The Wedding Industry

I have been privileged to be involved in a few weddings lately as a bridesmaid (or, if you like, a matron of honour, although I don’t much like the thought of being “matronly”). On Saturday, I spent the day with one of my brides looking at bridal dress shops. Ugh! I think it’s fair to say that by the end of the day, we were all exhausted and a bit dispirited. We all agreed that the vast majority of these shops were hideous. Saleswomen tried to pressure the poor bride into all kinds of horrible dresses, and made adverse comments about the way in which she had chosen to organise her wedding or her dress preferences. She is not going to have a long engagement period. These shops seemed to see it as a mortal sin that she hadn’t put aside two years of her life to planning her wedding. But she wants something simple and cream or ivory coloured, reasonably enough: the only problem is that it’s very hard to get something like that without running the gauntlet of these horrid stores.

When I was preparing to get married, I went to two bridal dress stores. The first one was okay, but the second one put me off such stores for the rest of my life. The girl jammed me into a series of meringues, and because I didn’t fit into the size 8 sample dresses, I was told I was fat. I couldn’t actually walk in any of the dresses anyway. So I walked out of there and never went back to a bridal dress store again until last Saturday. In the end, I didn’t wear a white dress and I didn’t get my dress from a bridal dress store. So there.

I remember that when I got engaged, I made the mistake of getting some bridal magazines. I had never really thought about what I would do for my wedding, and after accepting my husband’s proposal, I realised that I’d have to start thinking about it. What a fright those magazines gave me! It was like a glimpse into a different world. First, they suggested that one’s wedding day was the be-all-and-end-all, and that one should devote one’s entire life (and savings) to  that one day. Secondly, many of the dresses were both expensive and ugly. My colleague and I spent all morning defacing the bridal magazines, with choice comments such as “$3000 for a tablecloth?”

For some reason, I also went to a bridal fair during my wedding preparations. I don’t know why. Perhaps I had some kind of masochistic streak, or my terrible curiosity got the better of me? Well, in any case, it was an interesting sociological experience. There were some quite extraordinary things on display there. I could pay thousands for sculptures of kissing ice swans. I could get teddy bears made with the same outfits as the groom and I. I could get my bouquet dried and displayed. The dried flowers reminded me disturbingly of the skin of a mummy. One could even get Wanderer butterflies released at one’s wedding ceremony. My mother asked the butterfly lady the hard question: “What happens if you release the butterflies in midwinter? Won’t they die?” I’m sure the lady was cursing my mother, but I was applauding her: it was exactly what I had also been wondering. The lady looked kind of shifty and said, “Oh no, they’re fine, they just fly off somewhere!” Poor butterflies, frozen to death for the sake of someone’s wedding ceremony… The only upside was that I did find a good wedding photographer at the fair.

The thing that strikes me about these wedding magazines and fairs is that it’s all about having the right things – the right dress, the right cars, the right ice sculptures, you name it. What about some reflection on what marriage means? The important thing is not what you wear, or the car that takes you to the ceremony. Of course, it’s nice to have a pretty dress and all that stuff. I loved dressing up and celebrating. But that wasn’t the point of the whole thing. The point was to swear my fidelity to my partner for the rest of my life. It was in a public ceremony which emphasised the seriousness of our commitment, and celebrated our relationship with our friends and family. (I’ve never been able to see why same-sex couples should not also be able to have civil weddings: why should they not have the same opportunity to celebrate with family and friends?)

As my aspiring bride said to me on Saturday, “I’m not so fussed about the ceremony, what I’m looking forward to is waking up every day next to my husband for the rest of my life.” Now that’s what I call being properly prepared for a wedding.

Update

Crazy weddings are not only a Western phenomenon either. Apparently since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the groom is expected to fund the cost of wedding, which is many times the annual salary of an average person. This has created problems for some grooms.

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15 Comments

Filed under bridal industry, crazy stuff, society, weddings

15 responses to “The Wedding Industry

  1. Recently The Economist had an article about the wedding industry and the phenomenon of the “Bridezilla” who wants the right things. Good name for the victims of those magazines!

  2. Little old me

    I got my wedding dress from the cocktail section of a department store! We have avery happy marriage

  3. Whilst I can appreciate that every potential bride wants to be the absolute centre of attention on the day the amount of money spent on some weddings is truly staggering. When I got married it was within weeks of my brothers second wedding and I offer you a simple contrast.
    My brothers intended organised the whole shebang , the “gone with the wind” dress the fancy venue for the reception , my brother and I in morning suits and top hats ( We were each other’s best man) It cost many thousands off dollars . My wife and I had a much simpler do by the creek where we lived, we did not even have electricity, and the celebrant was horrified that there were cow pats (old and dried 😉 )in the field. but the fact that my wife and I are still together and my brother is onto wife number three suggest to me that if the wedding is too elaborate that it may well be the case that the marriage will never match up to the promise of that “big day”.
    After all what is the point that any couple are trying to make beyond the public declaration that they intend to be together? Better to spend money on a good party than on the fripperies of the ceremony or a dress that will only ever be worn once.
    A possibility for any aspiring bride is a trawl through the opp shops where wedding dresses turn up with great regularity and with a little alteration can still be beautiful and unique.

  4. LDU

    I know an Italian guy who married a non Italian girl his family didn’t 100% approve of. He (and family) ended up forking out over $60k for the expenses. They had a church wedding (because his family insisted on a church wedding), then they all drove to a beach spot (because the girls family insisted on a beach wedding).

    The marriage ended up in a divoce 14 months later, and he was telling me how he regretted spending so much in the first place.

    And about Afghan weddings…they’re really really really extravagant, and the boys family pays for all expenses. They’re usually very big events and very stressful for the couple who are supposed to enjoy themselves. A common scene in Afghan weddings is the men throwing lots of money while they’re dancing. You also get some who take out a check book and fill it in as they dance, then tear it out and tuck their book back into their pocket.

    I totally disagree with Afghan weddings.

  5. One of my former work colleagues said her daughter’s first marriage was a dreadfully expensive affair, with all the “right” trappings. Less than a year later, it was over (and her parents were tearing their hair out). Her second wedding was a laid-back affair at the Wedding Registry and lots of fun…and it is still going, as far as I know…

    Sometimes large weddings are fun. I’ve been to large Indian weddings and large Jewish weddings which were a blast – lots of dancing and laughter (all those couples are still together too). And I’ve been to some combined culture weddings that have been great (Maltese-Australian, Turkish-Australian, Chinese-Italian, Chinese-Australian etc). But it’s when it starts to be more about the trappings than the relationship that the trouble starts…

    I’ve seen a money-pinning tradition in some Greek and Turkish weddings. Never money throwing…
    LDU, I can understand why you might not want an Afghan wedding. It sounds more about showing family status than about the relationship of the couple. And where dowries or equivalents need to be paid, either by the woman’s family or the man’s family, it can become very unfair.

  6. I’ve managed to avoid entering any wedding industry establishments in the lead-up to my wedding. My dress is an off-the-rack number from David Jones.

    I do think it’s worth paying some attention to the ceremony though. I think the ceremony is the most symbolic & meaningful part of the day (getting dressed up and having a party is fun but not as significant) and often gets overlooked.

  7. LDU

    LE, it’s a generational thing. We’ve been bred in totally different environments than our parents, so we end up with different tastes 🙂

  8. pete m

    wedding mags – tick
    wedding fairs – tick (note plural)

    we spent more on the engagement ring than the rest of the wedding – kept it simple – garden reception at a relatives place – simple church service – new dress, but modest ($2.5K from memory)

    we kept our money for the honeymoon, and went to the States for 2 weeks and had a ball.

    Agree that for some strange reason people want to outdo each other in all aspects of life – now its the kids birthday parties, where you MUST have an animal zoo, jumping castle, clowns (lol), truckloads of lolly bags to take home etc.

    Guys are buying $8,000 bbq’s as if they are some whiz chef who needs a 5 metre wide bbq.

    I don’t mind buying nice things, but some of this spending will lead to tears – you gotta pay for it someday.

  9. Our wedding preparations left me with a recurring nightmare: after a nuclear holocaust-global pandemic-space impact, future archaelogists are left with only one surviving edifice by which to judge western culture: a bombonniere shop!

  10. Oh bombonniere… I didn’t bother with it – although in a fit of craziness, I did handmake 125 paper cranes which had the guest’s name tag perched in the wings – if a guest really wanted something to take home, it could be that.

  11. I bought my wedding dress in a shop in London when on holiday with my grandmum for $80.00. I came home (Canada) found the same lace that was on the dress down the street in a shop and made my wedding veil for the same price. It boggles my mind that dresses are so expensive now.

    My daughter is getting married in September and paying for her own wedding. I’m not expecting it will be that extravagant since she’s paying for it.

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  13. Quite apart from the freezing thing, surely butterflies called ‘Wanderer’ are a bad omen at a wedding?

  14. I guess could be worse: they could be called “Roving Eyes” or something like that. But no: not a good omen.

  15. Weddings are a business. We once received an inquiry from an entrepreneurial bride who wanted us to retouch her wedding photos and design her wedding coffee table book for free. In exchange, she would distribute our flyers to her guests at the wedding. The email said she was offering this deal to caterers, wedding planners, photographers, etc.

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