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Joan Vennochi

Glitzier wedding, but Chelsea Clinton faces challenges

Chelsea Clinton's wedding to Marc Mezvinsky, left, certainly was a style upgrade from the fashion-challenged 70s, when former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton married. (Barbara Kinney/AFP-Getty Images) Chelsea Clinton's wedding to Marc Mezvinsky, left, certainly was a style upgrade from the fashion-challenged 70s, when former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton married.
By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / August 3, 2010

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Chelsea Clinton looked beautiful. Perhaps you had to be married in the 1970s, like Bill and Hillary Clinton, to appreciate just how beautiful.

Extraordinary energy has been devoted to documenting and deriding the cost and setting of Chelsea's marriage to Marc Mezvinsky. But when photos of the happy bride, groom, ex-president and current Secretary of State finally appeared, it was hard to resist the usual rush of emotions that go along with weddings.

That "I do" moment always kick-starts a renewed belief in romance and the gauzey possibility of happily-ever-after - along with sheer envy over the Cinderella loveliness of the modern American bride and her storybook nuptials.

There was Chelsea, with hair swept up, eyes lined exotically, wearing a strapless silk organza Vera Wang gown that was embellished with a glittery belt. Her husband-to-be wore a tuxedo designed by a family friend, who happens to be Burberry's creative director.

The same family friend also designed the ties for the groomsmen and the father of the bride. Hillary Clinton wore a plum gown designed by Oscar de la Renta, accented by custom-designed pink crystal earrings and necklace. The wedding took place in Rhineback, NY, against a backdrop of arched windows and columns designed to evoke the White House.

It was stately and very 21st century. And so unlike Oct. 11, 1975, when Bill and Hillary married in the living room of their house in Fayetteville, Ark. A photo in Clinton's book, "Living History", shows a mutually joyous and frizzy-haired couple. "I wore a lace-and muslin Victorian dress I had found shopping with my mother the night before," Hillary writes. Bill wore a polka-dot tie that does not appear to be the work of any special designer.

In "My Life," Bill Clinton provides more details about his wedding day. The reception was held at another friend's home, where the wedding guests danced the night away. At 4 a.m., after the newlyweds had gone to bed, Bill Clinton got a call from his younger brother-in-law, who had been pulled over by a state trooper, "because his tipsy rider was dangling her feet out of the car's back window." The brother-in-law, who had, of course, also been drinking, was arrested; Clinton went down to the local jail to bail him out. "So ended my first night as a married man," he writes.

Weddings were simpler affairs back then. In the spirit of the times, many young couples used them to make political statements, to their parent's dismay. As the turbulent '60s mellowed out into the '70s, trappings of authority and custom were scrapped whenever possible. Some ceremonies took place outside, in parks and on beaches. The bride wore no lipstick and the bridal party wore bare feet. Even with more traditional ceremonies, a stylist didn't visit your home to do your hair and make-up.

You stepped out of the shower into a wedding dress that your mother cared about more than you did. Many brides, like Hillary Rodham, kept their maiden names.

Anyone who has spent a guilty 30 minutes watching "Say Yes to the Dress" on TLC knows how far today's wedding has advanced from the primeval 70s. The program follows brides-to-be in search of the perfect gown at New York's Kleinfeld Bridal Salon. It's not unusual to watch a young woman decide to blow past her budget and convince a mother or grandmother to spend $8,000 or $10,000 on a dress for what the show's producers frame as "what may be the single most important day of her life."

Marriages last, or don't, for many reasons. What the bride wore walking down the aisle is no indicator, no matter what the bridal industry wants brides and their Baby Boomer mothers to believe.

Bill or Hillary Clinton could tell Chelsea the challenges that lie ahead, but they don't have to bother. She lived through their trials and understands them better than the voyeuristic public that continues to judge them all. She must know that looking like a princess does not guarantee a fairy tale ending.

But given the view from the fashion-challenged 70s, it's a lovely way to start things off.

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