Carol Tishler knew that there would be mixed responses even before she announced that, at age 44 with one divorce behind her, her second wedding would be bigger and glitzier than her first.
Etiquette or no etiquette, Tishler wants her upcoming wedding to have it all--the long, white gown with veil and cathedral train, the walk down the aisle, the tossed bouquet.
"His parents think we're crazy to have a big wedding," said Tishler, a Los Angeles real estate agent who is planning to marry a 38-year-old Newbury Park physicist at the end of June. "People think when you're having a second marriage, you shouldn't be so frivolous," she said. "But I think the way you start out is important."
Tishler, it seems, isn't the only middle-aged bride who thinks so. The U. S. Census Bureau doesn't keep statistics on such things, but people with an interest in marriage trends report that weddings involving both divorced and never-married women in their 40s have changed.
These days, they say, fortysomething weddings are displaying a new motto: Big is in, and white's all right.
"It used to be that if you were over 40, you got married in a quiet, little ceremony in a tasteful, little suit. You certainly didn't advertise it and make a big to-do about it," said Tracy Cabot, author of the recently published book "Marrying Later, Marrying Smarter." "Nowadays, though, a lot of older brides are having fun with their weddings. They're going all out."
Editors at Bride's magazine in New York deemed the trend toward bigger weddings for older brides pronounced enough that, six issues ago, they created a new section called "Marrying Later, Marrying Again." The section addresses issues that middle-aged brides probably gave little thought to 20 or 30 years ago--including what's tasteful in dress lengths, creative places to register for gifts and whether ex-spouses should be asked to care for children during the ceremony.
"A lot of them wonder what type of ceremony is appropriate," said Millie Martini, Bride's associate editor. "They want to know if they have to be quiet about it. But we think the wedding experience can be just as wonderful for an older bride as for a younger one."
Locally, ministers, bridal consultants and wedding photographers also report that living-room ceremonies for the over-40 bride are on the decline. Even women making a second or third trip to the altar, bridal store owners say, are opting for large, formal ceremonies and shopping for long, white wedding gowns.
"It's surprising how many want to walk down the aisle," Emily Zajak, owner of the Wedding Party in Santa Barbara, said of older brides.
Of the divorced women who come into her store, Zajak said, the majority "are going for the full gown and veil because they didn't do it the first time."
Such is the case for Tishler, whose first wedding was a small civil ceremony when she was 17. Tishler, who is Jewish, said that, at the time, no rabbi would perform the ceremony because the bridegroom was not Jewish. Her future in-laws refused to attend because their son was marrying a Jewish woman.
"I think of wearing white now as spiritual purity," said Tishler, whose upcoming marriage will be performed in a "conservative Jewish ceremony" in Thousand Oaks. "Besides," she said, "when someone gets married today, I figure who's a virgin anyway?"
There is another reason why older women are bucking the unspoken tradition of keeping their weddings small and sedate. After years of raising children alone, struggling in the workplace, and finding themselves in and out of unsatisfying relationships, many said they began to believe that marriage wasn't in the cards. When they discovered that they were wrong, they decided to celebrate in a big way.
"At one point, I was willing to settle," said Deanna Burski, a Moorpark bank manager who divorced 15 years ago, at age 31 with two small children. "You get so depressed because you can't find that person. You wonder if you're asking for too much."
In February, at the urging of her daughter, Burski placed a personal ad in a local newspaper. The next morning, her husband-to-be opened the paper, looking for a good deal on a used truck.
They met at a restaurant a few days later and "closed the place."
"At first, I thought maybe I should get married in off-white," Burski said, laughing. "So many people say you shouldn't be married again in white. Even my mother said that. But then I talked with wedding consultants and they said, 'No, this is the '90s.' They said to do whatever I wanted."
Burski is planning to wear a long, white gown in a large, church ceremony next month.
Wedding-related professionals say an increasing number of middle-aged brides are digging into their bank accounts to ensure that things will be exactly the way they want them to be.