My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

A bride with her bridesmaids on her wedding day
[Photo Source:  TLC]
I've been watching My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding on TLC.  At first I wasn't interested in watching it at all because I'm kind over wedding reality shows but this one is different.  I caught one episode and I was intrigued.  The show is about the traditions and lifestyle of Roma Gypsies and Irish Travellers in the UK.  It's not just about the wedding day it's about a lifestyle very different then anything I've ever seen.  Weddings are a huge part of that lifestyle so it actually makes sense that a show about this community would center around that.  Little girls dream about their wedding day practically from birth.  That's not totally unusual to me but the type of wedding that they dream about and the implications of that wedding on their life is.

The lifestyle
  • They marry young.  Usually around 16 and by the time you are 19 you are considered an old bride. 
  • Travellers usually only marry Travellers and then once they get married they move from their parents house into a tiny caravan together in a communal living land site.  They usually prefer caravans to houses and ideally, one without a toilet because it's considered disgusting to use a toilet inside a caravan.  They use sheds outside instead.
  • A lot of them do travel around but some of them stay put in their caravans especially if there are younger children going to school.
  • The men go to work and the women stay home.  Men typically do odd job and manual labor type work.  In fact, women usually drop out of school by the age of 16 to help take care of younger siblings and help mom with household duties.  They aren't planning to have a career so why bother?  Their responsibility in life is to tend to their husband, the home and to have children.
  • Women aren't allowed to go anywhere without their husband once they are married and before that not without siblings or someone else to accompany them.  Boys can pretty much come and go whenever they choose and never have any responsibilities around the house.
  • Brides absolutely DO NOT live with their fiance or have sex with their fiance for that matter prior to being married. 
  • Young girls wear tons of make up.  They run around in tight, bright, sparkly, revealing clothing at parties and weddings with the intention of attracting a husband.  Their going out attire looks like stripper costumes.  This seems to be in great contrast to their devout catholic religion and strict upbringing. 
  • It's a male dominated culture.  Women basically belong to their parents until they get married and then they belong to their husband.
  • This community is often discriminated against and marginalized because of their lifestyle.
A Traveller bride with her massive cake at her wedding
[Photo Source:  TLC]
The Wedding
  • Their weddings are really over the top.  The decor often includes things like balloons, butterfly's, hearts, and all kinds of other whimsical fairy tale sparkly things.  And lots of it.
  • There are no invitations.  The news of a wedding is spread by word of mouth.  Anyone who wants to come shows up and weddings are often used as a place young men to look for a wife.
  • The wedding location and even the date is a closely guarded secret.  Sometimes even the cake and dress vendor will not know the location up to the very last minute.  Guests find out about the wedding location at the ceremony which is always held in a catholic church.  Gypsies have a rowdy reputation so they have to keep their Gypsy identity secret .  It's typical for brides to be cancelled upon or refused multiple times by venues before securing a location and date.
  • The bride's mode of transportation on the wedding day ranges anywhere from a horse drawn carriage a la Cinderella to a hot pink hummer. 
  • The dresses are BIG and considered the most important part of the wedding.  As they walk they have to kick the skirt ahead of them in order not to trip and they barely fit inside doorways and into cars. The bride usually designs her own dress then has it custom made.  No store sells the type of dress that these girls want.  They can weigh twice the bride and are so heavy that they often end up with scars on their hips from wearing them all day.  Think Cinderella on steroids and that is your gypsy bride wedding dress.  Their accessories often include elbow length gloves, massive tiaras, large quantities of make up and heavy spray tans.
  • The bridesmaids dresses are almost as big and twice as bright.  The bride is responsible for getting them custom made along with her own dress.  Color combination such as hot pink and neon yellow are not uncommon.  The bride's little sisters are dressed as the "mini bride" and wears and exact replica of the bride's dress.
  • The only thing bigger then the dresses is the cake.  There will often be one very large cake and then a bunch of other surrounding smaller cakes.  They are usually done up in fairly tale themes in the shape of a castle or carriage and adorned by barbie dolls.
  • Cost is never discussed by the gypsies or their vendors but I can only imagine.
I could not live that kind of a life dedicated to finding a man, getting married and then keeping house as a second class citizen.  Sounds awfully limiting and sad.  Aside from that those caravans are tiny!  It's like camping out 24/7.  As for the weddings I'm wondering things like how can they give numbers to the hotel if there are no invitations and RSVP's?  How on earth can they afford such elaborate weddings and what happens if you can't?  On the show they say you haven't really been to a wedding until you've been to a Traveller wedding and I believe it.


Lil' Woman said...

I got sucked into that show too. I would never ever be able to live that lifestyle though.

Abbie said...

Oh man, I've GOT to get on this bandwagon! It's like a car want to look away but you just can't!

Oh and I love the new look!

Faith said...

omg, i've never even heard of the show ... it sounds absolutely horrible! why live in a caravan if you can afford such an outrageous wedding! i just might have to check this show out ... everyone wants to see a train wreck.

Carla said...

So, let me see if I have this correct:

Their weddings are bigger than their caravan? Yes?

I might have to tune in to this show. It seems utterly ridiculous to live this way but it is interesting to learn about other cultures and traditions.

Carla said...

Ha! Looks like Faith and I have the same reasoning.. LOL.

Frugalista said...

Faith/Carla-ha, that's right!! The dress and the cake wouldn't even fit into the place where they live. It's definitely worth watching an episode or two just because it's so different.

Ameena said...

Wow. They have a reality show about absolutely everything, don't they?

These brides kind of remind me of the girls in India that get married and are expected to basically spend the rest of their lives just helping their family keep the house together. It is definitely sad to me but to some of them it's a dream come true!

Kristin said...

I'm obsessed with this show! It's fascinating to me that a culture so different from anyone else's can be living within mainstream Western culture. Love learning about it, trying not to judge.. although it all does seem a little kooky!

Rania said...

Yeah, I'll pass. What kind of life is that?

Melissa said...

My friend just told me about this show the other day! How funny!