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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Big Fat "Gypsy" Dresses

After reading this you might be forgiven for thinking that I watch a lot of TV (somewhat true) and that I only watch TLC (definitely not true).  Still, I can't help but write about TLC's latest foray into a different/almost-deviant subculture, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

This show offers an "inside look" at life among the UK's Irish Travellers, and a few Roma; note I put "gypsy" in quotations in the title of this post both because the show isn't really about gypsies and because the term is actually quite offensive.  The show was a runaway hit in Great Britain, and it's been doing so well here that a US-based version of the show is now in the works.

Yes, there are Irish Travellers in the US, where they mainly live in Southern states.  What brought attention to the group in this century was a scary video of a mother beating her 4-year-old daughter in a store parking lot in Indiana, back in 2002.  With an improbable family name of "Toogood," the story brought attention to this reclusive community.

What struck me about the story was the revelation that Traveller girls get married very young (think 14-18) and their mothers dress them in a combination of pageant/ballroom dancing/stripper dresses (I was heavy into child beauty pageant research at the time, so this really resonated).  And the mothers then teach them how to dance in a sexy fashion to attract husbands. Yet, according to Travellers/Roma themselves, and many reports, premarital sex is basically unheard of, as is out of wedlock childbearing, as they are devout Catholics.

The UK/TLC series has truly exposed the bright, gaudy, over-the-top, and often suggestive wardrobes of Traveller females.  Here's a little taste.

The gussying up starts young, but especially around the time of a girl's First Communion:
(Photo: http://chateaudelu.blogspot.com/2010/09/irish-traveller-update.html)
When girls attend others' First Communions, or weddings, they go dressed to the nines:
 It doesn't stop as they get older. This is a shot of a bachelorette party (can you spot the bride and her mom?):
 (Hint: This is the bride-to-be):
Her wedding dress was my favorite shown:
Her bridesmaids' dresses (I SO should have used these in my wedding!):
My second-favorite dress featured on the show had lights inside of it, along with moving butterflies. Someone had to follow the bride with a fire extinguisher in case she caught on fire though... (Interestingly, she married into the Traveller community, so her dress was even more over-the-top, presumably to prove her bona fides):
Some other amazing wedding wardrobing:
(Photo credit: Mark Duffy)


So why do Traveller women wear these elaborate dresses? I turned to a book by British anthropologist Judith Okely that had been sitting on my bookshelf since I learned about the dresses worn in this community-- The Traveller-GypsiesShockingly, while the book is very informative, and devotes an entire chapter just to women's issues, sartorial choices are never discussed. Given that the fieldwork for the book took place in the early 1970s, I'm left wondering if such elaborate dresses are a more recent phenomenon. The show's narrator always says that these practices are stepped in tradition. I know bright colors are part of "Gypsy" tradition (think of painted, covered wagons), but I'm not sure Britney Spears-inspired bubblegum pink concoctions are "traditional."

Clearly there is an element of the animal kingdom's sexual mating rituals-- get as done up, and as colorful, as possible to attract a mate. But I would think there is more to it than this. I've been starting to read other books about Travellers, trying to see if there is a link between Southern child beauty pageant cupcake dresses and Irish Traveller outfits; I have always found the link between Irish/Scottish immigrants to the American South and traditional notions of femininity and masculinity fascinating (best book I have read about this is Culture of Honor), so I suspect there is a deeper connection.

In any case, while I am sure you are all now ready to order your own bachelorette/bridesmaid/wedding/Communion dress a la "Gypsy" style, better be ready to write a BIG check. Those dresses can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000!

33 comments:

  1. I totally watched a marathon of this on Sunday! I've been fascinated by Travellers for awhile but it really peaked when I watched the TV show 'The Riches'.

    Also, grabbing= WHAT.

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  2. I have read about The Riches, but haven't seen it (though love Minnie Driver!). Worth renting?

    Grabbing is seriously disturbing. I mean, it's basically sexual assault.

    These poor girls are somewhat Cinderellas for one day and then have a lifetime of being the cleaning, cooking, under-appreciated stepsister.

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    1. Actually, I'm a Traveler and grabbing is not that bad like, it happened to me lot's of time's and I'm only 12 ( I was in school from start to finish and am now on my Holiday's to start Secondary ) so shut the fuck up and think before you speak cos I think I'd know.

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    2. Wow. Lmfao i thing overall "gypsys" like lol i nvr knew you ppl existed xD im not racist but seriously ur 12 n in america thts sexsuall assult but since u seem to Think its "not that bad" then lmfao xD my opinion on wat i think u r wud be considered something (i cant say i dont want to be rude even though u r "shut the fuck up" ) But honestly only ppl tht watch this show is just intrested on the way the gypsy women show off there bodys otgerwise nu one gives a shit inbother words less talking more dancing :)~ N since u girls r taken out of school how wud u kno to read this lol ill give u credit if u try to respond back with a civil way.

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    3. I would just like to say you can't come at her reading skills. She said she was 12 and still in school. Who can't read at 12, who is still in school? Also based on the way you're speaking/typing They are a lot smarter than you. Maybe you should try spell check....And I'm not talking about the words you abbreviated.

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    4. "I'm a Traveler and grabbing is not that bad like" ... " so shut the fuck up and think before you speak cos I think I'd know."

      Grabbing IS bad, and the fact you don't think it is just shows you have been brought up to accept it as part of life. I don't care if you think it is me being judgemental.

      Female Genital Mutilation is 'accepted' by a lot of the victims (Women) but I imagine you don't believe that is 'not that bad'. It is completely unacceptable.

      I appreciate you don't want people judging you and your culture like most people wouldn't, but you need to realise there are large parts of your (traveller) culture that NEEDS to change. My culture (British) also has problems, but I like to think that when we recognise a practise as wrong we discourage it or even make it illegal. I hope you come to do the same.

      I know my post looks horribly sanctimonious but it is genuine concern!

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    5. I am traveler and I don't give a shit on what you say coz you are all wrong grabbing your child is not that bad so why do you shup your fucking mouth up and get on with ur own life insted of ares so fuck off now and leaf ues allow we can do what wont get got it good

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  3. When I lived in Romania I knew a lot of Roma, I was very close to some of them. Their weddings and homes are fascinating, and there are some really great books out there about them. In Romania they still live separately, they've become more integrated in other parts of Europe.
    Bury Me Standing is a great read (but not very current), with some interesting descriptions and photos of Roma weddings. They are very ornate, but nothing like the weddings on this TV show.
    I'm glad you mention the difference between Travelers and Roma. It always makes me cringe when people say they "got gypped," having no idea that they are slurring actual people.

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  4. First season of The Richies was amazing! Netflix for sure. The second season got caught up in the writers strike and the show didn't make it.

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  5. Thanks, Christine! Just added it to my Amazon cart.

    And, yes, in reality saying you "gypped" someone is a bit like saying you "jewed them.

    Ms. Cam- Do they show a wedding in The Riches. That would be amazing...

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  6. Elizabeth Kennedy Having watched the show, I found this post to be extremely interesting. I, too, have become quite fascinated with the lifestyle of Travellers. Great post! I love your blog!
    Tuesday at 3:11pm · Like
    Annie McCue
    how excited was I to see that you wrote about my latest guilty/intellectual pleasure. i have been utterly entranced/horrified while learning about this trailer park-meets-beauty pageant-meets-religious fundamentalism culture through the mag...See More
    Tuesday at 4:05pm · Like
    Hilary Levey Friedman Sadly, I think new episodes are done for now. But we have T&T to tide us over... I can't imagine what the US version will be like!
    Tuesday at 5:41pm · Like
    Lindsey Mead I'm kind of speechless on this one!
    Yesterday at 6:50am · Like

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  7. hey- the photo of the girl in the pink bikini type outfit on the pool table isnt the bride to be- i think its her sister. the bride to be is in the wedding party photo with the yellow outfit on. ps- josie is my favorite bride ever

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  8. can i just say you had such an undertone of disgust in this, if you did your research properly and not just hearsay on te internet, mothers dont 'teach' their children to dance that way they copy shakira and beyonce from their music videos. all traveller girls just wear what they think looks nice just like you wear what you like nice, and whatever happend to dont judge a book by it's cover? yes some may see them as dressing like 'strippers' but they have higher morals than most non traveller women. They are a misunderstood culture and i reconnected with some family who married in to the traveller community and have stayed with them a bit as im still young. They are some of the nicest, most personable people ive met and just because you hear of one traveller doing something doesn't mean they all do. Every culture has bad people in it, if a hispanicwomen hits her child does that mean they all do? if a white person rapes someone does that mean they all do? do your research properly ask someone directly and grabbing is largely over exaggerated on the show its playful thing not a full on attack.

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    1. I'm a traveler and my cousin, Mary-Jane, got grabbed bye a boy I know, Michael, and when he grabbed her, she fell on the stairs and hit her head and had to go to hospital to get stitches ( Embarrasing, right ) and I agree, we do, sometimes go a little bit over the top but- I think it's nice and I mostly wear jean's and short's but say for instance I was at a wedding I think it was September, I'm not sure but anyway, I was wearing a dress like the pink one in the third photo, except, it was black with illuminous orange design's and on a regular day I'd probably wear denim short's- if it was warm, or jeans with a t-shirt and I got grabbed LOADS of time's and I'm 14 like it's just where a girl is somewhere it could even be at a shop or in an estate at a wall or something but everyone think's it's at a special occasion, which it can be but, it can also be an ordinary day. Anyway, a boy whistles to a girl when he walks past her and then when he get's her on her own, like, kinda, follow's her asking her well, STUFF I don't really want to say on the internet and then, when he get's no answer, put's her against the wall and hold's her there until she answers or, sometimes, they'll put a girl into his van and drive around with her and won't leave her out 'till he get's an answer and he eventually leave's her out. But like he only leave's her sitting there and does nothing else. It happened to me 6 time's. So don't hate us cos you aint us.

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    2. P.S, my dress was tighter.

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    3. Lol if i were to hate u wud tht mean its cuz im not u? I guess i luv u then cuz hunny i really dont wanma be u. Lmfao im serious GRABBING n wat u just said was tht supose to make it seem like were supose to accept it?? Lol after ur post its official on wat i think of gypsys girls or w.e being grabbed but it doesnt matter since they all seem to "like" it :). Isnt tht right. Lol smh ur dress was tighter -Real nice- only supports my theory on wat gypsys really r try replying back but in a more civil way -Thanx- im suprised arent u girls taken out of school lmfao how u girls even know how to type/write? N read? Lol im starting to think more n more as i read these silly posts from gypsys or w.e u call em

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  9. I agree with you but you are missing some good points. I'm a christian and what these girls are doing is just lack of self-respect. They wear these clothes that show and want to attract attention that doesn't help anyone. Of course when you wear those kinds of clothes you're going to expect to be lusted for and what you call grabbing sexually assaulted. I agree that it's assault. I don't know what's happening to the world today but most think grabbing is okay. Whatever term they use, that's an assault when you are being force to do something that you don't want to do. It's stupid to cover the truth up right? like the Big Bang, never happened. God created the Heavens and the Earth. These girls are not being taught how to Respect others and themselves. Plus marriage isn't what they think it is.. Marriage is hard. You have to both love each other, give to each other, it's not 1 side but 2, love isn't temporary and isn't something to play with, it's Permanent. Divorce is a sin.

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    1. I LOVE your post. Best thank you finnaly that understands i think the women r just hoars sluts watever they enjoy the grabbing the touching n the dresses so short n tight n all that thts y they cover it up wat shocks meh most is the way u cant hve sex until ur married tht is so unbelieavable the way these women Show themselves like seriously.

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  10. i agery wth all the travlers cause im a travler

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  13. I agree with you but you are missing some good points.They wear these clothes that show and want to attract attention that doesn't help anyone.plastic surgeon NJ

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  14. come on ppl i is a traveller we ent slts we just have a diffrent way of life unlive urs and we will live urs dont judge en u dont no how we live

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  15. trust me ppl we ent sluts were just more growed up and we lives diffrent get on wid ur life and let us live ors how we wunt to !

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  17. I am not a Gypsy. However I think it's discusting the way these Gypsy living people are treated. all Because they live there own lives differrent to other people. They are judeged and deemed bad people. Well you people who Judge need to look at yourselves first. I have respect for these Gypsy living people. and they are people too. It dont matter how they live there lives, they are people all the same. Thumbs up to the Gypsy's. richie..........

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  18. We are not bad people

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  19. country people (gorger) there a disguise there just a jel coz r houses are clean and tidy theres is a dump coz they dont know how 2 clean 2 save their livies. and their jel of girls style and travellers and gypies money coz they want it but sorry for them they cant so they can get their livies and fuck off and dig them selves a hole and lye ther it would be cleaner than their little sanky house so bye 4 now chat and give my opinni later

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  20. travellers and gypies are putin r names down like fuck all of us aint like that by the way dont judge us

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