One thing Adrienne and Andrew McDermott would never be considered is traditional. However, after leaving everything behind to travel the world full-time in 2014, the peripatetic couple have maintained one very important ritual along the way: Every year, they celebrate their wedding anniversary by dressing in ceremonial wedding attire from countries around the world. “We started this tradition because for 40 years in a row my mom has worn her wedding dress all day on her and my dad’s anniversary,”Adrienne wrote in an email to Forbes. “My dad’s wedding tux was a rental, so he got out of wearing this super goofy baby blue tux every year.”
In an effort to honor her parents while starting a new tradition of their own, the McDermott’s began to research, find and wear ceremonial wedding garb as a way to combine their passion for travel and each other and after spending their first three anniversaries stateside in New York City, San Francisco and Adrienne’s parent’s home in Michigan, the couple says they began traveling and this newly adopted anniversary tradition began to take shape.
“Soon after our third wedding anniversary, we left the US to travel full-time,” Adrienne said. “We didn’t want to run the risk of losing our wedding clothes in the mail and quitting the tradition wasn’t an option, so instead, we decided to hunt down and purchase local wedding clothes for whichever part of the world we’re in at the time of our anniversary.”
To date, Adrienne and Andrew have been on the road for four years and counting and have celebrated their wedding anniversary in India, Kenya, Japan, and Georgia. “ It usually takes us weeks to collect all the pieces and it’s pretty tricky with language barriers, but we’ve made some amazing friendships in the process ,” Adrienne said.
If you think this is an easy process, the couple says you have another thing coming. Here’s a deeper look at how they do it and why they say this has been one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives on the road.
What have been some of the greatest challenges? You mention language barrier, but have there been any other obstacles or hurdles you’ve had to overcome?
Adrienne McDermott: Oh yes, this is no simple endeavor! Unlike most traditional American wedding outfits, there can be many, many pieces and accessories to wedding attire in cultures around the world. For example, in Japan, there are several layers of undergarments alone. Nothing is buttoned or zipped so you need to buy specific ropes and ties on top of all the little details and accessories. Generally, locals who choose to wear traditional garments in Japan plan ahead and order their pieces 3+ months in advance. We found that there wasn’t one store that had all of the (50+) necessary and matching accessories in the right sizes so we raced around Kyoto for two weeks and went to dozens of stores to piece our outfits together. After all that work, we wound up forgetting two pieces at our apartment and felt like jerks for possibly insulting people for not wearing their clothes the way they were 100% intended to be worn. It was overwhelming at times but completely worth it for the cultural lessons and interactions we had with locals watching us scramble around on this scavenger hunt. And yeah, people we’ve met have gotten a kick out of seeing us in their traditional garments, we’re sure it’s a delicate balance of laughing with and at us.
How do you go about researching and knowing which outfits are authentic and local to that culture?
Adrienne McDermott: Making local friends who are bilingual at a minimum, is the only way around this! We’ve been led astray by shop owners who are overly eager for our business and some who just can’t quite wrap their heads around what and why we’re doing this. Generally, our process is; Google, antique shops/museums, our Airbnb hosts, bartenders (a tale for another time) and Instagram.
Before we arrive in the country, we usually post to our IG stories asking our followers if they know anyone who can help us and we often get lucky with a helpful intro or two. We work with locals on every detail to make sure we’re honoring their traditions as accurately as possible. There’s no way we could execute this respectfully without the help of local people, and their grand mammies!
Any horror stories or fashion mishaps?
Our worst go at this yet was when we didn’t have a local advising us in advance. It was a failed attempt in every way and we wound up flying to another country last minute! One of the trickiest bits has been figuring out the lead time on getting the garments; for example, in Norway, everything is custom, and we didn’t figure out it would take 60+ days (oh, and a bare minimum of $5,000 each), until we were sat at the register in Oslo. Last year’s shoot in Georgia has our lack of preparation in Norway to thank.
Do you have a favorite outfit or a funny story/anecdote in the process of putting one of these outfits together?
Adrienne McDermott: We have so many great stories surrounding each experience! Our favorite is probably India. We met this couple on Instagram and they not only picked us up at the airport upon arriving in Delhi, but they went with us to buy every detail of our outfits at local markets. They gave us advice on the coolest color combinations or nicest styles and bargained on our behalf for local prices. They even travelled with us from Delhi to Agra to take photos of us at the Taj Mahal, and they gave us a last-minute recommendation on the pose, which many Bollywood fans may recognize is the poster art for the longest running film of all time; Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge probably the coolest photo either of us have ever taken. They’re the sweetest people ever. We remained friends after years and we’re actually visiting them in India right now!
If you could redo your original wedding photo, which one of these outfits would you choose to do it in?
That’s so hard. We love all of them for different reasons, but I think this coming year’s will be the best yet. We try to keep future destinations a secret, but we feel compelled to share at least the country since you’ve been so kind. We’re going to Tunisia, but the cultural / ethnic group will be a surprise for Sept 10th. We don’t think many people will be familiar with this ancient group of peoples, and definitely not with their wedding traditions, so we can’t wait for this experience!