Bridal 2000

Publication Date: Wednesday Feb. 9, 2000

Exploring the World Wide WED

How the Internet can help couples plan their big day

by Andrea Gammett

Are you tired of lugging phone book-sized bridal magazines home from the grocery store? Have you decided to deprive your mother of her God-given right to vicariously throw the wedding she always wanted? Are you beginning to think about elopements with unabashed longing?

If the answer is yes, you may want to turn, as I did, to the Internet. Yes, the World Wide Web, the newest source of planning tools, gift registration and assorted wedding frou-frou.

Once you cross the frontier from normal life to the Bridal Zone, everyone wants a piece of the action, and the Internet is no exception.

The best thing about the rash of wedding Web sites is the wealth of information and time-saving tools that are available. From flower growers to wedding-gown search engines, Web sites can be a good way to get a glimpse of innovative ideas and in-depth information.

I turned to the Web out of desperation. After booking the church and reception site for my wedding this April, I tried unsuccessfully to find a suitable wedding dress. Unlike many women, who apparently dream of looking like Cinderella or Scarlet O'Hara, big white dresses make me feel like a Rose Bowl float.

A friend told me about The Knot (theknot.com), which has a search feature for its database of about 3,000 wedding dresses. It came in extremely handy. You can specify a price-range, as well as the features of your ideal dress, from sleeve length to neckline shape, from skirt silhouette to the waistline's whereabouts.

If, like me, the bride has no idea what a watteau train or a basque waist look like, there are diagrams and simple explanations. If you find a particular designer whose styles you like, there are often links to the maker's own Web page.

The Knot is one of several comprehensive wedding Web sites with everything from online registries to tips on hiring a caterer. Other such sites include the upscale Town & Country Weddings (tncweddings.com) and WeddingChannel.com.

The chief advantage of using the Internet is that there's a lot more information than in your typical wedding magazine. Cruise through wedding photographers' home pages to see whose style appeals to you. Check out florists' sites and learn about all kinds of flowers, along with their wholesale prices. I found freshroses.com very educational.

Some sites, like The Knot, feature accounts of real-life weddings -- which can be a treasure trove of ideas. I found the diverse mix of people in the real-life stories refreshing. In particular, I enjoyed several accounts of Chinese American weddings, which helped me become more familiar with the traditions my Chinese-American fiance and I will incorporate into our nuptials.

Web sites provide tools as well, like a budget maker, bulletin boards for exchanging ideas with other brides-to-be, chat rooms where you can get advice from wedding industry professionals, make-your-own-Web-site programs and online gift registries.

I liked The Knot's big day budget planning program the best. It's thorough, listing every expense category from cuff links to officiant's fee. What puts it above the rest is that you can remove items you don't want, like limousine rental. One thing I learned the hard way, though, is that the budget estimates used by most Web sites seem to be based on prices in Topeka, Kansas. For actual Bay Area prices, multiply most numbers by two. For San Francisco prices, multiply by three or four, especially for the reception-site rentals and catering costs.

The Internet is also very helpful for getting information to far-flung bridesmaids. I went to a bridesmaid-dress designer's Web site and downloaded a picture of the dress and sizing information to e-mail to my cousin in Washington, D.C. If all of my bridesmaids lived far away, I probably would have asked them to order the dresses through GownsOnline.com, which could ship the dresses right to their doorstops.

Naturally, there are some downsides to using the Internet. First, it's not necessarily the best way to find local vendors, given that not all of them have Web sites. Second, there are dozens of appallingly bad sites to wade through, like the ones that don't contain anything other than a fancy graphic and the vendor's address and phone number. Then, too, you need to beware of sites that ask for personal information before allowing you access. They may be selling names and addresses to companies that inundate brides-to-be with advertising junk mail. Look for an option to decline solicitations.

Finally, keep in mind who is sponsoring the Web site. Many commercial sites claim to offer valuable advice or etiquette tips, but all they really do is convince you to buy whatever it is they are selling -- tuxedos, "unity" candles, or other lacy tchotchkes.

For comic relief in the midst of wedding-planning madness, I click onto my all-time favorite wedding Web site, And The Bride Wore... (see box). Some poor soul who apparently also bought 20 giant bridal magazines scanned pictures of the scariest bridal apparel and grouped them into such categories as "Strange Headgear," "Dual-Use Wedding Gowns" and "Bridesmaid's Lament." Click on a category for hilarious captions and the objects of their mockery. The only thing I don't like about this site is that I didn't think of doing it first.

Despite the pitfalls, I found a lot of advantages to using the Web for wedding tips. There are more creative and interesting ideas than in many magazines, and, unlike the bridal phone books that cost $5 a pop, the Web is free. I don't think the Internet has made non-electronic wedding resources obsolete -- at least not yet -- but it can be a very useful tool.

A guide to the sites

www.GownsOnline.com
GownsOnline is a wedding-apparel e-tailer with 3,500 formal, informal and full-figured gowns at prices reported to be 20-30 percent off most retailers'. Features a fashion glossary. The site's main drawback is that many of the dresses listed (by designer, style and pricing) are not pictured.

www.theknot.com
"Comprehensive" is the word for The Knot. In addition to a database of 3,000 dresses, the site includes tools like the budget maker, an online registry and a wedding checklist.

www.tncweddings.com
Upscale like its print cousin, Town & Country's Web site includes a gown-search feature with dresses starting at $1,000. Also offers an interactive wedding planner and bulletin boards where brides-to-be can exchange tips.

www.ultimatewedding.com
Although this site has a heavy commercial emphasis, it does offer unique features like a wedding-song library, a collection of wedding vows and samples of wedding poetry. Brides-to-be can dish through live chats and bulletin boards.

www.weddingchannel.com
Another comprehensive site, the Wedding Channel includes six main areas: online tools, fashion & beauty, shopping, registry, travel and planning. Offers hundreds of articles and a database of more than 8,000 gowns and accessories. Also has a section for grooms and even advice for wedding guests.

www.ungroomd.com
Not to be outdone, unGROOM'd.com bills itself as "The Men's Perspective on Marriage." No flowers and frou-frou here, this site presents itself like the online equivalent of a guys' bull session. Articles and advice cover the expected topics (proposals, formal wear, etc.), but with a distinctly male brand of humor.

www.visi.com/~dheaton/bride/the--bride--wore.html
Taking the whole wedding-planning business a bit too seriously? "And the Bride Wore..." offers the perfect antidote. Through photos and captions, the site pokes fun at the extremes of wedding attire. Because visitors to this site tend to fall into paroxysms of laughter, be sure to remove sharp objects from your computing area before clicking on.