Alan Perrott: Clothes maketh the groom

By Alan Perrott

Alan Perrott and Abbie Read on their wedding day. Photo / Catherine Cattanach Photography
Alan Perrott and Abbie Read on their wedding day. Photo / Catherine Cattanach Photography

The fabric came from the button-downed silkmongers of Berwick St; the flat-shanked, horn buttons were liberated from a tiny boutique behind Selfridges; and the shoes were prised from a basement on New York's lower East Side.

I had no intention of being anyone's support act on my wedding day last year - not even my bride's. I've seen too many grooms whose style could be best described as unobtrusive. The aim, I assume, is to be tidy, much like a carefully arranged cutlery drawer that's nice when you notice it, but is otherwise invisible.

Not me. I'd rather attend via videolink than surrender to a hire shop or some thrown-together-out-of-wedding-dress-scraps afterthought.

First, I have to admit that I do, on the odd occasion, rather enjoy playing the show pony.

I'll add a few extra cuts to my jib simply because it's Friday - it's good for the soul.

So, exactly five seconds after my missus proposed, my mind was rewinding a few years, back to the day I was flicking through a collection of 60s fashion photography and came across ladies' man Robert Wagner wearing a collarless white suit and black turtleneck.

That was cool.

So, I already knew what I wanted. Actually, make that "still want" because once the wedding was set for high summer, out went the turtleneck.

Then, when finding a shirt that worked became difficult, in came a collar. In the end, all that remained of my memory was white - which, after extensive research and testing, resolved into a particular winter white. Worsted pure wool winter white at that.

No matter, I'd got my outfit rolling well before the bride, and I wasn't about to ease off.

When Abbie baulked at the idea of me wearing a burnt orange shirt with the white suit, I stamped my foot: "This is my day, too, and I want orange."

"But, but, but ..."

Then what do you know? The perfect silk jacquard appears with not only my colour of choice but also tiny points of all the colours in the planned wedding palette. Talk about fortuitous, talk about a stitch-up.

Still, I am, it seems, among a growing tide of grooms who finally give a damn. Weddings are no longer things that guys just turn up to. We're joining in, and not only because we can finally marry each other.

Anyone who's been to a lot of weddings knows that it wasn't so long ago that most grooms acted as if nothing at all was happening, then dashed to the nearest hire shop and on to the pub before showing up on the day half-cut.

If it sounds like we've grown up a bit, we have.In the 70s, the average first-time groom was aged between 20 and 24. Now he's more likely to be over 30, which means he's no longer such a child. He should, hopefully, have a bit more in the bank.

Aside from a few blips, our graph has been in steady decline since 1971, a hazy, crazy year in which a third of our grooms were marrying teenagers.

Being older when we tie the knot may have something to do with the fact that we don't get married like we used to, with the stock ceremony, stock frock, and a few drunken speeches before tucking into the passionfruit-topped pav.


Photo / Catherine Cattanach Photography

When people get married these days, says New Zealand Weddings editor Melissa Gardi, they want their day in the sun to be unique. It's become the perfect excuse to pull out the stops and fluff your plumage.

So, yes, brides still keep their dresses under wraps and other such traditions, but guys are creating ceremonies of their own.

It's quite possible that the nation's bowling clubs are being kept alive by stag parties, while grooming lounges, such as Mensworks in Auckland, are well used to scrums of groomsmen descending on them for a shave and a tot of whisky.

"I think that's part of a wider thing," says Gardi. "Being stylish was foreign to most men.

They could get by with a Swanni and black shorts if they wanted to, but I think they're embracing fashion a bit more now. They want to have more of a say in their weddings and enjoy the process. There's no reason why you can't get married on the beach in a dress shirt, tie and jandals. Everything has become extremely personalised. There are no rules anymore."

It's also because we've let our hair down, says Crane Brothers' supremo Murray Crane.

There was a time when any bloke who didn't work with a shovel wore a suit into the office but that era has long passed. Everyday wear has now, like most elements of popular culture, fragmented into whatever look makes you feel good.

Which leaves weddings as the rare occasions when you can express a formal elegance that speaks to old-fashioned notions of spit, polish and Savile Row.

"If anything, people are getting even more dressed up than they did in the past when they wore suits five days in every week. It's become an opportunity worth embracing," says Crane.

The shift, he says, has been building over the past 10 years and has grown to the point where Crane Brothers' wedding season preparation is kicking off during the wintry depths of August.

Crane estimates they're handling about 250 weddings a year, with demand sufficient to make an on-the-day dressing service worthwhile.

Only 100m away in Little High St in Auckland's CBD, Driss Lambaraa's secondhand designer vintage store, Tango, is also feeling the wedding love.

The shock and awe over Pippa Middleton's bum at her big sister's royal wedding has left brides everywhere scrabbling for lace and grooms working hard to keep up, while there's a growing whiff of Hollywood glamour, which could finally put an end to the standard wedding uniform of black trousers and a white shirt.

"It used to look like all these beautiful women were getting married to waiters," says Lambaraa. "Men should be excited to look beautiful and sexy, too."

The other big driver has been the movie The Great Gatsby and its sleek and sparkly flapper look of the 20s.

But if the women know what they're after, Lambaraa often finds himself dealing with slightly confused guys. What does a male flapper look like? This stage usually kicks off as a team consultation featuring the couple and in-laws at which he offers every reassurance before shooing the women away so he can get on with some blokey dress-ups - even if it still takes most men a while to loosen up and discover their inner dandy.

If a groom's full battle-dress from hat to clothes to shoes can end up costing about $1000, at least the expert's knowledge is thrown in free.

"I think New Zealand men are starting to catch up. They are now becoming aware of style, they want to look sharp and sexy. That old Kiwiana of 20, 30 years ago ... that was terrible. It had to change."

- NZ Herald

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