The Twenty-Dollar Wedding Dress

I bet my husband-to-be was thinking he'd found a really cheap date: I didn't want an engagement ring (in point of fact, we were never officially "engaged." One day we just started planning our wedding.), and the only reason we didn't elope was that my mom was bound and determined her oldest child was going to have a wedding.

I had very little to do with the planning - Marty and I didn't care about the details, and Mom knew exactly what she wanted. All Marty and I wanted was a small wedding with our own selection of music (no organist!) and some pretty flowers from Berthold's Nursery. (It was down to Berthold's or Klehm's and I had known Debbie Berthold most of my life.) And I wanted a wedding cake from Jarosch Bakery. Marty and his dad found a band to play at the reception, and Marty and I wrote our own vows. That was about the extent of our involvement.

No, I'm wrong. We did spend some time over the invitations. Because so many of Marty's relatives lived in England and wouldn't be able to afford a trip to the U.S. for our wedding, we decided to send announcements to the overseas relatives and invitations to anyone who might actually come to the wedding. I still remember playing around with fancy fonts and creamy paper - I actually enjoyed that part of the planning.

Apparently most women get very excited about choosing their wedding dress. I had no opinion one way or another. I would have been fine to wear jeans and a fringed suede vest over a blousy white pirate top. But my mom was all about clothes - she always had two closets to my dad's one, and in later years she had a closet just for her shoes. I did not inherit her fashion gene.

At that time, back in 1971, my mom was the assistant manager of the Moderately Priced Dress department at Marshall Field's new store in Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Illinois. A few months later, I worked there, too - in the luggage and Small Leather Goods departments. The Prom Shop also fell under Mom's purview. When she spotted a simple white prom dress in with the new stock, she set it aside for me to try on. It was a tiny bit short but otherwise fit perfectly. I think Mom realized I wouldn't be happy with a traditional, expensive dress - which we absolutely couldn't afford - and this dress looked enough like a wedding dress to pass muster. Her manager told her to set it in the stock room until we were ready to buy it. By that time, it had been marked down. And with my mom's 20% employee discount, the grand total came to $20. Yep, twenty bucks.

My two sisters and my best friend were my bridesmaids and matron of honor. My little sister's dress cost considerably more than my wedding dress because it had to be custom-fitted to her twelve-year-old frame.

My little sister Laura, my best friend Pat, me, my sister Connie

Mom was worried because I didn't have any kind of wedding coat or cape. October can be chilly in Chicago but on the day we got married, it got up to 90 degrees. And since we got married at night, the lights attracted swarms of teeny-weeny bugs that got caught in my veil. Ugh.

The veil was another issue. I'm not one for hats, never have been. But a veil was "de rigueur" so I decided I could live with a short veil attached to a fancy sort of lacy floral headband. It needed a gazillion bobby pins to anchor it in place, but I kind of liked the headpiece. I didn't have pierced ears then so I didn't wear any jewelry - my love of bling developed later. Probably just as well or I would have been covered in glitter, from makeup to fingernails to toes.

We wrote our own vows, drawing heavily on Khalil Gibran's poetry for inspiration. Instead of traditional wedding music, we chose the theme from JANE EYRE and "Love in the Open Air" by Paul McCartney from the soundtrack to the movie THE FAMILY WAY.

We had a cheap-and-cheerful (well, not all that cheap - my parents paid for the open buffet) reception at Nordic Hills Country Club in Itasca. I remember being disgruntled because Mom ordered Swedish Meatballs as part of the buffet and I never got to try them. We brought our own alcoholic beverages and, in keeping with our penny-pinching theme, the beverages were mostly Boone's Farm Apple Wine, the 1971 equivalent of two-buck-chuck. Every time we turned our backs, people filled our glasses so by the time we left for our hotel Marty and I could barely stand. (I think possibly someone drove us there - I hope so!) The Marriott kindly provided a bottle of champagne, which we never opened.

We had a scare at the reception when my grandfather - my mom's dad - had a bad turn. He got short of breath and Mom wanted to call an ambulance but he recovered quickly and went on to live many more years.

We got married on a Saturday and I had to start work on Monday so our "honeymoon" consisted of one night at a Marriott with a Polynesian restaurant with a volcano and tiki bar decor. (Years later, we did make it to Hawaii, but we consider our actual honeymoon was a visit to Tuscany in the late Seventies.) Sunday morning, I realized I had left my purse at my parents' house. We headed over to pick it up. I'm sooo glad we did. My parents had booked Nordic Hills for three hours, and then invited everyone back to their place to continue the festivities.

Mom and Dad at my wedding

Most of the neighbors were there, and when the police were called at some point - when the saxophone-led jazz band performing on the balcony outside my parents' bedroom got a little loud, the police came in and stayed awhile. By the time Marty and I got there, bodies were strewn all over the yard. My best friend's dad was asleep in his car, and her mom was in the living room, where she'd pulled an all-nighter. We'd been there a few minutes when we heard an ominous "thunk, thunk, thunk" coming up the basement stairs. The door flew open and my brother - two years younger than me and definitely NOT of legal drinking age - swayed in the doorway like a very green Frankenstein's monster before lurching to the bathroom, where I will shut the door on that incident.

Years later, family and friends still talked about the party we missed that night.

All of this was a long, long time ago. Marty's hair was dark brown and mine was red. Now his is silver and mine is hovering between peroxide-blonde and plain old white. Neither of us could fit in our wedding clothes but, in all the ways that count, we still fit each other. No one else would get our inside jokes or share "our" songs. And we've graduated from "Mom and Dad" to "Bama and Bapa."

Celebrating our 40th Anniversary at Mickey's Not-So-Scary in Orlando with our daughter and our son and his wife

It's been 46 years since we got married. The pretty lace headband-thingy finally turned yellow and dried up - I threw it out last year. The twenty-buck wedding dress is still hanging in my closet, yellowed and frail and way too small. My parents and grandparents are all gone now, and a new generation has made grandparents and great-aunts and great-uncles of myself and my siblings.

I remember my parents' fiftieth anniversary - it seemed such an enormous number, I couldn't imagine being married that long. Now we're only four years away - I'm superstitious enough to add, if we live so long! My parents paid for our wedding and for my twenty-dollar wedding dress. Marty and I paid for the wedding pictures and for our hotel. I can't remember who paid for the invitations and announcements. But at least as far as the dress goes, I think we got our money's worth!

P.S. I might have been a cheap date as far as the wedding went, but it's another story when it comes to me and books. But then, I'd rather have a wall of books than a ring any day!


Anna Adams said…
Becke, I so wish I'd been invited to your wedding! Sounds like so much fun! :-) And you were all so beautiful!
Becke Davis said…
Anna - I wish I had known you then! I suspect you were just a little tike in 1971 - if you were even born yet! :-)
Jen said…
Love this, Becke! Congratulations! You don't need to spend a lot of money to have a memorable wedding and stories that the next generation will continue to share.
Becke Davis said…
Jen - Jonathan made such a romantic gesture of his engagement to Kim. When he was planning it, he asked how Marty proposed to me. He couldn't believe there was never an actual proposal or engagement. I think he envisioned something more romantic than the reality, but it worked for me!

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