Rushing Bride 

Weddings are all about The Dress

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Had Cinderella been a Utah gal, bent on wedding LaVar Prince in the temple before the ink dried on her high school diploma, she would have needed a fairy godmother working overtime on a bride's most exigent issue: the dress. Enter Judy Miller, the mistress of Fairy Godmother's Bridal in Salt Lake City. This godmother has no need of a magic wand to put this bride aright. Experience suffices. Miller has spent the past 25 years fitting the right dress to the right bride.

By the time she calls Miller for help, Cinderella is frantic. Time is short. Prince's mother has a case of the nerves. The hours invested in Pinterest have yielded only immodest and unaffordable dresses, all white.

Miller's fitting room, with its warm pink walls and well-placed mirrors, is a sanctuary for frazzled brides-to-be. With a little straight talk and a calming touch on Cinderella's arm, the grandmotherly Miller goes to work. "Put your life in my hands for an hour," she says. Cinderella watches herself in the mirrors. She smiles agreeably even as she appraises the disappointing size of her butt. She is carrying the glass slippers.

"White isn't a good color for you," Miller begins. "Ivory complements your skin tone much better. Let's try on an ivory dress. And, by the way, the heels on the glass slippers may create a hemline problem. You might end up in Tom's."

The Fairy Godmother's genial, one-on-one approach—a process which has served "a clientele of middle-class Mormon girls age 19.3" well over the years—steers Cinderella to a strapless A-line dress. Without so much as an abracadabra, a lace jacket transforms it magically to "temple ready." Cinderella balks at a Gatsby-style headpiece and veil. "A bride without a veil is just a pretty girl in a pretty dress," Miller counters. Cinderella relents. She writes a check for $1,200. Right dress, right price. She texts the news to her friends and leaves a voicemail for Mother Prince.

As it turns out, Cinderella gets a good deal. In 2013, the typical wedding dress in Utah cost about $1,300 according to TheKnot.com's Real Weddings study. That year, 24,448 couples married in Utah. The average bill for those weddings was about $17,000, nearly $80,000 less than a wedding in Manhattan, and $13,000 less than the national average. Honeymoon costs were not included, however, and 88 percent of Utah newlyweds spent money on a romantic getaway.

It used to be that a bride would save money by renting dresses for herself and her bridesmaids. That's how Miller got started in business: renting prom dresses. Then dresses for bridesmaids—two styles, three colors. Then satin wedding gowns with puffy sleeves. She moved away from rentals to specialize in wedding dresses just as Larry Webster ushered in the age of straplessness in the United States.

Webster, a California Mormon who served a mission in Australia, returned to Sydney in the 1970s to launch a hugely successful wedding-dress business called Sugar House. He then moved to Utah where, Miller says, he single-handedly started a national trend of strapless dresses and tiaras. But "the strapless dress is a conundrum for Mormon brides," Miller says, so a niche market developed as the Fairy Godmother began to sew sleeves on the stylish but "immodest" dresses.

Much has changed since then. Every dress is now made in China, and it is possible to order a sleeved one. The days of shiny satin, taffeta and lace have come and gone. Chiffon is the fabric of choice for today's popular "Greek goddess" look. Brides are now larger, Miller says. Twenty-five years ago, the young women she was fitting weighed between 105 and 128 pounds. Now, as those women's daughters seek out the Fairy Godmother, the norm is 128 to 140. Miller refers to them as "the coddled, younger generation." These are girls whose helicopter parents made sure they got trophies for showing up. As brides under stress, they are more difficult to deal with than their Gen X mothers.

Generational differences aside, to live happily ever after is every bride's expectation. But happiness may prove to be as elusive as a predictive failure rate for marriages like Cinderella and LaVar's. Whatever it is—40 percent? 50 percent?—the truth is that the divorce rate is slightly higher in Utah than elsewhere. Perhaps that is because Utah has the youngest brides (three years under the national average) and the shortest engagements (10 months). "Getting married too young" is a reason cited by more than 40 percent of divorcing couples in Utah, according to a government study.

For now, as a typical Utah family, Cinderella and LaVar will have 2.21 kids, more than couples in every other state. Cinderella dreams of daughters in pretty dresses. She will name them Emma and Eliza. She has taken Miller's advice against selling her wedding dress on KSL.com, as thousands do. Her Fairy Godmother dress is stored carefully away with the glass slippers. Someday her daughters will want to see them. Maybe wear them! Or not. The trend toward casual weddings is undeniable. J. Crew is marketing an Eyelash Lace Jumpsuit to brides who want their wedding clothes to be suitable to wear on other occasions. And who's to say that Cinderella's granddaughters won't be brides in gingham and iShoes, sipping sparkling cider from Grandma's legendary glass slipper?

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