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Monday, June 14, 2004 - Page updated at 07:02 A.M.

Pursuit of wedding-day perfection goes beyond cake, caterer

By Julia Sommerfeld
Seattle Times staff reporter

BRIAN CASSELLA / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Bride-to-be Rheana Schano spent $1,500 to have hair extensions installed by stylist Nansea Carmichael.
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Melissa Hintz's biggest wedding expense so far isn't her dress, the Maui reception or the open bar. It's her teeth.

Last week, the Mill Creek bride-to-be spent $26,000 on a full set of porcelain tooth veneers, as straight and white as a multitiered wedding cake.

"I'm going to be smiling all day, so I want my teeth to look perfect for my wedding," she explains. The 30-year-old also wants a smooth brow and pillowy lips to frame her new teeth, so next up are over a thousand dollars' worth of Botox and lip injections.

Remember when bridal primping meant press-on nails and a French twist? Those simpler times are long gone. Some brides have focused their Martha Stewart-trained eye for detail on themselves — and they are using magnifying mirrors.

A new wave of image-conscious brides is turning to personal trainers, cosmetic dentists, the dermatologist's syringe — even the surgeon's knife — to look flawless before they say "I do."

November bride Rheana Schano surprised even herself when she recently splurged on $1,500 hair extensions. The human-hair extensions added about a foot to her chin-length shag, took almost six hours to attach and cost about one-third of her entire wedding budget.

BRIAN CASSELLA / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Stacie Bowie tries on dresses at The Bridal Garden in Kirkland. She will get injections to plump her lips before her August wedding.

"I'm normally really casual about my appearance, but the wedding has brought out a bit of a monster in me — an obsessiveness about looking good," the Edmonds bride admits, twirling a new, wavy lock around her finger.

Long hair is as important to the 23-year-old's bridal vision as the white dress. As a little girl playing bride, she'd dress up in a thrift-store wedding gown and clip long strands of black yarn to her hair.

"Brides come in wanting that long, flowing hair of fairy tales," says hair technician Nansea Carmichael of William Collier Design in Belltown. "When they're finally given the chance to play princess for a day, they want to look the part."

Mary Clarke, beauty editor of Modern Bride magazine, calls it the "bridal beauty swirl": "First it's whiter teeth — why not? Then they want to get in better shape for the dress — enter the personal trainer. Then it's frizz-free hair with Japanese hair straightening and flawless skin with microdermabrasion and Botox."

Brides have long defined the term "high maintenance," she says, but their expectations have been taken to new levels by makeover shows and celebrity magazines.

"Now they think of themselves as celebrities for the day. It's their red-carpet moment, and they want to do all the stuff J.Lo does to look perfect," Clarke said.

Quest for perfection

There are plenty of profiteers helping to fuel the obsessions that make getting married a $72 billion-a-year industry, according to online wedding site The Knot.

Seattle brides-to-be recently received a postcard from a Bellevue dentist offering a discount on BriteSmile teeth whitening: "If you want your smile to be as perfect as your wedding, we have a great opportunity for you."

A television ad for Botox shows a bride tossing a bouquet and asks, "Can you think of a better reason for Botox Cosmetic?"

JAMES BRANAMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Barbara Dyment undergoes microdermabrasion performed by skin-care specialist Susan Butcher. "I don't care about the cake or flowers, but I want my photos to look fabulous," Dyment says.
The Jeremy Todd Wellness Spa offers nine bridal-pampering packages and a three-month timeline for when brides should get their bodies polished, hair waxed and lashes tinted.

Heather Johnston, a sales manager at the Northwest wedding magazine The Bridal Connection, says the publication's fastest-growing advertising categories are cosmetic dentists and "medi-spas."

According to the magazine's estimates, the average Seattle bride spends $400 to $500 in beauty preparations.

"But that's really just the basics — makeup, manis and pedis, an updo, waxing. The other stuff — the dental work, the personal trainers — no one has tracked that yet because brides usually don't include that in the wedding budget," Johnston says.

In fact, most fiancés — except for Hintz's, who's footing the bill for her bridal beautification and got a half-set of tooth veneers himself — may not be privy to the exact costs of such things.

Los Angeles-based wedding counselor Sheryl Paul urges her brides to buck the bridal-beauty juggernaut.

"Perfectionism — whether it's about the cake, the dress or your pores — is a way to distract from all of the feelings that go along with an engagement. Most women are anxious and scared about letting go of singlehood, but instead of confronting these real feelings, they focus on something they think they can control like coffee stains on their teeth or body fat," says Paul, author of "The Conscious Bride's Wedding Planner."

Bridal Bootcamp

While it's a select group of brides who can afford a $26,000 smile, it's not just the rich and idle who go glam.

Liz Najour, 29, of Seattle, got married Saturday sporting a faux glow courtesy of The Bronze Bar's airbrush tanning system.

"A guy at work said to me, 'You're just glowing, it must be because of the wedding.' ... But it was because I just had this done," she says.

Jennifer Heidal, also 29, will wed in October, but first she's making another kind of commitment: to sweat herself into shape for her strapless gown. She has the help of Seattle personal trainer Christi Masi, who bills herself as The Wedding Trainer and charges $575 for a 10-session package.

Masi custom-tailors the bride's workout to the cut of the dress. Heidal's gown bares her shoulders and back, so they're doing lots of triceps curls and push-ups.

Later this month, Masi and her partner, Lisa McCrummen, will launch Bridal Bootcamp: six-week group-training sessions for brides and bridal parties.

And if all else fails, there's always liposuction. Dr. Brad Remington, a Kirkland cosmetic surgeon, says he has done liposuction for a few brides, but it's usually more for the honeymoon. And Dr. William Portuese, a Seattle surgeon, says he has two brides-to-be scheduled for nose jobs this summer.

"A twisted nose doesn't photograph very well, and if you've always been thinking of getting your nose done, you realize, if not now, when?" he reasons. He has also seen mothers of the bride or groom come in for a face-lift or eyelid tuck before the big day.

But more common than the scalpel are the instant rewards of the dermatologist's tools: wrinkle fillers, Botox, microdermabrasion, chemical peels and lasers.

Seattle dermatologist Dr. Brandith Irwin says brides come in wanting their skin to look poreless, like the 18-year-old airbrushed models in wedding magazines.

"The whole cultural mythos about brides is being young and having that really fresh, innocent look, but brides are a little bit older now, and our skin at 35 isn't so innocent, so we need a little help," she says.

August bride Stacie Bowie booked prewedding appointments with Irwin almost as soon as she scheduled her photographer. Her beauty indulgence is Restylane, a $400 cosmetic injection to plump her lips. "I'm doing it the end of June and then 10 days before the wedding to freshen it up," she says.

A Capitol Hill hair stylist who has done her share of bridal updos, Bowie, 33, has a less-is-more philosophy with a twist: "It's better to do facials so you have nice skin and Restylane so you have a youthful mouth than to pile on makeup the day of to cover flaws. I've seen brides with makeup on so thick you could scratch your initials on her cheek," she says.

For late-summer bride Barbara Dyment, whose bridal-beauty secrets are collagen in her lips and a microdermabrasion-induced glow, it's all about the photographs.

"I don't care about the cake or flowers, but I want my photos to look fabulous," says the 35-year-old medical assistant who lives in Mukilteo.

"I remember growing up and looking at my parents' wedding pictures and thinking, 'Mom, you were so young and gorgeous,' " she says. "I want my kids to say the same thing ... oh, and I also want my fiancé to just fall to his feet."

What brides seem to forget, Paul says, is that their fiancés already think they're beautiful.

"It's odd that they pick this day to look like someone that their fiancé and family don't even recognize, with someone else's hair and caked-on makeup — when everyone knows it's almost impossible for a bride not to look naturally radiant and beautiful."

But what about groom grooming? Any risk of them going overboard? Says Modern Bride's Clarke: "Are you kidding? Most just shower and show up."

Julia Sommerfeld: 206-464-2708 or jsommerfeld@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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