Literature Review: One Perfect Day
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One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding By Rebecca Mead
Let me be clear about one thing: I am not a wedding person. When I was little (or even as a young adult) I didn’t spend hours imaging what my wedding dress might look like or what kind of ring I might want for my engagement or even whether I want an indoor or outdoor wedding. I found the whole mental exercise to be uninteresting. I also found it really absurd when young women I know told me about their elaborate wedding plans—not only was I not the kind of person who didn’t think about these sorts of things, but because I found it silly to plan a whole wedding so far in advance, especially if they weren’t with anybody at the time. Doesn’t the groom figure into this scheme at all? I thought.
Oh boy, did I have so much to learn. As Rebecca Mead documents in her book, the American wedding industry has exploded in the last few decades. What was once a relatively simple affair (though when you adjust for inflation, weddings in the 1920s or ’30s still cost around $5,000) has become a new stage in absolute consumerism.
And there are a number of people standing in line to cash in on this phenomenon. From the professional wedding planner, a job that didn’t really exist a few decades ago, to the florists, the band or dj, the venues, the bridal magazines, the wedding dress sellers, and the retail outlets that hold wedding registries—all want to help you make your special day special. They also want to make a lot of money doing it.
Mead is careful to point out that not all American weddings are the same—in fact, the only thing that unifies the American wedding is how varied they are. She also rather smartly points out that many couples getting married today experience very little difference between pre-wedding and post-wedding life. More and more couples get married later in life, and more and more couples take the step of living together before the wedding day. Lots of couples already have fully furnished apartments. She also points out that the generation getting married in the last decade or two are the first children of mainstream divorce. Many wedding planners she interviewed speculated that many invest so much in the big day so that they can show the world how much more committed they are than their parents. (The jury’s still out on that strategy.)
The wedding day, it seems, only holds the significance that we put into it. And the average couple seems to find that significance to be worth tens of thousands of dollars. Mead examines many aspects of the wedding, from discount wedding conglomerate retailer David’s Bridal (full confession, I had to buy a bridesmaid dress there once) to the retailers that hope to establish lifelong loyalty when you list your wedding registry with them. Each is is a fascinating look behind the scenes of the swirl that surrounds any couple about to get married.
Though Mead’s examination of this industry is bound to make one cynical, she also points out that the wedding industry is constantly evolving—now that weddings are no longer exclusively for the heterosexual couples, it’s hard not to feel some of that “aw” factor.
For me, I’ m trying not to be so closed minded about it. As more and more of my friends get sucked into the vortex of the wedding industry, I’m trying to stave off those looks of bewilderment (admittedly, sometimes unsuccessfully) as they contemplate centerpieces and favors. I’m making something of an effort to be supportive. But I also know that sinking tens of thousands of dollars into that day just isn’t for me.