My daughter Sara asked me to write about the differences between planning my 1982 Princeton wedding and her 2013 Princeton wedding. This presented a challenge, as I have enough trouble remembering what happened yesterday, much less 30 years ago (Sara on shopping for a wedding dress: “my mother was so excited that she had forgotten about the appointment until I reminded her 45 minutes before,” U.S. 1, July 11). So I excavated the wedding memorabilia from the dusty plastic bin under my bed and took a stroll down memory lane.
First item: a file box containing 3×5 index cards, one per invitation sent; orange cards for the bride’s side, yellow for the groom’s. Handwritten on each card are name, address, number attending, gift, and thank-you note date. If you wanted to know how many people were invited and how many came, you would have to add up the numbers on the cards. Sara’s guest list is in a spreadsheet, accessible to bride, groom, and both sets of parents via Google Docs, and it does the math.
Next there’s a stack of leftover invitations, with my parents requesting, in black engraved letters on ecru card stock, the honor of everyone’s presence. We kept it simple: the single card included ceremony and reception information and a mailing address for RSVPs. The memorabilia bincontains a bag stuffed with thoughtful, handwritten notes of acceptance or regrets, including some lengthy letters from friends who couldn’t make it. RSVPs to Sara’s invitation will be by pre-printed, fill-in-the-blanks cards, with an option to respond by scanning a QR code.
Professionally engraved or printed invitations are still available, but there are also countless do-it-yourself variations, as Sara and I learned when we visited the Paper Source on Nassau Street. A sales associate presented us with an “event checklist” that was more like a shopping list of paper things: card stock for announcements, invitations, enclosure cards, and thank you notes; envelopes, envelope liners, programs, menus, table cards, and dozens of largely unnecessary-sounding things.
The variety of stuff to be printed is proving to be an excellent outlet for Sara’s creativity, but it does have its drawbacks. While she designed a beautiful engagement party invitation, it took her fiance the better part of an afternoon to print 20-odd of them on a balky printer.
There’s a difference between our weddings that has nothing to do with the passage of time. Mine was a home-spun affair; my mom, sisters, matron-of-honor, and I made the food for the reception, and a Baroque consort led by a friend of my mom’s played background music. Sara’s wedding will be more traditionally extravagant, with a catered reception and a dance band or DJ.
Given the otherwise tasteful and personal character of my wedding, I don’t know what possessed me to insist on matching bridesmaids’ dresses and rented morning suits. Sara and her fiance are wisely foregoing the peculiar tradition of dressing good friends in matching clothes. The bridal party will be color coordinated, but the bridesmaids will wear different style dresses flattering to each, and the groom’s attendants will wear their own suits.
At least my bridesmaids didn’t have to spend a lot of money on the dresses they would never wear again. They made their own, for a cost of $16 each for a Butterick pattern, fabric, and notions. The pattern measurements offer proof that vanity sizing has gone to absurd lengths in the intervening years: in 1982, the smallest dress size was 8; measurements were 31.5 – 24 – 33.5. Sara is small, but not that small. Her wedding dress is size 2.
There’s a letter in the memorabilia bin from the Princeton University Chapel, where we had considered having our ceremony. It was not to be, for while we qualified on Princeton-affiliation grounds, as an agnostic Quaker/Jewish hybrid I failed the religion test (for example, explaining “why you wish to begin your marriage by making solemn vows and promises to God”). Instead we were married in the Aquinas Institute Chapel (my husband is Catholic) by an open-minded priest. Today the University Chapel welcomes couples of any faith, or none; for Sara and Dan to be married there, they had only to declare their abiding love for their alma mater.
By tradition, the bride is supposed to wear something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. I borrowed a string of pearls from my aunt. Sara is considering a new, non-sartorial spin on the borrowed part: she’s threatening to borrow a kid. There are no potential flower girls among the close relatives, and Sara –– herself the cutest-ever flower girl at an aunt’s wedding at the age of 3 –– wants one.
One constant in wedding planning through the ages has been doting mothers. For Sara and me, that’s meant not only emotional support, practical guidance, and well-intentioned meddling, but also access to stellar venues for our receptions. When I was a teenager, we moved to the house on Mercer Road where my parents still live, and my mom set about arranging the backyard plantings to make a picturesque setting for a future wedding of her dreams. She figured at least one of her three daughters would indulge her quest to host the ultimate party, and I obliged. Mom was right: it was idyllic.
I didn’t inherit her party-giving talent, and anyway my backyard is a mess of tangled tree roots and brownish grass, but I was still able to provide a reception venue for Sara’s wedding. One of the perks of employment at the Institute for Advanced Study, where I’ve worked since Sara was in kindergarten, is being able to rent space for personal events. Since I probably spend more time at the office than I do at home, it’s almost like having the reception in my own backyard.
No one keeps track of wedding guests on index cards any more, and handwritten responses are a relic of the past. My long-sleeved wedding gown was very much an ’80s style; Sara, along with the vast majority of today’s brides, is going strapless. But technology and fashion aside, weddings haven’t changed all that much in the last 30 years. The differences between Sara’s and mine boil down to personal predilections and resources.
This is both of us: Before a crowd of more than 120 friends and relatives, she walks down the aisle in an ivory gown, on her father’s arm, preceded by her three best friends. Her fiance, his three best buddies standing by, is seeing her in the dress for the first time, and he’s smiling ear-to-ear. Bride and groom exchange vows and rings at the altar, kiss and retreat down the aisle as a couple. They head off to a gala reception, party the night away, and live happily ever after.
Arlen Hastings is the mother of Sara Hastings. She married Tom Hastings in Princeton on August 21, 1982. She is the executive director of the Science Initiative Group at the Institute for Advanced Study. Even filing this column –– by E-mail from Abuja, Nigeria, during a business trip –– showed how times have changed since 1982. Tom Hastings is a partner at the law firm of Smith, Stratton, Wise, Heher & Brennan on Research Way in Forrestal Center.