I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I attended my first bridal show. The advertisement promised an experience “like no other bridal show the world,” but as I had not attended any other bridal show in the world, that wasn’t much to go on. Nonetheless, I decided to tag along with my older sister, whose wedding was quickly approaching. Freshly engaged myself, I wasn’t really in planning mode yet—I was just excited to be doing something wedding-related. One of the first vendors that we visited was offering free chocolate-covered strawberries, so the day was off to a promising start. We went from booth to booth, painstakingly jotting down our addresses and phone numbers over and over and over for drawings ranging from photography services to honeymoon packages. (Had it crossed my mind to research this beforehand, I would have learned that savvy brides print their contact info on address labels in advance, to save the hassle and hand cramps.)
My sister and I were there on a bit of a whim, one of us having already mostly planned her wedding, and the other having not yet put very much thought into wedding planning at all. It was sort of a weird, silly experience, but while we felt slightly out of place among the more enthusiastic attendees—including a number of bridal parties in matching t-shirts, trailing behind veil-wearing brides-to-be—it wasn’t an entirely unpleasant experience.
That is, until the days that followed, when the torrent of emails and phone calls began.
It began innocently enough. First, I got a voicemail from a local makeup chain informing me that I had won a gift certificate. I excitedly relayed this news to Nick, who hesitantly pointed out, “but you don’t really wear makeup…” I was happy nonetheless (who doesn’t love winning things?), until I returned the call, only to be told that my gift certificate could only be claimed several days later, at a “makeup demonstration” an hour away from my house. Next, I received a call from a company called American Skincare Perfection or something similar, stating that I had won another gift certificate. “Are you planning to have any work done before your wedding?” the representative wanted to know. “Um… no, definitely not.” “Well, I’m sure you’ll change your mind when you attend our free demonstration to claim your gift certificate!”
Luckily, by the time a gentleman called to tell me that I had won a free honeymoon (curiously, I’d have to attend a cookware demonstration to claim my prize), I had sorted out that you don’t really win anything at bridal shows, other than a lifetime supply of junk email and borderline-harassing telephone calls. (I learned later that the savvy brides refuse to give out their telephone numbers, and create a separate email address just for the relentless deluge of bridal show correspondence. I was developing a sneaking suspicion that I was a decidedly un-savvy bride.)
Yet, because I’ve been engaged for a really long time (or maybe just because I am a masochist), I went back to the bridal show the following year, and this time I brought Nick along. We still hadn’t set a wedding date, but we were starting to dip our toes into wedding planning and decided to attend the show on the misguided assumption that we might get some ideas there. It didn’t really occur to me until we arrived that he would be, quite literally, the only man in a sea of hundreds and hundreds of ladies. I should have known better, as the subtext of the term “bridal show” essentially says, “leave that pesky groom and his opinions at home.” Luckily Nick was undaunted by the fact that the only other males in the ballroom were a few tuxedo rental representatives, and we soldiered on despite a few snarky comments at registration about “dragging the groom along.”
Right off the bat, things felt different from the previous year. There were no free chocolate-covered strawberries to be found, which seemed like a bad omen. We did come across a towering display of cupcakes, which were not, as I was sternly told, for sampling. (Oops.) The ballroom was hot and crowded, and the bumping club music accompanying the fashion show taking place at the center of things was beginning to give me a headache. We made our way slowly through the rows of booths decked out in tulle and pink, and I tried to make small talk through gritted teeth as vendor after vendor commented on how “sweet” it was that Nick had decided to attend.
While I’m sure my deteriorating mood was due at least in part to my plummeting blood sugar level, I think my overall uneasiness stemmed from the fact that I was now actually planning a wedding. Attending the bridal show the previous year was like stepping into a real-life Pinterest board, full of pretty, shiny inspiration without a price tag in sight. This time around, I found myself actually asking how much services like letterpress and cinematography would cost, and the results were rather distressing. Each vendor promised that no wedding would be complete without the particular service or product they could provide, and that if a bride were to skimp on any one of these must-haves—be it a couture gown, a ten-piece band, or professional teeth whitening—the wedding would be ruined and the bride guaranteed a lifetime of regret.
I was well on my way to a meltdown when suddenly, one of the few male vendors clapped Nick on the back and congratulated him for being “such a champ,” attending a bridal show while the Sunday football game was on television. That did not go over so well with this overwhelmed bride-to-be, who also would have preferred to be at home watching football, and wasn’t really enjoying this bridal show at all, and why was everyone ready to give the groom a trophy for participating in wedding planning when it was his wedding too?
It was around that point that Nick steered me away from the bewildered vendor, out of the bridal show, and into a nearby bar, where we had a beer as we slowly came back to reality (and yes, watched the football game). Sure, we were never going to be able to allocate funds toward uplighting and personalized M&Ms, but more to the point, we weren’t actually interested in any of those things. Everything the bridal show had to offer had very little to do with the wedding we wanted to have, and the aspects of the wedding that we cared about most—ceremony, open bar, big sweaty dance party—were noticeably absent. (In retrospect, an open bar would have improved the whole bridal show experience mightily.)
At the end of the day, a bridal show is just what it claims to be: a show. And I know the reality is going to be so much better.