Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Alfred Angelo: the new fairy godmother

If you've always dreaming of a fairy tale wedding, there's some exciting news...

For those brides who really want the look and feel of a Disney damsel as they walk down the aisle, designer Alfred Angelo has teamed up with the House of Mouse to roll out a collection of princess-inspired wedding gowns.

The dresses borrow style sense from some of Disney's most-loved animated fashionistas, including Belle, Aurora, Jasmine, and Cinderella.

Better yet, you don't need a royal dowry to afford a piece from the new collection. With each dress costing less than $1200, you can look like a princess without paying like one.

Perez Hilton's fashion site, Coco Perez, has a sneak peak video of the collection, which will be available for retail in 2011.

Not necessarily my style (I've been pretty open about my adoration for the classic sleek-and-sexy mermaid cut), but for brides who want to take the 'mermaid' look literally, there's now an Ariel gown for that.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Where the heart is

When we first announced our engagement, almost everyone asked where my wedding would be: DC or Philly? One, the place I now lived; the other, the place I had always called home. 

Although I knew I wanted to have the ceremony here in the epicenter of the political world I've grown to love, the choice had already been made for me. Weeks before the proposal, my father told me he was selling his house -- our house, where he had married my mother, where I had been born, where we had loved and lost and overcome all life had to throw at us, and where I had always imagined the roots of our family would stay firmly grounded. 

Throughout my life, I've considered my parents' house a center of gravity. No matter where I spun out -- be it off to school in Boston, summer adventures somewhere far and away, or forging my career path in a new city -- I'd always find myself drawn back home.

Early on, my parents instilled in me the notion that our house was a place of gathering, of comfort, and of love. It was constantly filled with people, both friends and family, who would come for my dad's corny puns and my mom's gentle sarcasm and stay for the good food, the stories, and the sense of warmth and inclusion that emanated from our happy home. When my mother passed away in 2002, we tried our best to keep things the same and leave our door open to everyone at any time the way she would've wanted it to be. For the past eight years, we maintained the house and its gardens as a monument to all that she was and all who she loved, and it is difficult to this day to find a single object there that did not feel the touch of her hand.

But to my father, that same house is no longer just a monument. Instead, he says, it has become a tomb. Standing quiet and empty while he is in Florida running his business most of the year, it stores mementos of the wife he lost and the daughter that grew up and moved away. His side of the family left town long ago, heading northwest to Chicago; south to Virginia and North Carolina; east across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom. Some of my mother's side is still in the area, but many of them have also scattered to the wind across land and sea.

Planning a wedding and a whole new life as a married couple is tough enough as it is. Doing so without the comfort of 'home' to run back to when I'll need it is unimaginably tougher. 

It's coming sooner than expected, but the reality of it is that I'm going to have to create my own home; my own safe place; my own new center of gravity. And I hope it will be just as warm and as comforting as what my parents built... and more.

Paging Johnny Depp?

Found this story today about a couple who stumbled upon none other than The Boss himself while posing for engagement photos on the beach in Manasquan. How cool of a photo shoot that must've been! From the article: 

The Grammy and Oscar-winning musician did a quick tune up of Dwyer's strings and then riffed on the couple's coming nuptials, as the couple smiled and listened...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Registry Day is better than Christmas

Although we haven't gotten anywhere near this point in our planning, I'm already counting down to the night before Registry Day, when I'll be lying all snug in my bead with visions of new china dancing in my head. And when I wake up, I'll dash down the stairs in my pajamas (I still wear them on occasion at 27), grab my scanner gun, and b-line to the mall for my private 2-hour scanning session.
Numerous specialty and department stores are stepping up their game to lure couples in to register with them over their competitors. Perks include free food and ample flutes of bubbly, special additional 'gifts', and exclusive offers and discounts off of registry items that go unpurchased by your guests.
  • Crate & Barrel, for example, hosts Wedding Parties several Sundays a month at its various locations. All couples have to do is RSVP and show up the morning of the event for a presentation, and then they can take advantage of 2 free hours of brunch before the store's doors open to the public. The best part? You don't even have to register that day or begin to rack up items on your list.  Had I known about these events, I totally would've snuck in to one long ago. 
  • Macy's and The Knot have teamed up to offer Sip & Scan registry parties at a few select department stores, and I'm lucky enough to live just down the street from one of them. Champagne and hors d'oeuvres are also a staple of this event, and Macy's brings in vendors to speak with couples about their products and services. Free small gifts are also distributed by the vendors and by Macy's itself. 
  • Bloomingdales, which has been a sort of Mecca/"mother ship calling me home" for all of my adult shopping life, has similar events to Macy's but with that extra sense of feel-good exclusivity. Stores in NYC and DC host yearly Pre-Wedding Wedding Parties for "like-minded professional" couples that feature designer gown fashion shows, cocktails, and catered food. Registrants also get the benefit of one-on-one personal consultants and thank-you note managers along with the customary discount for unpurchased registry items. Alas, I'm about 7 months late on the 2010 event in DC, so I'll have to hold my enthusiasm until next year. 
  • Pottery Barn offers wedding registry workshops at most of its locations, generally on Tuesdays at 6pm. While their events don't have the allure of free food and drink, PB still gets a winning mark because, well, it's PB and I think pretty much everything about that store is amazing. Instead, PB's consultants offer you the invaluable service of walking you through your selection and picking out complimentary items that will create a cohesive, well-designed look for your home. When you've been living with hand-me-down sofas and yard sale-acquired decor, learning to match your gravy boat to your table runner ranks pretty high up there in perks in my book. 

Williams Sonoma, Target, and Restoration Hardware are always fun places to register but don't offer any open house registry events (ahem, get on that guys).

I have yet to look into whether any local district boutiques offer private registry events, but I'm sure that in a city like DC where just about anything warrants a cocktail party, they'll crack a bottle for you and your fiance while you size up their inventory.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Dress

In 2002, I made the mistake of working at the Boston Bridal Expo for a couple extra bucks to pad my college-poor wallet. I say "mistake" because that day, while flipping through magazines at the registration table between bubbly brides, I found "The Dress".  It was the most simple yet elegant gown ever created: strapless, mermaid-silhouette, form-fitting, and made of piqued ivory lace. The model owned the look. She dripped 1920s sex appeal, leaning out of the shadows provocatively toward her reflection in an antique mirror, birdcage blusher veil lightly draped over her contoured dark brow, pursing her burgundy lips as if about to put them to a cigarette holder and draw a long breath before her monumental walk down the aisle. I was only 18, serially single, and couldn't even bring myself to like a guy for more than a week much less wrap my head around the idea of marriage -- but I wanted to be her. In that dress. In that moment.

I ripped out the ad from the magazine and took it home with me that night, placing it in my diary for safe keeping.

Fast forward 9 years later. After Andrew asked "Will you?" and I said "OMG I will!" and we finally had a moment to itemize the things we'd have to do to prepare for a wedding, I knew that at least dress shopping would be a cinch. I had known for years exactly the one I wanted, so all I had to do was locate it, shoot it, tie it to the bumper, and bring it home to mount on my trophy wall. Done.

When visiting my father back home in Pennsylvania, I rushed to my bedroom and snatched my diary from its storage bin. I flipped through page after page, but The Dress was nowhere to be found.

I attempted Googling but without the designer, the season, or recollection of the magazine from which the ad came, I couldn't narrow down the results enough to find it. The Dress was lost to time and the internet and, I thought, nothing -- absolutely nothing -- I'd find would ever be good enough.

Just before I closed my browser, I figured I'd take at least take a moment to look over the suggestions Google had come up with. All strapless, all mermaid. But with ribbons? Ruching? I hadn't given those much thought before, but all of a sudden I wanted them both. But those details hadn't been incorporated in my previous conceptualization of the ideal gown. Suddenly, The Dress had competition.

In fact, I've found better dresses already. Holding steadfast to one concept made me dismiss all the other possible ones out there. And, realistically, every aspect of The Dress was so idealized in my head that had I gone and tried it on in a store, I can bet the real thing wouldn't have stood up to my memory. Think of how disappointed I would've been then.

 Melissa Wedding James Bridal 

Allure Bridals  Peter LangnerAlfred AngeloMikaella Lazaro    Demetrius

Point of story? It's great to go into dress shopping with an idea, but not an ideal. The wonderful thing about the bridal fashion industry these days is that you can find almost every variation on a concept you have in your head, and at prices that you can afford. Clearly the strapless, ivory mermaid-cut dress is so popular that you can find it with any possible tweak to detailing: beading, lace, beading and lace, ribbons, bustles, trains, silk taffeta or silk organza material. Just when you think you know exactly what you want, you find something new.

The Dress had given me the perfect platform to start from. I still knew the scene I wanted to set. If I wore any of these other dresses, would I still be the sultry, classical bride in the antique mirror? Absolutely. And maybe even sultrier. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

The perfect place

When I told my friend McLean -- a journalist and savvy blogger -- that I had started a wedding blog, she offered her encouragement and her advice. Cardinal rule #1: post every day. And what have I done? I've left a 10 day gap since my last entry. Bad, bad bride.

And it's not for lack of material either. In fact, the past two weekends have been quite eventful with respect to finally nailing down that elusive wedding date and venue. Dozens of calls, site visits, and crumpled sheets of budgeting math later, I'm closing the book on my reception site. And at the risk of offending my fiancĂ©, to whom I previously swore all of my heart, I can honestly declare that I am in love.

Oxon Hill Manor is a true DC gem hidden in plain sight, just 15 minutes south of the city in Oxon Hill, Maryland. It certainly slipped past my notice as I tore through metro area bridal magazines as it does not boldly advertise itself for rent like many other locales. Built in 1928 for Sumner Welles, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Undersecretary of State, the 49-room mansion sits on a plot of land overlooking the Potomac that once belonged to George Washington's nephews. The manor is actually very easy to access as it is located right across the I-495 bridge from Old Town Alexandria. The area is better known for the monumental Washington National Harbor and luxury its hotels such as the Gaylord, so it's easy to see why Oxon Hill is overshadowed by its neighbors.

The manor has recently undergone significant renovations to its interior, and the pictures on its site are not current and therefore do not do it justice. But one of the most impressive features of the property is a spiraling antique wood and wrought-iron staircase from the second-floor bridal suite to the main hall, a spot I'm sure is commonly used by photographers for posing pictures.

Most amazing, however, are the perfectly manicured gardens of the estate. Seasonal flowers wrap around the property's large reflecting pool and line the way from the house to an old brick grotto -- a popular spot for on-site wedding ceremonies. 

The area around the reflecting pool is also a popular staging spot for wedding events, most commonly used for cocktail hour before a plated dinner. 

While the building itself holds up to 170 guests for a seated reception, the brick patio at the back of the manor serves as the stage for outdoor dinners for over 200 people, event tent optional. Some couples choose to hold their receptions al fresco in warmer weather, incorporating the open night sky as a part of their decor. 

Aside from meeting all of our personal criteria -- historic, metro-accessible from DC, and full of flowers -- the price was also right. For $4,400 (2010 pricing), a couple can reserve the entire property for a seven hour event block, 6pm-1am. Prince George MD county residents get a discounted rate, but alas we are both Arlingtonians so that doesn't apply for us. 

Oxon Hill Manor does come with some strict guidelines for when your vendors can arrive on-site for setup and breakdown. Additionally, there are some restrictions on dark foods and drinks that can be served at the reception as the caretakers are rightly concerned about property damage. But if you plan your event for a Friday, your vendors can arrive as early as you'd like for a nominal additional fee. Waivers for dark drinks such as red wine can also be obtained for a nominal additional fee to keep your guests from being baffled at the lack of pinot noir at the bar. 

And lastly, I cannot forget to mention the helpfulness of the Oxon Hill property administrators. They were kind, accommodating, and very informative! In my mind this is always a major selling point, as their behavior is a good indicator of what level of help you'd get from your venue staff should anything ever go wrong on the day of your wedding. We've gone to see several venues where one would assume the staff would be on their best behavior in the hope that you'd sign over a really fat check at the end of the tour, and were surprised by (most commonly) general indifference and once or twice even outright rudeness. More on other venues we've seen in a later post. 

So, we left all our information with the staff and will put our money down as soon as their 2012 ledger arrives (it is 'in the mail' and due to arrive this week, so the events office can't take any money from us until it has it in its possession). Once we cut the check, we'll get to work on some save-the-date cards... 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Money, Cash, Clothes

Earlier this week, my fiancé Andrew and I sat down to talk turkey about our wedding budget: how much were we willing to spend, and how much were we willing to save? We decided to skim a few extra dollars off of each paycheck and start pooling together our funds for the type of big, bad-ass wedding we wanted. Not to mean we'd be eating cans of beans and ramen noodles for the next year and a half, or siphoning gas from strangers' cars at the pumping station when they weren't looking just to save a buck. But we'd definitely have to be more aware of where our money was going week to week, and err on the side of saving when it came down to potentially frivolous purchases.

I consider myself a pretty sensible spender to begin with. I'm not big on splurging, but I'm not a penny pincher either. I'll buy several rounds of shots when I go out, but then I'll spend the next few nights staying in and watching movies. I don't go to Ted Gibson to get my hair cut -- whoever's free at my local salon is just fine. And although I tend to pick up a lot of items in a store, I edit down my final purchases in line and by the time I get to the checkout counter, I've usually whittled the total to mostly "need-its" and maybe a "want-it" or two in the mix.

But then Nordstrom happened. And not just any Nordstrom, but Nordstrom Rack, where one is lured into the false sense of frugality through "discount designer" syndrome. A $400 pair of Cole Haan boots, even at an alluring 50% off, is still going to cost you $200. Like a gastric bypass patient who walks into McDonald's and swears they're just going to order a salad, I fell off our new budget wagon. Hard.

But it was my money, right? So no harm no foul. Or so I thought.

Perhaps 3 weeks ago that argument would stand. But what I realized when I got home and dropped my bags filled with $600-worth of fall fashion just inside the door was that, when budgeting in coordination with someone else, my big splurge was actually also Andrew's big splurge. For the money I hadn't planned to take out of my own account, I'd have to budget elsewhere. With a debit purchase, that means less cash-on-hand for other more necessary monthly expenditures. With credit, that means the money that I'd planned on putting towards our wedding will now go towards paying off my bill or, if not paid in full, rack up even more debt next month from interest.

We try our best to alternate who pays when we go out, but Andrew will likely foot the bill a bit more often this month. When it's my turn to buy our groceries, I'm sure my list will look slightly shorter than usual. Fewer date nights, less driving of my car and more driving of his, less slush money for an unscheduled weekend excursion to the Renaissance Fair or for tolls up to see his friends and family in New Jersey. Andrew's budget is going to take a hit to make up for a dollar here and a dollar there that I just can't pay.

Every wedding magazine I've bought has a section on managing your wedding budget, including charts and spread sheets, suggested percentages for expenditures on food and decor, and what to do if you overspend on one expense to avoid throwing the budget for others off-kilter. But I've yet to see anything about managing your own finances in order to keep to said wedding budget. Where is the Smart Girl's Guide to Saying No to the Peep-toes So You Can Say Yes to the Dress?

The toughest part of saving up for something so far in advance is remembering that your budgeting decisions, even with your own money, will affect your better half and his ability to budget as well -- a very expensive lesson learned only 15 minutes after the swipe of my card. Does that mean I'll run back to Nordstrom and return some, if not all, of the things I bought? I'll sleep on it, but it might be more dangerous sending me back into the field. But with 19 more months of budgeting ahead of me, it's the kind of indiscretion I can't afford to keep making.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

First comes love, then comes marriage...

Andrew and Alexis, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g...

We all know the nursery rhyme. We learned it in kindergarden or early on in elementary school, and used it to mercilessly taunt our classmates to tears as it was a well-known fact that any association with the opposite sex would undoubtedly lead to a full-blown case of the cooties.

In middle school, when we started realizing that -- hey -- Kevin Miller's silver braces kinda matched that silver sparkle in his brooding eyes that I hadn't ever noticed before, our friends teased us with the same old singsong to get us to blush as we passed that certain someone in the hall.

When we convinced our parents to lower their shotguns long enough for us to go on an actual date in high school, we realized that two teens sitting alone in a tree would, in fact, lead to the k-i-s-s-i-n-g. As would sitting in a movie theater, on a bench at the mall, on a cardboard box in your school's art supply closet, or any other surface that could sustain your combined weight.

As adults, a once silly rhyme has become a sort of blueprint for many of us. Like most of my friends, I stumbled upon the elusive "love" for the first time in college. Then I was lucky enough to actually hold onto it.

And after that love, we girls all know what's supposed to come then. But getting there once you've said "yes" isn't as easy as the rhyme.

Some of my girlfriends have been dreaming up every last detail of the day they'll say "I DO" since they were tall enough to reach Martha Stewart Weddings on the magazine rack in the check-out line at the supermarket. Others, like myself, are downright clueless brides-to-be.

After the shock of the rock (ohmygod it's big! it's shiny! it's mine!), I was hit by the magnitude of my new project: organizing a weekend of wedding events for over 200 family members and friends (we know a lot of people) without any major disasters, all the while staying within our modest budget. At first, it seemed the check list would be pretty straightforward -- find a priest, find a venue, find a chef and hit the liquor store. Bam, I'm done. But then I quickly realized that planning a party of that scale in a city defined by social and political gatherings 365 days out of the year was no easy task. In every step I take, I'm competing with the Fund for Orphaned 3-Legged Korean Puppies for space, services, prices, and even the most basic necessity for an event: an open date on the calendar. I am diving headfirst into churning, murky wedding waters and hoping I float.

I'm happy to say that I'm not going-it totally alone. I have some great friends who've already blazed the trail ahead of me and have offered up their advice and wedding books (wedding books? what are those?), others who have great connections to vendors and venues all over Washington DC, and a great fiance who is willing to go above and beyond the traditional groom duties of booking the limo and buying his tux. With the right luck, the right advice, and the right help, I may just pull this thing off... and through my musings, may even help another bride that is just as clueless as me.

First comes love, then comes marriage. As for the rest of the rhyme? We won't be singing that part anytime soon.