Thursday, May 17, 2012

It's all about the dress

Really, it is.

First, the good news: if you have a Japanese style wedding, there are no bridesmaids, so that really cuts down on peach chiffon. The bad news: there are no bridesmaids, so there's no-one in your corner.

Hey, where you guys when I needed you?

Strangely enough, the dress might just decide your wedding venue. Why? Well, most venues in Japan sell a “package” including everything, with varying degrees of flexibility. That includes the frocks. For most guys, this is great – since they would have rented a suit, anyway. My husband, being a regular sized Japanese guy, just flipped through the catalogue of suits, chose 2 and tried them on. He had to supply his own black shoes and underwear (they supply a helpful list – underpants, socks and a singlet or undershirt – in case you’re not sure what underwear is). Pants were adjusted to his height and he said the wedding suits were actually more comfortable than usual, thanks to helpful concealed elastic to aid quick changes. Remember, these are costumes, not clothes. You are playing a role for a few hours. If you can remember that, you won’t stress.

Now to the ladies. If you ever had fantasies of being a Disney Princess, you’ll be thrilled. If your idea of a wedding dress is that simple slip of silk worn by Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, or even Pippa Middleton, you’re out of luck. 

Sorry, no can do.

Getting closer.

Wedding dresses here tend to come with huge skirts, bustles, long trains, lace overlays, swagged rosettes, crystal beads and ruffles – often all at once. I tried a few on for fun and found that we could take out all the padding around the hips and bust immediately. The very nice girl helping me laughed and said unlike most Japanese girls, I didn’t “need” the extra padding. I think she was trying to be nice. 

It's an extra booty!

One good thing about the rental dresses that venues have: they also have concealed elastic panels to aid a quick change, so they are very comfortable. No time-consuming corset lacing. They also come, oddly, with very unattractive long lace bloomers. Very Victorian. If I’m going to wear “huge pants”, I’ll stick to the Spanx, thanks.

One small problem (apart from the very big one that most of the dresses are closer to My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding in style): if you are not small- ie if you are over a size 12, you’ll probably have a choice of about 3 ugly dresses in your size.

Not to worry, I thought, I’ll just get my own dress! And I did – I found a lovely, very reasonable dress back in Australia. It was everything I wanted: simple, elegant and in my size.

Just one problem: since my dresses were included in ‘the package’, we had to pay for the rental dresses, even if I didn’t wear them. AND, I had to pay an extra $240 for bringing in my own dresses (this covers them pressing your dress nicely and helping you get dressed). Since I was getting changed into a “colour” dress – quite a common thing here – I was asked to pay $480 for the privilege of wearing the dresses I had already bought, PLUS the rental for a wedding dress I didn’t even want. Oh, and one more thing: the rental dress included jewellery, veil, gloves and shoes but since I wasn’t wearing the dress, I couldn’t just ‘borrow’ the accessories. I contemplated pretending I would wear their dress, then doing a quick change in the toilet just to avoid paying extra, but after a minute I decided that would be just as stupid as paying all that money. I could also rent a veil, jewellery etc for another $200. Harsh words were said, in my head. In real life, I just smiled and said I’d think about it.

I decided not to wear your rental dress, after all!

In the end, my husband said, ‘”Wear whatever you want and I’ll just pay for it” Smart man. The venue was still cheaper and nicer than a lot of places we looked at and by now we were emotionally committed to it (ie sick of looking at new places).

 But the moral of this story is: check the venue’s policy on dresses! Check if they have anything you like, in your size. Check if they charge you to bring in your own – a lot of places do. If you're not happy with the dresses / policy, go somewhere else. Some places also charge if you want to give presents to your guests that aren’t supplied by their preferred vendors. But more on that later.

I found a great place in Asakusa-bashi that sells all the accessories you need for weddings: costume jewellery of every possible colour, veils in many lengths, diamante tiaras to shame a queen…very cheaply. The place is called a-ohashi. Here’s the website: 
Now I have a whole Bride of Frankenstein set for next Halloween.

What’s a colour dress? At traditional Shinto weddings the bride wears a white shiromuku – the white kimono with a white ‘hat’ called a wataboshi. This is the same idea as a western style white dress – a sign of purity. A Shinto ceremony is traditionally attended only by close family and perhaps the go-betweens who introduced the couple. 


But at the reception afterwards, it’s a party! The bride is now a wife, and she can change into a colourful kimono. So although most modern brides in Japan enter the wedding party in their white wedding dress, about 30 minutes in, she’ll go and change into a party dress. This is the signal that the formal part is over, and the alcohol and the silly songs can start in earnest.


Combining kimono fabric in a western style is becoming popular for colour dresses

So, I decided to wear a colour dress – it’s part of the entertainment for the guests (in fact at a few weddings I’ve been to here, there’s been a ‘guess what colour kimono / dress’ she’ll be wearing sweep, with good prizes). Plus, changing out of the white dress meant I wasn’t so nervous about spilling wine or crushing my dress. Going to change also gives you a little respite from all the attention and the photographs. I had a chance to go to the toilet, have a drink, breathe…before changing. The colour dresses available are if possible, even more over-the-top than the wedding dresses. I decided not to look like an overgrown sugar plum fairy (in a choice of baby blue, apricot, yellow or pink), and ordered a dress online (in black). Bar the $240 we paid for the privilege of wearing it, it was much cheaper than any of the rental choices. Originally, I was going to wear a simple cocktail dress, but my Japanese friends and relatives warned it wouldn’t be ‘grand’ enough – that I had to stand out from the other guests – something more ‘red carpet’ was required. I actually found what I was looking for amongst all the prom and bridesmaids dresses online.

These J Crew dresses are lovely, but would be considered too casual. Perfect for guests, though.

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