Friday, April 24, 2009

JES Quote: Seamstress

One of the most interesting respondents so far answered the following to the question "What question(s) do you think should have been asked on the survey that were not?"
How much people pay for Simchos, to make them or to go to them.
Makeup, wigs, gowns, etc.
I'm a seamstress and I see what people buy for Kallahs, and it's terrible, the attitude that girls have about what they NEED in order to get married, and it's even more terrible how cowed the mothers look, and how they jump to do what the girl wants.
I'm only --, so I can't talk about the 'good old days' yet, but what's going on?
I bought my own clothes from when I was 18. These mothers are spending hundreds of dollars on alterations alone, and I am not the most expensive seamstress in town.
Why do people pay to have their two-year old's hair put up in pins?! Or anyone's, except the kallah's?
The whole industry is scary.
Extravagant simchas and similar answers are among the oft-mentioned responses to "biggest financial problems facing the Orthodox Jewish community today". I'm curious - do people think this is a "keeping up with the neighbors" phenomenon or do people have a skewed sense of what is necessary to make a "nice simcha" in the first place, or both? Or perhaps most of the time people really are not being extravagant, and making a simcha is just really expensive no matter how you slice it?

On a slightly different note, we did a little informal poll of friends around our age asking if they'd rather have had the wedding they did or a pretty simple wedding and some of the rest of the money spent toward a house. I think that all the guys wanted the money for a house. The girls were a mixed bag - some wanted the house, some said "I have to admit I really want the wedding", and some wanted something in between. Most felt that the wedding was a lot more for their parents' desires.


  1. As someone who is currently planning a wedding, I have a couple of comments:

    1)Many people would love a simple wedding, but it is never just what you want, it is what you, and your family, and your fiance, and their family wants. It's hard to compromise if there aren't enough things to compromise on. By adding more elements (and more expense) everyone gets a little of what they want.

    2) I heard an old truism, and I believe it still stands. I wish that I was rich enough that I could have a simple wedding without people thinking that it was due to family financial straits. If you're really wealthy, people see a lower-cost affair as "restraint," otherwise they see it as penny-pinching, or pityingly as cutbacks.

    3) It isn't just about what people want to spend. Kosher food is EXPENSIVE. As someone from outside the NYC/NJ corridor, to get kosher catering for an event is easily 3x what it would be for a non-kosher event, or even for a kosher event at a wedding hall in Brooklyn. I can skimp as much as I want on the dress, flowers, invitations, etc, but at $100+ a person, it gets expensive, fast.

  2. (Getting married soon, Orthodoxish-style. Meaning kosher and big, in this context.)

    The cost of the dress/alterations, while extravagant, is not statistically significant compared to the cost of the reception. Ditto invitations, flowers, music, all that stuff. Costly, but it's not the source of the bulk of the cost.

    The reception is expensive because the guest list is huge. The guest list is huge because Orthodox people have TONS of friends. (Or "friends," if I'm being cynical. But really both friends and "friends.")

    Sure, there are ways to save money on flowers and the band and a little on the food, but buying a festive meal (seudas mitzvah!) for 200-300+ people that won't embarrass either the bride, the groom, or either of their families... that's just expensive.

  3. Most felt that the wedding was a lot more for their parents' desires. When one of my closest friends was engaged (she's married now), that's what she told me. She said, "you think the wedding is a party for the chatan and kallah. But it's really for the parents." (Of course, this could also have been just in her own situation.)

  4. Annie - Firstly, not disagreeing at all with any of that. I just felt that the comments were interesting, and it makes me wonder if someone spoke up and said "hey, look - if instead of all of this, we just did a really simple wedding, and took 1/2 the rest of what we were going to spend and put it toward a house, would everyone be okay with that?" if the people would stop and say "Okay." Could be not, but it makes you wonder.

    1) Right, that's very true, and I think that that's what drives up the cost of most weddings.

    2) Also true. Whether people should care what other people think is a big question, but regardless, they do.

    3) I've heard the $100 number from a few people, and I question that. I got married not THAT long ago - less than 5 years. My wedding was not cheap. I thought that it was a little over $50 a plate (Mom?), though. Perhaps Brooklyn is more; I was married in Monsey.

  5. JA - Agreed. And if Annie's number of $100/plate is right, adding 200 guests is $20k.

    Erachet - That's what almost everyone we know says.

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  7. Clothing is one of the most obvious manifestations of the frum world's obsession with material things. Kitchens are another. What these things and others have in common is the way that they are justified by being called a religious "obligation" in some warped sense. You *have to* [SARCASM] have granite in your kitchen because you can kasher it, you *need* two sinks and ovens and dishwashers for kashrus reasons, not to mention arcane bizarre expenses like built in bug checking lights. If you don't have these expensive things, maybe you aren't frum enough. Clothing is harder to justify but it's doable. You *need* fancier clothing for Shabbos wear and you *need* simcha outfits to be mekayem the mitzva of mesameach chasan v'kalla. Even for every day wear, how can you wear something so shleppy? Don't you know that every Jewish woman is the daughter of the King? And does the king's daughter wear Payless? I don't think so.

  8. Tesyaa - While I've heard all of those at some point, I think most frum people don't justify like that.

    Kitchens - two sinks, etc. are the most common of those with a large cost. Clothing I think is less common, though certainly the unwillingness to wear the same thing twice on a Yom Tov or to a wedding as they'd wear on Shabbos causes huge waste.

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  10. I think people blow way out of proportion what is necessary for a nice wedding. It is not necessary to have a shmorg before the ceremony, though everyone seems to think it is. It is not necessary to even have a five-course sit-down meal. One of the nicest weddings I ever attended had a buffet style meal. You know what? People actually ate the food they took instead of tons and tons of food going to waste, a lot of it because people are so busy dancing that the waiters take away the food before they can get to it.

    It is also not necessary for everyone involved to get their hair and make-up done and for every person in the family to have an insanely fancy gown made. I'm not really sure when this became the norm, but honestly, it looks silly and is a huge waste of money.

    It seems as if people have put some weird importance in impressing everyone they know with a fancy wedding, and it really shouldn't be like that. Yes, it's a nice celebration of two people's future, and it should be with the people the couple getting married personally knows and it's fine that some effort and money goes into it, but it has become an exercise in utter excess and an excuse to show off to everyone a family has ever come in contact with.

    I think the true spirit of what a wedding is supposed to be has been totally lost, and personally, when I get married, I plan to not get carried away and spend money I either don't have or could put towards a house or future educational expenses.

  11. Actually, I have heard soemthing close to what Tesyaa referred to once in a shiur by a visiting lecturere in Passaic. This woman seriously declared that even if we think we just like our pretty clothes, we are mistaken. Buying "pretty clothes" is an act that can be considered lishma, as being nicely dressed makes a positive statement about a Jewish woman. I guess I don't quite cut it by this woman's standards. I'm not really into clothes, or, for that matter, hair and nails, etc.
    I plan to put up a link to this to follow up from the link to the Orthonomics posts on wedding budgets.

  12. Ezzie- My point was not that Brooklyn is more expensive but that way out of town you have fewer, and more expensive options. In NY/NJ you have the luxury of shopping around. In the DC-area (for instance) you have fewer caterers that can handle any reasonable number.

    Also, Ezzie, you assume that the money is fungible. My parents might be willing to pay a certain amount for my wedding, but there is no guarantee that in place of a wedding, they'd give me that money instead.

    Shoshana- Some of those costs aren't really so optional. For instance, at my brother's wedding, my Mom asked if we could decrease the amount of food served at the shmorg, or not have table service, etc. The caterer said sure, but that they'd still charge the same amount per person.

  13. Shoshana - The buffet-style wedding is something I wish I'd known about before my own. OTOH, I know friends who wanted to do so but their parents didn't allow it.

    Agreed on the rest. Thanks.

    Ariella - Oy, and thanks!

    Annie - Oh, I agree. And granted it's not fungible - that's why I like the friends who say to the parents essentially a "Let's make a deal" thing - how much were you going to spend, give us half instead and we'll forgo it. But that's just it: Because it's not fungible, some people say "well, they're going to spend, and otherwise they'll keep it, so let's just get everything we want".

    And agreed on the caterers. They've got quite a racket. But in most places there are more than one caterer, and I think that those who are willing to sacrifice will find one willing to do what they want. It just means you might also not get the hall you want. The biggest hurdle is that halls often have "exclusive" caterers, driving up the costs for everyone, and it's sometimes hard to find other ones.

  14. "Shoshana - The buffet-style wedding is something I wish I'd known about before my own. OTOH, I know friends who wanted to do so but their parents didn't allow it."

    You'd actually have to price it out. Obviously buffet doesn't include paying for the service, but you have to pay for more food, so it can sometimes be about the same price.

  15. JLan - Of course, though I think it would be cheaper in other ways as well: Less tables are necessary, which means less centerpieces (for those who have) and the like, and also means a smaller hall might be okay, etc.

  16. Ez - I went to a wedding where there was a buffet (it was in Israel) but everyone still had tables.

    Btw, I think there has to be somewhat of a balance here. Yeah, it's not good to go into such excess, but just because the family wants to get all dressed up doesn't mean they're doing it to show off. They could just be doing it because it's not so often they get to really get dressed up. (Not saying they should go crazy, especially if they can't afford it, but spending what you can afford does not mean the person is showing it off, as long as they don't go really crazy. You know?)

  17. You're all talking about wedding expenses - I just had to pay $75 for my three teenage girls to professionaly blow-dry their hair (I don't know the fancy term for it) for their uncles "VORT"!

    When I complained about it, my (raised in Boro-Park) wife said "don't shter the simcha". Brooklyn women are out of control when it comes to simchos and most men just keep quiet in the interest of shalom-bayis.

  18. Buffets can be difficult for older family members and guests. It's very hard to carry a plate back to your table when your hands are arthritic or you are maneuvering a walker. If you are zoche (privileged) to have your elderly relatives at your simcha, waiter service may be the only way to go.

  19. Anyone but me see the irony in the seamstress's comments that anchor this posting? I'll guess that she is frum or how else would she be answering the survey. And I'll guess that her clientele is frum from her comments. So her customers are spending hundreds of dollars on alterations are they? No, she is charging those customers hundreds of dollars, although she adds the disclaimer that she is not the most expensive seamstress around. Her comments are "biting the hand that feeds her" with a vengeance.

    What, I wonder, would she do for parnoseh if her customers found a cheaper alternative to her services? Would she still be complaining about how much money they spend (money that ends up in her pocket), or would her complaint turn into the common one that frum people should be using other frum people to provide services for them, even when those frum people charge an arm and two legs?

    This seamstress needn't bother complaining about me--I took my dress that needed sleeves and top lined to our local cleaners where the quite skilled seamstress apologized before telling me that it would cost %65 to put the lining material in. And they included pressing the top in the charge. Want to bet what our seamstress would have charged for the same work?

  20. Erachet - I'm not saying people do it to show off. It's more of a mindset of "this is what is necessary for a wedding", period.

    Jay(led) - That's really sad. Unfortunately, I've heard too many similar comments in the past, essentially saying the same thing: Don't ruin the happiness by bringing in reality.

    Tanchik - I'm not saying buffet is for everyone. Just something that most people never even consider.

    ProfK - I think that's ridiculous: She's a seamstress with certain prices, period. Her point is that she's given jobs she doesn't think she should be given in the first place. There's absolutely no reason she should not do them nor charge whatever she normally charges for such things. If the people wish to, they could easily go elsewhere or not have those alterations done. They're choosing not to, and they're choosing to pay her her price. That doesn't mean there's something wrong with her charging her market price; it means these people are unwilling to go elsewhere or cut back to save money.

  21. Who better to comment on a sociological phenomenon than someone who gets to see it from the inside?

    I happen to deal with finances and think I have some own observations to bring to the table. Just because I get paid doesn't mean I can't make a valid observation.

  22. At my age, I have a number of friends either making weddings or will be doing so in the next couple of years. When I hear my friends actually sobbing because they don't know how they are going to pay for these weddings, I know this system is truly broken. These are people who live in nice homes in the suburbs, who--what do you know, after years of paying yeshiva tuition--don't have the cash in the bank to pay for these affairs. It's sad that the joy of the simcha is lessened by the stress of paying for it.

    No answers. I'm hoping that because I live in Israel things will be more sane when my daughters (with G-d's Help) get married.

  23. So many issues in this discussion make me want to comment - we have 4 daughters and live "out of town" where a dairy breakfast buffet runs $40 per person, not including the myriad mandatory fees associated with catering an event,

    I'm an evangelist for less expensive simchas, and could go on for hours about unnecessary expenses that only steal the simcha from an event. (In fact, helping others reduce the cost of their simcha is a hobby of mine.)

    However, the "fungible" comment just set me off muttering to myself this morning.

    Who thinks of their parents' money this way, as though it were coming from some anonymous and impersonal institution?*

    Where does this attitude, that one is *entitled* to the parents' funds - often even to the point of them going into debt - come from?

    If you've saved your parents save half the cost of the simcha, then you've done something to lessen the burden on your parents.

    Simcha is the joy that comes from engaging in mitzvot. The party is a celebration of the simcha, not the simcha itself. While it's true that at a wedding we invite people to share our simcha, and there's a seudat mitzvah, the mitzvah has no "shmorg" requirement, and the "updo" for the two-year-old sister has no halachic status.

    If I offer to buy you a cup of coffee, and when we get to the cafe it turns out to be half price, do you then turn to me and ask for the balance in cash? כמה חצפה!

    * NOT saying that one should waste ANYONE's money, not even those of "impersonal institutions" either.

  24. P.S. I just want to be clear - I was grumbling about the *idea* of the "fungible" comment, NOT its author. It was likely being offered as an explanation, as a dan l'chaf zchut to those who decide to "round up" in their wedding desires.

    In no way did I wish to attack the author of the comment or even assume that she supports the attitude mentioned. I was reacting to the attitude itself, only.

  25. P.P.S. Mazal tov to Annie and Jewish Atheist on their upcoming marriage(s)!

  26. JF - I don't think people think "fungible" - more that the parents are dedicating themselves to throwing a very nice wedding at an incredible cost, and often will not listen to pleas to cut down unless given a sensible alternative. If a child of theirs says "Look - instead of spending $25K on a wedding to send us off in style, if you want to really start us off nicely in life give us $10K toward a down payment on a house," some parents might really see the wisdom in "Hey, that expensive wedding really is a waste for a 5-hour event."

    Also, while parents certainly should be saying "No" more, it's a good way for a parent to save a fortune on a wedding: Offer the kids who want a nice wedding the option of either the wedding or money toward a house.

    But of course it's not "fungible" money. As my mom said to me yesterday, "If we wouldn't have spent it on the wedding, we wouldn't have given it to you".

  27. Ezzie,

    If the parents offer a wedding budget that is fungible, then they're exercising their prerogative (exercised in a very generous and flexible fashion!)

    The part that got me grumbling, was this quote, used to justify a larger expense:

    "My parents might be willing to pay a certain amount for my wedding, but there is no guarantee that in place of a wedding, they'd give me that money instead."

    This is the OPPOSITE of the fungible gift. This attitude is, since they won't give ME the savings, I might as well spend it.

  28. JF - While a gross attitude, it's simply how people all too often view things. It's very easy to spend other people's money and justify it. If it's your own, it's a lot more difficult.

    One of the most oft-cited issues people mention as a major problem within the Orthodox community is Kollel (in response to the Jewish Economics Survey I'm running). When I mentioned this to someone on Shabbos, they noted how their daughter (who just had a baby) and son-in-law (who is learning) were arguing with them over what stroller they "needed", saying they "needed" a Bugaboo for $600 while the parents said a $200 Graco is just fine. Odds are, if the same couple were not being supported somewhat, they would find that the Graco is actually just fine; but as it's not their money, they're able to rationalize away the extra expense as necessary for all the added "perks" of the Bugaboo.

  29. I disagree with the comment that only the kallah should be getting her hair and makeup done. I get my hair and makeup done for my siblings' weddings and it has NOTHING to do with keeping up with the Joneses. I want to feel and look super beautiful a few super special times in my life, and this is my opportunity to do so. What's so bad about that?

    [And I'm from out of town, where thank G-d, there are lower standards. I still want to feel beautiful.]

  30. And Ezzie, I find it surprising that a girl in kollel would be arguing with her parents that she needs a Bugaboo. I think most girls in kollel recognize that it's not their parents' problem to buy them luxuries...or maybe that's only true for kollel wives not originally from New York and its environs.

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  32. sigh.

    I'm so glad to not be part of the rat race.

    My parents did not pay for my wedding. neither did my in-laws, so they didn't get a say. Either side. They got told "be here at this time." They coordinated the color of their dresses with each other (first one to find something got to pick the color family) but I couldn't have cared if they each dressed in a different color of the rainbow.

    We did buffet. The caterer said it was the cheapest option, and that way she didn't have to worry about the fact that some other caterer had an exclusivity agreement with the hotel for the use of the kitchens, because she didn't really need the kitchens. (And we didn't have to worry about whether everything really went unused for 24 hours over Shabbos in the non-Jewish hotel before being kashered.)

    We didn't have very many elderly friends or family, but my father, who is totally blind, tends to have difficulty carrying a full plate full of food back to his table because he needs one hand for his white cane. It was separate seating, but I'm sure one of the male relatives we seated him with helped him, because they're just nice people and I know they would have offered, so I didn't worry about it too much.

    We had a no-name band, no smorg, the previously mentioned buffet, no flowers, the hotel happened to own a chupah, so they included it in the hall rental (although they tried to sub a gazebo the day of and had to be convinced that we really wanted the chupah!!)... and we had the greatest wedding. People were still coming up to me for months after telling me what a wonderful time they had. Sometimes simple weddings are just better.

    The one thing I would have done differently? My father has a beautiful tenor singing voice, and a cousin asked if I would mind if my father sang something with the band -- I wish I had thought of it myself and had him prepare something I chose. As it was, he sang a random love song he knew, it was beautiful, and everyone was happy.

    (completely aside, I'm also a seamstress, and I have to agree with Ezzie and SL on this one. No one said she was b'dafka overcharging her customers, just charging market rate (or slightly under it - as she says others charge more) for the fanciful things they asked her to make, and wondering at their requirements.)

    (edited for grammar)

  33. Anon - I disagree with the comment that only the kallah should be getting her hair and makeup done. I get my hair and makeup done for my siblings' weddings and it has NOTHING to do with keeping up with the Joneses. I want to feel and look super beautiful a few super special times in my life, and this is my opportunity to do so. What's so bad about that?I don't think anyone's begrudging anyone's right to do whatever they wish; the complaint is that this has become a "required norm" for much of the community, at great cost.

    And Ezzie, I find it surprising that a girl in kollel would be arguing with her parents that she needs a Bugaboo.Sadly, I do not. (Not specific to kollel wives, though.)

    I think most girls in kollel recognize that it's not their parents' problem to buy them luxuries...or maybe that's only true for kollel wives not originally from New York and its environs.The boy is actually from "OOT".

  34. Miriamamp - For my wedding (third wedding on both sides), the mothers and sisters/in-law coordinated based on what they already had pretty much. My mom wore the same gold(ish) outfit she wore to both previous weddings, and my MIL also wore a gold outfit she had. The sisters/sis-in-laws wore purple they had, because they all (?) had stuff in that color already (and Serach loves purple so she liked).

    Serach borrowed her gown.

    I got the most expensive by a mile suit I ever owned - $300 from Jos. A Bank. A couple months later the suit oddly fell apart (I usually have JAB suits for many years), so we brought it back, they were shocked too and credited me in full. I bought two new suits with it.

    We brought in a cheaper but (IMO) better band from Baltimore to Monsey, because my parents liked them from my brother's wedding and because they were still cheaper than most NY bands.

    Not saying our wedding was incredibly cheap (honestly I don't know), but it was simpler than most I've gone to, yet - as with yours - people continually came over afterward to say that it was one of the most fun weddings they'd ever been to.

  35. What is becoming more and more common re: American weddings is for parents to give a gift towards the wedding with instructions that anything that is left is for the couple to keep.

    Such a method keeps the couple motivated to keep the budget in check, with the reward being cash that can be invested in their future.

    It also takes pressure off families to negotiate with each other and leaves things largely in the hands of the couple.

  36. I believe the problem here is much bigger than a couple choosing to have a "simpler" wedding. It's the fcat that these lavish and very expensive weddings have become the "norm" in our society and this fosters young couples undo stress just to have thier wedding "fit it" or measure up to the norm, let alone be more extravagent or more lavish. When the Agudah wedding guidelines for simplifying simchot cam out many people were outranged and very upset that the agudah would give direction on how much to spend on a simcha. And while i am not familiar with the exact guidelines, i do believe that this was in essence a great idea. If the jewish communities as a whole would realize that simchot are not about the money or the luxaries then we would have so much more time to focus on the true simcha at hand. But until this simple and more down to earth simcha approach is a community wide accepted practice, there will continue to be this contest to spend the most and have the biggest and all it causes is extra pressure on those who might not be able to measure up financially just to pull up a "norm" simcha.

  37. re buffets and having elderly relatives present, requiring waiter service, what's happened to Kibud Av v'Em and v'hadarta p'nei zakein.
    One of the nicest (As in most joyful) wedding I've been to was of a VERY simple European friend (I'm talking no makeup) marrying an American (yes, from NY). The American Mechutonim and family were way overdressed, all with Sara Pailin poofs and all constantly worrying about their dresses. I was unimpressed.
    It's not what you have or don't have externally, it's what you have inside. Neshama has to be the ikur. The 'guf' and materialism needs to be secondary.
    comments welcome

  38. SL - That's probably a better way of saying what I meant to earlier. :)

    Anon - That's been one of the most recurring themes on the survey so far when people are asked what they think are the biggest problems facing the community.

    ynot - It's not what you have or don't have externally, it's what you have inside. Neshama has to be the ikur. The 'guf' and materialism needs to be secondary.Amen.

  39. The last time a seamstress commented on a sociological phenomenon in Jewish society, we ended up with the Bais Yaakov movement. You go, girl!