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Here & Now

About 20 years ago, there was an elderly couple in Naples who showed up randomly around town dressed in formal wedding clothes. They had married very late in life and had so much fun at the wedding they decided not to retire the gown and tuxedo. One never knew when they would appear, strolling down Fifth Avenue South arm in arm or showing off a few dance moves at the Naples Beach Hotel. They radiated life and joy, and people couldn’t help smiling.

I don’t know about you, but I was scandalized a few years later by the trend called "trashing the (wedding) dress." What that says to me is the demure and graceful princess in lace and pearls who brought tears to all eyes as she said "I do" is now admitting it was all a charade. "The performance is over," she might as well be saying "Now I can destroy this costume and be who I really am."

I’m not saying that plunging a $15,000 Vera Wang into a swimming pool is tacky or on the same level as couples smashing cake into each other’s faces. But it is. Never mind that crashing feet-first into a pool is unflattering to everyone. Except possibly Halle Berry and mermaids. Besides, it’s enormously selfish. A bride should have some consideration for her future daughters and granddaughters, don’t you think, who in 25, 55 or 105 years might yearn to wear that dress?

But wait. Recently I got to thinking about Princess Diana. I loved her. But let’s be honest about that wedding dress. I tried to imagine the sleek, sophisticated Kate Middleton frothed up fluffier than a wedding cake in all that taffeta. Even without those unfortunate poofy sleeves, that gown would have been a textbook excuse for trashing the dress.

John Michael Cooper, the brilliant-but-possibly-insane photographer who invented trashing the dress, didn’t bother with wimpy swimming pool plunges. He went right for wedding gowns engulfed in flames (bride still inside) and shredded gowns tangled in barbed wire fences (bride also still inside). I’m not exaggerating—you can look him up.

I’m not sure when trashing the dress grew up and got tasteful. But it did. Nowadays, after the stress of the wedding is over, newlyweds of all ages are getting back into their wedding clothes, grabbing an armload of flowers from a market stall and heading out, without entourages, for a private photo shoot in picturesque locations. Sometimes it’s the next day, or on the honeymoon, but it can be weeks or months later. The point is to recapture the fun of dressing up as bride and groom again, savoring those romantic glimpses of each other that were over in the blink of an eye. True, it’s more a girly thing, but at this utopian stage in the marriage, the groom usually goes along quite placidly.

The "trashing" part now means more mussed than destroyed. Hemlines may get wet or dirty on location, and the dress will almost certainly get wrinkled. But that’s the whole point. Nobody will be hovering around with fabric steamers, safety pins and makeup brushes. The experience is relaxed and more authentic. This also works great for brides who missed out or opted out of a formal wedding production. Some scour the consignment shops for a wedding gown or re-accessorize to suit the setting. But flames and barbed wire definitely are not required.

There’s only one rule about trashing the dress: It has to be fun. It’s such a civilized thing to do, really.

So now I’m visualizing all the potential trash-the-dress locations we have here in Paradise.

Envision yourself and your beloved, dancing with abandon along the loggias of a waterfront Italianate estate. Your own, maybe, if this is a midlife marriage. If not, the six-degrees-of-separation rule practically guarantees that someone you know has one.

Some couples choose the scene of their first date: a sidewalk café, Starbucks, favorite sushi bar, seafood shack or retro diner. Others like the artistic contrast of Old Florida against the glamour of their formalwear, like a turn-of-the century tin-roofed cracker house. An original is better, but a good reproduction will do. Pastel colors and peeling paint get extra points. Lighthouses, fishing wharfs and marinas are great candidates, and Old Florida sporting clubs are divine. For something a bit more primitive, you can hop over to an uninhabited island or climb up into the Swiss Family Robinson-style tree house at the Naples Botanical Garden.

You can rent, borrow or polish up your own vintage Bentley, fire engine, VW bus or tandem bicycle, stopping for photo ops whenever the spirit moves you.

For fishermen, I’m thinking the deck of a Bertram Yacht 700, if you have one, or a weather-beaten skiff somewhere in the backcountry. A bride on horseback is as picturesque as it gets. Try a ranch in Immokalee, preferably one that comes with an aged red barn.

This is not to say the new, mature dress trashing can’t still be a little edgy. I can see the Leo-and-Kate Titanic thing at the bow of a sailboat on the Gulf, or the Hepburn-and-Bogart thing on that replica of The African Queen on Pine Island.

Think Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity, the most sensuous beach scene ever filmed. Imagine the moonlight. Imagine the gently lapping waves. Imagine the no-see-ums.

OK, so maybe not that last one. But I take back all the bad things I said about the trashing-the-dress concept. I like it ever so much better than the engagement photo, which is oh-so 1982. But can we please change "trash" to something more romantic?

Like "celebrate"?

Warmest wishes to all the summer brides and grooms of 2011, and happy eight-month anniversary to my favorite bride and groom, daughter Sarah and son-in-law Michael. Come home soon, won’t you, and celebrate the dress.

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