One of the first things I did when my fiancé and I got engaged was to tell my sister: “Don’t let me do anything crazy.”
In the oft written-about, extraordinarily capacious world of wedding planning, after all, it’s easy to get distracted by – well, pretty much anything. Even in the world of things which actually need to be decided upon at some point, the complexity of some tasks – how should the open bar work? Whom to invite and whom to sternly warn not to talk politics? – is headache-inducing, and that’s well before you get to the individual touches which, like a temporal Charybdis, eat up time you would rather spend thinking about anything else.
The lists of ‘awesome wedding ideas’ that get bandied about on the internet sometimes read more like Cosmo’s infamously strange sex tips than anything sensible or desirable. You can hire a live painter, like a court minion hovering around for the best angle. You should probably come up with a custom Instagram hashtag for the big day. The choice of takeaway goodie to leave on plates at the reception is treated like it’s a matter of life and death. There are diagrams demonstrating how a bride can use the toilet while still wearing the poofiest of dresses. The newest Thing is apparently to release not doves or bubbles at your ceremony but butterflies (check out the comments on that article – I particularly like the suggestion of tattooing your names on the backs of chinchillas). And none of these things which strike me as an almost complete waste of time and energy are particular outliers, as it turns out; the marital industry seems to be headed this way en masse, spearheaded by sites like Offbeat Bride.
By far the most shocking thing about the process, however, has to be just how deep your pockets apparently have to stretch in order to throw a half-decent bash.
The average cost of a wedding in the United States in 2016, according to The Knot (which is a fabulously-organized and always helpful aggregator, I must point out), was $35,329. In the United Kingdom it’s £27,161, or $36,463. There are some caveats to these figures, of course: the UK figure includes the cost of a honeymoon and engagement ring, and the American figure includes the cost of an engagement ring and varies widely geographically across the country (Manhattan comes in at over $78,000, while Montana averages closer to $21,000). And, of course, both figures probably incorporate more than a few millionaires’ blowouts.
But still – I’m not weird for finding this to be completely insane, right? What possible reason, in a world plagued with economic uncertainty and divorce, would anyone have to spend a year’s entry salary for a (very lucky) college graduate on the events of a week or two in their lives? Despite what the rabid magazines and wedding planning websites want to tell us, even a ‘destination’ wedding that brings together family and friends from across the world surely doesn’t have to be that expensive.
Right now, based on our own budget, my and my partner’s wedding costs are probably going to come in at half as much as the American average – which still seems awfully extravagant. It’s extremely hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that anyone would need one single photographer so much that they’d be willing to fly them in from another country to be there on the day, or that anyone needs a $5,000 dress, or even a $2,000 dress, which they will wear for maybe eight hours and then never touch again.
Here’s the thing, though: I fell in love, during a brief weekend visit to my sister last month, with TLC’s reality show Say Yes To The Dress, which follows brides during their search for the ideal gown. I love all the versions of it that I’ve seen – the New York edition, with its strong orientation towards the bride’s personal happiness and its (frankly startling) body positivity; the UK version, set in a shop in Essex, which is somewhat gentler, certainly less dramatic, and almost always cheaper, but just as fashionable. My favorite edition, however, has to be the Atlanta series based at Bridals by Lori. I laughed for what felt like half an hour over consultant Monte Durham’s happy fainting spells when he heard a bride wanted to look like Jackie O; there’s something voyeuristically pleasurable, in every episode, about the encounter with bickering families who come in looking for their daughter or sister to be a quintessential Southern Belle, or the dreadful moment when a member of an entourage’s face twists up and they say ‘naw.’
As much as I am horrified by the drama and the cost (the damn cost!), and by the alien concept that there are still women in the world who have been dreaming about looking like a princess on their wedding day since they were six, it’s hard not to be touched by all of this. It’s very hard indeed not to be vicariously proud of women feeling beautiful and precious in their skin and in that one perfect piece of fabric, and to want to someday feel the same, damn the resources it takes.
I’m going to order what I hope to wear online in December, and try it on over Christmas. I won’t be spending thousands, but I will get my mum and my sister to wait in the room for me, and parade out like I’m on a runway, and hope that they cry. Because maybe a little drama is permissible – and it might just make the whole thing great.
[Written while listening to a first-draft Spotify playlist of wedding reception songs that was compiled 11 months in advance of the Big Day, because I’m a hypocrite. A very happy one.]