Maiden, mother and crone. Add another iconic female role to the mix – the bride. Whether you hope to be a bride, have been a bride, or have no intention of ever becoming a bride – whatever our political persuasion on the topic of marriage, we all understand that the role of the bride is one heavy with cultural meaning and import. As deep a rite of passage as having a child or burying a parent, being a bride is a single-day event: whatever comes after is informed by having once been a bride.
Although I often think about marriage and how we relate to one another because of it (or because of a lack of it), my visit to the beautiful Love, Desire and Riches exhibition at regal Ripponlea helped crystallize some ideas about the process of becoming wedded. It features an array of magical, oddly mournful gowns in dramatic surrounds – the special dresses of Victorian brides from days of yore, in addition to costume gowns from iconic movies and is on-show until November 2nd. Admiring all those opulent gowns and trying to imagine the women who inhabited them had me ruminating upon my own marriage and how transformative and important the process was to me.
When one becomes a bride, you become a sacred icon for a day. It is not only your experience of changing state from a single woman to a wife, it is a collective experience which reiterates to all those who witness it the import of love, the joy of promises made, the sorrow of promises broken, the hopes of youth, the memories of other wedding days and all they meant. I recall people asking me how I felt now that I was married. Well, I felt different. Profoundly so. It was indeed a happy day, but the moment I put on my bridal costume I felt a weight upon me. It was a kind of happy sadness, a passing of time, the acknowledgement that one was about to undertake something solemn and indeed, undoable and permanent. So many hopes contribute to this special public commitment. One may become a wife, one may become a divorcee… but being a bride is neither of these long-play life roles. Once you have been a bride, you are both always and never a bride – a fleeting, spiritual and powerful public icon of all that you hope for your life, and all that those celebrating with you have hoped for themselves or another at some time. This photo from before my wedding shows the mixed emotion and awareness on my face – only a few minutes later I burst into tears and needed to have some quiet time alone, away from everyone else’s emotions washing over me.
Just before my marriage at St John’s Greek Orthodox Church, where my own parents were married. I love this photo, with my strong back and clear eyes, preparing to forever change my life and identity.
Wedding dresses are confections to help launch you on your journey … much like a christening gown I suppose. Wedding gowns seem taboo to wear after a wedding… but I hope that someday soon me and my girlfriends will be able to have high tea in our wedding gowns. A bit of a cheers to our life paths to date …. they’re too beautiful not to wear again. One of my best friends’ marriages ended quite suddenly and scarily not so long after her wedding day – I’m not sure how she would feel about donning her gown again. History always contextualises how we feel about our wedding gowns, and those of others too.
Bridal veils were suspended like ghosts against the tapestries wallpaper and stained glass of Ripponlea.
There are few characters more terrifying than the scorned bride Miss Havisham, who wears her gown until it is tattered scraps and wanders endlessly around her never-tasted, cobwebbed marriage feast. Ripponlea sets a gothic fantasy, presenting its own Havisham feast replete with creepy Victorian dolls.
After all that wedding day beauty in a dark grand manse, a stroll in the gardens of Ripponlea is just the thing to awaken you from your reverie …. lucky then, I brought a hot thermos of sweet, milky tea to enjoy with lovely friends in the dappled spring light. And look! To celebrate Love, Desire and Riches there is a GIANT MR. DARCY EMERGING FROM A POND. In his white shirt, naturally. And that, dear reader, is more than enough reason to plan your visit to this exquisite exhibition.
Just wed: freshly standing at a fork in the road with Mr. Ruby Slipper – in Brunetti, where first we met!