This summer, I have spent more hours than I care to count watching "Say Yes to the Dress" even though I am not getting married, and if I were, the likelihood of me spending several thousand dollars on a dress is pretty nil. When I got married almost thirty years ago, I spent about an hour dress shopping and ended up purchasing a confirmation dress for less than $200, including alterations. So, I feel as if I am a surprising audience for this TV show that centers around extravagant wedding gowns.
In case you have not seen the show, it follows a pretty set formula. A young woman, with entourage, shows up at Kleinfeld Bridal, a store in New York City, to buy a dress. She tries on several, while being derided and insulted by her nearest and dearest, until she finds "the" dress and tearfully decides to purchase it. She's surrounded by her now equally tearful and suddenly loving family, and by the joyful Kleinfeld staff - who usually get hugged before the bride's own family. I find this a bit strange: Your mom raises you for 28 years, and is paying for the dress, and the lady who zips you up gets the first hug.
There are a few variations: "Big Bliss" which showcases the special struggle of plus size brides; "celebrity" shows, where fifth-rate celebrities, like the Cake Boss's wife, or a friend of skater Johnny Weir purchase a dress; or "Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta", same show, down south, where surprise, surprise, purchasing a dress is not nearly as entertaining as it is in New York. Occasionally the bride has a back story: a disability, childhood trauma, clearly dysfunctional family or too much money (the rich brides inevitably pick garish, tasteless dresses, so we can despise them), which merely detract from the main point, which is watching a woman pick out a dress.
So what is the attraction of the show? First of all, there are the mini-dramas, because in a mere five minutes the bride confesses her body issues, income, family dynamics, and romantic history. Then there is the beauty pageant element, where the bride parades around in dress after dress, and you get to judge her on looks, style and poise. And there is pleasure in the emphasis on the therapeutic value of shopping, as the sales people always take the time to delve into the bride's issues, as if that has any relevance to her picking a dress. They care, or at least they pretend they do. (I give the consultants credit for always seeming sincere.) The bride generally has a cathartic moment and feels something for the first time: Powerful, pretty, thin, tall, loved. The chosen dress, and the experience in choosing it miraculously solves whatever problem she came with. The purchase becomes a bargain if you consider the cost of therapy -- she gets cured and they throw in a dress for free. As an additional bonus, the viewer gets to feel superior, because there is no way your friends and family would ever say that you are a diva, or have a big caboose, or no taste in general, on television, and sit there while you cry.
Finally, the Fashion Director, Randy, who is cherubic, dimpled and impeccably-dressed, and the all female, black-clad staff of managers and consultants (a little biblical imagery here), swoop in to make everything right. They stop the bride's tears, chastise her hostile relatives and find the perfect dress, always after dramatically rushing down a corridor or worriedly looking for a dress gone astray. The bride spins around and feels beautiful, and all is well in the world. In 22 minutes you get to go through all human emotions and end up at a wedding, always described as "Fairy Tale," and you can get the vacuuming done at the same time.