Judgment, money, and freak-outs: how this groom helped his partner find a wedding dress

April 13 | Guest post by Rick Webb

You might remember Rick from his own giant sci-fi rock 'n' roll offbeat wedding. This is an excerpt from his book Man Nup: A Groom's Guide to Heroic Wedding Planning.

Batman cake topper from AcrylicDesignForYou.
Batman cake topper from AcrylicDesignForYou.

The interplay between men planning weddings and the selection of the bride's wedding dress isn't fully explored. It's undiscovered country. In reading traditional, female-focused wedding planning books, there's not a lot of discussion about the men when choosing the wedding dress. But as you are planning the wedding, you'll need to figure out how to be useful, and keep things on track, without being too controlling about a topic that, by nature, is only peripherally related to you.

The wedding dress isn't a thing you can go and buy for your bride. At best, you can gamely accompany your betrothed on a journey fraught with emotional peril as they grapple with their hopes, dreams, long-dormant childhood fantasies, existential questions about femininity and the meaning of the color white (blame Queen Victoria – she's the one who popularized the color. Before her, wedding dresses were all sorts of colors). And that's the best of cases. I'm really not trying to imply that women are neurotic. I don't blame them. The whole concept is, prima facie, kinda screwy. First off, it's expensive as hell — needlessly so. You pay an arm and a leg for something you're only going to use once. Then there are all the very real concerns about being judged solely on your looks, which — let's face it — sucks. Any right-thinking person would find the whole situation somewhat appalling. "Oh, let me go spend potentially thousands of dollars on a thing that will only get me judged, then head to the waste bin." Yeah, sign me up.

Any person who loves their significant other would rightly feel an urge to help someone out when they're confronted when faced with such ghastly circumstances. Thus it will hurt to hear that there's only so much you can do.

The good news is that there are some things you can do. Should she need it, you can help in the same manner that you do when the two of you are out shopping, or when she's getting ready for a cocktail party. You can sit patiently and say you like this part of that dress. You can take part in long conversations about whether it's appropriate to wear white to weddings in this day and age, and how cool it is that the Chinese get to wear red. We can also tell our bride that they don't need to spend a bunch of money. We can reassure them that we love them as they are, they are beautiful, and you are totally okay with it if they want to spend $10 on a dress off of eBay and be done with it. Never bat an eye. Never deviate from this message. It will probably only help 10 or 20 percent, but it's absolutely worth saying. It should have the added benefit of being true, because, honestly, what's wrong with you if it's not?

How a groom can help his partner find a wedding dress as seen on @offbeatbride #grooms #weddingdress
Dresses from ModCloth

If you're blessed with wealth, be warned: open-ended budgets on wedding dress shopping can be tyranny. It can seem like it would be quite helpful not being bound by fiduciary constraints, yet in fact quite the opposite turns out to be true. Like all things wedding planning related, you'll probably go over your budget a smidge (remember the 5% guideline in making your overall budget). But knowing that you absolutely cannot go over, for example, $1,000 puts whole groups of dresses and whole designer lines out of your spouse's reach, and shuts down whole lines of paranoid inquiry. She might buy an $1100 dress, but having a budget number will keep her from looking too hard at the ten thousand dollar dresses. There is freedom in constraints.

Have a frank conversation with your future spouse about how much you both feel comfortable spending — and stick to it. And above all, remember that that number can be as low as you want. There is no shame.

There will be times she will freak out. This is to be expected. When this happens, offer emotional support, and try not to escalate the situation. There are probably going to be times where some incomprehensible fashion accessory or dress part is causing massive emotional distress and it will literally make no sense to you. You might not even understand the actual physics of the problem. Be supportive. Be understanding. It's a monumentally stressful situation. Some women find the idea of getting up in front of everyone they know and being judged on their looks as rather terrifying. Honestly, that seems perfectly understandable. Beyond these things, you can but get out of the way. If you are artful and talented at offering sartorial advice, you can venture to do so to the level you're traditionally comfortable commenting on your mate's fashion choices. Unfortunately, even this is only mildly useful.

Do remember that luckily there's a good chance she won't need your help at all. Unlike when the two of you are at home getting ready for a big night out, in this situation she has at least one other person — her maid of honor — and potentially several others, who are all too willing to help.

This was an excerpt from Rick's new book! Read more from Man Nup: A Groom's Guide to Heroic Wedding Planning.

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  1. "a journey fraught with emotional peril as they grapple with their hopes, dreams, long-dormant childhood fantasies, existential questions about femininity and the meaning of the color white" – There is no more perfect description of what it is like to shop for a wedding dress!

    5 agree
  2. Our lovely couples often mention which readings they’ve chosen for their big day so we’ve selected some of our favourites to share with you this afternoon. Some of the choices I think would make excellent readings for little ones to read, but if you go down this route, make sure you have a back up plan in case of stage fright!

  3. This felt really…not…Offbeat Bride. I want to be respectful in my response, but I'm a bit gobsmacked by how much sexism was wrapped up in what might be, heartbreakingly so, sincere concern for women. I can't even bring myself to give a detailed list of the problems both subtle and overt in this article and/or why they feel so damaging. I know that would be helpful for a constructive discussion, but right now I just feel hurt and disappointed. It's the Internet. This happens. I've just never had this happen on OBB before, and that's a bit of a shock. I don't know what to say.

    10 agree
    • And it disappoints me how quickly the current generation takes offence at EVERYTHING. There is nothing in this article to upset anyone. If an article took account of every person's possible point of view, it would be as long as War & Peace! This article is in no way, shape or form sexist.

      3 agree
    • Yeah, I'm totally with you on this. It really rubbed me the wrong way. So many patriarchal assumptions packed into this article.

      "There will be times she will freak out." Really? *Really*??

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      • Or it could just be the truth?! Are you saying brides never "freak out"?
        Stop looking for offence where it doesn't exist.

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        • I never did over a wedding dress, no. Nor did my mother. Nor did plenty of other women. And I am certain there are plenty of brides that never "freak out" period. To insist that there aren't is very demeaning. Nor do all brides have a maid of honour, let alone one that can come wedding dress shopping. A dress is not the be-all-end-all for all women, or even all brides. This whole site is a rejection of the one-size-fits-all bride and wedding. This article is the opposite of that.
          The whole thing reads like a 1950s guide to "keeping your bride happy and on budget." It's paternalistic and makes a ton of assumptions about women who are getting married.

          You also don't get to tell someone that they shouldn't be offended by something. That's not how it works. You don't have to agree with me, but you don't get to tell me that I'm not allowed to be hurt or disappointed.

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          • You're clearly a third wave feminist who enjoys to find fault with everything. There is nothing I can say that can make you think rationally. (And, no, I'm not a man)

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          • I am certainly an intersectional feminist who definitely doesn't have to go looking for things to be offended about when they're pretty much everywhere. Though this is the first time I've actually come across an article I find offensive on OBB.

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    • I got that vibe to. There's some genuinely useful advice about being supportive, and how to deal with feeling like your support isn't enough, tucked away in there – which is what I was hoping the article would be about – but there's a lot of waffle that's relying on massive generalisations. I appreciate it's a guest post, but I'm a little surprised there wasn't more editorial guidance on the expectations of the OBB audience. All of this paragraph, for a start:

      At best, you can gamely accompany your betrothed on a journey fraught with emotional peril as they grapple with their hopes, dreams, long-dormant childhood fantasies, existential questions about femininity and the meaning of the color white (blame Queen Victoria – she's the one who popularized the color. Before her, wedding dresses were all sorts of colors). And that's the best of cases. I'm really not trying to imply that women are neurotic. I don't blame them. The whole concept is, prima facie, kinda screwy. First off, it's expensive as hell — needlessly so. You pay an arm and a leg for something you're only going to use once. Then there are all the very real concerns about being judged solely on your looks, which — let's face it — sucks. Any right-thinking person would find the whole situation somewhat appalling. "Oh, let me go spend potentially thousands of dollars on a thing that will only get me judged, then head to the waste bin." Yeah, sign me up.

      There are a lot of issues with this paragraph – the assumptions about childhood fantasies, the idea that women have to grapple about femininity, the use of the word neurotic. I feel like Rick's maybe taken the concerns his fiancée expressed to him while buying a dress and assumed they were universal. A lot of them are rooted in living in a misogynistic world – a world does judge women for their appearances, and challenges their 'virtue', and holds them up against ideal of femininity and judges them for both conforming and rejecting them – but by assuming all women respond to that in the same way, and will express it by freaking out over wedding dress buying, it's only reinforcing those misogynistic attitudes rather than helping to break them down. I don't want to invalidate Rick and his wife's experience of dress shopping together, because obviously it was tough for them navigating the WIC together, but rather than generalisation these experiences to all women the article should have focused on them, personally.

      There's also a lack of understanding that a large chunk of OBB's audience isn't spending a lot of money on dresses, are planning to wear them again, don't care if it's white, don't have wedding parties to help them shop, and appreciate that a bespoke gown is expensive because it costs of lot of money to make one. In fact, to say that's limited to OBB's audience isn't true either – as the site has been grappling with recently, the WIC has embraced multi coloured dresses and high street brands as the new wedding cool. It makes the whole thing feel weirdly dated, like an article being reposted from the early days of OBB when it was still finding its feet and striking out as a dissenting voice, rather than the discrimination free, relationship positive, actively safe space for that its readers know it as now.

      12 agree
      • You've basically summed up my feelings much more eloquently and graciously than my comment did!

        Good on Rich for being supportive of Emma as she looked for her dress, I see that he is clearly frustrated by some of the (old-fashioned, in my experience) attitudes that surround wedding dresses so also good on him for speaking out. And good on OBB for including a groom's voice in an arena that can be so "Bride"-centric.

        5 agree
  4. Yeah, this doesn't really ring true for me, as someone who found a wedding dress while supporting another dress-wearing marry-er to find hers. I love that a (presumably, from his wedding profile) cis-het white man has thought about how to support his partner in dress shopping, rather than accepting the assumed status-quo that the groom should butt out, but it seems to take a rather doom-and-gloom tone about what an awful experience every dress-seeking marry-er is destined for. And an air of fatalism that a partner can't really help to alleviate said awful experience. Perhaps my Beloved and I are the exception that proves the rule, or maybe the UK perspective is different, but…

    "At best, you can gamely accompany your betrothed on a journey fraught with emotional peril as they grapple with their hopes, dreams, long-dormant childhood fantasies, existential questions about femininity and the meaning of the color white" – Um, no, at best you will support your partner in an enjoyable journey to a low-stress decision that they are happy with, surely?

    "First off, it's expensive as hell — needlessly so. You pay an arm and a leg for something you're only going to use once." – I think OffbeatBride has covered this so many ways at so many times. No need to pay an arm and a leg, no need to choose a dress you will only use once. I think those assumptions are being questioned in a wider context than just OBB too.

    "We can also tell our bride that they don't need to spend a bunch of money. We can reassure them that we love them as they are, they are beautiful, and you are totally okay with it if they want to spend $10 on a dress off of eBay and be done with it. Never bat an eye. Never deviate from this message." – Yes, there might be a bit of pressure to spend money on a wedding dress, but your particular partner might benefit more from the message that they are worth more than $10 to you. We can reassure our partners that they don't need to spend a bunch of money IF THEY DON'T WANT TO. There seems to be an assumption that all dress-wearing people getting married don't really want to spend money, but are being pushed into it by others. I'm not convinced that is true. It's certainly not universally true.

    "There will be times she will freak out. This is to be expected." – Again, no. No no no no NO! I didn't freak out, my beloved didn't freak out, no-one I know has reported freaking out over this. It is a bit insulting to assume that because a person wants to wear a dress, they will freak out over it. That said, the advice not to escalate a freak-out situation is good.

    I see that this article comes from a place of good intention, but it represents one man's opinions based on one couple's experiences (and really only on that man's experiences of those experiences) as normative and universal when they clearly aren't. Of course, if the article had been framed as 'How _this_ groom helped his partner find a wedding dress' it would have come across better.

    Regardless, it's always good to see content from grooms on OBB!

    10 agree
    • How _this_ groom helped his partner find a wedding dress

      Thanks for sharing this solid feedback — I tweaked the title accordingly.

      1 agrees
  5. This article does have some misses, but some hits as well. He is right that it can, for many women, bring up all kinds of weird and uncomfortable emotions, and she might feel foolish for having them over something so shallow- so really listen and remind her this is ok, and it's not necessarily surprising or even foolish to get worked up about this, if in fact she is upset. I do wish it proposed something a little fresher than "talk to her and say supportive things, since you can't really understand this girly stuff" though.

    Yes, that's great, but what about getting really involved if she wants that? What about asking your bride how she feels about the whole thing first, then acting accordingly? Maybe you could actually help with the work part- you know, call a bunch of bridal salons and set up appointments *for the both of you to go to* so she doesn't have to do that (if you're going to bridal salons)? Schedule a time to go dress and suit shopping together at a few department stores you both like? Or if she couldn't give a sh*t and gives you the green light, pick something out for her in her size that matches your outfit and be done with it (just like the bride may sometimes do for the groom if he doesn't give a sh*t).

    Any item on the to-do list can be handled by either part of the couple, depending on who has time, cares, and is less stressed out at the moment. Sure, some items will logistically be limited to one or the other- I can't get his suit fitted without him there- but less so than you might think when you really look at it objectively.

    Granted, the reassuring stuff about how it's ok to pick really whatever makes me feel good and not worry what anyone else thinks was in fact helpful from my fiance, but he also drove us all the freaking way from DC to North Carolina to get my custom corset fitted because he didn't want me to have to go all that way on my own, and he helped me pick the fabric when we got there. And we discussed budget seriously- including that I actually did want to spend a good amount on this, and it was important to me, while we did keep it within reasonable limits. And he helped me get back to what I wanted after a freak-out from going to bridal salons that I mostly ended up hating with my mom.

    So- 5/10, good start, but don't limit yourself because you're "just the groom" or "can't understand".

    2 agree
    • Thank you! It's a tough balance! I do say exactly that – ask which issues you can help with, how you can help – as the opening of the book – it's the number one piece of advice in the whole book. So reading this snippet out of the larger context does lose that valuable point of view.

      1 agrees
      • Good to hear- I'm sure out of context this might have come across a bit more generalized or limited than you meant it to in your book. I'd tweak it to "decide together who is taking charge of what" rather than "ask what you can help with" in the larger context of the wedding. Because being in charge of a big project is work, and so it shouldn't be assumed that the woman takes charge of the "wedding" project and the man only "helps" her. It's a shared endeavor as a whole.

        1 agrees

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