Chapter 3: Fetishizing the White Dress

It sounds like the biggest cliche but most brides are assumed to have been dreaming about their wedding gowns since they were little girls.

Images of spritely 5-year olds in cream baby-doll dresses, carrying flowers haphazardly plucked from someone’s garden, come to mind.

This got me thinking, what kind of wedding dress did I dream of when I was younger; but I can’t remember if I ever had reveries of tulle and lace at that age.

However, I do have stronger memories of dreaming about the perfect prom dress. My excitement–and major anxiety– over picking one was heightened even more by the fact that my date was my high school crush. I ended up with a sweet number that would go on to become one of my favorite wardrobe pieces of all time: a sheer, white Betsey Johnson lace dress with lavender embroidery. It was knee-length and it had puff sleeves–a departure from the floor-sweeping, jewel-toned gowns that most girls wore. I had my hair styled in an updo, adorned with lots of funky butterfly clips, a trend back in the 90s. I barely had make-up too–just a little gold gloss and shell pink eyeshadow–which put me in pale contrast against the contoured faces of my schoolmates. While I never scored a kiss from my date, I still felt like a princess. 

Little girls can indulge in their bridal dreams by playing with this Barbie Doll, which comes with a light-up engagement ring that they can actually wear.

 

Between my high school prom and today, I’ve gotten over-excited so many times about getting dressed for parties and special occasions, mainly because I’ve always been so drawn to fashion. Before reaching 10, I was weaned over a steady diet of my mom’s Vogue magazines and was so inspired by it that I drew my own fictitious magazines on many a notebook. 

With such an obsession over clothes, it seems obvious that I would kill to impress people with my choice of a bridal gown. But the idea of a wild frenzy over one dress seems like such a conventional matter that a part of me wants to veer away from it; to pretend that I’m not that crazy about a gown–but I am. 

I believe this stems from my own fascination with the wedding dress. It has a reputation for being the most important piece that a woman will ever wear. It is the stuff that little girls’ dreams are made of. 

Or is it? 

Over the past year, I’ve been browsing through a slew of bridal magazines and it’s usually because I want to look at wedding wear. I’ve seen so many magazines that I can tell the brand and the season certain dresses were featured in; like the sweet pea tulle gown by Vera Wang  from her Fantasy Bride collection (also known as Spring/Summer 2009)  or the strapless mini with the giant bow from Amsale’s Little White Dress collection. The fact is, over 50% of these magazines are saturated with print ads of bridal fashion brands, which over time, discourages you from buying more of these publications.

The white dress is placed on such a high pedestal because firstly, it will be worn by the center of the attention, the bride. While a wedding is supposed to be about the couple, it is a feminized event. The use of the word “bridal” alone to describe anything wedding-related is an obvious testimony to this, not to mention the way brides (and mothers-in-law) tend to be on top of all the decision-making because it’s supposedly “girl stuff.”  Though it is  a celebration of two people tying the knot, it tends to be treated as the woman’s day, of her being given away to a man in marriage. Now that seems unfair to the groom (it’s his day too, right?) but we live in a culture that has turned marriage into the domain of the fairer sex.

White stands for purity and virginity. The low neckline and exposed cleavage stands for an unabashed sexuality. Finally, the single red rose becomes a phallic symbol cradled in the hands of the skimpily-dressed bride.

 

Secondly, the wedding gown, with all the hoopla that accompanies it, is very profitable. Prices can go extremely high, which means big bucks for suppliers who want to offer their top-of-the line Swarovski-studded, Chantilly lace numbers to customers with through-the-roof budgets. The value of a single outfit can cost as much as the party itself, especially if the gown in question is a $15,000 ballgown by Badgley Mischka or the £100,000 Marchesa, custom-made for British WAG (wives and girlfriends of high-profile football players), Coleen McLoughlin. To that point, a gown, just like an Hermes Birkin, tends to be treated as a status symbol. Whenever a celebrity gets engaged, one of the first things the tabloid media scrutinizes is the choice of wedding dress designer, apart from the 4-karat diamond platinum ring, crafted by the Neil Lanes and Cartiers of the world.

The white dress arrives with so much fanfare, so much anticipation. It is welcomed to the tune of “Here Comes the Bride” which makes the groom look like a supporting actor in the show. 

All this makes me wonder, is the wedding gown taking too much attention from the true spirit of marriage as a symbol of community, of two families becoming bound to each other? Or is it merely a fashion fetish that has enamored women for as long as weddings have been taking place?

The Bride wore Purple: During her wedding to then-husband Marilyn Manson, Dita Von Teese opted for a unique, eye-catching.dress.

 

I would like our wedding to be more focused on the two of us–figuratively and literally, because I am truly uncomfortable about walking down the aisle. As maid of honor at the wedding of an older brother, I speed-walked  the red carpet, all eyes on my seat at the front row of the church. Relatives found it strange and funny. But, at the same time, having a fetish for fashion myself, I want a dress that will make a unique statement, a standout piece that veers away from a traditional and simple strapless sheath. How do I marry my desire to balance the attention on both me and Mark, without drawing away too much because of a frilly dress?

By contrast to these concerns, I wonder, maybe I worry too much or am even a little too arrogant about having all eyes on me. After all, we want our party to be all about warmth and community, about enjoying great conversations with every guest, getting to know your new family members, losing yourself to the music, indulging in good food and endless glasses of red wine. No dress costing hundreds in thousands of pesos should top that.

So, I thought of the following solutions for creating the right balance of attention on me and Mark, rather than on a white dress alone. 

Walking down the aisle together. This is an ideal situation. A girl may dream of being given away on her big day, by contrast to my terror at the mere thought of it.  Moreover, I am uncomfortable with the fact that historically, this custom originally symbolized the father’s giving away of his daughter, as payment to a family he owes money to. Since this is all about both the groom and the bride, Mark and I would like to march together. I believe that walking down the aisle together represents our decision to take on the responsibility and challenges of life as a wedded couple; that taking a walk down marriage lane is a road that we must brave together, At this point, it is a plan that both our parents are not aware of and I’m honestly not sure about how they would react to it. Hopefully, our parents will support our decision.  

Playing an alternative to “Here Comes the Bride.” Instead of hearing “all dressed in white,” guests will be treated to a personal composition by Mark. The guitar piece was created sometime in 2009 and we decided to use it instead of that ubiquitous tune that places too much emphasis on one-half of the union.

Ditching the Veil and Train. The veil also has a grim background. It was used to cover the bride-as-payment’s face so that her recipient would have no choice but to take her even if she wasn’t good-looking. I understand that nowadays, the veil functions more as an aesthetic piece that spells the difference between a white dress and a wedding dress, but by opting to go without one, I can make the gown a little less showy. The same goes for the train. Although my reason is more practical. I tend to go to the comfort room a lot, so I don’t want a 5-foot piece of cloth getting in the way. 

Princess Diana's wedding dress came with bells and whistles fashioned out of taffeta and a 25-foot train.

 

Allowing the Bridesmaids to Shine. The tradition of dressing up the entourage in the same outfit as the bride was originally believed to trick evil spirits targeting the couple. Although, modern bridesmaids now wear frocks with a common theme and color palette instead of a replica of the bride’s, it reminds me too much of using different shaped cookie cutters on the same dough. Because I believe the bridesmaid’s dress must be a reflection of her own style and taste, I’d like to shop for an off the rack sheath for each one of them and making the mix more interesting by throwing in some prints with the solids. 

Matchmaking: Bridesmaids are usually draped in the same outfit.

 

I do look forward to the dress that I’ll eventually wear when I get hitched. I know that it will be another big fashion mission for me but whether I decide on a rare, vintage find or an out-of-the-box creation, one thing is for sure: the white dress may command attention but the real centerpiece of the wedding is the couple

– Punky

Chapter 2: The Waiting Game

Today is the 1st year (and 2 day) anniversary of our engagement, the tail-end of 12 months of initial anxiety and excitement over marriage–mostly anxiety.

Immediately after the engagement, I started asking Mark when he would like to get married. I got answers like “3 years or so.” These were replies I didn’t want to hear. 

“I’ll be 30 by then!” I exclaimed when he suggested December 21, 2012, the day the world ends according to the Mayan Calendar.

Ayaw mo non?” he asked; a large grin spreading across his face. “That means we’ll be together until the end of the world!” The conviction in his tone made my blood boil.

Will insurance cover the damages of a Doomsday wedding? (Photo credits: Mike Gorman / Boston Phoenix)

 

But the prospect of the world going down in ruins as we hand out wedding favors worries me less than the fact that I’d have to wait for so long. A part of me thought, you don’t need 36 months to prepare for a party lasting 4-5 hours. In my work, I’ve help coordinate larger, more complicated events, in rare cases, for less than a month. But besides that, I felt worried that a long engagement might indicate a lack of commitment. 

However, there are many factors for this lengthy wait that have nothing to do with commitment issues. I still believe that Mark and I do not doubt that we want this but there are still matters to be considered in setting the date.

First of all, Mark’s younger brother, Ryan and his fiancee, Camyl are getting married in April 2010. They had gotten engaged in 2008. In Philippine culture, it’s bad luck for siblings to marry in the same year–a phenomena known as Sukob. I’m not completely  superstitious but living in this culture has instilled some fear in me of going against certain beliefs. Without having to explain the logic of this fear, I crossed off 2010.

Secondly, my fiancee’s mom has requested that we properly space our weddings. My future in-law lives in New York and works for the United Nations. She only comes home every year or so and we have to respect her schedule.

Thirdly, we’re still saving for the wedding and eventually living together. As freelancers, Mark and I don’t have regular incomes on the 15th and 30th but we’re doing fairly well in our respective fields. Luckily, freelance gives us the opportunity to save on the daily expense that comes with full-time work, which translates into more savings and more funds for other expenditures including the wedding costs that we would like to cover as much of, as we can.  

Considering these factors and after I’ve mellowed down from my initial apprehension about a Doomsday date, we decided on November 11, 2011. However, Mark’s mom reacted against all the downward strokes in 11/11/11. We quickly agreed with this. I guess  Filipinos can’t help it. We find it logical to take comfort in our superstitious rules, maybe because it’s easier to explain your concerns without having to rationalize it.

But the same thing applies to the Chinese and because my fiancee has a little of that East Asian blood in him, notable in his penchant for reading Chinese Astrology, he turned to the lucky numbers of that culture and 9 came up.

Two dates were suggested next: September  9 or 10. My apprehensions for the latter is its proximity  to September 11, which is an awful reminder of the day when life ended for so many people. On the other hand, it did look nice on paper: 9/10/11.

“What about September 9?” he asked. The ninth would fall on a Friday and I thought this could serve as a control measure for managing the number of kiddie guests. Personally, we prefer this to be an adult party.

Hence, our most probable wedding date will be September 9, 2011.

But, another option cropped up. 

Mark and I planned a US trip at the end of this year. The downside is I still don’t have a Visa and the chances are 50/50. If I get denied, I will stay home to prepare Christmas dinner as usual–green with envy at the thought of  Mark enjoying San Francisco, Las Vegas and New York together with his relatives. 

If the stars look kindly upon me and send a good-natured consul who will issue an approval, then Mark and I will explore the possibility of a destination wedding: a small ceremony officiated by either Elvis in Vegas or a judge at the New York City Hall.

Getting married in Vegas requires the blessings of its King.

 

At this point, anything is possible–wedded bliss in sin city and/or civil ceremony in Manila–but I admit that somehow I feel that consciously waiting is something I need to distract myself from. On most days, I try not to remind myself of the engagement by keeping my ring inside its velvet box. Well, to begin with I’m not a ring person but I wear bands during special occasions or whenever i feel like accessorizing a plain outfit. I don’t even talk about it with most of my relatives, some of whom are not even acutely aware of my plans, let alone the engagement, which is fine by me. I’d rather surprise them one day with an invitation. However, I realized that my impatience is deeply-seated in the greater cultural view of relationships in the Philippines.

We have a dominantly patriarchal society, which is reflected in the double standards that exist between men and women. In a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, parents tend to be stricter with the girl. There are rules that prevent the boy from setting foot in his significant other’s room. By contrast, men can get away with it more easily. Obviously the reasons include a parent’s fear that this encourages physical intimacy and when that intimacy results to an unplanned pregnancy, mom and dad will tell their daughter that in this situation, she gets the shorter end of the stick. By contrast, some girls do go on to become successful single moms. The other outcome is a shotgun wedding.

Mark and I are old enough (He’s turning 35, I’m 27) to be aware of the consequences but at the same time I am uncomfortable with the idea of double standards. 

With an engagement, your union is one step away from becoming legit. An engagement is an assurance to both sets of parents that you are ready to take on the domestic duties of marriage, including the possibility of having a child. Ideally, it should make them feel more at ease about leaving their daughter (literally?) alone with her fiancee. 

True enough, after our engagement, my parents became more relaxed with the idea of Mark hanging out in my room, but I keep the door open, of course. I admit that I’m still not fully comfortable by the thought of my parents knowing that I am within a few millimeters from him. I even tend to fume at Mark when he tries to hug me in their presence. Now that I think about it, I guess I have a little of the old-fashioned Filipina in me, in spite of my self-proclaimed pride in being a “modern-day woman.” Maria Clara‘s blood still flows in my veins, and together with it, her bashful constraint. Somehow, a part of me upholds the patriarchal mindset. Men can get away with intimacy; women can’t. My fear legitimizes the hegemony of male domination. 

Hence, the longer the engagement, the longer I’d have to wait until we’re “100% legitimate.” Only then can I feel 100% comfortable about being with Mark without a parent breathing down my neck.    

Old-school Love: Before getting engaged, Mark and I were limited to staying in the living room.

 

Despite this, Mark and I have personally chosen to step out of the constraints that define gender roles. We recognize and respect that there are couples who choose a traditional approach to relationships and managing the home. By contrast, we consciously want to be both mother and father, husband and wife, in this relationship. In many ways, we don’t want to go by-the-book when it comes to building a life together, beginning with our wedding.

As of now, Mark and I have a theme in mind: books. It won’t be a traditional celebration in many ways. First of all and as mentioned earlier, we intend to cover as much of the costs as we can in addition to our parents’ contributions. Whereas, traditionally, the man’s family pays in full for the wedding. Second, we plan to write our own vows and create our own symbols. A lot of people are taken aback by our decision to forego a Catholic wedding, which includes vows characterized by traditional male and female roles but this has nothing to do with disdain for our faith. What is more important to us is having a highly personal ceremony.

By-the-book Wedding: Mark and I plan a non-traditional fete filled with books.

 

In the meantime, Mark and I have about a year or so to get ready. We’ll take each day with a grain of salt. We may not be legally hitched yet but we’re sure that this is what we want: to be there for each other till death, or doomsday, do us part.

– Punky

Chapter 1: The 1st Boyfriend

This blog is one year overdue.

On January 11, 2009, Mark and I got engaged after 4 years together.

He was my first boyfriend.

While studying Communications Management at Assumption College–an all-girls Catholic school that used to have a reputation for producing trophy wives and my alma mater for 17 years–a teacher once told our class that you have to “collect and select.” Don’t limit yourself to one boy, check them all out before you decide on one. 

Which gingerbread man will you choose?

 

This sort of advice makes sense. The natural, sensible thing to do before settling down on one person. In fact, girls do the same when picking something trivial and less emotionally-charged like a dress; although the site of the perfect bias cut can send me on hyperdrive. I certainly shop a lot and picking out a pretty outfit for a special event (such as your college graduation,18th birthday or despedida) can be stressful. There are so many choices: the strapless pink number from Zara; the striped bias-cut frock from Topshop; a flowing gown at the Rustan’s ladies section. There are so many people to please: your crush, your classmates…yourself. And, how difficult it is to settle on one when they all make you feel pretty. But when it comes to choosing a partner, let alone someone to spend the rest of your life with, it makes sense to take even more, if not as much care, as choosing a dress, or maybe even that first car or apartment that will forever be a part of your personal history. 

Ideally, I would have wanted to take the “collect and select” approach. Fresh out of college in March 2004, armed with my new degree and what I would like to believe is a pretty impressive set of credentials, I was an optimistic, energetic 21-year old who was ready to prove herself. The media industry was my first choice for work and I was lucky enough to have gotten a live TV gig two months after receiving my diploma. Moreover, after almost two decades in an exclusive all-girls school, I wanted to start dating.

In college, I never dated–and my reasons were pretty pathetic; something I only realized now. For 6 years–going all the way back to high school–I had a crush on one guy. He studied in an exclusive, all-boys school run by a religious order of brothers. This school is the male counterpart to Assumption, and it has been typecast as a breeding ground for the trophy wives’ future husbands.

Mark did NOT study here.

 

I obsessed over this crush and I’m sure he knew it.  When I learned that he had gotten back with an ex-girlfriend, I cried for two days and ignored him to icy death. He noticed and offered an apology via a common friend, while I pretended not to care just like a typical girl. When teenage hormones are raging like a bull seeing red, and worse, when it’s combined with the low self-esteem of puberty, it can be pretty frustrating to not have a boyfriend. Simply put, you feel like a sore loser.

My losing streak took a turn for the worst, when at one point, I lost my appetite for a few months. During the start-of-year medical checkup at school, my weight registered at 90 pounds. I’m not a tall person (5’1) but that still made me 14 pounds underweight.

To release my frustrations, I joined Taekwondo varsity; while he continued with college as well as his music. He was and is still in a band.

After months of sparring and weeks of bruises, I finally gained ten pounds of muscle but still lacked in dating experience. I still believe, that to some extent, this one teenage case of unrequited love created a barrier that kept me from meeting other guys, from finding another boy who is “so much better/hotter/smarter/cooler/cuter (even if to your mind, your no. 1 crush will always be at the top of the charts).

Unfortunately, I never even met these “other guys” to deem them better/hotter/smarter/cooler/cuter.  I’ve had a few occasions wherein a friend would tell me about another friend who wanted to know me but I wouldn’t even bother. Besides, I was turned off by the fact that these faceless boys were using the safe route of a go-between or the even safer text message (“So you saw me at the party? Why didn’t you introduce yourself!”).

Right after college, I tried to shake myself out of this emotional rut. Luckily, I met someone who wanted to go out with me. While the guy was not my type (a tall, dark, boy-next-door, while my preference leans toward mysterious, artsy men who constantly look like they’ve just rolled out of bed after staying up all night reading Bob Dylan) I decided to give it a try. But he never called, until our common friend revealed that he didn’t know how to communicate with me. That made me wonder, do I make myself unapproachable? I wondered, am I allowing a past frustration to keep from connecting with others? However, there was no chemistry between us so I didn’t feel like it was a big loss, but I was definitely left with questions about my probable lack of “communicate-ability” with the opposite sex. 

About five months later, in August 2004, I was spending yet another lazy evening at home when one of my good friends, Pat, invited me to go to a photo exhibit at an art gallery in Malate. It sounded like a typical artist-organized event filled with folks from the independent film scene, photographers and painters, musicians, poets, bottles of San Mig Light. 

Adriatico Circle: I would rather be at home--almost.

 

I was not in the mood to go to Malate but since there was nothing else to do, I finally decided to get out of the house and trot over to Penguin, a small and cozy bar  along Adriatico Circle. It had the air of a cookie cutter artist haunt–lots of wooden furniture, flimsy steel chairs, a stinky comfort room with very little space between the bowl and the sink and the sink to the door. Penguin had less concern for proper interior decoration than for providing a space where ideas and cold beer can co-exist.

But it was also in this same space that Mark and I had our first exchange. He had typical “Asian Boy” (as he would term guys of his sort) features: small eyes, pale yellow skin. His photos, which were on exhibit, including a black and white shot of a piano that was featured on the Eraserheads’ Sticker Happy album.

The "Sticker Happy" album cover

 

Pat always wanted me to meet Mark and I remember her telling me about a “filmmaker friend” a few YM chats ago. Pat and Mark have so much in common in terms of musical interests especially with regards to folk and country styles.

And that night, Pat succeeded because Mark chatted me up or the first time.

Standing by the junk food bar, he learned that I was currently working in a production company. I found out that he was a sound engineer and an independent filmmaker who recently won a Gawad Urian Award for a short he did in college. He found out that I recently completed a floor directing gig. I found out that he does gigs with an oddly-named band called Romeo Lee and the Brown Briefs and was once part of the 90s group, Tungaw. Mark discovered my  even odder tendency to space out (a phenomenon that has been well-observed by my former schoolmates). I observed that when he laughs, his eyes almost disappear and laughing was something he did during most of our conversation.

After more than an hour and a belly full of cracklings, nuts and malt, we parted ways to go back to our respective friends. 

After Penguin, I wouldn’t see him after almost half a year.

But I would hear him a lot, during several interesting phone calls we had, later in December. And I’d read about Mark too, as I would regularly browse through his verbose online journal entries.

Finally, I was communicating with someone I could honestly relate to.

– Punky

Published in: on January 7, 2010 at 8:08 pm  Comments (2)  
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