Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Wedding Industrial Complex

I didn’t know you could have a sit-down dinner at a wedding reception until I was well into adulthood. Growing up in Oklahoma, most of my family were either farmers or teachers. Weddings were held in a church and the reception following it was held in the fellowship hall. There was cake and punch, and — if you were lucky — mints and mixed nuts. 

There was a dinner connected with these weddings back in Oklahoma, but it was held the night before the wedding. It was the rehearsal dinner and was limited to the actual participants in the wedding. I attended one of these when I was 14 and had my first sip of wine. 

My extended family and their friends were not poor. They were frugal. They had lived through a dustbowl, a depression, and a world war. That frugality had enabled them to hold onto their farms and not become part of the rag-tag army of “Okies” moving west. This family history is a strong undercurrent in my life. I think it is what informs my conflicted feelings about the wedding industry of present times. 

When my husband and I got married 25 years ago, we had a picnic on my Grandparents’ farm. One hundred people came. By then we had been to a lot of weddings where a meal was expected, so we figured if people were going to fly in from New York, travel to a tiny town in Oklahoma, brave miles and miles of red dirt roads to get to the family farm, we were going to feed them.  

Many people commented that it was the most meaningful wedding they had ever been to. We crafted everything from the flowers to the music. We had a jazz/classical combo — friends of mine from college — play lovely music. My sweet, understanding mother made the bridesmaids’ dresses and they were perfect. The wedding ended with a sung benediction by a chorus of 20 of our friends whose ability ranged from church choir singers to a baritone from the Metropolitan Opera. It was conducted by my father-in-law, a beloved music educator and Music Row session musician.

When I look at the current trends in the wedding industry, I just shake my head in dismay. So many of the wedding vendors at these huge wedding industry shows feel to me like vultures circling their impressionable and unwitting prey. I’m not just a boomer wishing things were like they were when I was a kid. I truly worry about the debt these families take on for ONE DAY OF THEIR LIVES!

Wouldn’t that money be better spent in a college fund for the grandkids, given the terrible cost of higher education? 

I had a sweet couple come to me for flowers a couple of years ago. They were getting married in a back yard wedding in their home. One of the brides admitted to me that she was from a powerful family in DC and that her parents had spent ONE MILLION DOLLARS on her older sister’s wedding. Think about that: $1,000,000. All to show off to all their powerful friends for one day. Think of how many underprivileged high school graduates could go to college with that money…..

When other wedding floral providers set their minimum prices in the thousands of dollars, I think of all the brides who will wind up going to the grocery store for their flowers. It’s not that I’m a “budget” floral provider; it’s that I’m willing to work with a couple to come up with solutions. Maybe that’s just flowers for the bride herself. Maybe that’s a small posy instead of a huge, armful of extravagant flowers (which is really too heavy to carry through an entire service!). 

Even Martha Stewart has waxed poetic about the beauty and simplicity of her own tiny luncheon wedding party of eight people. But now I receive emails from the wedding industry side of her empire, and it’s all guilt-inducing photos of armies of attendants and diamond rings over a carat in size.

Now that we’ve been through all the changes that 2020 has wrought, I wonder if perhaps we can’t get back to a more intentional way of celebrating the union of two wonderful, living, breathing human beings. And celebrate a day that is about meaning and hope and love. Not about going into debt and having a celebration that mimics a magazine spread. 

My desire is to help couples who want to craft an intentional wedding that celebrates their love and commitment. Of course this is business, and of course I need to make money. But I’d prefer to do it in a thoughtful way that honors the day it profits from. 

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