This weekend, I went to my first (and probably last) wedding of 2015.
I’m sure you’re wondering what I wore to this wedding. I certainly didn’t bring any wedding-appropriate attire with me on my trip. The fanciest and cleanest(ish) clothes that I had are jeans and glorified long sleeve t-shirts. I did have a nice white sweater, but I couldn’t wear that for fear of breaking the unwritten wedding rule of not wearing white to a wedding.
My birthmother insisted that the clothes that I brought would be fine. I was in disbelief, but I wasn’t about to go out and buy a dress.
I spoke to an American that has been living in Korea about my concerns. He told me that, generally, Korean weddings are fairly casual. It’s a quick ceremony, usually held at a hall specifically used for weddings (not at a church, country club, or a gorgeous, carefully selected venue).
Wedding halls are designed for mass weddings and usually have at least 3 or 4 weddings a day there. After the ceremony, it’s a mad dash for the buffet where it’s the same cafeteria-style food that they serve to everyone. He confirmed that my jeans would likely be just fine.
Flash forward to the morning of the wedding…
My birthmother was getting ready for what seemed like hours. Actually, it was three hours and fifteen minutes, but who’s counting?
My process was a little faster. I smoothed out my fanciest and only pair of jeans and carefully selected a shirt (ok, one of my only clean shirts).
I was very conscious of the color of my shirt (red) and what that might symbolize in Korean culture. I read that the color red could symbolize good fortune and prosperity, but it’s also a bit risque. I held up the shirt to my birthmom and asked her if it was acceptable. She said that it was beautiful and would be fine.
I was a little uncomfortable because while my birthmom insisted that jeans would be fine, she chose a fancy dress and fancy matching jacket. Hmm.
Since I didn’t bring any hair products with me, there wasn’t much I could do about styling it. So I did what I do best and threw my hair up into a ponytail. Mind you, this wasn’t just any ponytail. It was a high ponytail. And I feel like this is the fanciest of all the ponytails and especially befitting a wedding.
I was ready to go. Jeans, red shirt, extra fancy ponytail, and earrings that I bought for $0.85 in a street market. My birthmother gave me a pair of sunglasses to wear so that I could look extra cool. It was cloudy outside, but the weather shall not stand in the way of fashion!
Just as we were about to leave the apartment, she stopped me. She opened up a pot of concealer and started towards my face. I figured that I had a zit that she wanted to cover up.
Nope. She very carefully applied the concealer to my scar.
For those of you who don’t know, I was born with cleft lip and a partially collapsed nose due to the cleft lip. Cleft lip a birth is a birth defect where your lip is not fully formed and causes a split on the upper lip. These were fixed when I was very young.
I have never put makeup on my scar because I am not ashamed of it. It is there because of what I was born with and it’s part of who I am. I am more than the scars on my body.
I understand that my birthmother was going to introduce me to many of her friends and that there might be an element of shame surrounding this “defect” that I was born with. I tried not to be too hurt or angry that she wanted to cover it up. But to be totally honest, I was hurt. And I was angry.
I had to shrug it off and just go along with it.
A little after 11am, we departed for the wedding. It was a very long train ride and I was grateful that I brought some reading materials with me. My birthmom brought a bottle of nail polish and decided that this would be a good time to paint her nails. People did not seem fazed by this.
We rode past the train station that we were supposed to get off at. Ok, so maybe I didn’t know what we were doing or where we were going. Were we actually going to a wedding?
We got off at the last train station and, by then, my birthmom seemed really frazzled. It was already 1pm and I thought that the wedding was supposed to start at 1pm. I don’t think she planned this very well. I definitely didn’t get my Type A personality from her. Check out this blog post where I talk about how much I like to plan and you can get an idea about how shocking this lack of preparation was to me.
Even though we were late, she decided that this would be a good time to stop at a bank. Interesting time to get some cash. Perhaps this could’ve waited until after the wedding?
We rolled up to the venue at 1:30pm, 30 minutes after the wedding was supposed to start. I immediately knew that this was not going to be the casual wedding that I expected. This was not a wedding hall; it was a huge, beautiful hotel.
I looked down at my outfit, looked over at my birthmom, and looked back at my outfit.
I could already tell that I was severely underdressed.
The escalators didn’t work. I laughed. Of course the escalators don’t work when we’re already late.
We stopped at a manned table just outside of the wedding. My birthmom pulled a wad of cash (300,000 Korean Won or about $250 USD) out of her purse (the money she got from the bank) and put it into an envelope with her name on it. Then she signed the guestbook and basically burst through the doors. What an entrance!
Unfortunately, we missed the ceremony, but we did see the family pictures being taken on the front stage.
I tried not to be too embarrassed about my attire, but it was hard not to feel extremely out of place. Everyone was dressed very nicely in dark clothing (I didn’t see any red shirts).
I helped alleviate my feelings of tension by drinking wine. A lot of wine. The more wine I drank, the more my feelings of self-consciousness dissipated. Magic!
On the bus ride back from the wedding, I was able to take some time to reflect on my experience. I realized that it didn’t matter that I was wearing. It didn’t matter that we were late. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t speak the same language. The only thing that mattered was that we were there to share in the celebration.
Here are some random tidbits that didn’t make their way into the post:
- Wedding guests brought money (not gifts) for the bride and groom. If you have a close relationship with them, you bring more money. It’s usually at least 100,000 KRW.
- There is no “reception.” After everyone eats, they leave.
- Guests are encouraged to take the flowers. There was a free flower wrapping station where people could get their flowers arranged, cut, and wrapped.
- I was not the only person wearing jeans.
- The bride got married in a western-style white dress. She changed into a traditional Korean hanbok for the cake-cutting and remainder of the wedding.
- The bride and groom did not eat. I was told that they would eat after everyone was gone.
- There were two long tables on either side of the runway. Anyone could sit there; they were not intended for the wedding party or family members.
- Once the ceremony was over, the lights turned on and the staff immediately started clearing the tables. It was a very fast wedding.