Wednesday, April 26, 2017

How to Not Look Like a Trainwreck in Your Engagement Photos

A Guide for the Hopelessly Unphotogenic

Remus and I are both average-looking people; definitely not traffic-stopping gorgeous, but I don’t think anyone has ever been repulsed by either of our physical appearances. Yet for some reason, getting either of us to take a halfway decent photo is a struggle. Awkward smiles, stiff postures, ill-timed blinks, unflattering angles, and hair having a mind of its own are all common themes in our photos, both when posing alone or together (the fact that neither of us can smile on command without looking like a serial killer doesn’t help, either). Which is why when we first started shopping for a wedding photographer and the idea of doing an engagement session came up my initial reaction was:

I accepted the need to have our wedding day photographed, naturally, but the thought of engagement photos was horrifying. At the wedding there would be other things to do/worry about and plenty of people around to distract us from whatever the photographer would be doing, so I wasn’t particularly concerned about that day. Plus, all those extra bodies around meant there were more people to potentially have embarrassingly bad photos taken of them, so even if all the bride and groom shots came out poorly, we could still laugh at “the weird face your aunt is making here” or “what in the hell is my father doing in this shot?”.

But then I started thinking—and reading—about wedding planning and all its elements, and began to wonder if maybe having a set of professionally-taken photos of just the two of us not dressed in our wedding finery would be something we’d like to have. We could use them for our “save the date” cards and potentially in other parts of the wedding process, and at the very least always have a good Facebook profile photo. I would also be a time for us to meet our photographer before all the hullabaloo of the wedding day and let them get to know us (and how awkward we were likely to be to work with), as well as be a trial run for their services. If I came out looking like a deranged hunchback in the engagement photos, I would know we needed to hire a different photog for the wedding. And perhaps get me fitted for a back brace.

And as I looked over the portfolios of the photographers we were considering, I saw a continuous stream of engagement photos of couples who weren’t supermodels, but still looked great in their photos. That could be us! I thought. We could be a nice-enough looking couple smiling naturally at each other in front of some pretty backdrop!

When we found a photographer we both liked and she offered us a decent deal on an engagement session and wedding day package, I asked Remus if he would ignore my earlier declaration of “no way in hell are we doing engagement photos” and submit to the photo shoot, and he happily agreed (or said “um…I mean, I guess, if you really want to…,” but my memory’s fuzzy).

We were both a little apprehensive on engagement shoot day, and I’m not going to deny it felt really weird having a photographer follow us around and encourage us to “act natural!” when there’s absolutely nothing natural about having a photographer follow you around. But when she sent us the photos several weeks later, I was amazed at how well they came out. I had been hoping for maybe half a dozen usable photos, but she provided more than 100 shots that I wasn’t at all embarrassed by my appearance in, making me infinitely glad that we took the leap to do an engagement session, and solidifying that we chose our wedding photographer well (a big relief because I had no idea how I’d go about firing a photog if I had to).

So below are some potentially helpful/potentially pointless tips for other hopelessly unphotogenic people on how to take good engagement photos.
  • Wear your own clothes.
If you’re already uncomfortable being photographed, don’t double-down on the awkward factor by wearing an outfit you’re uncomfortable in or unfamiliar with; now is not the time test drive that Rent the Runway dress you think might possibly maybe look good on you.
  • Choose a setting that suits you.
While looking at photographer portfolios I saw engagement photos of couples lounging in an open field, holding hands while skipping through a forest, snuggling up in a camping tent in broad daylight, and playing peek-a-boo around a sculpture (you know…like you do…). Remus and I were doing none of this nonsense. If we were going to be photographed, we were going to be photographed where we were comfortable, doing things we actually do. So our first location was a bar. A very nice, ornate bar that was the setting for our very first meeting. We also chose some outdoor sites around Chicago—hoping our January photo shoot would allow for some outdoor shots—like the bridge we regularly cross when heading downtown and in front of the Chicago Theatre, an iconic landmark from the place where we live. Every location we hit were places we’ve been to multiple times before, so there was no environmental unfamiliarity to deal with.
  • Think of things to talk to each other about before the shoot.
Part of the ludicrous “act natural!” instruction of being photographed involved us trying to ignore the camera and simply interact with each other. While this worked some of the time, most of the time we were simply talking about how awkward we felt being photographed. If I had to do it all over again, I would come up with conversation topics or stories to share beforehand, so when we were told to “act natural!” we’d have things to naturally chat about.
  • Be prepared to make out in front of a stranger. A lot.
On our way home after our engagement session ended, Remus commented, “I think that’s the most we’ve ever made out in front of another person,” and he was right. Having photos of you kissing is inevitable in engagement and wedding shoots, so just find a way to deal with it. We got complimentary champagne from the bar that was our first location, which helped, so maybe try that.

Shout out to our photographer Lane Fowler for her great work on our engagement session. I would say we’ll be less nervous and awkward at the wedding, but I’m a terrible liar.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Unexpected Ego Boost of Wedding Dress Shopping

If the women on Say Yes to the Dress are to be believed, shopping for your wedding dress is the most insanely magical experience of your life, falling on the excitement scale somewhere around the level of a child going to Disney World for the first time, or being accepted into Hogwarts. I, however, was looking forward to wedding dress shopping somewhere closer to the “just a cleaning” day at the dentist level (ultimately not painful, but still not my favorite way to spend time).

Having never been perfectly proportioned to fit into any standard-sized clothing, shopping for clothes has regularly been a nightmare for me. My waist is small, but my persistent mini Buddha belly prevents me from pulling off anything that’s form-fitting in the midriff region. My ample chest is ridiculous and often requires tops a size larger than the rest of my upper body necessitates, thus creating weird bunching and bagginess anywhere that isn’t boob. I’m on the shorter side of average height, so I am blessed with neither long legs nor a long torso (it seems only fair that every woman should get at least one of those), and the less said about my ass, the better.

While this is all annoying enough when shopping for regular clothes, trying to find flattering formalwear is a whole different circle of hell. As a teenager I regularly needed nice dresses for concerts (band geek alert) and then, of course, there was prom dress shopping. Having been built like Betty Boop since age 12 or so, I never got the luxurious years of being able to pull on a simple slip dress that resembled a nightie and look fantastic, so I would have to bypass the juniors’ department to wade through the ladies’ racks of clothes, desperately searching for something that would cover everything it needed to cover without looking frumpy or like something my mother would wear. Then, after trying on dozens of options, if there was one that at least minimally met these requirements, I was sold, usually not because I was in love with the garment, but simply because I wanted to be done shopping.

Shopping for dresses as an adult hasn’t been much different, except now that it’s age-appropriate to try to look sexy I have to deal with options that don’t seem to understand that going bra-less is simply not an option for some women, and wearing a strapless bra is basically an exercise in uncomfortable futility. When I was a bridesmaid for a friend’s wedding two summers ago, I begged her to please pick out a dress I could wear a regular bra underneath, and when she did it was like a gift from heaven (other than the fact that the dress had to be too tight across my chest in order to fit everywhere else (I refused to shell out tailoring money for a bridesmaid dress)).

After finding a couple of nice-enough dresses that I don’t completely hate over the years, I’ve held onto them and rotated through them whenever a cause to dress formally has come up, praying each time they fit well enough to prevent me from having to go through the struggle of shopping for a new one.

When Remus and I got engaged, I asked if he would care if I wore a traditional wedding dress or not. He said no, but wondered what I would wear instead.

“I dunno…something simple off Macy’s sales rack that doesn’t look like hell on me?”

When this idea didn’t go over well, I suggested a jeans and t-shirt dress code for everyone, which would undoubtedly make us the most popular wedding in everyone’s memory.

“Why don’t you just get a wedding dress like a normal bride?”

Easy advice from someone who’s never had to care if his chest was properly supported or what his butt looks like in anything.

My mom and aunt were very excited at the prospect of wedding dress shopping with me, probably because the last time they did that it was the 1970s and their long-term memory isn’t what it used to be. They booked flights to Chicago for a long weekend of shopping, I started doing my research on dress styles and tried to predict the direction we’d go in (ball gown: not even as a joke, A-line: universally flattering and a likely contender), and ultimately booked appointments at nine different bridal salons while they would be in town, because I was getting this one particular wedding chore done ASAP so I didn’t have to think about it anymore. If I didn’t find my dress in one of those nine shops, then jeans and a t-shirt it would be (and I was fairly confident Remus would still say “I do” if this was how things shook out).

Our first stop was David’s Bridal, which I thought would be a good place to start in order to try on the various wedding dress silhouettes and narrow it down to my best options. Side note: This was also the same David’s Bridal where I purchased the aforementioned bridesmaid dress and was more or less called a liar by one of their salesgirls when I wound up getting my dress in the same size as my street clothes, even though “bridal sizes run about two sizes small, so that can’t be your street size.” I really don’t know what to tell you, lady, because I have a closet full of clothes at home all in this same size…

This time around I was paired with a salesgirl who never accused me of needlessly trying to trick her with my clothing size, but who didn’t really seem to know what she was doing. She was splitting my appointment time with a bridezilla who was picking out her maid of honor’s dress, much to the apparent chagrin of said MoH. While the salesgirl would try to walk Bride Kong through the shades of purple they had available, I would awkwardly step into the dresses she had absent-mindedly handed me, then back out of the dressing room for her to zip/button/lace me up when she didn’t come to the dressing room to see how I was doing.

I didn’t already own a strapless bra, so I was freewheeling it in this try-on, and the results were…not good. Unflattering sagging, fabric bunching, waistline hitting nowhere near my natural waist…looking at myself in these sample gowns confirmed every reason I had for wanting to avoid this experience altogether. My mom and aunt desperately flipped through David’s Bridal’s lookbook, trying to find styles that might work better than what I was putting on, while I just wanted to get the fuck out of Dodge and go have lunch before my humiliating afternoon appointment at another store.

Then arrived my savior: a veteran salesman in a natty bowtie who was was absolutely horrified at the state of the dress I was in.

“Oh, honey, no,” he declared as he happened by with an armful of dresses going back to the stockroom. “We need to cinch you in and pull you up. May I?”

I told him to go for it, and go for it he did. Grabbing the top of the bodice he yanked my boobs back up to where they should be (“Sorry, but we get really friendly here”), then grabbed a handful of plastic clips whose sole purpose is to clamp sample gowns so you can see what the dress will look like once it’s tailored for your body, and started gathering and clamping the back of the dress.

“There,” he declared, spinning me back toward the mirror. “That’s how it’s supposed to look.”

And with one giant tug and a few plastic clips, he had managed to give me the perfect Jessica Rabbit-esque hourglass figure that every woman aspires to have. He asked what I liked and didn’t like about the dress (nice shape, too much bling for my taste, shiny satin is gross), then told my salesgirl to go pull a couple more samples for me to try. After a few more rounds of “zip, tug, clamp,” I hadn’t found my dress, but I had found my perfect silhouette, so when we went to my next appointment, I knew exactly what to ask for, and every dress that salesgirl (who thankfully knew how to clamp a sample gown, unlike the first girl I worked with that day) pulled made me look how I wanted to look on my wedding day, and I left Shop #2 with two top contenders in mind.

We only made one more shopping trip the next day, and after trying on another series of flattering dresses in my perfect silhouette, I couldn’t stop comparing them to one from the previous day, so I cancelled the remaining six appointments and went back to Shop #2 to purchase my wedding dress (which I have been promised has the proper structure that it can be tailored to support me without the need of a strapless bra, and the prospect of being able to go bra-less for the first time since I was 10 is more exciting than I would have thought it would be).

Now if only there were a most cost-effective way to have all of my clothes fit well than dropping a couple grand on singular items, then also paying for tailoring.

So thanks to all the bridal salon sales associates out there who know how to expertly wield a plastic clamp in order to help women find their perfect dress shape, and special thanks to Samantha at Weddings 826 in Chicago, who wasn’t upset that I wasn’t a bubbly bride-to-be and didn’t cry when I chose my dress, and who, when I declared that I think veils are stupid, simply agreed, “You’re right; veils are kinda stupid.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

WTF, Pinterest?

I had never really used Pinterest in the past, because (with the possible exception of Snapchat) I find it to be the most pointless of all the social media outlets, primarily because collecting photos of food and craft projects that I’ll never actually make isn’t really my idea of a good time.

But even I can admit that when it comes to wedding planning, Pinterest does have its use as a central place to collect ideas and inspirations for the big day. So I eventually set up my account and began creating boards of dresses I liked, venue décor that captured the aesthetic Remus and I were going for, and engagement rings that wouldn’t have him sweating his ability to pick out jewelry for me. And this led to my new favorite daily check-in: my page of suggested pins.

Based on the photos I’ve pinned to my board, Pinterest now regularly updates my homepage to feature things it thinks I’ll like or be interested in (something most of you were already aware of, I’m sure, but it’s a whole new world to me). And some of the stuff Pinterest suggests is, quite honestly, batshit insane.

So with no further ado, the first installation in my new series of posts that I’m calling, WTF, Pinterest? I guess this one is the all-rings edition.

On my board of rings I liked, I pinned a selection of rather simple and very similar photos of square stones in silver settings, some with various configurations of side stones. How Pinterest gathered from those pins that I would be interested in this gold and green dragonfly monstrosity, I’ll never know.

I think these were brooches (or possibly pasties) that someone mistook to be rings. We all make mistakes.

Liberace called the owner of this ring (from the grave!) and kindly asked her to tone it down a bit.

Just because you’re getting married doesn’t mean you have to give up your street fighting ways. With this engagement ring, you can sport your bling and leave the brass knuckles at home since this piece of fine jewelry doubles as a weapon.

I assume the owner of the dragonfly ring also owns this piece of work, or at least wishes she did. Whoever said, “less is more,” obviously never went jewelry shopping via Pinterest.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Adventures in Wedding Expoing

Over the years I’ve been to enough food, travel, and job expos to know that expos really aren’t my thing. They’re always overcrowded and too warm, they’re mostly occupied by aggressive vendors who adopt the “hard sell” mode of marketing, and I’ve never once came out of an expo with anything substantial enough to feel that it had been worth my time. But there’s one thing that keeps me coming back: the potential promise of free stuff.

I, like most people, love free stuff. Swag bags full of tacky tchotchkes, poorly performing pens, and magnets featuring companies I’ll never contact that won’t even stick to my stainless steel fridge? I want it. Free food samples, even if it’s just a wintergreen LifeSaver? I need it. A discount off a full-priced product or service just for attending this event? Not as good as something free, but I’ll take it. A drawing to enter to win something free and fabulous? I came prepared with a sheet of my return address labels; sign me up!

So with this starry-eyed vision of freebies galore, I signed Remus and myself up to attend a wedding expo at a downtown Chicago hotel. An impressive list of DJs, caterers, photographers, dress shops, and bakeries were listed to attend, so maybe if we found vendors we liked we would get a discounted rate to hire them for our wedding. At the very least I figured we would get some free cake out of attending.

My first warning that this expo would not be what I was hoping for came before we even entered the main room. Set up right outside of the main entrance/exit doors was a local photographer who glommed onto us on our way in. Oozing smarmy charm, he asked us all about our vision for our wedding day, and when we told him the venue we had chosen he excitedly bragged about how he shot weddings there all the time, pulled out a sample photo album taken there, and name-dropped the venue manager in case we didn’t believe he was actually familiar with the place.

“You see this shot? I’m actually lying on my stomach in the aisle to get this shot of them exchanging vows. That’s how committed I am to capturing perfect moments; I will lie down on the floor to get them.”

OK…I don’t anticipate we’ll ask our photographer to roll around on the ground for us, but good to know that you’d be game…

He continued to flip through the album, showing us various shots he could mimic for us in that same space, and waxing poetic about his epic use of natural light. To my amateur eye, the photos looked fine, though nothing spectacular, but his pushiness alone was turning me off bit by bit with each passing second. Then he clinched the “never gonna get it” deal when he got to the final page of the album that featured the photographers credits.

Along with his photo and bio, there was a headshot of a woman on the page.

“That’s my ex-partner,” he explained. “And my ex-fiancée.” This second part was said with such disdain that I’m sure wherever that woman is now she felt a chill go down her spine. And why he felt the need to share this level of detail with us, I can’t imagine, when it would have been much simpler to say, “This is someone I used to work with,” or even simpler than that to say nothing at all.

“Oh, that must have been awkward, to lose both your fiancée and your business partner,” Remus politely commented.

“Eh, whatever. She was fucking crazy, anyway. Better off without her!”

And I was done. No way in hell was I any longer going to entertain having the day celebrating our love and commitment include a man who would openly--to clients!--describe the person he once planned to spend his life with as “fucking crazy” and as being “better off without her.” He could be willing to lie on the third rail of the Blue line to get the most epic of photos and I still wouldn’t have hired him.

“Well, it’s been nice talking to you, but we need to get inside.” I started sidestepping toward the entrance while frantically making “get the hell away from here” eyes at Remus.

“Wait! Let me get your contact info! You and I need to talk more.”

“We’ll hit you on the way out.” He was right by the door; we would inevitably have to cruise by him again.

“I’ll be looking for you! We need to nail this thing down!”

The rest of our wedding expo experience was downhill from there. There was the DJ company spokeswoman who looked like one of Hugh Hefner’s Girls Next Door and couldn’t even answer the most basic of questions like, “what’s the average rate for a full night of DJ service?”

There was the all-in-one company (wedding planners, DJs, lighting, and photographers) who apparently let someone’s high school daughter be their front person, who robotically read without pause or eye contact--through a mouthful of metal braces--their templated sales pitch script.

There was the custom suits joint who couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that we weren’t having groomsmen and only Remus would be the one in need of some natty threads, so they kept trying to sell us on the package deal we could get for “all your groomsmen” if we had them create the groom’s suit, despite our continued reminders that, “We’ll only need one suit. One. For him. His suit. He’s the only one suiting up.”

There was the Florida travel booth who wouldn’t stop trying to sell us on attending one of their time share pitches for a chance to win a free honeymoon in Florida, despite our assurances that we weren’t interested in time shares, time share pitches, or Florida in general.

And worst of all, there was the wedding cake bakery who ran out of cake samples before we even got there. What kind of bakery attends a day-long expo and doesn’t plan to bring enough cake?!

The only swag we collected was business cards and fliers for wedding vendors we would never contact, and as we approached the exit doors we remembered that the original photographer we met was waiting to pounce on the other side. Using my ninja-like skills, I sidled up to the door to peek out and saw that he was currently engaged with another couple. When he turned his back to grab a sample album (hopefully the one featuring his crazy bitch ex!) I signaled to Remus to “GO!” and we hustled out the door, down the hall, and into the elevator bay without looking back.

I recently reached out to our venue’s preferred décor vendor to set up a time to talk about adding some decorative touches to the space for our big day. They replied that they’ll be at a wedding expo at our venue at the end of January, so we should come talk to them there when we can be in the actual space.

Great. Looking forward to it. I hope there’s free cake this time.