular exchange) was that each person (girl) drew a number, 1 through 3. 1s would go first, then 2s, then 3s. Whoever happened to get a 1, would grab as many of the most coveted items as she could.

We would all have five minutes to grab six items at a time.

One of our group was a 1, and grabbed many nice things. I was a 2, and missed out on some asymmetrical braided leather sandals, but I grabbed more of the coveted pile. Actually, since I'm leaving the country soon, it was my intention only to dump, not to grab, and then see if I could live on my assigned capsule wardrobe.

But there were so many nice things.

Price of a new Banana Republic Skirt 
at Banana Republic: $80
 Price of a used Banana Republic skirt
at a swish: $0

One girl grabbed dress after fabulous dress, even as the rounds went on. I was inspired to do a little hunting myself, and probably grabbed some things I didn't need (but hey, it was free!). The gratis nature of the activity also encouraged me to try on or grab things that I wouldn't normally have bothered with. I had never been a bag person before, but I took home half a dozen (partially justified by how I would be more in need of bags to compartmentalize my things). I also got a dress that needed to be fitted, a pearl necklace, and a black pencil skirt from Banana Republic--just what I needed seeing that I my work skirts had gotten too frayed, too small, or too warm for the weather.

I had brought shoes, skirts, dresses, tops, jackets, coats, and jewelry. Some of it, I was sad to see go, but I was also mollified to see my peacock green dress from Thailand to go to one of my friends. Another dress, a black and white lace confection that had never looked good on me, was claimed by another girl who made it work. It made it easier to see my former clothes go, seeing other people wanting them. It also flattered my sense of style.

Bags to bring clothes to and from home vs. Bags to bring home.
I went in with a large trunk and a full bag and came out with few enough bags and clothes that they could fit inside the black traveling bag I had originally brought. Other girls recounted their own successes. They had come with two bags and come out with one. One girl was disbelieving. She had come with two bags and come out with three! There were still a ton of clothes left in the swap room. They would be left there until the next clothing exchange. Sometimes the owner of the property made donations to charity. Other times, when she was sick of her closet, she would go down and hunt for something new.

Swishing is a great way to rustle up some new clothes and accessories for yourself. It's a great way to reduce and revitalize your wardrobe. It's good for the environment, is great for socializing, and doesn't cost a thing. Organize one in your town this weekend.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

It's Not Slut-Shaming If the Dress Doesn't Fit

Just because you can doesn't mean you should.
Thinkprogress has an article denouncing slut-shaming in school dress codes because . . . a school did not allow middle schoolers to wear tube tops to their middle school prom. I take issue with the article. Granted, female nudity and all its variations are still made too much of, but while banning high school students from wearing tube-top dresses is both futile and inane, banning middle school students from wearing tube-top dresses . . . kind of makes sense. What are they wearing tube tops for anyway? It's like the legendary student at Berkeley who went around naked (with a towel, so there were no hygienic concerns): you could do it. But why?

Let's list all of the reasons a girl (middle school age or older) might wear a tube top (or other item of clothing), from most to least damning, more or less.
  1. You are emulating a pop star/movie star/that girl from Cosmo
  2. All the other girls are wearing it
  3. It's Fashion!
  4. It's really pretty
  5. You are rebelling against one or more adult figures in your life
  6. You want sexual attention
  7. You want to feel sexy/pretty/confident
  8. You want to express your personal style
  9. For political reasons
  10. Because it's really hot (the weather, not the tube top)
How dare she dress like that?
Notice that hardly any of these have to do with male sexual attention. More of these have to do with female attention, peer pressure, and the fashion industry. Starting about three-quarters down, we get into the whole dress-for-yourself thing, and one political motive (think Femen)--where you are still utilizing your body for shocking, attention-getting reasons, albeit to point out the fallacy of the shockingness of the female body.

Anyway, I don't have a problem with a middle school (how old are these kids? 13?) banning tube tops. Frankly, I actually think it's more of a concern that high school Mormon girls have to custom-make their prom dresses if they want actual sleeves on the dresses. There were some comments in the Thinkprogress article that noted that the school dress codes seemed to be imposed by old men, but the fashion industry is still largely perpetrated by men as well (albeit gay men).
Why is this fashionable?
As long as the school dress code is consistent, gender-equal, and can explain itself, then it's not slut-shaming to send a girl home for wearing a tube-top, anymore than it is to make a boy wear P.E. shorts because he cannot un-sag his pants. Dress codes exist for a reason, especially at school. Adults have to follow them, why shouldn't students? Would it be appropriate for a middle-school teacher to wear a tube top to chaperon the prom? Probably not, because a teacher should be trying to maintain an air of professionalism, even at a party. We should have the same standards for students when they attend class. It's a learning environment, not the beach, or even the mall.

Now let's get to the unwanted male attention part. Though I do believe the best way to prevent sexual assault is to teach people to not assault others, woman should also be defensive. Just as people learn to be defensive drivers, because they know there will always be jackasses on the road, people should be defensive dressers because there will always be weird sexual predators in the world. We put off certain vibes based on how we dress. How a girl dresses may not affect whether or not she gets raped, but girls in scanty clothing are more likely to talked about in terms they'd most likely rather not be discussed in. If a girl wants the attention, then fine, as long as she is informed. If a girl does not want the attention, or not the that degree, at the very least, the girl will be labeled a tease.

Aren't we getting too carried away with this? Like with Janet Jackson's supposed nipple incident? Sure. Maybe someday women can go around topless. Hey, women do it all the time in Europe. At the beach. Not at work. Not at school. Maybe that will change someday, and society will be better for it. Nowadays? It's just not worth it.

In the meantime, dress fabulously--even if you do have to cover up.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Whom are you dressing up for?

BFF had some sort of altercation with DB about why girls dress up and/or show off their bodies and whether or not they get bad attention from creeps. I'm not really sure how it went down, but at the very least, I have to be grateful for DB for presenting his unusual world view to me.

But it got me thinking. Why do women dress up? It has been my belief since high school that women dress up more for each other than for men. This view is not shared by men. They feel that women are dressing up for them, or for guys in general, some of whom are creeps who will give the women bad attention.

Saying women dress up for men is like saying men pump iron for women. Sure, that may be why a majority of women/men do so for a majority of the time. But it is certainly not the only reason they do so. So why do women dress up? There are 4 reasons.

1. Impress Men

I'm not going to deny this one. Women assuredly dress up for men. They want to look nice for them. Sometimes they want to look sexy. Sometimes they want men to drool over them, even if they have no intention of giving any of those men the time of day.*

*Society calls these women "teases," but I hate that word. Yes, sometimes women purposefully tease men. Sometimes they just change their minds. Either way, once a women says no or shows resistance, it is unethical to touch her. Remember that, please. No matter how a woman is dressed, DON'T ASSAULT HER!

My BF also points out that a lot of the clothes women wear tends to be designed by men, primarily gay men, so you can think of it as women being dictated to by men. Whether or not the percentage of women designers will increase is hard to say. Personally, my favorite designer is Nicole Miller. I discovered this by browsing designer dresses at Bluefly. Every time I liked a dress, there was an 80% chance it was by Nicole Miller. 
Resort dresses by Nicole Miller
You could also say that women dress a certain way to look professional for work, and that that's for men (or The Man, specifically). It's more of a society in general thing than specifically for men though.
I don't have that much more to say about this, except . . . women spend a lot of time getting ready to go out with men--the hair, the make-up, the clothes--they're famous for making men wait for them. Why? Men don't appreciate this 99% of the time. Maybe women are primping in hopes of that 1% magical walk down the stairs moment? What about all those times a girl gets a new haircut or wears a new dress and the guy . . . doesn't notice it? Can we be that oblivious? Are we dressing against this tide of indifference? Or are women dressing to:

2. Impress Other Women

Female rivalry has deep roots. Sometimes it's about men. Sometimes it's about the lead in a ballet (i.e. career). Sometimes it's about popularity. Sometimes, it's even about clothes. Whatever it's about, clothes become a woman's weapon. This is obvious when it comes to men, but what about for a career or popularity, which includes men and women?

Women are very critical about the way other women dress. This is not always nefariously motivated. Women spend a lot of time thinking about, looking at, talking about, and shopping for clothes. They assess not only their own outfits, but those of the women around them. When women get together, they may look at fashion magazines or Victoria Secret catalogs (or the online version, nowadays) to find women, hair, and make-up to emulate. Or maybe just to envy. Women learn how to dress not by passively buying what gay men tell them to wear, but by observing how other women dress. Some of these women might be models and celebrities, but a lot of them are the real women they see around them. After all, there's only so much money available for clothes.
For women, shopping is a team sport.

And what if a women dresses unusually poorly? If the women are catty, they will talk about her impending demise. If the women are nice, they will wonder what is up and maybe arrange a makeover. A makeover not only requires new hair and make-up, it will inevitably require new clothes, and shopping. That's another reason women dress up, to

3. Celebrate Their Clothes

Here's an anecdote from today. I got dressed, because I had to; I leaving my apartment. I rifled through the clothes on my beside table that I had worn only once and grabbed a pair of shorts. I had checked the weather, and it was going to be fairly warm. Also, I can only wear shorts on the weekend, because they are inappropriate for work. These shorts are pretty short. But! I did not buy them to attract guys.

Okay, I bought the shorts because of other girls. One day I was looking at some pictures of a summer event and I realized that my shorts were longer than those of all the other girls. I also realized that I had had those shorts since middle school (by this time I was in college). I decided I needed to get non-granny shorts.

Regardless of why I bought the shorts, the reason I am wearing them right now is because I like them, because they are comfortable, and because I hardly get a chance to wear them. One of my favorite sayings is that women don't buy dresses for events. They buy dresses and then find events to wear them to. I have twice as many dresses in my closet as I should have, considering how little I wear them, so a lot of times when going out to something even slightly special, I wonder if it would be overkill to put one of them on. I know I should get rid of some of them (and I will), but the thought of that is difficult because I like them all so much.

The neglected dress. Being enshrined in a closet isn't enough.
So that's another reason women dress up--because they feel like they're neglecting their nice clothes. Lastly and most importantly though, the reason women dress up and/or show off their body is for: 

4. Themselves

Duh. Any time a fashion show wants to talk about why fashion is important, they talk about how fashion affects one's self-esteem. Of course, one's self-esteem can't be completely resurrected by a good wardrobe--nor do I think the wardrobe should even play a large or foundational part. It might help though. After all, one could argue that a woman (or a man) who doesn't care about what she looks like has given up on herself. She has no respect for herself or the people around her. It's not a bad thing to take pride in one's appearance.

Sometimes a women will compliment another woman on her appearance. The first women might say something along the lines of, "I was feeling yucky today." The other women will nod in understanding. Sometimes dressing up can make you feel better about yourself, even if no one admires you but yourself.



Friday, April 19, 2013

20 Reasons Not to Trash the Dress

Ladies, it is your prerogative to destroy anything you own, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. That being said, I think it's a stupid idea. See my full meditation here.

Things you can do with your wedding dress besides trashing it:
  1. Do a fearless bridal that won't totally trash it instead 
  2. Save it for a group friend photo
  3. Save it in a frame
  4. Save it for your daughter (at least a piece of it)
    Even if the style is too old-fashioned for her, she can still carry a piece.
  5. Save it for your 10-year anniversary, where you can accessorize it with aluminum jewelry (apparently it used to be valuable)
    From Chloe's Ethical Accessories
  6. Save it for your vow renewal
    Even happier, now that you know what marriage is like. (AinaKai Photography)
  7. Resell it
  8. Donate it
  9. Rent it out to other brides
  10. Rent it out to people who need full-length white dresses
    See your dress on stage
  11. Better yet, lend it out (it will make you happier)
  12. Make stuff out of it
  13. Dye it and wear it
  14. Shorten it and wear it
  15. Convert it and wear it (especially if the dress had a nice bodice)
    Lingerie or daring top?
  16. Wear it when you're feeling sassy
    Dance when nobody's watching
  17. Wear it when you're feeling down
    Remember this?
  18. Wear it for Halloween
  19. Wear it to the Brides of March
    Be truly daring, and wear it while shopping and drinking about town
  20. Wear it out to a different Starbucks every week for free coffee
    Who's to say you're not getting married that day? You're wearing a wedding dress, aren't you?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why Trash the Dress?

There's an incredible amount of energy put into finding the perfect wedding dress. You even need to say yes to the dress, the way you say yes to your fiancé. In addition to the dress, there are the accessories--the bridal shoes, the bridal veil, the bridal jewelry (besides the wedding ring).

Pre-wedding dresses.
There's not just the dress for the wedding! Just as a wedding ceremony is not just a wedding ceremony anymore, but an engagement party, a bridal shower, a bachelor and bachelorette party, a rehearsal dinner, and a wedding, a bride may choose to purchase not only a wedding dress, but also an engagement dress, a bridal shower dress, a bachelorette party dress, a rehearsal dress, and a wedding dress. Plus there's the silk robe to wear when getting dressed for the wedding. The lingerie to wear after the wedding. Plus an all-purpose T-shirt whenever you are feeling sufficiently (or in-sufficiently) bride-like. 

Why all this conspicuous consumption? It's a two-way street. As much as we would like to place the blame solely on the shoulders of the wedding industry, there wouldn't be such a huge supply if there wasn't at least some demand. Sure, some (much) of the demand was artificially created, but girls sure love shopping, especially for pretty clothes that make them feel special.

What about trash the dress, the post-wedding event? Apparently a Las Vegas photographer suggested it. The idea was that he was bored of normal wedding photos. He wanted to do something fun, like an actual fashion shoot, which includes juxtaposing the elegant with the trashy. So he convinced a bride to do the shoot. Now other photographers are pushing the idea. Why?

Vancouver photographer Darcie Radtke says, “A lot of people are interested in trash-the-dress shoots but when it comes to their own dress, they have a fear of actually doing it. But most women have these dresses and put them in their closet and never look at them again. This is a way to have beautiful, lasting images of your dress.”

But don't women already have beautiful, lasting images of their dress from their wedding pictures? I hardly think they need more. It might also be better to have a beautiful, lasting dress (hence many women's fears of trashing them).

Romantically tragic.
I have to admit, as financially irresponsible as the idea is, some trash-the-dress pictures look pretty nice. Besides the romantic and sexy ones (which, again, could occur at a wedding), there are some effects that are hard to achieve without a body of water. Some seem Ophelia-esque (just be careful to not actually become like Ophelia). Some seem daring. How many times are you going to jump off a cliff into the ocean? Maybe a few times. How many times are you going to jump off a cliff into the ocean wearing a thousand dollar dress? Only once, likely, even if you are in the habit of buying thousand dollar dresses.

Once in a lifetime plunge. Literally. Even more so than the wedding itself.
There's a reason for that. Why ruin a thousand dollar dress that you spent months searching for (and then having tailored to your body)? Personally, I wouldn't even trash a hundred dollar dress. I spent money on that dress! I'm going to wear it again. I'm going to wear it until the cost-per-wear is under a dollar, even if I have to wear it to my neighbor's kid's birthday party to do it.

Trash the dress, with friends.
There's other things you can do with your dress besides trash it, even if you aren't going to wear it every day for the next six years to make the cost-per-wear worth it. For one thing, you could save it for a fun friend photo (after all of your friends are married, knock-on-wood).

You could donate it to goodwill or a bride-in-need. Or you can donate it on a more temporary basis to be used in school plays and graduations, or let your kids trash it when they use it for dress up (that's what my fiancé's mother did, and her dress is still in pretty good shape).

You could wear it again when you renew your vows. You can save it so that your daughter (or granddaughter) can wear it (or at least some part of it). You could have the skirt shortened and dye it another color and make it your go-to formal dress.

Suddenly measuring out one's life in coffee spoons doesn't seem so bad.
Maybe that takes away from the singularity of the dress? Maybe. But isn't that what marriage is? The turning of an extravaganza into the quotidian? Isn't that a good thing?

At the very least, you can always try putting on your dress again and head over to Starbucks for a free coffee.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Why are Weddings such a Big Deal?

Pinterest has a whole section devoted to weddings. Women not even engaged yet (sometimes not even with a partner!) pin their dream weddings. Why so much investment in this ideal? Why is it so pervasive and so overblown?

I have two theories: singularity and identity.

By singularity I mean that for most women, this is the biggest party they will ever throw in their lives, and for many women this is the first party they will throw. For some it will be the only one. At least it seems this way. Both tradition and the wedding market encourage this. Traditionally, getting married is a major milestone. This was when you not only committed yourself to a person for eternity, but also became an adult and moved out of your parents' house and started having sex.

The singularity of the event means that women will pour in a lot of effort to make sure that this day is the perfect day. They will muse about the menu, cogitate about flowers, and agonize over the dress, because there's only one chance that they can get this right--and it will be photographed and filmed for future posterity and facebook.

I found that it takes a lot of pressure off to not think about the wedding as the only party I will ever plan. If something doesn't make the cut or is too prohibitively expensive, I can file it away for some future party, such as an anniversary, my bridal shower, or a friend's wedding (at the risk of becoming a bridemaidzilla). Bacon-wrapped canapes don't fit the theme? I can make them for a dinner party. Peonies too expensive? Hint to husband that they would make a nice anniversary gift. Tulle canopy held aloft by balloons not appropriate for an indoor wedding? Save it for a friend's bridal shower (or birthday).

It's very liberating. Instead of agonizing over whether or not I'm making the best choice, I can put it down to deliberating about the right choice, and comfort myself with the idea that I can still experience all those other photo-worthy displays some other time in my life (if I still care).

What about identity? After all, a wedding is now less of a community event and more of an expression of the bridal couple (or at least the bride). It could express how they have money, or it could express that the couple enjoy the irony of wearing expensive outfits and drinking fancy signature cocktails out of mason jars in a barn. Seeing that this is a large gathering of realtime people, the couple probably want to represent themselves well. It's an expression of what they value, calculated by what they choose to spend their money on.

Offbeat bride celebrates this. The introduction to the book talks about how it was important for the wedding to convey how the bridal couple were, instead of going through the motions of wearing a veil and walking down an aisle to appease family and community. One Perfect Day warns that this is not only a marketing tactic, but a harbinger of a breakdown of community. An Atlantic article warns that just because your wedding isn't unique, doesn't mean you aren't getting married.

My take aligns more with offbeat bride. Even though a wedding is in some ways more about the people invited than the bridal couple, if the community didn't accept the couple for who they were, I don't think they would go. Also, a lot of the hipster ideas regarding rented barns and mason jars are, in fact, ways of saving money, though the wedding industry has proprietized those practices. As for the Atlantic article--isn't that the point? To express oneself while still participating in something that, even 50 years from now, you can point to in your outdated video to your grandchildren and still have them recognize it as a wedding?

Anyway, I wanted a lot of things for my wedding, not out of practicality, but because I had an idea of it in my head or because I thought it went with a theme I liked. I spent a lot of money on flowers because I wanted a bouquet (as did my bridesmaids). I didn't want all-Asian catering, even though it would have been cheaper. I am going to get married in an Asian-American Museum, not only because it's relatively cheap and the right size and I'm afraid of getting married outside because of the weather, but because I thought it was appropriate for my identity. That's why I stuck with those choices even when costs and hidden charges got racked up.

Vera Wang's 2013 red bridal collection. To aim at the Chinese market?
I also considered wearing a red dress (one part practicality, one part tradition, two parts because it matches the venue). My friend asked me, why not get married at city hall if I'm not going to wear a white dress? Why have any of it? Why invite people from both sides of the Pacific to this thing where we pay for them to eat fancy food and unlimited wine and beer, in the process coordinating headache-inducing schematics including timelines, spreadsheets, websites, and $200 worth of flowers, for the love of all that is good and holy? (My fiance wonders this whenever I try to coordinate with him.)

Well, because I still wanted a wedding, even if it's not completely traditional. To say that a different colored dress would invalidate that was pretty insulting.

It will be (I swear) the most expensive party I will ever throw in my life. It will have the largest number of guests (that I personally invite and know of). It is the only time I will ever rent out a venue or hire a caterer. It is (hopefully) the only time I will ever get married.

It is also a chance to express myself, my culture, and my love for my husband-to-be.