Guest Dress for Weddings: Decode the Invitation

When my wedding dress was stolen, the insurance company representative sneered. He told me that as a guest I would have received more compensation. Why? A guest’s outfit might be worn again hence held more value that a wedding gown which is worn once.

I was reminded of the cost of dressing for a wedding recently when a Montreal shop advertised what to wear to summer weddings. I like the ‘how-to’ approach in advertising; however, in this case the pricetags would wipe out the possible wedding gift for the couple!


Today’s couples are tying the knot in the most amazing places—so, what do you wear that feels just as special? Florals are a vineyard wedding staple, so make them feel fresh by going full bloom in a blouse with neutral wide-legged trousers and eye-catching metallics.

Personally, I avoid wearing trousers in summer, especially to a wedding! Exeception: lacey white or airy pastel perhaps. The greatest error is to wear polyester anything especially to a wedding in summer!

KEY to being a guest at any wedding:  Dress up but remember that you may be in a church so have a shawl or jacket and don’t outdo the bride.


Graphic is the way to go for an artistic wedding in the city.  Let the design do the talking by sticking to monochrome black and white. Note the rule remains: avoid too much white so as to be different from the bride.



Take a tailored approach to dressing for a European destination (Santorini maybe?) by pairing a razor-sharp blazer with an abstract printed dress and accessories.  My advice: AGAIN avoid synthetics and take and extra low-heel shoe for later.

How to Know What to Wear to a Wedding OR Invitation Terminology

The Knot is a great wedding site on line. From the craziest question of etiquette to the last designer detail. For example, has a wedding invite ever left you clueless? Fear not, the clue you need is likely there—you just have to know how to interpret the dress code wording. Whether it’s black tie, white tie or something in between, here’s a list for deciding what to wear for madame.

If the invite says “white tie”

This is the most formal of all wedding dress codes (think state dinners and the Oscars). ‘She’ should wear: A formal, full-length ball gown. Glamorous makeup and dramatic jewelry and hair are appropriate.

If the invite says “black tie”

This is the next most formal wedding dress code and usually means the wedding is an evening affair. ‘She’ should wear: A chic cocktail dress or a long evening gown.

If the invite says “formal” or “black tie optional”

The wording here suggests something slightly less formal than black tie. This means that a tuxedo isn’t required, but the event is still formal enough for one to be appropriate. ‘She’ should wear: A long evening dress, dressy suit or formal cocktail-length dress.

If the invite says “cocktail attire”

This is slightly less formal than black tie and black tie optional, which means no tux required for men and no floor-length gown required for women (unless you’d like to wear a long dress). ‘She’ should wear: A cocktail dress or dressy suit or jumpsuit.

If the invite says “beach formal”

This suggests an elegant beach wedding—so dress to impress, but also dress for the elements (sun, sand and water I ADD WIND!). Anything you’d wear to a nice restaurant on a summer night is appropriate. ‘She’ should wear: A formal summer sundress at tea or knee length with flat sandals. Makeup and hair can be natural. Hats are great but remember the WIND!

If the invite says “semi-formal” or “dressy casual”

Depending on the time of the event, you’ll want to dress somewhere between formal and casual. Wear darker, more formal hues for an evening fete; opt for light colors and fabrics for a daytime wedding. ‘She’ should wear: A cocktail dress or a dressy skirt and top. 

If the invite says “casual” or “daytime”

Generally, casual means anything goes—but jeans, shorts and tank tops are probably not appropriate unless they’re specifically noted as acceptable. For the purposes of wedding wear, assume business casual to be on the safe side. ‘She’ should wear: A summer sundress or a skirt or pants with a nice blouse. Makeup and hair can be natural.

P.S. I don’t believe in casual (especially pants!) for a wedding. This should be an occasion.  At least ‘Sunday Best’!



The postcard (Artefactos, 1972) propped up on my bookshelf stared at me. An odd photograph, rather like an X-ray, it did not occur to me that the picture was of Violeta Parra Sandoval.

The Cervantes Institute in Athens sent the postcard to me years ago.

I knew Gracias a la vida, written in 1966 by Chilean folksinger Violeta Parra, but had always associated it with the Argentine Mercedes Sosa.Sometimes I used to teach the song in Spanish into English translation course.

My pedagogical purpose was to demonstrate that a seemingly simple song (basic vocabulary) may be translated but can the translation be sung. This question raises issues of poetry, poetic license, adaptation, assonance, phonetics, and more. (By the way, I often refer to the translation of a better known piece, La Bamba for similar purposes in the classroom.)

One thing that I learned in the classroom was that much depends on the rendition. Some versions sound like dirges. Besides Mercedes Sosa, the famous American folksinger Joan Baez recorded Gracias a la vida in the mid-1970s.

The melody is simple, repetitive, as are the words. There is definitely a message, which was enhanced by the political situation of Chile. However, chacun son goût. If you like folk music in general, you’ll appreciate this song.

Ironically, only two days ago I realized this song had somehow penetrated my psyche and my revised manuscript, of the story One Dress, One Day.  It actually revealed the ending to me. Was it the power of the postcard? I translated a few lines of the song for my heroine, Inma to sing them. In her quest for a mantra, the title seemed appropriate. Synchronicity? Gracias to Violeta Parra.

One bittersweet note: Violeta’s song thanks life and she took her own.

The Spanish version has be recorded by scores of Hispanic singers up to 2019 and remains under copyright (Warner). Naturally, what my heroine warbles in English is my own interpretation.


Below are the Spanish lyrics and a link to a version of the song by the great Mercedes Sosa.

Mercedes Sosa – Gracias a La Vida – YouTube


Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto 
Me dio dos luceros que cuando los abro 
Perfecto distingo lo negro del blanco 
Y en el alto cielo su fondo estrellado 
Y en las multitudes el hombre que yo amo

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto 
Me ha dado el oído que en todo su ancho 
Cada noche y días 
Grillos y canarios, martillos, turbinas 
Ladridos, chubascos 
Y la voz tan tierna de mi bien amado

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto 
Me ha dado el sonido y el abecedario 
Con el las palabras que pienso y declaro 
Madre, amigo, hermano y luz alumbran

La ruta del alma del que estoy amando

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto 
Me ha dado la marcha de mis pies cansados 
Con ellos anduve ciudades y charcos 
Playas y desiertos, montañas y llanos 
Y la casa tuya, tu calle y tu patio

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto 
Me dio el corazón que agita su marco 
Cuando miro el fruto del cerebro humano 
Cuando miro el bueno tan lejos del malo 
Cuando miro el fondo de tus ojos claros

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto 
Me ha dado la risa y me ha dado el llanto 
Así yo distingo dicha de quebranto 
Los dos materiales que forman mi canto 
Y el canto de ustedes que es el mismo canto 
Y el canto de todos que es mi propio canto

Gracias a la vida

Songwriters: Violeta Parra Sandoval

Gracias a la Vida lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Santa Eulalia and Sant Jordi


Fin de semana: Santa Eulàlia

¡Este fin de semana en Barcelona hay una gran fiesta por Santa Eulàlia, copatrona de Barcelona, la cultura popular de raíz tradicional sale a la calle para celebrar la Fiesta Mayor de Invierno. Gigantes y gigantas, dragones, diablos, bailes tradicionales, el Àliga, la ‘gegantona’ Laia, ‘castells’… El viernes por la noche tiene lugar una nueva sesión del ciclo de conciertos Las Noches de Invierno, que dan visibilidad a las propuestas emergentes más atractivas del panorama actual.

February has Saint Eulalia while April has Sant Jordi (George) so we are now in between celebrating Barcelona’s co-patron saints. 

Saint Eulalia (Aulaire, Aulazia, Olalla, Eulària) (c. 290–12 February 303), was a 13-year-old virgin who suffered martyrdom in Barcelona during the reign of Diocletian.  There is some dispute as to whether she is the same person as Saint Eulalia of Mérida whose story is similar. Of course, anyone familiar with saint’s martyrdoms will recognize similarities. Two to three saints’ stories often meld together over time, as is the case with Saint Catherine (Sienna, Alexandria)>

For refusing to recant her Christianity, the Romans subjected her to thirteen tortures including:

  • Putting her into a barrel with knives (or glass) stuck into it and rolling it down a street (according to tradition, the one now called Baixada de Santa Eulalia “Saint Eulalia’s descent”).
  • Cutting off her breasts
  • Crucifixion on an x-shaped cross. She is depicted with this cross, the instrument of her martyrdom.
  • Finally, decapitation.

A dove supposedly flew up from her neck following her decapitation. This is one point of similarity with the story of Eulalia of Mérida, in which a dove flew from the girl’s mouth at the moment of her death. In addition, Eulalia of Mérida’s tortures are sometimes enumerated among the Barcelona martyrs, and the two were similar in age and year of death.

Eulalia is remembered with statues and street names throughout Barcelona. Originally interred in the church of Santa Maria de les Arenes (St. Mary of the Sands; now changed to ‘of the Sea’,  (St. Mary of the Sea). It was hidden in 713 when the Moors invaded. Recovered in 878, it was relocated to a sarcophagus in the crypt of the newly built cathedral dedicated to Santa Eulalia (1339).  The festival of Saint Eulalia is held in Barcelona for a week around her feast or name day on February 12.

The Christian knight, protector of Barcelona

Sant Jordi, the Catalan equivalent of Saint George, is a very popular figure in Catalonia. He is the Patron Saint of the region, and Catalonia even have a Saint George Day – El Día de Sant Jordi, on April 23rd (Saint George’s name day in the Catholic church).
If you visit the Barrio Gótico of Barcelona especially one figure dominates in paintings, sculptures, alcoves and fountains.  It is a knight with his sword high in the air fighting an enormous dragon. The knight is of course Saint George, in the Catalan version,Sant Jordi.

On this day, tradition has the girls giving a book to the boys who give roses to the girls in return.

The rose motif stems from the myth, since after Saint George killed the dragon, a rose came up where the dragon’s blood was spilled. Giving books is more modern and highlights International Book Day. (Note that  both Shakespeare and Cervantes died on April 23rd, both in 1616. This odd trivia fact was highlighted during the 400-th anniversaries of their death celebrated around the world three years ago.

Saint George, the most famous Christian dragonslayer, holds tremendous power in many European centres besides Barcelona. In fact, he is the patron saint of 15 European countries.

Desfile, or Procession, in Semana Santa

One Dress, One Day takes you to 1990, to Barcelona and to SEMANA SANTA (Holy Week) in Spain. 

The ancient Greek tradition stresses time over place. Aristotle prescribed 24 hours. Famous tragedies like Antigone and Electra follow this rule, more or less.  As the title suggests, One Dress, One Day divides into the components of a Spanish day: madrugada, manana, mediodia, siesta, tarde, anochecer, noche, altas horas de la madrugada, amenacer. 

The one day of this tale falls within Holy Week, the Lenten period before Easter. The Semana Santa, or Holy Week, must be experienced in Spain. The heavy, pervasive mourning resounds in the various processions of the penitents who parade their religious symbol (usually a Madonna statuette) or Paschal scene as a float.  Some bear crosses and walk barefoot in rough robes.  Many wear hoods.  It is an impressive sight for believers or non-believers.  Inma, one of the characters in One Dress, One Day, finds herself watching a late night procession.

“Theirs was an old cofradia, El Santísimo nombre de Jesús, with a well-worn white silk banner held high by the leader and hung throughout Holy Week in the plaza mayor, too. Several nazareños marched barefoot on the cold damp pavement or cobblestones; some shuffled along in shackles. The burliest brown friars bore unhewn wooden crosses on their backs. All had taken a vow of silence inside the nearby chapel before beginning their march.”

The drum often marks time for processions. Sometimes a trumpet and a small brass section complete the corps.  Mournful, haunting, the sound at night evokes the pain of the Passion. Yet, many Spanish churches hold Lenten concerts of classical music, usually religious like Stabat Mater, to prepare those awaiting the Resurrection.

Dictionary/WIKIPEDIA Rush

Ever look up a word in the dictionary or Wikipedia to discover more than you expected? As a writer and translator, I do this regularly.  Here is my recent quick reminder of that experience.

My annotated overview of the WIKIPEDIA entry on

Wedding Dress

A wedding dress or wedding gown is the clothing worn by a bride during a wedding ceremony. Colour, style and ceremonial importance of the gown depends on the religion and culture of the participants. In Western cultures, brides often choose white, which was made popular by Queen Victoria in the 19th century. In Eastern cultures, brides often choose red to symbolize auspiciousness. This post focuses on the Western tradition.


Wedding gown circa 1891

Weddings performed during and immediately following the Middle Ages were often union between not just two people but two families, two businesses or even two countries. Many weddings were more a matter of politics than love. Brides were therefore expected to dress in a manner that cast their families in the best light and befitted their social status during the ceremony. Brides from wealthy families often wore rich colours and exclusive fabrics, e.g. wearing blue, scarlet, purple, and layers of furs, velvet or silk. The poorest of brides wore their best church dress on their wedding day. I did know that many women in many parts of the world were buried in their wedding gown as it was their finest clothing. I had been shocked to learn that women used to marry in black as it seemed so funereal.

Until the 1960s, wedding dresses reflected the styles of the day. Veils have come and gone, risen, lowered, or been little more than a hairpiece (tantalizer). From that sixties onward, wedding dresses have often been based on Victorian styles. There was also a trend to medieval or renaissance theme weddings. Ethnic dress has also been revived, notably Celtic (with grooms in kilts) but also African and Austrian.

The first documented instance of a princess wearing a white wedding dress for a royal wedding ceremony is that of Philippa of England. In 1406, she wore a  white silk cloak bordered in fur when wedding  Eric of Pomerania. 

This was not a widespread trend, however: prior to the Victorian period, a bride was married in any color, black being especially popular in Scandinavia.

White became a popular option in 1840, after the marriage of Queen Victoria. Illustrations of the wedding were widely published, and many brides opted for white in accordance with the Queen’s choice.

Even after that, wedding dresses were adapted to the styles of the day. In the early 1900s, clothing included a lot of lace or frills which was adopted in wedding apparel. In the 1920s, wedding gowns were typically short in the front with a longer train in the back and were worn with cloche-style veils.

Today, Western wedding dresses are usually white though “wedding white” includes shades such as eggshell or ecru. (My house painter suggested a shade of white called ‘antique wedding’ which was matte and off-white.) Of course a guest should never wear white to a wedding.  It is poor form.  A beige might pass, but better to wear any other colour than white.

Later, many people assumed that the color white was intended to symbolize virginity though this was not the original intention. Blue was associated with purity, piety, fidelity and the Virgin Mary.

Current Bridal Trends

About 75 percent of the wedding dresses on the market are strapless or  sleeveless, in part because such dresses require less skill from the designers and seem easier to alter.  (It also seems that some women want to look more seductive or glamorous on the big day.) However, the sleeved wedding gown as well as wedding gowns with straps have both become more popular in recent years. A shawl or sleeves may be required by certain religions.

Having modelled many gowns,  I do not recommend the strapless gown as it can droop. Two problems arise. First, the dress tends to look tight on the bride. Second, the boning required to keep the bust supported and the ribcage held may become uncomfortable. One quick fix is to have a seamstress attach with elastic ‘wings’ of fabric even with decorations to connect the bodice to the upper arm/edge of shoulder. An easily removable lace or tulle shawl also should be worn over the shoulders.

QUICK FASHION FLASH: Jean-Paul Gaultier has a great collection of wedding gowns from the finales of his fashion shows.  Love is love! This exhibit remains a must-see. 

Photo of pale pink gown from LOVE IS LOVE at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2017.