Brad and Heather, two very wise people we know and love, gave us some excellent advice on wedding planning based on their own experience:

Pick the two things you care about most, and spare no expense on those. Go cheap on other things, if you must, but not on the things you feel are most important.

My life is shot through with metaphors and analogies, laden with omens, salted with associations and peppered with special secret meanings that are evoked whenever I hear a particular song, catch sight of someone dressed a certain way, or notice that the light is a particular color. I live in a contextual bubble that defines everything I see. I cannot work in an undecorated office, cannot live in an uncustomized home-space, and knew immediately that my Most Important Thing, Wedding Edition ™ was the sense of place that would surround the event.

So I am shouldering the expense (and sparing none of it) of the most gobsmackingly awesome venues we could snag, which, if you’ll permit me a bit of exaggeration, are THE AWESOMEST GODDAMN PLACES TO GET MARRIED AND THEN HAVE YOUR RECEPTION IN OUR WHOLE FRIGGIN’ NATION’S CAPITAL. The high altar of the National Cathedral, and the great library, gallery and portico of DAR Constitution Hall: these do not come cheap, but they are worth every penny, and this Penny is 110% thrilled to sign the checks.

&’s Most Important Thing, Wedding Edition ™ , about which he’s either already written or soon will, is the memory and preservation of the event. So his big-ticket item is a fabulous wedding photographer, whose fees made my jaw drop (but are not, to be fair, unreasonable or out of line with the market rate for such high quality work). No matter. It’s a Most Important Thing, so it gets the largest largesse as a matter of course. He’s got it covered, he’s happy, and I’m happy. It’s all good.

This leaves us, we realize, with TONS of other aspects of the wedding left to plan and a theoretical budget that we have neatly managed to max out, ex ante.

Fortunately our parents have offered assistance, which means that our guests will most likely be spared the indignity of a shandy toast and Happy Meals on paper plates. (Unless, of course, your dietary restrictions require one. If so, please advise the concierge ASAP.)

Doubly fortunately (or perhaps not? TBD), I am my Nana’s granddaughter through and through when it comes to bargain-hunting, dumpster-diving, and general bottom-feeding in search of a good deal. My nickname is Penny because whenever I see one on the ground, I pick it up.

So as we approach the balance of our wedding planning on as near to a shoestring budget as we can manage while still maintaining a level of baseline class befitting our venues (funny how “a sense of place” can set a standard!), I am having a grand time finding under-the-radar ways to chintz on the most overpriced excesses of a Standard American Wedding.

The cathedral requires that we kit out the high altar with appropriate flowers, and since that falls within the “sense of place” umbrella, I’ll pay for ’em. But cut flowers, as a general proposition, are an awfully wasteful expense at a grossly inflated sticker price. I can think of far better things for my bridesmaids to carry: hand-tied herbs, peacock feathers, lace fans, lit tapers. And table centerpieces — the options we have! Topiaries, take-home-souvenir potted plants, lanterns, candles, fruit, or my favorite: cupcake bouquets! (I am SO all over that. Also, a cupcake cake. Yes, I understand how much baking that requires. Yes, I am up to the task.)

And while we’re talking about massive retail markups, anyone who has ever caught an episode of “Say Yes to the Dress” (or spent more than five minutes in a bridal salon) will nod knowingly when I speak of the breathtaking sticker shock of buying a wedding gown.

Now keep in mind: this is my second marriage. I am not an obsessive wedding fashion victim. I wore a gown for Round 1, one that I picked by pointing to the least offensive page of the fan-deck that my mother had assembled out of various bride magazines. Since I am Doing Things Right this time (“It’s the last time you’ll ever do this!” says a wise friend of mine at the office, words to live by if ever I heard ’em), I want to spend a bit more time picking out a design according to my own tastes, one that suits both my own style and my sense of place. But I don’t want to spend mad pimp money on it.

Fortunately for my wallet, the world is flat. Turns out there are dozens of dressmakers on eBay who will sell you a made-to-measure gown for basically the cost of materials, shipping, and a starvation wage to the sweatshop staff in Shanghai who sew the Swarovski crystals onto your train. And if their eBay feedback ratings are to be believed, the end product is both well-made and reasonably resembles the pictures in the ads. (Which is often more than can be said for the couture-gasms that’ll run you several mortgage payments at Kleinfeld’s.)

With that in mind, I paypal’d $200 to one Hui Fang Zou last week in exchange for the following item, which allegedly should arrive in my mailbox by the end of this month:

It is a transparent knockoff of the Mori Lee model 2215 gown…

This silhouette and lace/beading design

This silhouette and lace/beading design

with an 80 cm train

with an 80 cm train

But with this neckline

But with this neckline

And this hem

And this hem

And a lace bolero jacket, but without the pleated bells on the sleeves

And a lace bolero jacket, but without the pleated bells on the sleeves

My cousin, who has a college degree in costume design, is willing to make any necessary alterations or touch up flaws in the workmanship. I love this design and figure that Sweatshop Direct should serve me perfectly well, unless Hui Fang Zou sends me a total piece of crap. In which case I just spent $200 on a Zombie Bride Halloween costume, am no worse off than I was before I won the eBay auction, and may need to reconsider the retail option.

Or at least a visit to PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com.

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