Trapped in Wedding Hell

A soiree that exists only to give you the business on your wedding day

"Are you a bride? Do we have a bride here?" asks the saleswoman, practically foaming at the mouth. No, we do not have a bride here. What we have is a dyspeptic press person who is spending the afternoon shoving free hors d'oeuvres in her mouth and meandering around aimlessly at the Wedding Salon, a show of 200 or so vendors flogging everything from dark-chocolate ganaches topped with fresh-dried edible rose petals to personal assistants who'll sell the gifts you hate on eBay.

The soiree is at Gotham Hall, a baroque pile across from Macy's that was built in 1924 as a particularly ostentatious branch of the Greenwich Savings Bank. Etched in marble above the entrance, there's a quote from one W. Russell Bowie, a long-forgotten theologian, that begins: "Among the passersby some go their heedless way to poverty . . ." How did old Bowie know that 74 years later, a thousand impecunious brides would be wending their way through the rotunda and studying, with all the gravity that Bowie brought to the New Testament, the offerings of businesses like Reel Life Tributes, which will film every last second of your nuptials and then, as if your guests haven't had enough of you by the end of the day, play it all back at the close of the reception, for around $9,000—more if you want a plasma screen?

Who's that under the facsimile chuppah in the $100,000 wedding gown? A refugee from "Night of a Thousand Trannies"? Miss Universe? No, it's a model for Kleinfeld, and I bet those sparkly things decorating her chest are real diamonds! They remind me of the story about how the czarina and her daughters sewed so many gems inside their dresses that when the Bolsheviks shot them, the bullets bounced off. (The Bolshies had to resort to bayonets.) My reverie is interrupted by a representative from Kleinfeld, who tells me that in fact the gown is only $40,000, and those aren't diamonds—they're run-of-the-mill Swarovski crystals. (The $100,000 come-on included the jewelry.)

Gown syndrome
Liesl Henrichsen Photography
Gown syndrome

Huh? I don't want to look at a cheap dress! I want a drink. Waiters are gliding by with martini glasses holding something with the illiterate name Hpnotiq, a bilious liquid that looks like the potion Sleeping Beauty downs in the Disney cartoon, and I grab one off a tray and flee to the relative safety of the Bed Bath & Beyond booth. "We have a complete bridal registry!" the super-cheerful rep tells me. (Actually, everyone at the Wedding Salon is super-cheerful—everyone except me and the thousand fretful brides-to-be.)

BB&B is involved in some kind of promotion with a movie called Made of Honor, and it's distributing little bottles at the booth. For pills? I guess. In this sea of freebies, finally something useful! But no, it contains bubbles, though why you'd want bubbles at your wedding is a mystery.

Or maybe not. Because if there's one lesson that you take away from the Wedding Salon, it's this: You can have anything you want! If you want a finial-shaped topiary object made of Styrofoam covered with rose petals teetering on top of your chuppah, you can have that! If you want to completely humiliate your bridesmaids by dressing them like taupe mushrooms, that's fine, too—you can put them in frocks just like the ones the Wedding Salon staff has been forced to wear.

I run down one of these 'shrooms, a slender person (I feel too sorry for the chubby mushrooms to talk to them), and ask her sotto voce what she really thinks of her dress. "It's all custom couture!" she burbles, Stepford-esque in her enthusiasm. "I'm getting married soon too, and this designer is doing my dress!"

Chastened but not convinced, I carry my sloshing Hpnotiq over to a guy in a tux who is with NY Wedding Dance, where, if you are willing to commit to a private lesson once a week for two months, you can be taught not to disgrace yourself when the orchestra strikes up "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida," or whatever you and your beloved's favorite song is. Can you teach absolutely anyone to dance? I ask Mr. Tux. "Yes!" Are you just saying that? "Yes! But we have to believe it. OK, maybe anyone but belligerent Wall Street guys who spend the whole lesson looking at their BlackBerries."

Given my penchant for all things fucked-up and faded, I dance over to the Willow Designs booth, which is decorated with battered toys, beaded purses, and other beat-up collectibles. Willow specializes in custom invitations (it did Elton John's Christmas card last year, which is prominently displayed and features roiling Renaissance cherubim), but it also offers a host of other services. "We did a Great Gatsby wedding with a vintage station wagon and flowers pouring out of the car windows!" the owner enthuses. (But maybe ask yourself, before you commit to this particular fantasy: Don't you want to be a little happier than Daisy and Tom Buchanan, let alone Scott and Zelda?)

In a similar vein, I'm drawn to the wares at NYC Photobooth, run by a father-and-son team who own 20 of these old-fashioned machines. For $1,895, you can rent one and give your guests something to do between courses. I imagine the owners of the company driving all over the country, pulling into dusty backwater towns, buying up old photo booths, and loading them into the back of a van. But in fact, all the machines are brand-new reproductions, they have digital innards, and they come not from Kansas but from Korea.

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