This week, The Thread Count returns with a look at the long, sometimes fun, and sometimes super offensive history of pro wrestling weddings. The bad news is that I couldn’t find a picture of four-year-old Danielle sporting a lace applique dress and an accidental mini-mullet* at my mother’s 1989 wedding. The good news is that the following pages contain more of those two things than you could ever possibly need in one lifetime.
Roddy Piper says there’s no room for romance in wrestling, and while most of these ceremonies prove him right, they’ve at least provided us with more than enough memorable fashion moments over the years. Click through for Part One very best and very worst looks of pro wrestling weddings.
*I had super cute long hair, but for some unknown reason decided to give myself a “trim” the day before. It was…not a great idea. Thankfully, as a child of divorce, they don’t get carted out too often.
December 18th, 1984: Paul Vachon and Ophelia Tuesday Night Titans
Tuesday Night Titans, or TNT, ran on USA from 1984-86. The premise of the show was a kayfabe talk/skit show, featuring interviews by Vince McMahon and his pal Lord Alfred Hayes, and accompanying skits, like the one where Roddy Piper knocked Jimmy Snuka out with a coconut, and the forever incredible Fuji Vice. TNT provided the stage for the first televised pro wrestling wedding between “Butcher” Vachon and Ophelia.
Everything about this wedding is amazing. I’m almost a little sad that I’m only writing about what people are wearing, because from start to finish it is everything that is weird and wonderful and intensely problematic about pro wrestling. I could write about it for hours. I mean, the reception turns into a food fight after David Shultz interrupts the cutting of the cake to yell at the bride about how her role in the marriage is basically indentured slavery, becomes enraged when she says she doesn’t eat cake, then smashes a pie in her face. Y’know…normal wedding stuff.
We’re greeted by the Howard Finkel in a brown tuxedo with matching ruffled shirt. Someone has thoughtfully decorated the ring better than most ceremony spaces you’d see on TLC, including an admittedly gorgeous wedding arch, greenery wrapped around the ring ropes, and giant ass eighties-sized bows on anything that would hold one, including the Fink’s hanging microphone.
I mean, if this isn’t any indication that something amazing is about to happen, I don’t even know what is.
In the crowd we have The Wild Samoans in their best tropical prints, Jesse Ventura looking like he just stumbled out of a Bladerunner-themed leather bar, various members of the WWF roster, and the heel gallery: Captain Lou Albano and Classy Freddie Blassie. Albano has his trademark rubber bands, Blassie looks like most people’s grandfathers still do (if not much more glittery), and until the point where Albano grills Ophelia about being a virgin (???), they’re pretty fantastic. At one point, Blassie trips ring bearer Sky Low Low with his cane, causing panic that he’s lost the rings. They’ve both got such natural heel charisma, and Maid of Honour Fabulous Moolah walking down the aisle to be met with kisses on the cheek from both managers warms my heart. It’s also important to note that Sky Low Low dons a red jacket to roll out the red carpet. Lovely little detail in something that’s completely absurd.
The wedding party itself is just a mess, and I mean that in the very best way. Mad Dog Vachon begrudgingly throws on a suit jacket as he’s going down the aisle, but not even one that matches the Butchers – it’s a tweed number with honest-to-goodness brown corduroy arm patches. More an affectation of academia than traditional wedding attire, it’s fitting for someone who probably just grabbed the first jacket they could find in between finding rules to break and wrestlers to murderize.
I’m almost 100% sure that Diamond Lil’s dress was featured in every wedding photo album from 1982 to at least 1989. I mean, we were somewhat behind the times when it came to fashion in the Maritimes, but I’m pretty sure my mom’s bridesmaids used that pattern for both her first and second weddings in the eighties. Moolah looks more like a Mother of the Bride, though that’s mostly due to the retro coat and matching dress ensemble than her age. Matching coat and dresses were extremely popular during the late sixties, and it’s entirely probable that Moolah just put on one of her own dresses for the occasion. For some reason they paired her robin’s egg blue dress with an orange calla lily bouquet, though there are no orange calla lilies anywhere to be seen. But hey, it looked good enough to prompt Lou to ask for a double wedding ceremony. Get it, girl.
In 1956, Grace Kelly’s wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco inspired bridal fashion for the rest of the decade. In fact, her dress is still considered to be one of the most iconic wedding dresses of all time. The pill box hats, clean lines, and minimal embellishments of the sixties were heavily influenced by the weddings of Jackie Kennedy and Priscilla Presley. The seventies were a mish-mosh of styles, ranging anywhere from pant suits to boho chic. In 1981, however, wedding culture was once again united by a single dress: Diana, Princess of Wales.
Ophelia’s dress is that classic trickle-down style from Princess Diana. Diana’s dress featured yards and yards of ivory taffeta, antique hand-made Carrickmacross lace, puffed sleeves and a train for days. Within hours of her wedding to Prince Charles, replicas were already being manufactured to high demand. Even if a dress wasn’t the exact replica, the economic boom of the eighties meant a request for more opulence, more crinoline, more ruffles, more more more. In some way or another, most dresses from that time period contain some aspect of the original Diana design.
The surprising standout is Butcher. Of everyone in attendance, including open-shirted Albano, his look is the most timeless. In the nineteenth century, the the single breasted cutaway coat became the fashion for the upper crust, the name morning coat originating from the practice of riding horses in the morning. This simple coat gave way to the Morning Suit, whose hallmarks include a Morning Grey top hat, striped or checked trousers, a bold striped tie and matching pocket square, a short waistcoat, and a white shirt, usually with detachable turn down/winged collar. The Morning Suit went from the casual suit a gentleman would start his day off in, to more occasion-specific attire reserved for weddings and races. It’s one of the most timeless and enduring aspects of men’s fashion, and Vachon’s variation seems to be the only well-thought out outfit in the entire wedding.
While it may not be my very favourite wedding (we’ll cover that in Part Two), it’s pretty close. It’s such an interesting transitional period for McMahon and the WWE. Most of the legends in focus during the wedding had already passed their prime, and the time of people like Low Low Sky and the territorial mindset were about to give way to Hulk Hogan and the eighties boom of the WWF we know so well. I also love it because there’s a relaxed air to everything, less casual but moreso genuine. Sometimes when you watch an old I Love Lucy episode you catch these glimpses of Lucille Ball “breaking,” reacting organically and laughing simply because it’s funny, and not because the scene calls for it. There are moments during the food fight at the reception where you can see the same thing on the face of Vince McMahon – real human happiness. There’s a warmth and authenticity to this big fake wedding, like we’re watching someone’s incredibly weird and carny home movies instead of a televised wrestling show.
Seriously, I just want to write about this wedding forever.
October 3rd, 1985: Uncle Elmer and Joyce Saturday Night’s Main Event
Uncle Elmer and Hillbilly Jim featured prominently in the very first edition of The Thread Count: A Fashionable History of Wrestling Hillbillies. As it turns out, their formal wear wasn’t much different: Jim managed to put on a shirt this time, and even wore a striped tie that matched Elmer’s.
As we go through more weddings, you can almost see a steady decline in the decor. This was only the second televised wedding, so things had yet to shift to the plain white lattice archway with some tulle tied or draped around it. This wedding arch is surprisingly quite beautiful, which is nice when you consider that this wedding was actually real. See, Elmer told Vince McMahon that he wished to marry Joyce Stazko, his long-time sweetheart. McMahon, who would obviously never, ever use a real-life situation for the personal gain of his company, showed a rare lapse in character convincing Elmer to have an on-screen wedding to further a few kayfabe angles. Despite Roddy Piper’s interruption, this is very much the ceremony for Elmer and Joyce.
Joyce’s dress is again one of those dresses that is so very clearly from the eighties. While it may not have the mutton sleeves of Diana’s dress, the cathedral train and pearl-laden tiara are pure Princess of Wales. The rest, however, harkens back to the first royal dress mentioned – that of Grace Kelly. The cinched waist, and sweetheart neckline under a lace overlay are two of the most recognizable elements of Kelly’s dress. Just like the innovation of a finisher or style of wrestling has ripple effects through it’s history, so did these two legendary dresses. Even the flower girls’ puffed sleeves and flower crowns are straight out of Diana’s wedding photos.
Like the previous wedding, the guest list boasts some prestigious guests. Andre the Giant (in red trunks and boots) and Hulk Hogan served as ushers, and Captain Lou made his second wedding appearance. Lou sported a full tux this time, unlike Leaping Lanny Poffo, who was basically just naked the whole time:
I was tempted to give Hogan the Best Dressed nod for his sleevless tuxedo shirt-bowtie combo that he paired with extraordinary not-quite-tights-but-still-so-shiny pants and his best formal weight belt, but then this guy showed up:
Tiny Tim is no stranger to televised weddings, nor the WWF. His speech is actually really sweet, and like Elmer’s hands shaking during the ring exchange, just a nice little genuine moment from a guy in a satin baby blue suit covered in balloons toting a ukulele.
August 26th, 1991: Macho Man Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth SummerSlam
Hooooooly jeepers. Macho Man and Elizabeth’s was the granddaddy of them all. Stephanie McMahon has had at least seventeen TV weddings , but if the subject of wrestling weddings comes up, this is usually the first that comes to mind. Like Macho Man himself, everything was over the top. They even took down the ring ropes, so you know it had to be special. Their on-screen romance was six years in the making, though in reality, Savage and Elizabeth had already been married since 1984.
Anyone who knows me knows that Elizabeth is far from one of my favourite managers, nay, favourite anything when it comes to wrestling. Elizabeth was the pinnacle of the virtuous aspect of the Madonna-Whore dichotomy that sadly still exists in the WWE today. Where Sherri was fiery and passionate, never afraid to step in the ring or stand up to a man, Elizabeth was frankly kind of useless. The “ideal” woman, pure in morals and spirit, always clad in virginal white or pale colours, contrasted Sherri’s signature dark colours, red gowns, and extravagant use of sequins and make-up. While she may have often been the center of attention (specifically coming between the MegaPowers) and still held up as an object of desire, her influence was just that: an idolized NPC used to propagate the interests of others. Macho Man would never even let her speak, just like Hulk Hogan would never let anyone else have the focus ever. Their great romance was never the fairytale we were supposed to take it as. Still she remains one of the most venerable female figures in pro wrestling.
The outfits, however, are everything. Literally. Every facet of the previous decade of wedding fashion shows up in Elizabeth’s dress, and then some, and then some embellishment on top of that. Her flower girls are still just like Joyce’s before hers, but Elizabeth’s dress is the evolution of what came before. Her headpiece probably deserves at least another paragraph all to itself. There wouldn’t be another wrestling wedding for five years after this one, and though the dress in that wedding was unique to the person wearing it, fashion had already changed enough that Elizabeth’s dress inhabits this little early-nineties time capsule all by itself. Or, it would, had she not been marrying Macho Man.
Just like in conversation, Macho Man would never be outdone by anyone, let alone the demure Miss Elizabeth. I mean, look what he’s wearing:
If the fringe weren’t enough, you have the gold lamé. You have the matching gold glasses. His pants have a gold lamé harlequinn pattern. The ostrich feather in his gold hat is as tall as I am. I mean, I know he’s Macho Man and all, but if a lady has bedazzled mutton sleeves that big, maybe let them take the spotlight a bit?
January 23rd, 1996: Sister Sherri and Colonel Robert Parker, WCW Clash of the Champions
This one takes some set up. First, if you haven’t already read David’s look back at the racist gimmicks of Harlem Heat, do that first. It’s tangentially relevant, but also really great. Proactive cross-promotional synergy buzzwords!
Secondly, I needed some background. I wasn’t a WCW kid, and was extremely limited in my television wrestling access due to a lack of cable and the weird way Nitro was broadcast in Canada. The romance between Col. Parker and Sister Sherri, then manager of the aforementioned Harlem Heat, begins like all great love stories: with a whole bunch of sexual harassment. While Sherri managed the Harlem Heat, Col. Parker managed Dirty Dick Slater and Bunkhouse Buck. Tag teams get at each other, but their managers run each other down even more. Parker attributed Sherri’s mean streak to a lack of love in her life, interrupting a promo to lay one on her. The kiss was met with a punch, because you don’t just kiss Sherri without asking. Parker continued to pursue her, and Sherri continued to resists his physical advances, because wrestling sure does love it’s romantic sexual assault.
Sherri and Parker’s teams would continue to feud back and forth, with Sherri insisting that she could (and would) whip Parker’s ass. This all came to a head in a 6-man tag match with both managers joining their tag team wards in the ring at Clash of the Champions 1995. Harlem Heat beat down Col. Parker, then tagged in Sherri to give him the business. Parker rolled out of the way as Sherri set up for a dive from the top rope, causing her head to hit the mat and her to “pass out.” When she came to, instead of tearing Parker a new one, she pinned him with a kiss. Literally. His shoulders were down, and Harlem Heat won. But that wasn’t the end. Sherri wasn’t playing mind games (WarMindGames?) with Parker, she was suddenly head over heels in love with him.
Throughout the months that followed, Sherri and Parker enjoyed a whirlwind relationship, often abandoning their tag teams mid-match so they could sneak off and be together. This drew the ire of both teams, but the concussed beauty and the creep didn’t care. In December ’95, Parker interrupted a Harlem Heat-American Males match on Nitro to propose. The wedding was set for the very next Clash of the Champions, their PAPER-view anniversary (hehehe).
Colonel Parker just dressed how he always did: Kentucky Bowtie (not the reach around euphemism)(though really, I don’t know his life), white cowboy hat with no hatband, but a tiny black brand on the side, and classic white suit. Sherri’s dress continued the paradigm put upon her in WWE, the whore to Elizabeth’s Madonna.
The psychological nudges wrestling fashion gives us are sometimes subtle, but the rest of the time are meant to hit us over the head like a tonne of bricks. The Headshrinkers are adorned with bones and large wooden beads and grass because they’re savages. JTG’s pants say YO! all over them. These are visual clues that tell us what the character is supposed to be before they speak up and prove that racist stereotypes are way too easy to reach for, I guess. But the same thing happens with women in wrestling. Bayley is this infantilized powerhouse, but we know she loves hugs and simple things because of her bows and headbands. Aksana has boob zipper, and is clearly DTF. It’s the same thing with this wedding dress. Where the others are meant to convey purity and tradition, Sherri’s is siren red. It’s got a deep v in the front with illusion netting to simulate nudity. She’s got a cape, which is admittedly baller and referential to Disney’s Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, a lovely callback to her time with Shawn Michaels, but it’s also sheer. Everything about Sherri is meant to be alluring and sexual.
Madusa shows up looking like an extra from Oliver, furthering that idea. She’s the Anne Klein to Sherri’s Vivienne Westwood, if you will. While Sherri is all personality, Madusa (the Colonel’s other Fried Pie) is meant to be all business, a real wrestler.
Wrestling weddings are insane, but when you peel back the layers of what they’re meant to portray, they can present a whole lot more than what’s shown at face value. Look forward to Part Two soon, where we explore fifty years of Stephanie McMahon wedding dresses, and my favourite wrestling wedding of all time.