Weddings sucked up $42 billion last year. The average U.S. wedding cost $19,581. And that figure actually represents a decline: in 2007, before the recession, Americans spent nearly $29,000 on every single one of our 2 million-plus weddings.
Most of the couples who ended up spending more than the cost of a downpayment on a house in order to get initiated into an institution with a near-50% failure rate probably intended at one point to have small, simple weddings. Then they registered for gifts, and probably TheKnot.com, and then every distant cousin had to be invited, and there was a deluge of bridal magazines and the apparent need to book a D.J. eight months in advance. They almost certainly, at one point or another, attended a weddings expo. And before they knew it, this couple was deep in the belly of the Wedding-Industrial Complex. They were toast.
At the New York Weddings Event — not an expo, an event — yesterday, it was easy to see how that steady raising of the stakes could occur. There's the inflation of price — why should it cost $6,000 to book a band for one night, just because the W-word is in play? — but there is also the more cunning inflation of need. I paused at this one booth where a design firm was proffering its services in the creation of customized wedding "Who's Who" explainers. To plug names into a pre-set — but very elegant looking, I have to admit — wedding guest "family tree" and print off a chart for display at the reception cost $535. "But more for something custom, like that one," said the booth attendant, pointing to a large chart done in oranges and reds, where the tree, cleverly enough, looked like a tree.
I am not engaged or planning a wedding, so I was mostly there to scarf free food and down free drinks. (Hello, open bar!) Sadie is, so our visit had some notional purpose, beyond our own bloggy amusement. And truth be told, it was kind of great to wander around eating — there were little parmesan cups containing salmon mousse, prosciutto and cheese roll-ups, filet mignon hors d'oeuvres, and cuplets of lemon-rosemary risotto served in half-lemons, and that was just this one booth. (Like Tracie noted two years ago, the diet/cleanse/wedding workout booths were mostly deserted.) And, allow me to mention in passing that among the many, many booths serving cakes of varying deliciousness, I didn't spot a single one touting wedding pie.
We took our picture against this magic-eye background, we wondered at the prevalence of twee hipster filigree among invitation designs, and rubbed absurd amounts of highly scented body creams over ourselves at the Body Shop booth. (Sadie started putting the excess on her legs. "Yeah, rub it all over!" said the tester-touting booth boy. "I'm trying to," she replied.) Then we tried to think about what it all meant.
Sadie: I am the worst, most inadequate bride in existence. When anyone asked me if I was getting married, I wanted to mutter, "Sort of."
Sadie: The only one I could really identify with was the sullen model in the bridal gown, skulking around.
Jenna: She was funny. I wanted to get her a drink but I'm sure it wasn't allowed.
Sadie: "How about a coupon for being really rich," I muttered when they offered us a "chance" to win yet another juice cleanse.
Jenna: Yes, I thought your comment about a coupon that would allow a person to actually pay for a wedding was very apt. I could think of a lot of things I'd like to do with $19,000, and "Throw a party for all my friends," is somewhat behind "Save for my retirement" and "Maybe think about a house." Hell, it's well behind "Buy Galliano couture." But only because I could throw a perfectly nice wedding with an open bar for a hell of a lot less!
Sadie: I have nothing that they suggested: the chart of guests' relationships, the custom Welcome To NY! manuals and gift bags for hotel rooms, the cleanses planned, the tooth-whitening booked, the terrariums for my tables, the macaroon tree, the uniformed Good Humor man, or that weird tomato sandwich made with butter cookies.
Jenna:What kind of a wedding are you planning, anyway?
Jenna: What is it about weddings that brings out the crazy? Why do we start thinking we need to release rare tropical butterflies at the reception, or to include an organic gardening kit in the party favors? Or fly 50 people to Costa Rica for five days of "eco-tourism" followed by a super-special, rainforest-at-sunset ceremony?
Sadie: Ha. Well, it's the happiest day of your life, right? So you have to define "happiness" — or what you want people to think your definition is!
Jenna: It's the tragedy of wanting everything to be "perfect." We sold ourselves a lousy bill of goods. It's inherently impossible. Did you see the booth that rented linens? Table linens? They had special ones that would complement your lighting design. I guess having a "lighting design" is a given now.
Sadie: Ooh, that creepy booth! See, that never figured in my definition of perfection. Because I wasn't aware of it.
Jenna: Yes, being unaware — remaining unaware — that's the key, I think. The scariest thing is, though, I walked out of there thinking, my wedding will be different. My wedding will be small, and simple. Didn't you?
Sadie: Oh yes!
Jenna: I'm pretty sure that's how it starts.