Mating for Life

Greetings My Lovelies!

According to a Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, bequeathed to me by my beloved Uncle David, “when their breeding efforts are complete, the males of most of the duck species in the Northern Hemisphere molt from their brightly colored nuptial plumage to a dull, cryptic plumage. Their brilliance is dimmed—they go into ‘Eclipse’.”  The eclipse plumage is generally retained for a brief time—sometimes for weeks or months, sometimes until the following spring, sometimes until the young flee the nest with his car keys and credit card.  Until then, male ducks just sit on the couch and blend in with their natural surroundings as much as possible so as not to attract predators or irritated spouses with “honey-do” lists. Basically, male ducks have the water fowl equivalent of “the dad bod.” They don’t regain their fancy breeding garb until there is some advantage of impressing females in advance of the impending breeding season.

At the shop, wedding season is still going strong.  We have as many as ten full wedding parties on the racks. Huge white dresses, the size of small yurts, are destined for beaches, back-yards, and ballrooms; court-houses, carriages, and country-clubs.  They are all extravagant confections in more shades of white than a bee can see.  A wedding dress is one of the most memorable garments a woman will ever wear. Above the invitations, the flowers, the cake, the gown stands out as a symbol of the bride’s temperament .  Some reflect exactly what she wanted; some reflect how she was steam-rolled by other, stronger, adult females in her tribe.  The suits and tuxes we are altering for the men have not such variety.  In fact, if we are not super conscientious about pinning labels to each one, it would be easy to mix them up.

We are one of the few species on the planet where the female is now the most ornamented. In most species of bird, she is the dull one, the camouflaged one. Today’s Wedding fashion and “Courtship Plumage” of the young male is getting to be more and more like “Eclipse” plumage with each passing generation but it wasn’t always the case. Long ago, men were every bit as frilly, fancy, powdered and high-heeled as women, some even more so.

The “Macaronis,”of Yankee Doodle fame were upper-class British youth that took a grand tour of Europe, many to France and Italy, in the 18th century.  Supposedly these youths were given their moniker because they had developed a taste for the exotic dishes of Italy, including the pasta. When they returned home, they often wanted to emulate the vivacious fashion they had seen abroad. Rather than don the typical matching suit of breeches, waistcoats down to the knees and long vests of their fathers, these fellows created a trimmer look and used wild, mismatched colors. They pushed the limits, as teenagers do, with embroidery, ornamental swords, and jewelry.

A group of six men and their groom have just figured out that their particular wedding is less than ten days away.   One of their women-folk alerted them to this fact and four of them called within an hour of each other. They “aren’t in any hurry,” so they say, but they might as well get these suits altered before their mothers, wives, and girlfriends take to drinking gin straight from the bottle and prodding them with sticks.  Within hours, I am faced with tailoring a row of medium blue (the hot color this year, it seems) suits. Also, as part of a newer trend, they have opted to buy suits they can all wear again, rather than wearing rental tuxedos. The younger the men are, the more they need the waist in, sleeves up, and shoulders out.  These guys are all “ripped” as they like to say, which is what will happen to their pants if we don’t make the right adjustments.  They come into the shop one at a time and make jokes about the others all having “dad bods.”

“Yeah… heh heh, this is the last time [the groom] will ever be these measurements! He can’t wait to get through the wedding so he can relax and have a dad bod,” says one dude with glee.  I am curious.  I want to know what a dad bod is. The Urban Dictionary’s top definition of Dad bod states that it is “a male body type that is best described as ‘softly round.’ It's built upon the theory that once a man has found a mate and fathered a child, he doesn't need to worry about maintaining a sculpted physique. Having a "dad bod" is a nice balance between working out and keeping a beer gut.”

 It goes on to say, “If human bodies were cuts of meat, the dad bod would skew more marbled rib eye than filet mignon; or, if human bodies were sea mammals, dad bod would be more like a grazing manatee than a speedy dolphin. The dad bod is more mudslide than mountain, more soft serve than sorbet, more sad trombone than clarinet, more mashed potato than skinny fry. The dad bod is built for comfort.”

So, basically, dads are just ducks in Eclipse Plumage.  Right from the beginning, from before the wedding day, women are going to have a completely different relationship with their bodies. The women are going to try harder, spend more, have more fittings and more costly alterations.  Their bodies will be far more affected by the bearing of their young.  And yet, not once, have I ever witnessed a bridesmaid saying “Yeah, [the bride] will never see these measurements again! She can’t wait to relax and start working on her Mom bod.  She can’t wait to quit working out and worrying about what she looks like. She can’t wait to be soft and round and cute in a socially acceptable way that shows she’s just a family gal taking care of her family. ” Nope. Never heard that yet.

None of these young guys has a “dad bod,” but clearly, they are well aware of the concept. They are looking forward to the physical manifestation of Complacency that will be their reward for having twenty-three thousand discussions about what kind of flowers to put on the cake. They don’t give a shit, as long as there is cake.  Any kind of cake. They don’t really want to discuss that either. With that bite of cake, they get to keep eating cake forever more, until death do they part or Jenny Craig weeps.

I pick up a brand new suit to be worn by the father of the groom.  It is labeled “Portly Short.”  This is the Men’s Store label version of what a Women’s store calls “petite.”  Petite clothing is created shorter in the waist and leg length than regular clothes, otherwise, the sizing of the widths is similar.   I cannot imagine women feeling comfortable with the label “Portly Short” but the men don’t seem to mind at all.  It kinda just tells it like it is and they are ok with that.  Nothing proclaims “Dad bod” like the words “portly short.” They would not thank you to be called “petite.”  There is something far too delicate about that.  They don’t mind being called portly or short as long as they come off as strong.  We don’t say men are petite. We say they are “stocky,” “rugged,” “built,” or “big.”

A little while later, an impressive bride overflows the dressing room, pouring through the doorway into the shop like suds overflowing a bathtub.  She is handsome and well-built, as well as very tall, and rides out on a foam of tulle like a Sea goddess clothed in white surf.  While her groom will look nearly identical to his men, No One at this wedding will look anything like this bride! She looks triumphant. Yet, up close, we can see the tell-tale gaps under her armpits: the dress needs to be tweaked and taken in.  She comes on a weekly basis, having lost more weight, to have us adjust things yet again.  Her wedding is still a month off.  We have made so many changes to this dress that I fear I am beginning to live out one of those philosophy questions about “when is the ship not the original ship if I gradually replace every single board and rebuild it with another board?”  I am beginning to anticipate her wedding with even greater joy than she is, merely so I never again have to deal with the lace overlay on her ever-shrinking bodice. (It never before occurred to me how lucky most folks are to see a wedding dress only Once!)

Unlike swans, ospreys, coyotes, and termites, the primates known as Homo sapiens do not generally mate for life. While some of us naked apes may find one partner and stay with them forever, never straying, history tells us that it has not been the norm for our species. Nevertheless, marriage, a social technology, has sprung up in most societies and on every inhabited continent and we all do our best while we can.

Another bride comes in for a fitting—this one is a middle-aged bride on her third wedding. Her white dress is similarly voluminous.   She is cranky and difficult to please. She fusses over the layers of tulle and the glittering belt of rhinestones at her waist.  Above the swooping neckline, her jowls sag and she furrows the wrinkles on her face in displeasure.  After she leaves, we wonder why a vigorously “petite,” middle-aged woman would want to do the whole Big White Gown thing at all.  Why not get a more flattering gown in a more flattering color?  Perhaps an elegant dress?  Maybe even blue jeans… Pretty much anything would make this woman look better than the ten yards of tulle making her resemble an enormous lemon meringue pie (with droopy lemons).  Did she like how she looked in her previous wedding gowns? I wonder.  “Maybe her maidenhead keeps growing back!” says a colleague.

The truth is that wearing the color white has more to do with Joy than purity and is a purely western tradition dating only to the 19th century, when Queen Victoria broke the status quo at her 1840 wedding and rocked lacy, ivory-colored silk satin. Women's magazines embraced the look's innocence and simplicity, calling white "the most fitting hue" for a bride. Its popularity caught on and has yet to flag. Around the world, women of other cultures are just as likely to wear red, as the most auspicious color for a wedding. We had a bride in last week who wanted a red wedding dress but she was “afraid to break with tradition.” I told her about how positively Stunning and Magnificent my sister-in-law had been in her deep red velvet bodice with white skirts. Far from being bold and cheeky, she was just wearing a color that was More Traditional than the current traditions!

American brides didn't always wear white.  Before the Victorian fad swept across the Atlantic, most women wore their “best” dress, regardless of what color it was.  The idea of wearing an extravagant dress for one day only and one event only, never to be worn again (except by succeeding generations) was something that poorer people could not contemplate.  White is not a practical color for daily wear. Only the wealthy could afford such a high-maintenance garment.  So white is not even as much for “purity” as for status and the ability to show off squandering a huge whack of money.  Personally, I’ve always thought it strange that women buy their dresses and men only rent their tuxes for formal occasions.  For both genders, dressing up is only temporary—or Occasional (i.e. for the Occasion).  

A young Bride-to-Be is back the shop with her soon-to-be groom, asking if we can tweak his already tight tux and make it even tighter. “I want to show off his bod,” she explains, lustfully clawing his chest.  “Everyone at this wedding needs to see what a great bod this guy has!” He smiles sheepishly. This is the “bod” he is going to have until the moment he starts eating cake.  She better enjoy it while it lasts.  From the looks of things, society will forgive him for “going to seed” the moment she conceives, but she might not!

Be well, dear ones, and do Good Work!

Yours aye,