Whether it's the second, third or fifth time around, these ceremonies are ultimately for the couple's enjoyment.
By Heather O'Neill
Eva Claiborne has worn a white gown twice—at her first wedding and at what she calls her best wedding.
“I wanted to wear white and be [a] traditional bride,” says Claiborne, 47, a Tiburon resident and owner of Eva Claiborne Skin Institute. “I didn’t care what people would say.”
When Claiborne said “I do” to 46-year-old jewelry designer Keith Bartel last May, it was her fifth trip down the aisle, but only his first. “I had never been married before so I really wanted a traditional family wedding,” says Bartel.
For Claiborne, it was a chance to have the wedding she always wanted. “This was my biggest and most traditional wedding,” she says. “And it was wonderful.”
Not long ago etiquette mandated that a second wedding be a small, subdued celebration. Today, with more than 30 percent of betrothals being second, third or beyond —what are called encore weddings—couples are tossing etiquette to the wind like a discarded bouquet. “For many couples, a second wedding celebration is an expression of their personalities and style and of who they are as a couple,” says Marin County wedding planner and author Joyce Scardina Becker, owner of Events of Distinction of San Francisco. “There are no hard-and-fast rules.”
In her book Countdown to Your Perfect Wedding, Scardina Becker says the “etiquette police” are far less stringent for encore weddings than they are for first-timers: “When a couple gets married for the first time, brides in particular spend a lot of time worrying about the details. But encore weddings are a fact of life in our society, whether it is due to divorce or the death of a spouse. The more common encore weddings have become, the more people seem to realize that as long as it doesn’t harm or hurt anyone, your celebration can be whatever you want it to be.”
Remarriages usually occur between people who are older and more financially secure, which can be liberating when it comes to planning the event, Scardina Becker says. “First weddings are often more for the couple’s families, particularly because often they are paid for by the bride’s family.” Encore couples typically pay for their own weddings, she says, giving “them more freedom to create a wedding that is more about them.”
Claiborne and Bartel became engaged less than a month after their first date. He proposed with a ring he designed and created at his shop in Belvedere. They set an early date, leaving little time to plan. For help, they turned to Cindy Danbom with Bella Notte Events, a decision that made the planning enjoyable: “I had no pressure,” Claiborne says.
They had a church ceremony with 120 guests, and 80 were invited to a sit-down meal at Bartel’s childhood home, the Cove House, now part of the San Francisco Yacht Club.
Claiborne says beginning this chapter of her life with Bartel feels like the realization of a dream. “I always knew that I am a dream wife for someone and I knew I would find him…and I have,” she says. “Now I am so much happier than ever in my life.”
Heidi and Dino Wilson purposely avoided tradition for their encore wedding. Heidi had been married before and had a young son. She wanted a relaxed event.
“My first wedding was very traditional,” she says, “and I spent so much time worrying about all the little details that it wasn’t really about me anymore. This time, I didn’t really do any research about etiquette. I just did what felt comfortable to me.”
White didn’t seem right to wear, Wilson says, because she was six and a half months pregnant. “So I went totally opposite and wore a dark red dress.”
The Wilsons, both from San Rafael, decided to marry shortly after they met through Match.com. A friend became ordained as a minister for the day and led the ceremony at Barn Diva in Healdsburg, where they hosted a dinner for 35 friends.
Since the wedding, baby Ryder has arrived and husband Dino Wilson, a Sonoma County real estate agent, says his head is still spinning. “When you merge a single, 44-year-old man with a woman and a six-year-old who have an established routine and then throw a new baby into the mix, it’s hard sometimes,” he says. “It’s been a little bit crazy. But we’re all adjusting and it is getting better.”
Longtime Marin residents Amber Medkiff and David Bramnick became engaged on Valentine’s Day 2005. Each had been married before and they had different ideas for their encore performance. Bramnick, 58, station manager for KCBS radio in San Francisco, wanted to keep the celebration small, while Medkiff, a luxury travel director in her 40s, wanted to, in her words, “do it up.” She prevailed.
What persuaded Bramnick was the idea of family togetherness. “I lost my sister a few years ago,” he says, “and seeing everyone come together at that time made me realize how wonderful it would be to have everyone come together [in] happiness rather than sadness. I thought if Amber wanted to have a bigger wedding, great. Between the two of us we found this really happy medium and it was a unique celebration.”
It was important to both that Bramnick’s daughter, Rebecca, 21, play a role in their wedding. Medkiff chose Rebecca as her maid of honor, a choice that came easily: “I love her as if she was my own,” she says.
The pair hired Gayle Nicoletti of Bloomingayles Design Studio in Mill Valley to help them shape the celebration. Meanwhile, Medkiff consulted wedding books about etiquette questions. “Truthfully,” she says, “there were a lot of ‘don’t’s’ that I did. I mean, typically I think you shouldn’t wear white for a second wedding but for me in my heart this felt like the first time so I broke all the rules.”
In another break with tradition, they registered with HoneyLuna, a Sausalito-based honeymoon registry company that enables guests to contribute to a getaway fund for the honeymoon. And they chose a local theater as venue for a wedding ceremony designed to evoke Phantom of the Opera. “We are the first people who ever got married at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley,” Bramnick says. “It is a really cool place.”
They sent out save-the-date cards shaped like large theater tickets and began deciding on details. “That was where Gayle [Nicoletti] really worked her magic,” says Medkiff. “We wanted that feeling of theater and she made it dramatic and beautiful.” Thousands of red rose petals covered the floor. An opera singer performed a song from Phantom as Medkiff walked down the aisle. Later her father, an acclaimed jazz singer, performed a set of tunes in her honor. San Francisco chef Gerald Hirigoyen catered the affair.
“I wanted it to be exactly what it was,” Medkiff says, “which was the best night
of my life.”
Image 2: Eva Claiborne and Keith Bartel
Image 3: Heidi and Dino Wilson