June rites – two gowns, the future to go



Welcome to June, official month of cheerful announcements, elaborate ceremonies and the writing of hundreds of checks to distant relations, many of whom you would not recognize even if you were facing each other in an elevator. Welcome, in other words, to the season of graduations and weddings.

These two culturally significant rites of passage have a great many things in common. Both call for special outfits, referred to as “gowns.”

In the case of commencement, the gown is a simple, comfy, uniform garment that can be rented for a reasonable amount of money, based on the assumption is it will be worn only once.

And the same goes, of course, for a wedding gown.

Hahahahaha. Yeah, right.

Wedding gowns have become such a national obsession they now star in their own television program. Can you imagine a show called “Say ‘Yes’ to the Graduation Gown”? How about the more accurately titled “Say ‘Yes’ to the Drab Set of Dreary Garments You Will Wear to Work for The Next Eight Years to Pay for the Bead Work on Your Neckline Alone”?

I don’t think so.

Wedding dresses have gone from being merely a racket to more like racketeering.

Why else would somebody pay, for an outfit one woman will wear for six hours, what the government would spend, more or less, on a small nuclear weapon? Shouldn’t that seem absurd? But it doesn’t. We’ve normalized wedding expenditures to the point where spending thousands of dollars on tulle seems a wiser investment than buying blue chip stock, even though only six textile manufacturers know what tulle actually is.

And while the bride is wearing the equivalent of a down payment on a condo, what is the groom wearing? The groom is wearing a rented tux.

Now, there will probably be other times in his life that he’d be able to wear formal attire — but nobody expects him to buy one for his wedding. His outfit is on loan. She, who is never supposed to wear her wedding dress again under any circumstances, naturally pays full price.

Both graduation and wedding gowns are topped off by equally arcane headgear; brides wear veils and graduates wear mortarboards.

Best part about academic garb? On the inside of every graduation cap is the phrase “Front of cap.” You’ve just dedicated years and years, not to mention thousands upon thousands of dollars, for a first-class education and what do you get? You get instructions on how to place a flat piece of cardboard on your head correctly. Manufacturers of mortarboard know that you, oh brilliant student, would otherwise put in on backward and probably upside down.

The tossing of the cap in the air at graduations is fun. Wouldn’t it be great if the same thing happened at weddings, if as soon as the line “I now pronounce you husband and wife” was uttered, the bride ripped off her headgear and flung it into the air with a wild shriek of triumph?

Instead we get the tossing of the bouquet, a gesture of superstitious origin whereby the person catching the bouquet is thought to be the one next to be wed. Depending on the occasion, this can end badly: I’ve been at traditional weddings where 17 women converge on the flowers like hyenas at a kill and I’ve been at hipster weddings where the bouquet lands in a big empty circle like an asteroid landing in central Russia because nobody is uncool enough to exhibit desire for anything.

It all works out in the end, however, because the event planner grabs back the bouquet as soon as Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) starts playing.

Graduations and weddings are happy occasions that nevertheless cause people to weep convulsively and people to worry.

The parents are worried about debt, the person officiating is worried about keeping the remarks brief, the organizer is worried about the weather, the friends are worried that this rite of passage will create distance, the relatives are worrying how much longer until the food is served and the beloveds at the heart of celebration, although proud and relieved, are worrying, “What happens next?”

My advice is to smile for the camera, thank everybody for coming — and hold onto your hats.

Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books and a columnist for the Hartford Courant.

©2014 The Hartford Courant

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