What’s in a Wedding?

By Dan van Voorhis



We are waiting with baited breath for the word to come down from the Supreme Court regarding same-sex marriage. Whenever the decision is handed down, I’m going on a Facebook moratorium until the ‘experts’ and ‘insightful articles’ cool down and Facebook returns to what it is meant to be: a repository of pictures of cute babies and kittens. But, alas, the culture wars are in full swing!  But, what else is in full swing? Wedding season!

This past weekend I attended a brilliant ceremony of Holy Matrimony (is that a civil rite, or an ecclesiastical one? Don’t answer that. And keep your replies to a different article).

As I watched the ceremony and then played cultural observer in between toasts and embarrassing myself on the dance floor, I figured I’d take some notes and throw out a few things to ponder as you find yourself attending a wedding in some capacity this summer.

A wedding, like everything else done publicly, is an expression of who you are. Don’t make decisions about how you present yourself lightly. The wedding ceremony reveals much about your religious and social commitments, your style and your ability to bring your own community into your sacred space with joy and reverence. All of these things are related, and all of my articles hope to play with these themes.


In Japan, the least Christian nation on earth per Christians to percentage of population, “Christian themed” weddings in western style chapels have seen a spike in the past decade. This is undoubtedly the fault of Julia Roberts. Whether in Japan or in America (if you are not a Christian) getting married in a church is akin to an American wearing a dashiki or Sari to try and gain cultural awareness or fashion points. It rates somewhere between distasteful and a tacky cultural appropriation. A wedding, regardless of the stripe, should be a vow to uphold fidelity and continue a time-honored custom of regarding the family (regardless of size) as a building block of a healthy society.

If the wedding is a religious rite, follow the lead of your pastor, priest, rabbi, etc… and let the ceremony bind you to your spouse, God, and co-religionists; and follow a historic rite. If you don’t have one, you can cobble something together or just steal someone else’s ideas.  Just keep it snappy.


As bride and groom, you can’t go wrong with the standard white dress and tuxedo. The cut and fabric of the dress, as well as the style of tuxedo, can be manipulated; but don’t stray too far or try too hard. Here are some helpful links for the ladies, and for gentlemen.

The attire for the bridesmaids and groomsmen is a perennial issue and has certainly ruined friendships, weddings, and almost always has ruined the pictures a decade later.   Unless you have the cash and are willing to rent the attire for the wedding party yourself, allow some leeway.   Obviously the colors need to follow the general scheme.  Uniformity is important, but unless you are getting tailors, arranging for rentals off the rack is a risky move.  As men no longer tend to own their own tuxedo, a sharp suit works.  For the bridesmaids, each should wear a formal gown or dress, but allow for personal variations.  Women are more likely to own a formal dress or two and might be able to repurpose.  Let the dress be flattering for everyone.  Let the gentlemen wear ties that fit the cut of their jacket and fit their head and neck size (2” to 3” ties in the four-in-hand, Windsor or Pratt variations can all work in concert).  And please, don’t try to be too clever. Men, you are not Mumford and Sons.


What about the guests? You may take into account the season, location, and venue. Are you going to be outside on a (albeit beautiful) ranch in the Ojai valley in late June? You can leave the jacket in the car. Will you be at your local, big-box store mega-church? You can probably leave the tie at home. Whatever you do, don’t attempt your own fashion tour de force. Classy and understated (for the particular context) is the safe bet.

You must bring a gift. 90% of the time it should be from the registry and constitute a “set”, if the particular item is under $10.00 (You can adjust for inflation or zip code, but that is a general rule of thumb.) You can be creative with your gift if you know the couple very well and have something in mind that is particularly meaningful. Or, you can give cash. No one can fault you for that; but, the pressure is on you to decide what amount is appropriate. (You needn’t drop half your mortgage on them, but it should cover a nice meal from soup to nuts).

What about expectations regarding time? Keep the ceremony tight. If it is a religious ceremony, hit the sacred parts hard and leave the cuteness for later. The “where’s the ring?” or clever dancing down the aisle to a non-traditional song is tired.


After the bride and groom have processed, allow time for pictures; but make sure everyone is present and that the photographer has a plan and knows that you have people waiting. Also, as a guest, don’t complain about the time the photos are taking. These photos will live forever. Your desire to get the booze flowing is of no concern in view of the fact that these pictures might haunt the halls of a home for decades to come. However, the bride and groom should have some kind of food and drink, and take some of the non-newlywed photos beforehand.

The key to formality done well (and this is often the case) is: elegance. That is, beauty in simplicity. Don’t overdo the ribbons and bows. Don’t bloviate during speeches or insist on some Pinterest fad. Unless it is expressly forbidden by your tradition, let there be booze and dancing. If you are imbibing or busting moves, have fun but don’t get carried away. The food can be simple; don’t worry about elaborate menus. And if you have a food allergy, but one that does not require you to carry an ephedrine pen, please politely pass the gluten without making a fuss.

As always, don’t get too hung up on the rules, but be thoughtful and try to understand some generally accepted standards. And then go for it, after the vows. It is your party (despite what your mother or mother-in-law might think).

As Always (and with the best wishes for all the newlyweds and soon-to-be-weds),

The Man About Town

Written While Listening To:

The Morning Benders: Excuses (2013)