Tying Down Details Before Tying the Knot

Times Staff Writer

Somewhere between the foam wedding cakes and nuptial candy display, Barbara Baren was pondering the momentous event.

"It's a bi-coastal wedding. It's not an easy thing," said the mother of the prospective bride, standing over sample wedding invitations. Her daughter lives in New York, but that hasn't stopped Baren from attending every bridal fair she can find here and discreetly passing across the continent wedding pointers.

"I'm giving suggestions, doing the orchestration and paying for it," she said.

Future Brides

Baren came to Geary's in Beverly Hills recently, along with several hundred future brides, bridegrooms, their mothers and others, to view china, wedding gowns and various imperatives of the fashionable bride--all discussed as intently as matters of state.

Geary's, a 56-year-old china, silver and crystal store, gathered dozens of "table top" and bridal experts under a huge white tent behind the store for their annual bridal fair.

There was no shortage of advice.

One Wedgwood china executive told a rapt audience in folding chairs that a proper place setting must be 24 inches wide and that one flower centerpiece simply isn't enough for a party larger than four.

A representative with Towle Silversmiths stood behind his booth offering "support materials," as he called his pamphlets. And professional thank-you note writer Joyce Leddel advised onlookers that wedding gifts should be acknowledged "promptly, succinctly and warmly"--even if by herself, a stranger.

Writing Block

Brides can develop mental blocks against writing, she said: "It builds up and becomes such a chore. It becomes a nightmare." The former English teacher calls her service "A Word for All Reasons" and claims she can compose up to 150 notes a day.

Just as every spring delivers a sure batch of brides, bridal fairs can be counted on to deliver a dose of tradition. And that goes for the wedding dress.

"Lady Diana is still hot. But Madonna, no way. No one wants to look funky," said designer Paula Sacks, who brought models wearing her wedding-gown designs to roam through the tent. "Women may come in thinking they want to be contemporary and very high fashion," she said, "but then all of a sudden, the romance of it captivates them."

But tradition wasn't the entire message of the fair. Officials, for example, noted that white is not having its strongest year.

Designer Sacks said pink gowns are in demand and that electric blue is a common choice for career women past their first blush.

Cakes also have turned multihued. Dwarfed by her lineup of four-tiered, model wedding cakes, Patty Hansen of Hansen's Cakes said some brides match brightly frosted cakes to their bridesmaid dresses.

"It also makes a beautiful photograph," she said.

Tradition and Self-Expression

Geary's president Bruce Meyer summed up the bridal mood as a marriage of tradition and self-expression. Hence brides will register for china patterns, he said, but mix those patterns on the table.

'Free Spirit'

"There's kind of a 'free spirit' going on in table top. People are writing their own rules," he said.

Future bride Betsy Bannon called the day "exciting but tedious." This 27-year-old physical therapist did, after all, come to choose silver, crystal, everyday and formal china patterns, one after another. And although she and fiance Rob Gilmore agreed on the formal china, they haggled ever so slightly over everyday dishes.

"He wanted something modern. I wanted something much more old-fashioned," Bannon said. The bride got her way but couldn't help but conclude that decisions such as these are "slightly anxiety provoking."

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