Valerie Weaver-Zercher looks at recent books on the Wedding Industry

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Three recent books scrutinize the $80 billion wedding industry. Vicki Howard offers a historical survey of the business of weddings; Rebecca Mead provides a journalistic account of the contemporary wedding scene; and Colleen Curran collects women's stories about weddings. Although none of the writers is equipped to counsel pastors, all of them detail the way in which commercial interests have stepped into what Mead calls the "vacuum of authority" regarding how people should marry. And all of them point to small but promising signs of a movement toward nuptial common sense that questions a climate in which a $15,000 wedding is regarded as frugal.

The wedding industry—that cluster of corporations and individuals that provides products and services to brides and grooms and hopes to hook them as customers for life—is less frequently a target than are the minutiae-obsessed modern brides themselves, also known as "Bridezillas." They're the women who throw tantrums if the reception punch doesn't match the place cards, who make their attendants show up for ten fittings, and who weep if none of the guests remortgage their house to buy the silver tableware on the gift registry. Bridezilla is a figure of such mythic proportions that bridal magazines and Web sites themselves are dishing out advice about how not to be one—which journalist Anne Kingston, in The Meaning of Wife, says is "not unlike a drug dealer expressing worry that his customers might end up addicted." And while many women of marrying age have at least one story of a friend-turned-wedding-monster, Mead writes that the now fashionable derision of Bridezilla "provides a way to separate off, into safe quarantine, the disconcerting sense that the way we conduct weddings has somehow gone wrong. . . . The Bridezilla caricature is a stand-in representing a much larger anxiety: that we are all living in a Bridezilla culture."

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchMarriage & Family

Posted November 30, 2007 at 3:03 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Forever Anglican wrote:

Thank you for this post. I have been more and more concerned about the excesses of the wedding industry, and the complicity of the Church in not providing clear guidance and expectations for couples. I appreciate the review of these books. This information could help parishes formulate wedding manuals.

Forever Anglican

November 30, 4:48 pm | [comment link]
2. Judith L wrote:

It seems to me that the more couples shack up before marrying and the more likely any given marriage will end in divorce, the more elaborate and expensive weddings become.

November 30, 4:56 pm | [comment link]
3. RoyIII wrote:

Not to hijack the thread, but I read somewhere that there is a huge gay wedding industry too.

November 30, 5:42 pm | [comment link]
4. selah wrote:

I always thought that churches should offer engaged couples the opportunity of getting married during the traditional Sunday service. This would discourage the couple from inviting hundreds of guests and allow the couples faith community to be the witnesses and upholders of the marriage.

There could always be a simple coffee and scones reception after the ceremony, or the family could go to a restaurant afterward.

There, I just saved the bride’s family $29,000.

November 30, 5:47 pm | [comment link]
5. The_Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

As an engaged clergyman, I think I have a unique perspective on this issue. ‘Bridazilla culture’ is well put. My fiancee is quite level headed about such things, but having had to deal with some other weddings in the parish I work at, I can completely understand now the somewhat humorous comment from a priest mentor I had in seminary. He said, “I much prefer to do funerals than weddings. At least people are somewhat receptive to what the clergy do and say at a funeral.” He said this as a joke, but I have found there is much seasoned wisdom in that (as was most of the advice he gave me).

I think like the American dream, many young girls are spoon fed this idealized dream wedding from the time they are old enough to read, starting with fairy tales about princesses. Throw in a little “its all about me” consumer culture, and you have an explosive situation.

I would take some exception with the church being complicit in creating the Bridezilla culture. Most responsible pastors and priests I know are good about stating what is expected, especially if a couple is wanting to have some $30000+ wedding. Is it really pastorally appropriate to allow something like that to slide. There needs to be priorities and if someone is wanting to spend that kind of money on a one time event, there needs to be a serious discussion of reality.

November 30, 5:48 pm | [comment link]
6. Mithrax+ wrote:

The usual line I tell couples who are coming to me to get married is along the lines of “It’s not the size of the wedding now, it’s the length of the trip you take for your 50th anniversary.”

I’ve never had a bridezilla, usually because I make damn sure that they don’t get that far. Wedding planners? Sure, give me the number so I can remind them that I have final say over the service.

Want something different? Sure if it’s within reason. I had one couple with a young daughter out of wedlock, but they wanted to include her in the exchange of rings. So I added a very brief ring blessing for her and prayer, to include her in their new life together. I’m sure some purists would kill me but meh, I thought it was nice they bothered to even want to include her in the service.

I draw the line at Dog ring bearers though. WHen I was an asst. Curate, my rector allowed this to happen and then made me take the service…....rings got knotted to the dog’s collar, the dog wouldn’t get off the carpet onto the rest of the floor….oh well.

November 30, 6:05 pm | [comment link]
7. TWilson wrote:

Bridezillas are easy to blame (and for some good reasons), but let’s not forget other factors that drive up cost, namely bloated guest lists and “her family v. his family competition.”  Having been a guest or attendant in numerous weddings in the last 5 years, I’ve seen several cases where the competition between the two families (despite the express wishes of the nuptial couple) turned into an arms race. In most of these cases, the bride-to-be was not demanding excess; rather, the mother of the bride wanted to give the wedding she had not been able to afford for herself, or the groom’s parents wanted a high-end rehearsal dinner to impress their out-of-town guests. And it only takes a few “if we invite your great-aunt A then it’s not fair to exclude B, C, D…” conversations to layer in a few extra thousand dollars of purely variable expense.

November 30, 7:03 pm | [comment link]
8. Jeffersonian wrote:

As the father of a lovely 21 year-old daughter, I’m pondering this subject with not small amount of interest and dread.  I’m thinking of offering a modest wedding, a modest reception, a nice honeymoon and a check for $10,000 for a downpayment on a home, etc.  I think both I and my lovely daughter will come out ahead.

November 30, 7:34 pm | [comment link]
9. selah wrote:


I always thought that offering a fixed price on a wedding was fair and even virtuous.  If the parents offer $15,000, and the couple takes $3,000 for the wedding and $12,000 for a downpayment on a house, I think this is a wise course of action for everyone involved.

November 30, 7:40 pm | [comment link]
10. Ross wrote:

My sister put on a beautiful wedding for a very modest price tag… I forget exactly how much, but I know that when she added up the checks from people who gave money as a wedding gift they came out ahead.

On the other hand, a friend of mine was quietly pulled aside by the father of the bride at some point in the wedding planning and offered some amount of money if he could convince her to elope to Las Vegas.  I’m pretty sure he was kidding.  Mostly.

Miss Manners once pointed out that a wedding is supposed to be an expression of the life that the newly married couple is actually going to lead, not the life they fantasize about.  It should be in the same general ballpark of razzle-dazzle as parties they’re going to throw in the next year.  The upper end of that ballpark (if ballparks have “ends”), sure, but if your usual get-together is beer and pizza you don’t need a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous wedding.

November 30, 8:17 pm | [comment link]
11. Courageous Grace wrote:

My husband and I got married for under $5000 in 2004.  The big costs went to photography (an excellent investment in my opinion.  The photographer was great at staying out of the way and we have the negatives and can get reprints at our leisure), floral (altar arrangement—left for the next Sunday’s service, bouquets for myself and my bridesmaids, and floral circlets for the bridesmaids), and my dress.  The church was free to use as hubby and I are both members in good standing, no organist fee (I’m in the choir, they came and sang), the parish hall was discounted for use by church members, and a fellow chorister catered for a small fee.

There were no frills, no “wedding planner”, no turning the sanctuary into a “wedding chapel”.  We made sure the focus of our wedding was the Eucharist, not the wedding.  Three years later we are still getting compliments.  Our best man (who took part in two other weddings around the same time as ours) still tells us he liked ours best, our photographer told us it was the most “real” wedding he had ever photographed.

We have also been told by other couples that they had the Banns published because we did, a tradition that had fallen out of use in our parish for quite a while.

I’m afraid I might be coming off as a bit conceited and that is not the intention.  I’m just trying to point out that an inexpensive wedding is possible and can even be a more meaningful and memorable event because of a lack of frills.

As a side note, since most of our extended family members are not well-off financially and live out of state, we didn’t have a problem with an inflated guest list.  I think there might have been a total of 50 people attend…  And as for those expensive registry items…one of my husband’s relatives was upset because we didn’t have any single item on our registry that cost more than $100.  Call us weird, we’ve got simple tastes.

November 30, 8:39 pm | [comment link]
12. Courageous Grace wrote:

here’s a picture, by the way

November 30, 8:42 pm | [comment link]
13. Jill C. wrote:

What a lovely bride you were, Grace!  Thanks for sharing that photo with us.  smile

December 1, 12:05 am | [comment link]
14. MJD_NV wrote:

Cyber hi-five, Grace!  In our family, we’re all about the simple & the homemade at weddings, and even after marrying off 3 daughters, our parents are not suffering financially for our weddings.  And all of us had wonderful, memorable weddings that we wouldn’t trade for all the wedding planners on Madison Avenue! wink Congrats on both your first three years and your little one on the way!

December 1, 12:32 am | [comment link]
15. Courageous Grace wrote:

Thank you all very much for the compliments and congrats.  It is much appreciated.

December 1, 1:11 am | [comment link]
16. Albany* wrote:

There was a time, perhaps in some places there still is, when woman would speak of “being used.” That’s about how most pastors feel about the Church after one of these bridezillas gets “her way.”

December 1, 10:54 pm | [comment link]
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