Category Archives: Money Issues

Ten Great Affordable Wedding Dresses!

Ladies who do not wish to break the bank finding that perfect ensemble for the big day – feel inspired! The fantastic UK Guardian newspaper has come to the rescue with a short but useful list (or gallery) of more affordable alternatives for wedding dresses for the cost conscious bride.

True, it is disappointing that all the dresses are white and follow a very narrow and traditional style – but it is a start I suppose to tell ladies it is okay not to spend £200 upwards on a dress they will wear only once in their lives. Unless you are Keira Knightley of course, who made a point of wearing her beautiful Chanel wedding dress over and over in public before spilling red wine all over it, because she’s too cool for school when it comes to this stuff.

You can check out the gallery here for ideas on a style or designer at the very least.

Happy Shopping!!!

keira knightleyLeft: Knightley at a charity event in December 2013; Right: Knightly on her wedding day in France in May 2013.






Let Them Eat Cake? The Quest for a Naked Cake


Our wedding is just over 6 months away now, so we’ve started the quest for a baker. Deciding what kind of wedding cake we would request was preceded by the dilemma of whether or not we would even have a wedding cake. I had initially suggested we serve a selection of vlaai after our wedding dinner (Toon’s family is from Limburg), however the groom had already decided that he would quite like something more traditional. As it happened, we would find out that in the Netherlands, before the US influenced wedding themes took off, couples would serves several vlaai instead of towered cakes, however by the time we discovered this we already had our hearts set on something else entirely.

fruit-fantasie-vlaaiTypical Dutch or Limburg vlaai.

We discussed a typical British wedding cake: heavy fruit cake, with a thick marzipan icing – not something either of us would be particularly keen on. Toon also admitted that he isn’t a big fan of fondant icing or chocolate cake. I have to admit, while I enjoy the odd Mr. Kipling French Fondant Fancy immensely, fondant on the scale of a large dessert doesn’t really appeal to me either, and I always think it can look a little tacky if not done properly. So this more or less decided for us that we would not be having a fruit or chocolate cake, or fondant or marzipan icing. For a little while we played with the idea of having a croquembouche cake – a typically French wedding desert, made of a tower of profiterols and coated in a caramel glaze. As a very continental and glamorous option that you don’t see very often in the USA, UK or Netherlands, as well as a type of cake that doesn’t involve dried fruits or heavy icings it was initially very appealing. I mean, who doesn’t love profiterols? However, after a while, the idea seemed a bit pretentious and maybe a bit ambitious, so we began to seek out other options.

crouquembouchebritish wedding cake

L: Typical French celebration cake, the crouquembouche; R: Typical British wedding cake, iced with marzipan.

Quite unwittingly, while browsing the online wedding website Green Wedding Shoes I came across the idea of a “naked style cake” – basically a cake with filling between the layers but no outer icing, with couples choosing powdered sugar, flowers and fresh fruit as decoration instead. This current fad has already become well known throughout the USA for couples wanting to do something different, are going for an outdoors or “rustic” theme, or for couples who – like us – aren’t fond of thick icing. I presented the idea of a naked cake to Toon who at first thought it was a bit weird and extreme, but after doing some more online research also started to become more intrigued by the idea. While seeking out a baker and choosing a cake wasn’t very high on our list of wedding planning priorities, based on our general cake related preferences, a naked cake seemed to be a natural choice.

Eventually we felt ready to begin actually searching for a bakery that made wedding cakes. Toon had discovered an English baker who seemed interesting so we emailed, requested more information about a tasting. There began an interesting, but brief exchange, which informed us thoroughly about the artistic integrity of bakers as well as another dimension of apparent wedding etiquette.

fondant naked wedding cake

L: Wedding cake iced with fondant; R: Naked style wedding cake.

We explained from the beginning that we were not interested in a cake with too much icing, especially with any fondant, and provided some examples of designs we might like. The baker – who had requested for us to be as specific as possible in describing our requirements in order to offer us a quote – declared that she would not make a naked cake as the sponge would dry out. She explained that especially in hot weather, the only way to prevent a butter cream filling from melting is to keep a cake in the fridge, which she is not a fan of, but with fondant the sponge would stay moist and the butter cream would also somehow be protected. We asked if there were any other icing options besides fondant that would work well, however she was not as forthcoming as we hoped she would be. In the end, we decided to give this baker a miss as she was obsessed with the idea of fondant, despite us making it quite clear we were not interested in it for our cake. So much for the customer is always right.

It occurred to me later that this baker might be so pushy about fondant, not because it is what she is used to working with, or because as a professional she believes it makes the best cake icing, but because she can ask a higher fee for a cake when she has to decorate it. The work that must go into ensuring the fondant is smooth and glossy shouldn’t be underestimated, and I admire anyone who has the patience, talent or inclination to even bother, but I don’t think it gives any baker the right to try and bully their potential customers into an idea they’ve already considered and declined, just because it would be worth a few euros extra.

Last weekend we eventually went for a tasting with another baker who seemed receptive to our idea of a naked cake. She served us three delicious varieties and explained that unlike sponge, “real” cake is made with so much butter it is unlikely to dry out in the way the previous baker had suggested. She said she would be happy to make the cake we asked for and gave us an amazing quote. Things always fall apart though when they’re too easy. While discussing the upcoming festivities (Sinterklaas) with our so-called dream-baker, she gleefully told us about the Zwarte Piet decorated cupcakes she planned to make later in the month. I still don’t know if it was the sugar rush or the immense disappointment that made me feel nauseous as I stood up to leave, but I knew we would have to decline the fantastic offer laid out for us on the cake tray…

As we cycled back to the city, cursing our bad fortune and jittery with the sugar taking over our blood-streams, my fiancé and I were reminded of what all this planning has been about; we are beginning a life together – a life that neither of us plan to spend promoting businesses that make money from racist images. Our wedding cake isn’t just a decadent indulgence for us to share and enjoy with our closest family and friends on one of the happiest days of our life together; it is also part of the fabric-of-the-future we are weaving together. In short, if we resent spending money in pro-Zwarte Piet establishments every other day of the week, why should our wedding day – the most significant day of our relationship – be any different.

Turning down such an amazing deal does suck though and I have to admit I should have known it would be too good to be true. And as the saying goes, you can’t have your cake …

Interested in a conference on blackface practices in Europe? Take the survey! 

Dutch version:

English version:

Wedding Dress Drama Part 2: “That is NOT a Wedding Dress!”

You may have read my previous post on my dilemma over whether or not I would wear a traditional, white wedding dress on my wedding day next year. If not, Wedding Dress Drama Part 1 introduced my sense of dread over attempting to find the right dress for me, rather than simply going for a frock, socially predetermined by others to be appropriate. While I knew at the time of writing it there there would be at least one follow up piece on this topic (hence the “Part 1”), I had no idea that I would have an experience so soon after the initial post, to illustrate exactly what I take issue with regarding the wedding industry.

I visited England recently to stay with my “best lady” over her birthday weekend. We decided one lazy and over-heated afternoon to head into town and walk around the local shopping centre. We didn’t need anything in particular, just an excuse to get out of the house. Moving along the usual collection of high street stores aligned in a single row and selling the same attire, we got the cheeky idea to scout out potential wedding dress ideas.

Packing my fiancé off to the bookshop, we raced around the shops we thought might be most suited to what we were looking for. At some point, my friend suggested heading to the occasion-wear section of one shop in particular. We figured this could be a way for me to see if I liked my bright idea to keep my wedding dress “simple” in reality. I quickly picked out two dresses – just to give her some visual examples of what I was going for. Before I could even be zipped into the first dress, an annoyingly nasal sounding shopping assistant wanted to know “What’s the occasion?” Excitedly I announced: “My wedding!”

The shop assistant did a double take at me and the dress before exclaiming: “That is NOT a wedding dress!” She said it with so much conviction that I actually believed – for about 10 seconds or so – that she was some sort of higher authority on wedding attire. Now evidently, I know that there is a firm and apparently historical idea of what a bride should wear on her wedding day, but as I’ve made clear – via my blog at least – I’m not really into all that. For all my own self-righteous, perhaps private estimations on what I would be comfortable in on the big day, the shop assistant’s announcement caught me off guard. I literally had no response for her. Eventually, I caught my breath and replied somewhat incredulously that I wasn’t going for something “traditional” because I wanted to be comfortable. Her left eyebrow remained raised, prompting me to explain further than I’d only trip over a longer, fuller skirt and therefore, why not go for something different all together.

By the time I was trying on the second dress, the shop assistant had began to collude with my friend and I in our aim to find me an “alternative” dress. The second dress was a little more frumpy on the figure than it appeared on the hanger and the three of us agreed it wasn’t really what I was going for. However, the white assistant took things too far when she said: “You won’t be able to shake your booty in that.” Now it was our turn to raise an eyebrow. Suddenly another dimension was added to the entire experience. Two black girls, in an upmarket shop, looking for a shorter dress for a wedding: of course we have booties to shake.. Still believing she was being helpful, the assistant ushered us out of the changing rooms and directed us downstairs to the sale, where she assured us there were plenty of “50’s style dresses” that might be more what we were looking for.

A little unconvinced by this point, we headed down the stairs, if only to get out of the shop, however before we could reach the exit, something caught my eye. A lovely knee length, white dress with a beaded neckline, hanging alone between what seemed like a jumble sale of summer dresses and sarongs. Unfortunately, the dress wasn’t my size and had a bead missing in addition to a lipstick stain – presumably where someone else had tried the dress on. However, I felt rather inspired to continue on my quest for a dress I will feel comfortable in rather than one others would prefer to see me – and other brides – in.

Had a second assistant not asked “Aren’t you the girl from upstairs?” in accusatory “Why haven’t you bought something yet?” kind of way – the expedition would have been a great success, in terms of me knowing what kind of dress I will eventually seek out and wear. However, capitalism and social expectations got in the way, just reiterating the extent to which women who are not even married subscribe to an industry that doesn’t care about anyone’s life long happiness, just their bank account.

Lord of the Rings? The untold story of engagement ring hunting.

Toon Kerkhoff



I’m pretty sure that anyone who’s ever been out looking for an engagement ring knows it can be a lot of  fun. It’s your own personal secret with (hopefully!) a happy ending and smiles all around. It’s fun to hunt for something special, something that will show just how well you know, love and admire your “intended”. At the same time, there’s not much to be found about this stage in the marriage process either on the web or elsewhere in other marriage media. Wedding magazines don’t seem to pay much attention to it, and in movies people just seem to always have the perfect ring in their pockets as they propose.

I find it odd that few feel the need to share their experiences. After all, the engagement ring is an important part of getting married. Just imagine a similar lack of attention in the case of, let’s say, finding the right wedding dress? I believe part of the reason it is so difficult to find stories about getting an engagement ring, is that it’s not at all as straightforward as many people think, or at least it wasn’t for me. No matter how exciting the search for that one as yet unspecified but special ring, it required a lot of perseverance and meant dealing with A LOT of judgment, stereotyping and (not so hidden) assumptions about marriage, weddings, love and relationships.

A first difficulty I encountered was getting a ring I could reasonably afford in an industry eagerly awaiting a poor sap, hoping to impress their bride or groom to be. While it might sound paranoid and cynical, I did a little test in the beginning of my search. During my first visit to a jewellery shop (yes, I have been to many and seen several more than once) I pretended I was looking for a ring, not an engagement ring. The response was usually flat. That might be down to Dutch customer service (admittedly not the best in the world), but – as I am now convinced – was also because it meant a lower price for the product. However, as soon as I told salespeople on a second visit the real purpose of the ring, eyes sparkled, hidden drawers of rings were uncovered and – of course – prices went up. Unfortunately, with money being a little tight, I turned out not to be the kind of customer most jewellers wanted after all. The looks were quite often plain disapproving, as if to say: “Surely she’s worth more than that?!” Certain salespersons even went as far as attempting to try and guilt-trip me into committing to a ring I could not afford. To me it was proof of the entanglement of money and marriage: “love” with a hefty price tag and the exclusion of the “have-nots” from social events such as marriage.

A second issue was finding the right ring. Determining size was a nightmare. I often wondered if anyone ever really bought an engagement ring that fit immediately, as portrayed in movies? I snatched some of my girlfriend’s rings and took them to the shops to determine her size. In my ignorance, I forgot the fact that the size of the ring finger is only half of the story; the material the ring is made of also plays a part. So, there I was, with several rings that all fit my girlfriend’s finger but all of them a different size! In the end I chose a ring that was too big and had to have it tailored as soon as she had said “Yes!”, which took a few more weeks. This all would have been fine, however part of the romance of delivering the wonderful news of your impending marriage, is being able to show the long sought after ring to loved ones. This may come across as a little ostentatious, but it is also a symbolic statement for the couple, to indicate their commitment to the marriage as well at the proposer’s taste in jewellery.


Sapphire ring

Which brings me to the next problem: the kind of ring. In general I found salespeople quite condescending as they lectured me about gold, jewels, carats and stones. Several times I believe salespeople attempted to make me feel cheap, uncaring or ignorant, only to try and sell me something expensive they thought I did not understand. However, I knew what I wanted: a simple band with a colourful stone. When I investigated various stones (rubies, sapphires, emeralds, etc) it struck me how culturally predisposed many jewelers were. I was told by three independent jewellers for instance, that only “Asians” (it remained unspecified) buy red rubies as stones for their rings. Therefore most jewelers apparently do not stock them. Another jeweller referred to a section of his shop filled with brightly coloured rings and stones as his corner of “ethnic rings”. I still don’t know what he meant by “ethnic rings” but I left straight away.

A final issue concerned me not wanting blood diamonds or stones that had not been ethically produced. I visited around 12 different jewellers (5 in Amsterdam and roughly 7 in The Hague) and only one shop (where I bought my ring in the end) knew anything about this and had the right stones. The others were essentially ignorant of such matters. One woman told me I was the first to ever ask about ethically produced diamonds in roughly 30 years of running her shop. Either way, nobody stocked diamonds with a Kimberly certificate.

So, there you have it – the awkward truth about finding that all important ring prior to proposal. Finding your ring is a great experience, not just because it’s exciting to ask someone to marry you, but also because you will most likely be confronted with some pressing questions, dilemmas and difficulties. In the meantime, happy ring hunting!