Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Archaic Dress Rules

I've heard women lament that raising boys is hard. They're rambunctious, they consume unfathomable volumes of food, and then there's that bit about snakes and snails and puppy dog tails. (Relatedly: the snakes and snails I can understand, but who the hell brings home a puppy's tail? Would you not be more than a bit disturbed if your child, regardless of gender, brought home a disembodied tail? Ten bucks says that whoever wrote that verse turned into a serial killer. But I digress.)

Anyways, I was confronted by a new reason for women to lament: when one's son gets married, apparently the mother of the groom (MOTG) is supposed to sit down, be quiet, and do everything the bride and her mom tell her to do.

I learned this when my future mother-in-law asked if I'd given any thought to what sort of dress I want her to wear. Truth be told, I hadn't. What I want, though, is for everyone in the wedding party to wear something that makes them feel comfortable and happy.

The purpose of this event, after all, is a happy one -- so I see no reason to impose wardrobe rules that lead to a day of discomfort and misery. Who wants to spend the day thinking "these pantyhose are cutting off my circulation," or "oh shit, my boobs are about to fall out of my bridesmaid's dress," or "this tux, while avant-garde and ludicrously trendy, is also made of wool and is therefore scratchy and UNBEARABLY HOT" before passing out due to lack of blood flow, humiliation, or heat stroke? Seriously, people: no good can come of this.

This is my future mother-in-law's first time being an MOTG, so, much like me, she's doing lots of online research to figure out what she's supposed to do. It turns out that the Interwebz are chock full of etiquette guidelines for MOTGs, and they're all fairly intimidating. The MOTG's instructions on how to purchase a dress that matches the mother of the bride's (MOTB) sounded particularly bad.

Now, before you go wondering why I don't care about such things, let me just say that I know there are plenty of people who want to make sure the moms don't clash. It might not be an issue for me -- my future mother-in law has good taste, and I trust her to find something nice -- but it sure doesn't strike me as ridiculous.

However, coordinating the moms' dresses is one thing. Coordination entails two or more competent adults and, hopefully, mutual respect. In coordination, those adults talk to each other; they discuss their respective needs and preferences. They find dresses that go well together, but that still account for personal taste. It's a group effort. It seems like a pretty reasonable way to do things.

However, the various MIC-based internet fora have different ideas. To quote one column (which shall be henceforth referred to as "the archaic dress rules"):

"It is the bride's mother who will first select a dress for her daughter's wedding. A gown of complimentary style and color is then chosen by the groom's mother. She must wear long if the bride's mother wears long and short if she wears short. The color should not match the bridesmaids' dresses, nor the mother of the bride's, but should be a complimentary color."

If one wants the dresses to match, coordination is ok. The archaic dress rules, by contrast, are totally absurd.

First, asking the the mother of the bride (MOTB) to unilaterally dictate the parameters within which the MOTG will choose her dress seems...not particularly nice. I know, from my one year of Catholic school -- during which time I absolutely loathed and felt totally oppressed by the dress code -- that I wouldn't be excited about an outside party dictating the terms of the dress I wear to my kid's wedding. Ergo, I can't imagine that anyone else would be too stoked by this idea either.

Secondly, these instructions seem to have an insidious subtext: "You, MOTG, have little to no input here. Do as the MOTB says. Don't even try to get something you genuinely like, because the world will stop spinning on its axis if your dress is the same color as the bridesmaids' or, worse, has a longer hemline than the MOTB's. If you do, the apocalypse will be upon us and it will be all your fault."

Call me lackadaisical, but I can't bring myself to be aggrieved by the idea that my mom's dress might be of a different length than my future mother-in-law's. Moreover, though, I'm certainly not about to have my mom issue a proclamation on dresses.

Thankfully, my mom isn't the sort of person who's into unilateral edict-issuing (with the exception of "please, for the love of God, don't elope"), and particularly not when it comes to clothes. Also, because both my mom and my future mother-in-law are go-with-the-flow types, I won't have to deal with proclamations or arcane rules.

But humor me, if you will, as I rant about why it could be bad when people do have to deal with it.

My big issue with this is that the archaic dress rules seem to create an unhealthy balance of power between two groups of people. Even worse, these are two groups of people who are about to be legally bound to each other. Think about it: it sets up one family as the people in control, while the other family is just there to do as they're told.

In my experience, once someone has power and control, they reaaaaallllly don't want to let it go. Also in my experience, when someone is forced to be subordinate to a person of equal status -- especially for some totally arbitrary and absurd reason -- they reaaaaalllly don't want to remain subordinate.

This doesn't exactly seem conducive to healthy in-law relations, does it? Furthermore, does it not sound like the beginnings of the stereotypical decades-long showdown between a bride and groom's respective families? I hear people talk about these prolonged, acrimonious power struggles and I feel bewildered. Well, no, bewildered doesn't really cut it. A prolonged, acrimonious power struggle strikes me as the interpersonal equivalent of The Blair Witch Project: scary as hell, and quite possibly bad enough to make people cry, piss themselves, or not sleep for weeks on end.

Now, I have no proof (or evidence, really) of any causative relationship between the archaic dress rules and family power struggles. For all I know, MOTBs routinely determine the terms of the MOTG's dress and the two go on to have perfectly happy relationships with each other.

But I still wonder: is it worth doing something that could be the opening salvo in a long, taxing, and generally asinine battle to be the preeminent set of parents? Weddings tap into a deep well of emotion, and as a result, the emotional wounds sustained during wedding planning could take years to heal. If one issues a strict set of rules for the MOTG, does one risk creating resentment in the name of matchy-matchy dresses?

My father, who has been grooming me for a management job since I was able to walk, taught me about cost-benefit analyses when I was in junior high. I might be the only one who thinks this, but a cost-benefit analysis of the archaic dress rules seems to come out solidly on the side of cost. A person's wedding day is precisely that: one day. The marriage, and all the extra relationships that come with it, are intended to last a lifetime. Why mess with that? (And again, if someone wants the dresses to be complimentary, why not coordinate it as opposed to unilaterally deciding?)

I could be wrong on all of this, but the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that the archaic dress rules could potentially damage long-term family relations -- and all for the short-term goal of perfectly complimentary dresses. Granted, each situation is different. But is it really worth it?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have dress edicts to write. Obviously the rough drafts will be written in blood, and the final copy shall be carved in stone.

1 comment:

  1. i can't help but long to see you, the motg and the motb on one of my guilty pleasures - the tv show, "say yes to the dress" . i can imagine randy clasping his hands in a swoon and all the characters crying with joy as you stand on the pedestal with THE dress.