Older & wiser vs Young love

AUTHOR CARMEN REID WONDERS IF more mature brides are better equipped to deal with the trials and tribulations of wedding planning

It was a wrong turning in a department store that got me thinking about older brides. I was looking for the children’s shoes, or sportswear – I forget which – when I ended up bang in the middle of bridal. All those rows and rows of gorgeous white dresses: acres of snowy lace, delicious crepe and cool as you like satin. Dresses that looked as pure as freshly made meringue, divine creations that didn’t hang on the rails but instead floated round the room like clouds. They took my breath away and for a moment I thought I was going to get teary just like some loved-up-just-got-the-ring fiancée.

I managed to contain myself, but only because I was distracted by the sight of a mother and a daughter cooing over a highly desirable Vera Wang. The girl, and she looked barely twenty, was holding up this delightful swish of loveliness, pressing it into her waspish waist to give an impression of how it might look on, while Mum was scrutinising it, running a knowledgeable finger over the seams, and tutting like… well, just like my mum would do, or yours, or anyone’s. But there was something about the intensity on the younger woman’s face that I recognised.

A young bride, I thought to myself, always wants ‘perfection’. I should know, I was a young bride myself, a mere 24 when I got engaged, and the months running up to My Big Day were made up of one impossible quest after the other: for the loveliest dress; the exactly right shoes; the most fantastic florist; the utterly, completely, totally, perfect venue.

How exhausting! I swear it would only have taken one table decoration to have been out of place for this blushing bride to have turned into a terrifying bridezilla capable of incinerating confetti at ten paces just with her glare.

Because when you are young and getting married it’s often all about You, You, You. It’s understandable. Marriage is easily the biggest, most important thing to have ever happened to you, so it’s hardly any wonder that you feel yourself at the centre of a wedding whirlwind, a vision in sparkling white, the focus of everyone’s attention and delight.

You are aware of thousands of pounds being spent, but the significance barely registers. I remember agonising over the Orders of Service. Were we a ‘round tables’ sort of couple, or should we have ‘square’? I wanted The Best, without ever being quite sure exactly what The Best was. It just isn’t like that for older brides, is it?

“Getting married at 35 meant that I was far clearer about the style of our wedding and it was much more about the personal choices of my husband and I,” says Jackie, who tied the knot last year. “This was from the venue and the guests, to the tiny details like the choice of mini scones and cream as canapes after the ceremony. I also felt confident in doing things like arranging the hand-tied flowers for me and my bridesmaids.

“Interestingly, I still wanted to keep some of the traditional aspect like choosing my dress with my Mum and getting her approval. Overall though, it was much more about what my husband and I wanted rather than what we felt obliged to do by tradition.” But I think the crucial thing with so many older brides is the different kinds of attachments they have. A young bride only really has to worry about her mum, her fiancé and her friends (in that order).

But an older bride – actually, I prefer the term experienced – typically has her children, retired parents and a huge overdraft to consider. So what if the candles are screaming orange instead of baby pink?
The real question is whether your kids are getting on with his and if the whole thing’s affordable.

Not that experienced brides will be at all worried about having a smaller budget than the girls whose parents are paying. They know there’s no spare money to burn, that the bills keep coming and this is no time to keep up with the Joneses (no one likes those Joneses anyway).

“Oh I loved my second wedding,” recalls Alison, an old friend of mine who married George just two years ago. “Don’t get me wrong, I have great memories of my first, it was the right thing for me at the time – puffy white dress included. But I was only 22 and my priorities were choosing the right nail varnish and corset.

“This time I had two daughters, aged ten and twelve, while my new husband had his own son, who was eight. It was as much their day as ours: their chance to celebrate their mum and dad’s new life together. We wanted them to be completely involved. “My parents were retired and couldn’t have afforded to throw a big party, even if we’d let them. So we paid for the wedding ourselves – but by doing that, I was aware of how much everything cost and I had to make some tough decisions. The first thing to go was matching bridesmaid dresses – but I still wanted bridesmaids.”

Alison’s quirky but brilliant idea was to ask her daughters, sisters and closest friends to come to the wedding wearing pink. There were pink scarves, pink trousers, dresses and skirts in all shades and textures, everyone was given a bouquet and the result was stunning, quite the loveliest troupe I’ve ever seen.

Experienced brides should be wary of ‘perfect’, in fact I think they should chuck it in the bin. Not one single thing about this day is going to be ‘perfect’. Your front teeth are still going to be a little bit wonky. You might not slim down to an impeccable size 8 and the shoes might well have to be Karen Millen rather than Manolo Blahnik. But it doesn’t matter, not compared to the shiny, happy love between you and your chosen one. So let’s go with the imperfect. Let’s love imperfect. Imperfect is as good as it gets.

This year I planned my own ‘older bride’ wedding: for my heroine Annie Valentine in my new novel Celebrity Shopper. I asked myself: what kind of wedding would Annie want? She is a late-thirtysomething mother of two teenagers and newborn twins whose own lovely mum has dementia. But she’s also a personal shopper and fashion expert, so you’d expect her to covet a stunningly expensive dress, and the best possible shoes.

But after putting her in a pink £2000 number, I decided that in fact she’d probably ditch her beloved designer labels and pick a glorious budget dress that could be crumpled, hugged to bits and smeared with lipstick. A dress so cheap she even considers buying a spare, just in case it takes a red wine hit. But it’s a dress that’s still fantastic: a pink halterneck she accessorizes with all her trademark style.

The Annies of this world would want a wedding dress that lets them laugh properly, not one that prevents breathing. They’d have shoes that can withstand a dance on the grass, not wilt at a puddle. And a bouquet of flowers from their best friend’s garden, tied up with string.

That way they won’t feel at all selfconscious when they have a good old cry about how gloriously blessed and happy they feel.

About Carmen: Best-selling Scottish author, Carmen Reid has written 12 novels and sold close to one million copies in ten countries. Her latest romantic comedy, Celebrity Shopper is out now (Corgi, £6.99).

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