Titles for the Emotional-Industrial-Military Bridal Complex

Media Reviews for Media People: Wedding Magazines

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For as long as I can remember, this time of the year has been all about baseball. Crisp nights, anxious at-bats, "you can't script October" cliché -- I have traditionally spent my favorite month knee-deep in neo-Jeterian intangibles and dummyhead managers who consider the sacrifice bunt as sacrosanct as Scripture.

Martha Stewart Weddings
Martha Stewart Weddings
This year, however, October is for wedding-planning. There are officiants to charm, address labels to print, noisy children to excommunicate. Even with my triple-ninja-awesome-with-jimmies-on-top fiancee doing most of the heavy lifting, a pressing reality still underlines our daily routine: This. Must. Be. Done. Now.

It's enough to break a guy. With my newly crowded schedule, I no longer have the luxury of gauzy, drool-specked afternoons on the couch. Hence I decided to devote today's exercise to the one reviewable media entity that won't require me to wield a remote control or leave the apartment: the 124 pounds of bridal magazines that lay like an anvil beside our bed.

As you might've heard, it's been a rough week for the genre. After careful perusal of my wife-to-be's stash, however, I'd argue that the category has life left in it yet.

For one, the emotional-industrial-military bridal complex continues to backstop our economy, even at a time when many people can't afford cheese. Engaged couples might be cutting back somewhat, but they are not postponing their weddings. Turns out you can live without the satin slipcovers after all.

More importantly, the internet can't chip away at bridal magazines as much as it can (and does) news, sports or entertainment publications. Simply put, flowing, fluttery gowns demand the high-quality gloss that they can only get on the printed page.

Thus most of these titles are magazines like the J. Crew catalog is a magazine. For all their semi-alliterative headlines ("blushing beauties," "city chic") and yay-for-you! blurbs about the empowerment that comes with an exotic peridot, they rarely transcend picture-book status. Most of these magazines are for grazing, and little more.

They're also remarkably similar, right down to the "Winter Wonderland" theme touted in no fewer than seven fall/winter 2009-10 titles and the Butthead-coy wedding-night sex polls ("are you gonna, like, you know, do it?") found in five more. Plus they're a chore: They operate under the assumption that every bride will spread the planning over a 28-month period. This means that no detail goes undiscussed, whether it's the propriety of beaded anklets or the troubling textural consistency of chateaubriand.

In short, it's impossible to "read" them all without lapsing into a diabetic coma. So with apologies to InStyle Weddings (a ploy to see whether girlie-girls will buy anything with the "InStyle" brand slapped on the cover?), Real Simple Weddings (fonts here! We got your rounded, gilded fonts here!), Manhattan Brides (enough with the backyard hoedowns and straw kippot already), Destination Weddings & Honeymoons (why merely inconvenience yourself and your future spouse when you can simultaneously inconvenience family and friends?) and Contemporary Bride (which remains in a death match for market share with Medieval Bride), there are five titles which stand out amid the meticulously accessorized horde.

The Knot
The Knot
The print entry of online mainstay The Knot comes across as the most useful of the bunch. Though it doesn't entirely dispense with the overposed-bride pap, The Knot alone has a practical bent. Instead of littering its pages with to-do lists -- OMG I'M GETTING MARRIED IN 71 DAYS AND I HAVEN'T YET CHECKED THE ELASTICITY OF MY WEDDING SOCKS -- it proffers useful advice about etiquette and travel tips about proposed honeymoon destinations. It's the one title that injects reason and rationality into the vacuous wedding-planning mix.

For pix, I give the nod to Town & Country Weddings, whose spreads emphasize setting and context over style. Most of the titles present photos of pencil-thin brides striking affected poses, which make them indistinguishable from the ads that precede and follow them. T&C avoids this fate by including any number of accoutrements in its shots: a glowing chandelier backdrop, a child, etc.

For wedding stories -- the "here's how we met and here's why we chose 'Atomic Punk' as our first dance and isn't his nephew positively darling?" bridal monologues -- I like New York magazine's semi-annual New York Weddings offshoot. The title boasts a cynical bent rarely found elsewhere and has the audacity to feature couples that are gay and/or less than skinny, who are all but invisible in every other wedding mag. True fact: a full 62.5% of the heterosexual couples featured in these pages have the names "Thurston" and "Grace."

For big-picture bliss, I give a slight edge to Conde Nast purge survivor Brides. Never mind that it was/is the blandest of the three CN titles -- it likely survived owing to its mainstream moxie. While much of the title's advice is simplistic (my mom is far from a pain in the ass, and yet it'd still be difficult to describe how best to deal with her in fewer than 22,500 words), it takes the aforementioned concerns about tight finances seriously. Most bridal mags talk about saving coin and then feature centerpieces that probably cost in the neighborhood of $500 each, rendering the advice delusional and the depicted tchotchkes unattainable. Brides, on the other hand, is content to come across as medium-witted and nice.

(Apropos of nothing, a tip for the fellas: never describe anything related to your upcoming nuptials as "nice" or "fine." Those words connote indifference; try "elegant," "organic" or "very us" instead. Thank me later.)

(Also apropos of nothing: I was prepared to riff on the unfair, sexist exclusion of groom magazines from the newsstand mix. Then I estimated how many dudes I know would support such a title, and came up with the grand sum of zero. Nonetheless, I bought up an appropriately descriptive URL, DeathByWedding.com, should I feel the need to weigh in further on the topic.)

Anyway, it's an unlikely candidate that I find most compelling of all the wedding titles: Martha Stewart Weddings. I expected lots of dopey though well-intentioned bits about harvesting one's own special wedding radishes and constructing flame-retardant balsa wood lanterns. Instead, the mag surprised me with its super-low-key approach: a Q&A with a top wedding photographer here, a way-cool series of color splashes to illustrate makeup tints there.

For whatever little it's worth, the summer 2009 issue of Martha Stewart Weddings boasts the most dog-eared pages of any title in our midst. I don't know what that says about us as a couple.

I've been very well-behaved during the planning process, save for one laughing outburst when my be-Zazzled fiancee stressed, with a straight face, that the stamps on our response cards would "set the tone." Happily, every other step along the way, she's been the embodiment of organization, calm and class -- and I honestly believe that our leaning tower of bridal magazines has something to do with it.

They might be as edgy as a spork. They might not be creatively designed, sharply observed or lushly appointed, but who cares? Gourmet fit all those criteria and look how well that turned out for everybody.

The best bridal mags, especially Martha Stewart Weddings and The Knot, pull off the nifty trick of being a diversion and a resource at the same time. There's value in this for nuance-obsessed Nancys and laid-back Laylas alike. You expose yourself to ridicule by making this kind of prediction about any print entity nowadays, but the bridal-mag category is one of the few that has legs, literally and figuratively. Even its only-okay entrants aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

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