Won’t You Marry ME, Will?

The epitome of a Manhattan event--complete with orange traffic cones and a colorful historic figure watching over us from a construction fence.

The press was agog this week about soon-to-be-royal Kate’s trousseau shopping expedition–to (gasp) a discount store!  There were even photos of three modest frocks she purchased for the honeymoon, all priced in the $100 range.  Since Prince William’s mom, Princess Diana, was married in a dress that cost over $100,000, this was BIG NEWS!  A sign that the royals are tightening their belts… Word has it that this type of occasional frugality is one of Kate’s endearing qualities that attracted the handsome future King.

Seeing the pictures of Kate’s new dresses, particularly the one sporting a flounce and pastel flowers, brought back memories of my own wedding twenty years ago, a super-budget Lower Manhattan event that nevertheless, came close to achieving the Martha Stewart seal of approval.  There was one faux pas–I admit that it was a little tacky to make photocopies of the wedding invitation…

Will has a week left to change his mind, so I’m putting my bargain savvy out there in this memoirish post.  Though I’m old enough to be his mum, it’s worth a try.  True love should never stand in the way of a good deal on a previously-owned vintage model.  If you like frugal women, Will, I can boast that I figured out how to spend less than $8,000 on my nuptials, which included food, drinks and entertainment for 60 guests, marriage license, invitations, organist, church fees, one engagement ring and two wedding bands, film and developing (film still had to be developed back in 1991), gifts for the wedding party, cabs, haircuts, hair color, and facial, even a shirt and tie for my fiance and groceries to feed everyone a meal or two.  Nowadays, $8k is the amount an upper-middle-class bride has to budget just for the wedding invitations–they seem to have gotten bigger and more elaborate over the years. It’s now at the point where they have to ship them in boxes instead of envelopes!  Anyone who stashed my simple little 1991 photocopied invitation (at least we used fine bond paper) in their memento cache will find that it surely stands out from the crowd!

I hope Will wants to take me up on my offer.  I’m great at urbane and sophisticated dinner conversation.  It would definitely be beneficial for the planet for us to wed, as I’ve got mondo ideas on how to re-direct the royal wealth to various social causes.  We’ll just have to check in with the Archbishop of Canterbury on the knotty little details about my earlier marriage.  Speaking of that…

My floral prom dress brought to mind Vivien Leigh playing Scarlett O'Hara. Note the contrasting fashion styles of the Mother of the Bride (left center) and the Mother of the Groom (right center).

In May, 1991, I walked down the aisle of the Church of St. Andrew (behind the Federal Courthouse at Foley Square). I was wearing an inexpensive prom dress with a flounce and pastel flowers, found in a shop in Spanish Harlem. With a fully tricked-out hoop skirt, it made me look like I had just stepped off the set of “Gone With the Wind.”  The only thing missing was the bonnet.  The whole outfit cost less than $350, including the foundation garment that maintained the antebellum shape of the design, and the comfy pumps I wore.  My bouquet of lilacs and white freesia was acquired from a florist shop on Hudson Street that is now the location of an HSBC Bank branch.  It cost $50.

A small speck of a diamond engagement ring and two wedding bands from Tiffany’s ran us a bit over $2000, I believe.  With the price of gold today, can’t imagine what those rings would cost now.  Once we were on a roll, the bargains just didn’t seem to end for us.  In an amazing stroke of luck, my parents were offered the standard room rate for a weekend stay in the penthouse suite of the hotel attached to the World Trade Center.   We knew we might get a deal, since there were few weekend tourists in the financial district back in those days. But the kind of savings we got was beyond our expectations.  The hotel, as you guessed, is no longer there.

After the ceremony, we walked to the Tribeca Grill Banquet Loft for a modest reception. Although the downstairs restaurant, owned by Robert DeNiro, was at the peak of hipness at the time, the upstairs party room was operated as a not-for-profit for the benefit of film industry causes.  The buffet was top-rate.  We dined on rosemary chicken, seafood risotto, pasta primavera, fresh arugula/pepper salad, an appetizer of fresh tomatoes, basil and imported olives, seasonal fruit, focaccia and hearth breads.   The restaurant’s flexible bar policy (one hour open bar, with wine and beer by consumption thereafter) helped us cut costs further.   The price per person was less than $50.  With the tip, the bill came to under $4k.

Grandma Giuseppina Enjoys Being the Grande Dame of the Event!

The cake we served, garbed with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, came from the famed Veniero’s bakery on 11th Street in the East Village.  That choice definitely scored “brownie points” with my husband-to-be’s Calabria-born Grandma Giuseppina.  The cake cost $100, plus $5 for delivery.  My best friend, Nancy, had gotten hitched the week before me with a similar small-scale celebration.  I distinctly remember that her wedding cake cost in the neighborhood of $900.  And she didn’t have Bill Murray at her reception.  Okay, so neither did we–but in a very memorable twist, Murray WAS downstairs waiting for a cab when we left the party!

The cake-cutting.

Since lilacs are my favorite, we made up table arrangements from the flowers in my mother-in-law’s Neponsit yard.  Driving the car filled with cut lilacs from Rockaway to lower Manhattan almost caused my fiance to pass out on the Belt Parkway!  Then, my sister Kathy was helping out and inadvertently trimmed all the stems too short for the chosen vases.  We had to pull a “Mulligan” and acquire more lilacs at the last minute in the flower district.  Altogether, the flowers and vases cost us less than $400.  Which brings to mind this question–is there still a discount flower district in New York City?

The final choice that saved us a bundle was the music. Now, I know Prince William and Kate will probably not have to pay for musicians like Elton John and Sting to perform for their event.  It’s great to be a Windsor.  To cut corners, we made a great “dance tape” of our own.  Yes, there were still audiocassette tapes back in 1991.  I think that today, they call these “dance mix CD’s.”  The soundtrack was Sinatra crooning Cole Porter and big band standards, with some Harry Connick, Jr. and Manhattan Transfer thrown in for variety.  Then, the 70’s and 80’s dance classics took over as the party progressed.

Although I love my two teenaged children dearly, and wouldn’t trade them for anything, I will tell you, all kidding aside, that the wedding was better than the marriage.  I think my ex-husband agrees with me.  It was a really GOOD party.

My Dad serendipitously captured this Tribeca park scene as we walked from the church to the reception site. He entered the photo in a contest and won a free annual park pass for his efforts. Photo copyright Martin F. Rattay 1991.

I guess I always have another shot at Prince Harry, who has been rated even more handsome than his brother.  If he turns me down, I can ask him to wait 6 years until my daughter is 21.  Doesn’t every girl dream of marrying a handsome prince someday?

Text copyright Vivian R. Carter 2011

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About rockviv

You've entered the cyber-locale of Vivian Rattay Carter, a writer, teacher, advertising representative, and licensed sightseeing guide. I've lived and worked in the New York metro area since 1979, in diverse places like Astoria and Rockaway Beach (Queens), Kensington and Windsor Terrace (Brooklyn), Grand Street and Tribeca (Manhattan), and Norwood, Riverdale and Woodlawn (The Bronx). I treasure the amazing parks, civic architecture, and cultural institutions of our city, and love the inspiring stories of the outer borough pioneers. What an interesting apple this is!
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