Weaving Wedding Dreams

Vicars and tarts -after Father B, Madame Eva and Coco Charnelle, time to turn to the subject of weddings. The French get hitched from June to September, but all the planning starts months before. In early 2012, I went to meet Véronique le Garrec who runs a wedding dress shop (though she might like to call it a Dream Emporium). As fate would have it, Ms Garrec’s shop is only a few hundred metres from Coco Charnelle (this will only make sense if you have been reading the interviews in order. You might like to peruse Provincial Pleasures before reading this.)

Taking the plunge in 2012 ? It’s probably time to start thinking about wedding plans. Roughly a quarter of a million couples get married in France every year, and to help them with the organisational nightmare, there are numerous Salon de Mariage held from September to January throughout France. French high society types start to organise their nuptials in January, but what about the Français Moyen ? I took a trip to the provinces to meet Véronique le Garrec who has been weaving wedding dreams for the future brides of Bourges for the past ten years. The current trends for Mariage à la mode in smalltown France.

Weaving wedding dreams in Bourges
Weaving wedding dreams in Bourges

So, tell us about wedding dresses.

Whatever you want, my advice would be to order early. No matter when you’re getting married, just remember that a dress takes around five months to make. We don’t sell « off the peg. » The dresses in the shop are just used for fittings, and every dress we sell is unique. Clients will start with one of our standard models and « adapt » it depending on their taste or the theme they have chosen for the wedding.

How much is a dress?

Prices range from 300€ to just over 1000€. The average spend on a dress is roughly 600€.

Wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy « off the peg » dress or even rent one?

Possibly, though apart from Tati, I don’t know of anyone who sells « off the peg » dresses. Besides for the majority brides to be, this is the biggest day of their life, it’s a fairytale moment they want something special. I’ve never actually heard of anyone renting a wedding dress.

There were two royal marriages in 2011, have the dresses of Kate Middleton or Charlene Wittstock influenced trends for 2012?

Perhaps for chic Parisian society weddings. As far as my clients are concerned, no one has asked for a Kate Middleton-style dress, though I have had a few requests or the same kind of sleeves.

What about dress trends for 2012?

In dress trends there is no such thing as a spring or summer or winter collection. All collections run from September to September. This year the trend is for long  « trapeze » shaped dresses. Volume is out. In terms of material, this year it’s taffetas and silk organza. As for colours, for years bordeaux was very popular, but this fashion is coming to an end.  The trend now is ivory, chocolate and even black. I’ve sold quite a few ivory dresses with touches of black, though no one is likely to get married all in black.

We are in France, so everyone has to get married at the « mairie », with Monsieur le Maire presiding, though many couples will go on to have a religious ceremony. Are there any « dress » differences for each ceremony? Charlene Wittstock had separate outfits for both ceremonies.

Occasionally, brides just having the civil ceremony might go for something just a little more sober, but in general terms, no matter the ceremony, the bride-to-be wants a dream dress for her dream day. It is rare for  brides to have separate outfits for each ceremony. Remember that Ms Witt stock had the civil and the religious ceremonies on different days.

More Wedding Dreams

A dress is a once in lifetime purchase. What do brides do with their dresses after the ceremony? Can they adapt them and wear them for other occasions?

When the confetti has settled and the magic day is over, most brides keep their dresses as a souvenir. These dresses are made to measure. They embody the dreams of their wearers. They can’t really be sold or recycled.

Unfortunately we live in a world where marriage isn’t necessarily for life anymore. Is this thought much in the minds of brides to be when they buy a dress?

Not at all. Brides want the best dress for their big day. I would say though, that we are getting more and more customers who are « second timers », and even on the second time round, they still want to get married in a traditional dress.

What about the groom?

We can kit out Monsieur too. Grooms have one distinct advantage over their brides; they can recycle their wedding suit. If its not too ornate or garish, it can be worn as everyday working apparel for the office. For many men, the wedding suit is perhaps the only one they will ever buy.

What about wedding trends?

They reflect the times we live in. An average « all-in » wedding costs around 13,000 Euros. The happy couple might take out a loan to pay the wedding, or other family members might chip in. People don’t tend to cut corners on food or clothing, however, they save money elsewhere. They may make their own invitations, they might have a disco instead of a band or they may not hire an expensive car, and just go to the Church in the family saloon. As for presents, couples are marrying later in life, so they already have all the homemaking stuff. The wedding wish list is on the wane. Nowadays couples will just ask for money. At the reception, the best man or family members will collect cheques or cash contributions for the happy couple. Some people use this money to actually pay for the wedding.

Selling wedding dresses, you are very much dealing in dreams, what does it take to be a good dream weaver?

A girl comes in the shop with her idea or dream, and we have to try and make it come true. You need to be a good listener, and you also have to be frank with the customer. If she looks awful in a dress, you have to tell her, though always diplomatically. The other problem is reconciling the dream with the reality. Customers come in with ideas on colours styles and materials that might not necessarily work, or be within their allotted budget. Not all of their dress dreams may come true, but we try our best.

What about qualifications?

Well I’ve never heard of any Professional dream-weaving diplomas, however, as with all sales jobs, the basic two year CAP diploma is indispensable, and for wedding dresses some kind qualification as a seamstress. I personally did an « école de Couture » before working here. After that, it is all down to your personality and passion for the job.

Are you passionate about wedding dresses?


And now a few facts, stats and phrases

Getting married in France – How the Français Moyen get hitched

Two ceremonies are better than one, but only one is valid. Church and State have been seperate in France since 1901, so only the civil weddingceremony, presided over by Monsiuer le Maire at your local Hôtel de ville, has any legal basis. Many couples follow up the mandatory civil ceremony with a full religious wedding or perhaps just a blessing.

After the ceremony, let the festivities commence. The French have two distinct« receptions » the first is the Vin d’honneur – champagne and petits fours, following the ceremony. This is the happy couple’s chance to invite « acquaintances » such as neighbours or work colleagues for a wedding drink.  The wedding dinner and dancing are reserved for family and close friends. The festivities will kick off around 8pm and go on through the night.

The following day, it is traditional for all the guests to meet up for the « after » – a late lunch to finish off the leftovers from the night before and also clean up

For full details of getting married in France, here is an excellent site


Marriage facts and stats

So you want to get married ? In France the future bride to be must be 15 years old and the future groom 18 years. Though trends are changing, the current legislation states that both parties must be of different genders.

There is of course « wedding admin ». For the ceremony, the future couple must first book a date at the town hall and two months before the ceremony, must fill in a marriage form and submit numerous documents – copies of ID papers, proof of residence and the « pre-nuptial medical dossier » which must include the results of a recent blood test for bride and groom alike. Foreign nationals marrying in France need to provide a copy of their birth certificate in the original language and a legally approved translation.



In 2010, 256,000 couples got married, according to official figures from the French national statistical office (INSEE). The French marriage peak was reached in 1972 with 416,500 weddings. The French are marrying later  in life, the average marrying age is now 30. Getting married is not cheap. Couples spend and average of 13000 Euros for their big day. The starting price for all inclusive package (including cars, invitations, flowers etc) for 100 guests is 10,000€, though most sites offering all in packages quote anywhere between 20,000€ and 30,000€ for a « beau mariage » for 100 guests. You get what you pay for.

Finally, for those who don’t wish to splice the knot in a traditional way, the French have the PACS – or – Pacte Civile de Solidarité – a contract of administrative union between different or same sex couples.



In France, the Bride is la mariée and the groom, le marié. The groom would be lost without his best man, Garçon d’honneur and a bride is nothing without her bridesmaids or desmoiselles d’honneur. « Always the bridesmaid and never the bride » – so the English saying goes which translates into French as l’eternel second.

Before the fateful day, the bride to be or future mariée may have a hen night  – enterrement de vie de jeune fille. The future groom will have a stag party – enterrement de vie de garçon. In France hen nights and stag nights do not take on the same wild and drunken proportions as they do in the UK, they are fairly sedate affairs involving a meal in a restaurant and trip to the local disco.

When mademoiselle takes the plunge – mettre le corde au coup (literally meaning to put a noose round one’s neck), she becomes Madame and gets a new name, thus losing her maiden name or nom de jeune fille.

Unless it is a shotgun wedding or mariage forcé, it is traditional to have a white wedding or mariage en blanc, as opposed to a mariage blanc which is a wedding of convenience