Almost 30 years of engagement rings, bridal gowns, bouquets, table settings, honeymoon tips and assorted marital do's and don'ts might sound like a monotonous nuptial nightmare.
But Barbara Tober still bubbles as enthusiastically today about weddings as she probably did in 1966 when she became editor-in-chief of a magazine that is one of the bibles of the bridal industry. Rather than bored, Tober is passionate, even now as she prepares to retire at the end of the year.
In recalling her career, Tober radiates professionalism. Any notion that her magazine is a frivolous fashion rag is quickly discarded after hearing her business philosophy. Weddings involve serious money--to the tune of $32 billion a year--and Tober has statistics at her unpolished fingertips that make every cent spent on every detail seem significant.
"When people marry, other people work," Tober flatly states. "A wedding brings economic health. . . . It is a great banquet from which everyone can derive a living. It makes enormous economic sense to me."
An oversized cup of herbal tea goes unsipped during an interview in a cozy library adjoining Tober's office. Tober, a youthful 60-year-old, barely has time to take a breath, let alone drink tea, as she ticks off highlights of her time with the Conde Nast magazine now known as Bride's & Your New Home.
Her professional persona comes across elegantly. In a gray wool suit woven with bronze metallic threads, chrome-coiffed Tober conveys a no-nonsense style. But she's not off-putting; her stylish aura is tempered by a cheerful attitude that gives her fuzzy, friendly edges. Here is someone with sophisticated fashion sense whom any blushing bride would feel comfortable confiding in.
Tober exudes self-confidence. Being sure of herself and believing in her work helped her endure the '60s, when traditional weddings were bell-bottoming out. Back then, when free love threatened to make marriage obsolete--or so some pundits claimed--being in charge of Bride's magazine seemed like an endangered occupation.
"Marriage was a shaky 5 on a scale of 1 to 10 in those days," says Tober. "People would laugh at me at parties."
Through those dark ages, Tober was steadfast. "We carried on and we held our head high. We knew what we were here for."
It took about 10 years for Tober to feel vindicated. "I began to see in the mid-1970s respect come back to this industry." Suddenly, radio and television talk show hosts who once scorned her sought her opinions on honeymoon travel, love and sex.
"I have watched the entire nation change its mind over this 30-year period," Tober reminisced.
Tober studied design and had eight jobs before coming to Bride's. She was a secretary, copy editor and beauty editor at Vogue and attended the Fashion Institute of Technology.
She turned down an offer to run Bride's two years before eventually taking the job. At the time she was overseeing the editorial operations of a publisher whose menu included Photoplay, True Love and other titles serving up similar zesty fare. In rejecting Conde Nast's initial overtures, she said she hadn't "crested" in her position yet.
Her training in fashion and interior design complemented Tober's communications skill and proved a good fit for Bride's.
Talking about her Bride's tenure, Tober is proud that she was born in the same month and year that the magazine's predecessor was founded, in 1934. It began as 'So You're Going to Be Married," a giveaway to women whose wedding announcements appeared in the social pages of Northeastern newspapers. It dispensed advice to brides. One sample: call husbands at work only in extreme emergencies.
The publication expanded to become Bride's, which Conde Nast bought in 1949.
For most of its life, the magazine was simply plain old Bride's. It was renamed Bride's & Your New Home with the December, 1991-January, 1992, issue as Tober repositioned the magazine to underscore its influence on the formation of new households.
Computerization has allowed the magazine to gather data to back up its claims about the economic importance of weddings, Tober says.
"We are not just a magazine, we are a . . . service organization," she explains.
Skimming through the bimonthly turns up pieces on predictable topics like how newlyweds can break out of traditional gender molds by sharing kitchen chores. Each fat issue--a typical one tops 600 pages--is crammed with facts on everything from flowers to furniture. Never mind that novice readers might find it difficult to distinguish articles from ads.
Almost any topic could be considered fodder for Bride's, Tober says. "It's a big drama here. Anthropology, sociology, psychology, travel; there's nothing we don't touch."
Among the trends Tober has witnessed are a few she thinks underlie the country's shifting attitudes toward marriage.
She has observed greater participation by the groom's family in wedding preparations, including sharing the financial burden with the bride's family.
"This idea of two families melding has been growing in our society over the last 30 years," she says.
Grooms seem more involved in the event than in the past. Engagement and wedding pictures printed in newspapers and elsewhere increasingly show the groom alongside the bride.
Tober has been married three times. Her husband of 21 years, Donald G. Tober, is chairman and chief executive officer of Sugar Foods Corp., which markets the artificial sweetener Sweet 'n Low.
Tober pauses in her recollections to remember which surname she had at a certain point. She giggles thinking that someone looking at the masthead over the years might think there have been three different editors-in-chief all named Barbara, "when the whole time it's been me!"
"I like to say I kept doing it until I did it right," Tober says, noting that her main reason for retiring is to spend more time with her husband.
When Tober leaves Bride's at the end of the year, she will be succeeded by Millie Martini Bratten, executive editor at Bride's since 1991. Bratten joined the bimonthly in 1976 as a fashion coordinator.
The zeal Tober tapped to transform a magazine once perceived as dowdy and backward should help her in retirement. Her new calling is crafts, a category encompassing objects sometimes derided as second-rate art.
Through her involvement on the Board of Governors of the American Craft Museum, she intends to become a high-profile advocate of the craft movement and improve its image.
"Remember when people said there was no craftsmanship left in America? It's not true. My role will be to see that this message gets out. I have a mission," she declares. "I'm passionate about it."