Weddings Used to Be Simpler … and Cheaper.

wedding party 001For the past few months I’ve been reading Autumn Ashbough’s blog, When West Dates East, keeping up on all the details of her wedding preparations, and laughing my head off. Autumn is an excellent writer; plus, her life and her family supply lots of good material. Last week, perhaps feeling a little writer-ly jealousy of all the drama in her life, I commented that my wedding was nice … and also boring. I could sum it up one short post, I said. She’d already written dozens, and we still hadn’t arrived at the main event.

Autumn’s response: “I would like to see the post from your wedding, Nicki. With pictures!”

Sooo … here goes.

The year Eugene and I got married, 1967, was a simpler time. People said their vows (probably in a church), had a simple reception (probably in the church basement), and drove away for a simple honeymoon. (We drove to San Francisco.)

Like many couples then and now our first impulse was to make the wedding small. But when we sat down to write a list, every name seemed to lead to two more names, people who couldn’t possibly be excluded without hurting their feeling. I don’t remember how many people we invited, but when we were done, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church was full.

wedding, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church 001Most of our wedding guests lived nearby. Eugene’s brother and sister were the only people who arrived by plane. Eugene’s parents, who lived in Singapore, wished us well but weren’t able to come halfway around the world for the wedding, so Eugene’s boss, Sid McIntyre, offered to stand in for his father.

wedding, Eugene's family and Sid McIntyre 001Despite the fact that Eugene was born in China and moved to town only five years earlier while I lived there most of my life, he contributed more names to our guest list than I did. Five years was more than enough time for an extrovert like him to make plenty of friends.

Our wedding was typical for a Sedro-Woolley WA wedding. In 1967 no one had catered dinners and videographers, and certainly not a mountaintop wedding or a Hawaiian beach wedding. In fact, as far as I know, people didn’t even plan fancy rehearsal dinners in those days.

Beautiful wedding gowns, however, are timeless. I’ve always adored beautiful dresses. So I can’t explain why I didn’t go on a search for the most elegant wedding dress in the land. For some reason, though, I decided to make my own. In the 1960s, women knew how to sew. Even young women. We were required to take two years of cooking and sewing in Home Ec classes if we wanted to graduate from high school.

I made my dress, but I didn’t make my veil. I used the old saying of something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue as an excuse, and borrowed one from a friend.

wedding, bride 001My maid-of-honor and bridesmaids also made their dresses. (Or maybe my mom made them. I can’t remember.)

wedding, bridesmaids 001My mom and grandma (shown below) were the real seamstresses of the family. My sister (on our right) still carries on the tradition.

wedding, my family 001I see that I was wrong to say I could sum up my wedding in one short post. Come back next week and I’ll tell you more. In the meantime, check out Autumn’s blog for a modern-day tale of wedding planning.

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About Nicki Chen

About Nicki Chen Nicki Chen is a writer living in Edmonds, WA. Her first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in China during the Japanese invasion and occupation, 1937-1945. She's working on a second novel set in Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation where she and her late husband lived in the early '90s.
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  1. Lovely!!! So nice to see your wedding photos, Nicki! You’re so right. Wedding gowns are timeless. How radiant you look! Eugene and you are just beaming!

    I feel sorry for people planning wedding nowadays. The cost is outrageous. I don’t mind it when someone tells me they couldn’t afford to have me or some others at their wedding due to cost.

    • One of the reasons weddings are so expensive now is that we all travel so much more. My daughters all went to college on the other coast, and two of them married guys they met in college who lived over there on the East Coast. So when it came time for their weddings, at least half of the guests were from out of town. Obviously, we had to serve them more to eat than just cake and coffee. Of course, everything else has snowballed. Before #3 daughter’s wedding, we visited “The Wedding Show” at the Seattle Convention Center. OMG! First of all, they offered so many delicious tastes of wedding cake, we were getting sick to our stomachs and had to hurry past the cake stalls. The most amazingly beautiful and expensive displays were for flowers. You could spend tens of thousands of dollars on flowers and not even notice. But, wow! They were gorgeous.

  2. I’ve also been following Autumn. She is an amazing writer with the funniest names for her family members. Back in our day, weddings were so much simpler (and my Mom thought it was pretty fancy considering she was married in front of a justice of the peace!). A friend’s daughter is getting married in September and I am in awe of the preparations. Even the proposal was quite an affair. Your dress is beautiful and so are you!

    • My mom, too, was married by a justice of the peace. It was wartime, and my dad would soon be going off to basic training. She was beautiful in her tailored suit and pillbox hat, her only jewelry, two little “v” for victory pins.

  3. You look so beautiful in your weddingdress, and reading that you sewed it yourself makes it even more gorgeous.

    You said that Eugene invited more guests than you. Do you by any chance remember how many from your side came and how many from his?

    • Hi Betty. Sorry. My memory’s not good enough to remember any numbers. The guest list did includ more of my relatives, but most of my high school friends had moved away. Many of the guests were friends of both of us, but since Eugene was so outgoing, I felt that they were his friends first. So I can’t really count them out, but he did have lots of friends.

  4. I love it!

    You MADE your dress?! I cannot tell you how impressed I am. It’s lovely! Oh, thank you for sharing the photos, your wedding looks beautiful. I love the hats, too. I think hats should be required at all weddings. Like we’re all Duchess Catherine when we get married or something. 🙂

    I also love that nobody turned down an invitation or gave you any flak (at least not in this post) over your interracial marriage and the church was even packed! There’s one for humanity, right there.

    Thanks so much for the shoutout, I am honored. I’m also thrilled to be funny enough to make someone laugh their head off. I can live on that compliment AND Kate’s for, like, a month.

    • I’d forgotten about the hats, Autumn. But then I looked at the church photo and saw all the hats and mantillas. Those were the days when women covered their heads in a Catholic church. I always love to try on hats, but I feel self conscious wearing anything other than a baseball cap or a straw hat for the sun most of the time. I agree, it would be fun to wear fancy hats to weddings.

      Nope. No one turned down an invitation over our interracial marriage. Eugene said having the most prominent man in town stand in for his father helped. I don’t know. Even without Mr. McIntyre, I didn’t expect anyone to make a fuss or stay home.

      Autumn, you really are a gifted writer, with or without the humor. And you are very funny. I’m glad I got to know you before you became too terribly famous.

  5. What beautiful photos! I’m also so impressed that you made your dress! It’s beautiful! Your wedding was so elegant and not simple at all. Thanks so much for sharing your wedding story.

    • I made one maternity dress for our first daughter. But then, one day when she was a toddler, I was trying to sew and she wanted to play with the thread, and I thought: This is too difficult. Then after the birth of our third daughter, we moved to the Philippines and I could hire a dressmaker for a very reasonable amount. So my dressmaking skills disappeared from lack of use.

  6. If I changed a few words, I’d be explaining my wedding as well. Yes, things were more basic back in the 1960s! For example: ALL of my flowers cost a whopping $25.

    • It’s funny that you still remember the cost of your flowers, Paddy. Twenty-five dollars is the cost of one or two bouquets from the supermarket now. I know you weren’t married in my hometown, and yet your wedding was about the same as mine. That’s the way weddings were in the sixties.

  7. Karen Ferguson

    OMG! This is how my wedding was as well. Reception in the church basement and all. Brings back many memories.

  8. Jill W

    I loved reading about your wedding day, Nicki. You were such a beautiful bride. Great photos!

    • I bought twelve black-and-white photos from the professional photographer, slid them inside the plastic pages of the book she provided, and left them there. Not smart. If I’d preserved them more carefully, they wouldn’t be so faded.

  9. Jeri

    What fun memories to write about. Your whole wedding and wedding party were beautiful.

  10. Nicki, what beautiful pictures!! And like many of the other commenters said, it is amazing that your made your own wedding dress. It sounds like you had a perfect wedding – simple and elegant.

    Our wedding in Canada was pretty simple as well. My husband and I decided it was going to be fun for everyone, including us – not a day of fun for the guests and a day of stress for us. Of course, there was drama [what is a wedding without some], but it didn’t really bother me at all because I wasn’t the one creating it.

    We got married/celebrated on three different occasions, so it was kind of like the wedding that went on and on. It would have been a year of stress if we had been too picky about the little details.

    • It sounds as though you had a laid back approach to your wedding. That’s the best way to have a good time. Weddings are important, but they’re just the first step to a happy marriage.

  11. Nicki, I was married in 1969, and we too, had a simple wedding by today’s standards. The only real splurge was my wedding dress. I paid $100 for it. It was beautiful with a long train, and I had a long train on my veil. Our wedding was simple, but lovely. The flower girl screamed, so we didn’t have her walk down the aisle. The organ player got the dates mixed up, and since he was babysitting while his wife was shopping, he brought all five of his little ones in their pajamas. Before the wedding, my husband and best man went to the neighboring house to use their facilities. We were married in a small country church that had none, but had an agreement with the family next door to use theirs. On their way back to church a German shepherd chased them (he was chained, but they didn’t know it), so they ran through the woods, hopping over fallen trees and arrived at the church a bid disheveled and out of breath. I couldn’t stand in heels as as long as we had to stand, so I slipped out of my shoes, and when we turned to go down the aisle, my shoes were still in front of the alter. (I hadn’t been able to find them under my long dress and train). We both have a good sense of humor, so none of these little mishaps bothered us. We laughed through them. We have been married 46 years.

  12. I’m so glad you wrote this, Michelle.What a memorable wedding you had! I love the story about the organist and his five pajama-clad kids. You also paint a great picture of your husband and his best man going next door to use the bathroom and running back through the woods to escape a barking dog. What I like best though, is you taking your shoes off and then not being able to find them under your dress. Priceless! Congratulations on 46 years of marriage.

  13. I agree with all the other comments, Nicki, you and your dress are beautiful. Impressed that everyone made their dresses, too. I’m divorced but got married in 1994 and had a very simple wedding. We had about 50 guests, I bought my dress in a local boutique (much to my mom’s dismay who wanted me in a traditional gown) and got married in a quaint old Inn along the Connecticut river.

    • Thank you, Geralyn. A quaint old inn along the Connecticut River sounds like a good place for a wedding. I think it’s sensible for people to have the kind of wedding that suits them and not feel obliged to follow the crowd.

  14. I loved your wedding story! And the pictures! I wish weddings were still simple and cheap, nowadays everything that has the prefix “wedding” is so overpriced…

  15. Wow, love your self-made wedding dress! It looks very elegant. I don’t know anyone who can make their own wedding dresses, so I do think it’s very special to wear your own unique wedding dress.

  16. Love your photos and your dress, Nicki. I wore my mom’s wedding dress and she sewed 2 of the bridesmaid dresses. The other two bridesmaids had their moms sew their dresses.

    Perhaps weddings and receptions have regional variations:

    * My parents married in NJ in 1955 with a catered sit down reception (still the norm for NY/NJ). We bucked the trend when we married in NJ in 1984 and held the reception at my parents’ home, but all the other weddings we attended in NJ included catered sit down meals, live bands, etc.

    * In Vermont, we attended several weddings where the reception was held away from the church but friends and family fixed and brought the food for a wedding buffet.

    * In NC and SC, we went to several weddings in the 80’s and 90’s with the reception held at the church with finger foods (punch, cookies, and nuts).

    • You bring up a good point, Nancy. I think NJ/NY has finally influenced the rest of the country. It’s a trend that has added a high cost to those weddings that follow suit. There are still some people like you, however, who buck the trend. Hurray for people who think for themselves! My cousin’s wedding was a favorite with lots of people. They had it in a big field with a simple shelter for the food. The salmon was provided by his fisherman buddies. A bagpiper approached, playing from the far side of the field, and there was a horse and wagon for the kids.

  17. Wow, I can’t believe you made your lovely wedding dress! I am impressed, Nicki.

  18. Do you follow Carol Forenc’s blog. She posted a 1965 prom photo of 4 girls and one of them reminds me of you!

  19. This is so lovely! And I can’t believe you made your dress (it’s gorgeous!!!)

  20. Traveller at heart

    Lovely pictures, Nicki. The quality is good. There was grace and style in the wedding dress. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

    A friend of mine told me about her daughter’s wedding couple of years ago before she passed. The girl’s family are not poor (i don’t know about the boy’s family) but they chose not to splash out. The daughter was a junior hospital doctor then. The son in-law was a Consultant Cardiologist and still holds the position.

    The wedding was a grand affair. It was put together quite quickly due to the health of the bride’s mother.

    Here’re some of the break-down in the costs of the wedding (my friend volunteered with the info):

    Wedding cake: My friend bought a chocolate cake from Marks and Spencer and iced it herself.

    Wedding dress: The bride bought the dress at a huge discount. It was an ex-display item on a mannequin. She then dressed it up with Swarovski crystals from E-bay, which she sawn it herself.

    Make-up of bride etc – They got it free from the make-up artists at a department store.

    Flowers: A family friend bought the flowers from Convent Garden Flower Market in London (wholesaler) and did the displays etc herself. There were lots of flowers.

    Hall: The family decorated it themselves.

    Dinner: Supplied by the family.

    • Traveller at heart

      >>The girl’s family are not poor (i don’t know about the boy’s family) but they chose not to slash out

      I mean splash out.

    • Your breakdown of costs of your friend’s daughter’s wedding shows how, even in this time of lavish weddings, economies are possible. It sounds like she’s a clever, practical girl.

      One of my daughters found a shop that rented wedding dresses. Another daughter followed her favorite wedding dress on line until the price was slashed. My sister made the table decorations for her reception.

  21. I really enjoyed seeing the pictures and hearing about your wedding. Like Autumn, it makes me happy that you didn’t have to deal with any issues surrounding having an interracial wedding. It can be hard now, for some; I can’t imagine how it may have been several decades ago.

    • At the time of my marriage, a couple of people warned that some people may not approve of an interracial marriage. Strangely enough, I never ran into those people. I suppose if I had, I would have ignored them. I know there’s prejudice in the world. We all have those tendencies. But I’ve never found it a problem. Maybe because I wasn’t looking for it. I don’t believe our three daughters ever faced a single day of worrying about being mixed race.

      The one time my husband (then my fiance) complained about prejudice was when we didn’t get seated near the front in a night club in Vancouver. (I must admit that I didn’t like hearing his complaint.) A few moments later, he noticed someone slipping money to the maitre d. And as soon as he brought out his money, we got moved up to a better seat.

      I realize some people have legitimate problems with prejudice, but my theory is, don’t go looking for trouble. Get on with business.

  22. Your dress was lovely! and I’m right with you, enjoying Autumn’s wedding snafus and shenanagans (although I will never get married now – hahhhaha). Your picutres really helped us live the story with you. Simpler times. I miss them. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  23. A similar wedding my parents had I guess. My mother made her own dress (shes a seamstress) and there were only a few guests. The wedding reception was in the hall right next to the church and everything was much more simple compared to my own wedding. My parents were surprised how much work and preperation we put into our main wedding in Finland

  24. Happy days, Nicki! 🙂 Just yesterday I was reading my daughter’s account of her wedding, which has been published in an alternative bridal outfits website.

  25. Autumn certainly has hilarious stories, doesn’t she? Always an entertaining post that she puts out each time.

    Lovely wedding photos and if you hadn’t said it, I wouldn’t have guessed you made the dress. You look very happy in the photo of you standing with the flowers. Happy day and the simplicity of it all makes it look and sound fuss free. I read the comments above and it’s so great you didn’t have to deal with much annoyances over an interracial wedding. It seemed everyone understood that your special day was about love and your happiness. And that is what weddings should be about 🙂

  26. I’m not sure if weddings are more complex today. Unfortunately reality Bridezilla tv shows don’t help.

    I do know of some simple weddings nowadays. Like my niece’s. They will just have a small dinner at a restaurant for probably under 50 people after a city hall civil ceremony.

    • I’m glad to hear your voice of descent, Jean. I guess I’ve been to too many fancy, expensive weddings in the past few years. They can’t all be like that. Best wishes to your niece and her husband-to-be.

  27. Beautiful wedding, Nicki, you did a lovely job on your wedding dress!
    I just picked up your book and look forward to reading it.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Xo


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