Trashing the dress trashes the institution

Last week, recipe I attended a wedding. Or, more correctly, I attended an expensive photo session to which marriage was an adjunct.– Helen Razer  – The Age December 19, 2009

LAST week, I attended a wedding. Or, more correctly, I attended an expensive photo session to which marriage was an adjunct. Equal parts model and field marshal, the bride ruthlessly directed a shoot that culminated in, of all places, an alley full of bins. ”It’s Rock the Frock,” said a second cousin, unhelpfully.

Last week, the New York State Senate also attended to the business of weddings. On a Wednesday afternoon, the assembly voted down a bill. The failure to legitimise same-sex marriage was relatively unsurprising; this wedge is inclined to defeat. What was surprising was the ardent speech of a little-known senator.

Diane Savino was not the only Democrat who urged her fellows to endorse the bill. She was, however, the only speaker to notch up nationwide press and 300,000 views on YouTube in the hours following her address.

In the best tradition of American rhetoric, Savino uttered a new translation of equality. I only wish I’d heard this informal Gettysburg before the wedding. Perhaps then the ”Rock the Frock” ritual would have more sense.

Like all persuasive argument, Savino’s was shocking and fresh. After an affecting nod to gay constituents, she began her genuine work. She dared us to consider the condition of contemporary marriage.

The sanctity of marriage, she said, could not possibly be endangered by permitting its access to same-sex couples. If there is any threat to the sanctity of marriage, she said, ”it comes from those of us who have the privilege and the right, and we have abused it for decades”.

”What are we really protecting?” she asked before reminding us that, these days, husbands could be snared on television game shows.

In a petition for equality that owed as much to The Late Show as it did to Lincoln, the senator led her colleagues through the grimmer end of the TV guide. After lambasting The Bachelor, she highlighted a divorce rate of 50 per cent. Then, in a gesture destined to relieve her of all future responsibilities as matron of honour, she set upon the modern bride.

”They plan every day what they’ll wear, how they’ll look, the invitations, the whole bit. They don’t spend five minutes thinking about what it means to be a wife,” said Savino.

She was just warming up.

”They spend billions of dollars, behave in the most appalling way, all in an effort to be princess for a day.”

Although it feels risky and almost unlawful to communicate this view, I’d have to say: she’s right.

The behaviour of the bride at last week’s wedding-cum-photo-opportunity was not out of the ordinary. This woman, to whom it is almost guaranteed I will never speak again, behaved as nearly all brides do. To wit: she was so utterly and foolishly absorbed with herself and her trousseau that she drained her ritual of any trace of meaning.

To be fair, both bride and groom had already seen the death of sentiment by invitation. Instead of gifts, the happy couple requested donations of money.

Kind people can explain the notorious behaviour of brides and their mates. Overcome by the sacrament, they simply succumb to the jitters. From my study, the sacrament was buried under a bolt of tulle and self-assertion long ago. If brides are overcome by anything, it’s generally the cost of their special day. This, by the way, has now hit an Australian average in excess of $33,000.

Last week, I was able to calculate where a good portion of that sum had been disbursed. ”Rock the Frock”, also referred to as ”Trash the Dress” or, inexplicably, ”Fearless Bridal”, is not an inexpensive matter.

This latest nuptial add-on can be confined to costly photography in which the bride is photographed looking winsome against a gritty backdrop. But, very often she will also destroy her dress.

Much to the delight of couturiers, she will require two dresses. On the dummy garment, she might pour shiraz. She might tear it up or trample through mud.

I swear. I’m not making this up.

My bride stopped short of hacking at her organza with a curling iron. And for that, as I explained to my second cousin, I was a little put out. There could be no better way to embody Savino’s view of marriage than the drowning of a gown.

The practice is expensive and in very poor taste. It breaks completely with the tradition of respect. And, it evidences an attitude of extreme disposability – once I’ve ruined this marriage, I’ll simply slip into another.

Helen Razer is a freelance writer.