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One of the major advantages of living in France has to be the tradition, like in the UK, of wearing large, festive hats to weddings.

One of my husband’s cousins is getting married this weekend up in Normandy and we are all getting ready to trek up there for the big event. This will be my fifth time as a guest at a wedding in France, my sixth French wedding if we include my own.

I already spoke to a number of the differences between French and North American weddings in a previous post, so I won’t dwell on those points now. What I’m really excited about is wearing a wedding hat for the first time this Saturday!

As a bride, I wore the more traditional veil. As a guest to the non-family weddings I attended before I was married, I felt a little strange adopting the French tradition given that I didn’t know anyone very well, and as far as I was known, it was as ‘the American.’ I felt wearing a large European hat would have been ridiculous. Then, at my first family wedding as a fiancée, I was too nervous about appearing like I was trying too hard to fit in, so I opted to go without. This

Bertrand Celce photography

weekend, then, marks a noteworthy moment in my progress toward Becoming Madame.

My husband’s family is quite traditional, a giant of a family actually with more than 40 cousins in his generation alone. Just to give you an idea: We had 200 people at our wedding and 150 of them were my husband’s close relatives. This weekend will be the wedding of one of those cousins, the daughter of my husband’s aunt.

Along with this large family come certain rules of conduct and family traditions. One of these is that a lady’s hemline should not be

Bertrand Celce photography

greatly higher than her knee and show definitely not exceed the top of her knee cap. You’ll notice I added about an inch of lace at the bottom of my dress – for design purposes, yes, and also to gain some much needed longueur. Another rule is that single members of the family – that is, those who are not engaged or married, come unaccompanied. Hence the reason I was present at my first family wedding as a fiancée even if two had occurred while I was dating my husband. Some rebellious members of the family see this tradition as a remnant of familial control that is no longer, or should no longer, apply. Of course, all this is intriguing to me, fabulous froth for social commentary and I eat it up by the spoonful!

In large, traditional families like my husband’s, custom holds that women are to wear large brim or smart hats to weddings, in the church, through the service, during the cocktail and on into dinner. But there are particular rules about when we are to remove our hats. I had to ask my mother-in-law for guidance on this point as I genuinely had no idea. We don’t tend to wear hats to weddings in the States or Canada.

I was informed that it is customary for ladies to wear their hats all day, even in the church and through the picture taking session. The cue to remove your hat, if at all, is signaled by the removal of the Mother of the Bride’s hat. Hats are not customary at weddings when the ceremony takes place in the evening.

I hadn’t thought about this before, but my mother didn’t wear a hat to my wedding because, even though it is a French tradition, she rightly told me that she doesn’t have a face for hats. I suppose all the ladies who showed up to my wedding with hats, which was practically everyone over 30 or married, took their cue from my mother-in-law instead. I wonder now if that made a bit of a scuffle on the evening about which I wouldn’t have had the faintest clue.

Instead of buying a new dress, I decided I wanted to recycle a lavender colored scoop neck I bought last year for my birthday. I love the idea of reusing and refurbishing and recycling. Having lace trim sown onto a modern slip dress makes me feel a little closer to the gloriousness of the Belle

Dress off rack on model in black – notice the lack of length

My version

Époque. So, to add a little elegance to the frock, I bought some old lace at the antique market and took it to my trusted tailor a few doors down to attach for me. (I’m still not a great seamstress.) I think the result is fabulous. And how fun to have a hand in designing your dress!

Next on the agenda was a hat. I searched around for a basic off-white chapeau de cérémonie as they call fancy hats in French. Yesterday, I found the perfect one. With some left over lace from my dress alterations, a silk flower I picked up at the crafts store and some ribbon the color of my dress, I’ve created my first French wedding hat. Having pinned loads of lace and ribbon all across the brim and around the bow at the side with the flower as the focal point, I asked my husband what he thought when he got home. “Too much lace!” was the reply. “C’est un peu chargé, quand même!” It was apparently a little much. So I made some modifications before sewing it all together.

I am a little worried about my hair if (and when) the Mother of the Bride decides it’s time to remove her hat, as I know I’m going to have serious hat hair. Apparently, there is a mad rush to the ladies room at this point in the evening for hair touch ups, powdering of the nose and delining of the brow. I’ll let you know!

Funny, none of this ever occurred to me to me before. I don’t recall at the other weddings I’ve attended the moment when all the ladies excuse themselves from the dinner in a mad rush to recoiffe their hair. I don’t even remember the moment when the hats came off. I suppose when you don’t have to worry about something, you don’t tend to notice it at all.

I so enjoyed designing and putting together this hat. What fun. I wish hats would come back in style on a regular basis! I think perhaps I was born a century too late!

I’ll post the wedding photos early next week. You can see how my creation held up against the French ladies!

Until then, Bon weekend!

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