Keeping up with the Magazines

Do wedding publications foster unreasonable expectations for what the average wedding should look like?

Do wedding publications foster unreasonable expectations for what the average wedding should look like?

Quite honestly — I’m sick of it.

A wedding costs big money, no matter how scrupulously the couple tries to spend wisely and save carefully.  And that part I’m okay with.

The part that I’m not okay with is how the wedding industry continually implies that normal couples go all-in — everything’s a splurge worth spending, apparently, from fancy sterling at every place setting to unending open bars to letterpress invitations.

 What we see in the magazines isn’t a good representation of the national average.  After all, no publication is going to feature a wedding that took place in a rundown reception hall.  But those weddings happen.  So do the fancy estate and yacht-set weddings that grace the pages of our favorite glossies.  And so do weddings that fall somewhere in between, the median American wedding, if you will.

That’s mostly what I’ve attended: fun, festive, and elegant events where the paying party carefully considered the cost/value trade off of each expenditure.  Sometimes, girls, we just can’t afford the extra glitz.

In April, I interviewed a 19-year-old bride-to-be via e-mail.  Heather, who is getting married this August, knows about having to cut costs.

“Obviously 2 full time college students w/o degrees don’t make enough money to have a huge wedding, so there are some things we’re doing cheap,” she wrote.

For my part, I’m inclined to believe Heather’s wedding is far more normal than what we see splashed through the pages of Brides.  Although most couples will look for savings no matter how much money they have at their disposal, we don’t all have a starting budget that grants us access to Anne Barge gowns and Rolls Royce rentals.  And you know what?  That’s okay, too.

You can buy a fancy wedding -- but you can't buy the smile you wear on your wedding day.

You can buy a fancy wedding -- but you can't buy the smile you wear on your wedding day.

The out-and-out happiest bride I’ve ever seen was my friend Nataly.  She had a very short engagement, and was married only two weeks after she returned to Florida following two years in Spain.  Her planning time was nonexistent.  With only days to book a venue, she ended up with an 8 a.m. spot at a beautiful local garden — in January.  The reception took place at our church, a homemade luncheon whipped up by some family friends.

And throughout the day, Nataly was positively giddy with happiness.  Which meant that, although she didn’t have all the fancy magazine trimmings, her wedding was perfect.

As my own wedding gets closer, I’m watching the bills mount ever more quickly.  There’s still much more to pay for, too.  Frankly, I’m getting tired of publications, wedding TV shows, and advice columns telling me where, how, and why I need to spend my money. 

There are a few specific expenses that are real sticking points within the wedding industry — and they’ve become sticking points for me, as well.  Cash bars have become my pet peeve.  No, cash bars existing is not my pet peeve; wedding columnists who label them “cheap” and “tacky” are my pet peeve.  There are a few reasons why.

First, I’ve been to numerous weddings that have included cash bars.  I’ve never heard any complaining — or seen anyone who feels like having a martini abstaining.  While I heartily agree that wedding guests shouldn’t be expected to pay for themselves at a wedding, I am willing to draw the line at the bar.  When the wedding hosts are already shelling out $5-50 per person for hors d’oeurves, $25-150 per person for dinner and $4-20 per person for cake, I don’t think the hosts need to feel bad for offering their guests an array of non-alcoholic beverages to accompany dinner, especially if the reception includes a champagne toast.

Second, I’ve also been to weddings where the bar is open all night.  And watched normally sobor friends quickly down more imported beer and specialty drinks than they would buy for themselves in several nights out.  Another bride I interviewed, Lea, had a similar experience: “I heard a horror story involving a bride’s friends doing shots at the bar and exceeding the alcohol budget before the cocktail hour was over,” she told me.  At one of the open bar weddings I attended, the father of the bride later confided to my friend that the bar tab bumped the total wedding cost up so much that it hovered right around his yearly salary.

Call me “cheap,” but I don’t feel like handing my entire year’s work over to my friends so they can get hammered.

Now I’ll get off my soap box and go back to reading wedding magazines.

~ Laura


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