Kay Steiger

Literature Review: One Perfect Day

with 5 comments

Welcome to the Literature Review, simple thoughts on books I’ve been reading.Want to keep track of what I’m reading? Friend me on goodreads.

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.

Written by kaysteiger

July 30, 2011 at 3:23 PM

Posted in Literature Review

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5 Responses

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  1. […] Wedding Costs xml feed K&#97y &#83teiger &#114eviews Rebecca Mea&#100‘s O&#110e Per&#102e&#99&#116 Da&#121: The Selli&#110g o&#102 &#116he Ameri&#99a&#110 […]

  2. Kay said:

    “But I also know that sinking tens of thousands of dollars into that day just isn’t for me.”

    Thank you! My wife and I got married in Hawaii, while I was there to run a marathon (which was the purpose of our trip). We were married by a judge, in a civil marriage ceremony. Total cost for our wedding: $60. I have no regrets about the manner of our marriage, and would do it again.

    Spending huge sums of money for a wedding ceremony is a pointless waste of money. Have a smaller wedding and invest the difference in a retirement savings account.

    Matthew Heaney

    July 31, 2011 at 4:14 PM

  3. […] Steiger reviews Rebecca Mead‘s One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American […]

  4. Yeah, I didn’t want to spend tens of thousands of dollars either (and, like you, never did the planning-years-in-advance-before-I-even-have-a-partner thing). We had no wedding planner, no florist, no band (we got a friend to manage the iPod and the borrowed A/V equipment for free), no bridal magazines, homemade centerpieces (my now-husband made them). We got $1200 off on the venue for having the wedding on a Sunday, had a bbq in our backyard instead of an expensive rehearsal dinner, and I spent less than $400 total on bridal clothing (I went with a nontraditional dress). We did our own invitations.

    It still cost $20k. A little over half of that was food (we cut down the non-entree stuff to almost nothing to get it that low), plates, flatware, servers, tables, and chairs. We were kind of screwed from the start on food because for medical reasons we needed a caterer that could reliably do everything gluten-free, which apparently means upscale, at least around here. Beyond that, we spent around $1500 for the alcohol, $2800 for the venue (which, like I said, was a deep discount), a couple grand or so, for the wedding bands (plain gold circles), and then there were assorted licenses and insurances. Our only real splurge was the gluten-free cake, which cost something like $550 and was worth every penny. The major way that we could have saved money was by inviting fewer people, and we were already sad about not being able to invite everybody that we wanted while staying within budget.

    In this zip code (this is a high COL area), that $20k put us in the bottom quartile of weddings, cost-wise. The vast majority of the cost was not spent on frills, but on provisions for our guests, some of whom flew thousands of miles and/or crossed international borders to come. So, the way to actually keep it cheap would have been to elope.

    The wedding itself was great, but I felt like a bad, frivolous, person during the preparations, for spending so much money. It gave me a new understanding of why people do. If people like us, who wanted to keep it cheap and went with almost no frills, still spent what we did, then what chance do people who actually want some frills have?


    August 1, 2011 at 9:38 AM

  5. […] I mentioned that the wedding industry is a huge racket? And don’t even get me started on the baby […]

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