Women over 40 are increasingly marrying again, but getting married in mid-life throws up different issues from marrying when you’re younger. Not to mention the difficulty of finding that perfect dress…
Brigit Sapstead is having her wedding at Easter and it will be a time of great joy and celebration, but she’s found that things are more complicated the second time around.
"I was 26 when I got married the first time," she says, "and I wore the usual meringue affair, with a full Catholic mass, followed by a reception in the RAC country club."
This time, however, things are different. As every girl knows, her wedding day isn’t really hers – it’s her mother’s – but Brigit’s parents are now in their 80s and of necessity less involved in the planning process, and she are her fiance are splitting the expense. She also finds that the focus is slightly different.
"This wedding is OUR wedding," she says. "While traditional, in view of the venue (Wells Cathedral), we have planned it as a celebration and it is for our friends and people to whom we wish to say thanks for their help in the difficult times we have both gone through in the past few years."
Brigit’s fiance is widowed and she herself is divorced after 22 years of marriage. Since they are both committed Christians they definitely wanted a religious ceremony. Therefore it was a huge relief to both of them to be given permission to marry in Wells Cathedral, where her son is a chorister
The Cathedral, says Brigit, is a perfect venue, as although it is vast and imposing it has areas that are intimate and quiet. It was also one of the few places in Wells that could accommodate the couple’s large wedding party, which at times will comprise 200 guests.
After a champagne reception in the afternoon, 80 guests are scheduled to have a sit-down meal in the Bishop’s Palace, the splendid mediaeval home of the Bishop of Bath & Wells, which is open to the public for occasions such as weddings.
Not enough time
The main problem with organising your own wedding yourself, says Brigit is work. "We both work, we have five teenagers between us, I moved house in January and we also have a new puppy," she says. The time available just isn’t there. "I have sort of ’employed’ a friend who is a brilliant organiser to be my wedding planner, and my sixteen-year old daughter will be my bridesmaid."
In particular, finding a dress has had Brigit tearing her hair out and she still hasn’t found the right thing. "I want something in which I will look radiant but not tarty, traditional, but not meringue," she says. "But there is nothing for a 40-something who wants to look chic.
"I haven’t got the budget or the time to trawl the shops for the perfect dress: getting my daughter’s bridesmaid’s dress was difficult enough. By the end of the day my feet were killing me – at 48 you feel these things, believe me. Everything seemed to be backless and strapless, and there was plenty for little bridesmaids and cutesy pageboys but nothing for a sixteen-year old with attitude." Luckily, Debenham’s Coast label came up trumps with a cobalt-blue number, so that at least is settled.
But this season especially, Brigit points out, the designers have done mid-life women like her no favours. "Everything seems to be sleeveless and strapless, and I know I am going to be cold," she says. That leaves her searching for a pashmina or some other sort of cover-up.
"My daughter says I am being a wimp and no way would she wear anything with sleeves, but there is a 30-odd year age gap…"
Brigit thought she’d lucked out with a pink dress from Monsoon for the evening reception, but a friend didn’t like it so she took it back. "But I still yearn after that pink," she says. "I might end up buying it back. And I am still hunting for a dress in which I will walk across the Cathedral Green with my fiance, into the Cathedral. I want something comfortable but ‘wow’, which will see me through the champagne reception in the afternoon."
Like many women, Brigit has found shoes a problem and feels she’s gone about things the wrong way round because she’s bought them first. "But at 5ft 11 and with a back injury, I can’t attempt stilettos or my doctor fiance will be doing more than carrying me on our wedding day!" she says. "A pretty pair of kitten heels in cream satin at £30 were a bargain too good to miss – now I just need the dress to go with them."
Brigit isn’t alone in finding occasionwear difficult. Although the taboos on marrying in white a second time no longer hold, most women marrying in mid-life have already worn their ‘princess’ frock and are definitely looking for something else. A white or cream suit can look great, but on your photographs, you may just look like one of your own guests, and while a cocktail dress may be suitable for a secular wedding, a church affair requires more formality. The advice these days is to go with the formality of the occasion rather than your age, except for one no-no – don’t wear a veil. That’s definitely for first-timers only.
If you have ideas on where Brigit might find a dress, please add a comment below.
For more information on second weddings, visit the website I Do Take Two, which has advice on dresses, ceremonies and etiquette (including how to inform your ex and how to involve your children).
Since 2002, the Church of England has allowed divorced people to remarry in church provided they meet certain criteria – for information, visit the Church of England’s website.