Weddings and Consumerism

Weddings and Consumerism


When I go to a wedding, I'm thrilled to bask in the happiness of the event. The flowers, the dancing and the smiles on the couple's faces when they see each other down the aisle. Everything looks absolutely perfect. But, how much does it cost for a wedding day to be "perfect"? There is a trend starting where weddings are costing almost as much as a mortgage and couples are putting themselves in debt so their special day can be the best. This issue is important because a special day should not be so stressful. It should be a day of celebration, not a balance statement of 20,000 dollars.

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A wedding is a ceremony-in which two people are joined together in matrimony. Usually the wedded partners are male and female, but in many jurisdictions same-sex marriages are now legal. The word wedding comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word wedd meant pledge (Bell, 1). The pledge was for the father to take care of the wife. The first civilization to "create" marriage was Ancient Egypt (Jacks, 1). Pharaohs would take on their own sisters and daughters as their wives so the bloodline would remain intact. The engagement was also invented by the Ancient Egyptians, for the couple to "get to know each other better, and see that they were indeed compatible" (Jacks). Much like today, the engagement's purpose was so the couple would know what to expect of each other before the wedding. Marriages were thought to have emerged so that families and clans could come together and prevent serious feuding, which was very common. The wedding ceremony was a great one. For example, Viking wedding festivities were a lengthy affair involving much rowdy feasting, music and drunkenness, which depending on the wealth of the families, could last up to a month! The guests here seemed to get a good deal, all this for free and they received a gift as well for their attendance, and did not have to reciprocate on this generosity. In Scotland though, the guests had to more than pay their own way. Each invited family to a Highland wedding were expected to thank the couple for their invite by providing their own food for the marriage banquet, as well as often pay extra for festivities that might occur, and to give gifts as well on the day after. So most couples did very well indeed out of their weddings, and were comfortable for some time after (Jacks, 3).

Wedding dresses were often made of white wool, and quite simple in appearance, and perhaps the bride had made it herself in anticipation of the big day. Although the dress itself was traditionally simple, there was also to be a highly complicated knot tied in the sash holding it up, to tease the groom and test his patience on the wedding night (Jack). The marriage of Queen Victoria to her cousin Albert of Save in 1840 has had a big influence of modern weddings. She chose to wear white at her wedding, while other brides wore different colors. The emergence of the department store meant women could be married in the new white dress of the time. Women would then dye their dresses a different color so they may re-wear them later on. The white dress stands for "purity, virginity and innocence" however, many women today have not waited for marriage to engage in sexual activities.

The new price

Between 1984 and 2002, the average cost of tying the knot in the United States shot up from $4,000 to $22,000. In Britain, recent estimates peg wedding costs at between $20,000 and $23,000 (Gomstyn, 1). In Currie's article, one of her participants said, "We never initially intended to have a big deal. I think, maybe I wanted to wear a nice dress or something, but I didn't have this idea- and neither did Bill- of a great big wedding. It just kind of happened...We kind of conceded to the fact that this was more for other people than for us, which is really ironic" Currie). So, one of the reasons a wedding costs so much is because of the guests. There are some brides who are comfortable with a small group, but others want to celebrate elaborately on their special day. Is it just like Currie's participant said and brides spend so much money on their wedding because they get carried away? Another big cost is the wedding planner. Wedding planners treat the bride as a novice and instruct her in seeing wedding-related tasks and times as amenable to management. However, planning a wedding requires multiple tasks and times that may be intertwined in ways that make both their representation and their execution highly complex (McKenzie, 1). Wedding planners and bridal magazines were a major contributing factor to the amount of work involved and to the subsequent feeling that respondents were "out of control" of the events which unfolded. A wedding planner, while expensive, helps a bride by helping to take some of the load off of her (Currie, 7).

According to Rebecca Mead, an author on weddings, "We live in a consumerist society. You're not a bride, you're a consumer of bridal products. And second, there's something very profound psychologically happening. A wedding once marked a major transition in a person's life--the first time you slept with your spouse, lived with your spouse. Today, you're just not that different the day after the wedding, so the wedding planning has to function as a traumatic experience. So you can say, "I've been through this experience that was so demanding, it must mean something" (Kelley, 1). Mead goes on to state that "In a celebrity-saturated culture, this is your opportunity to be a movie star for a day" (Kelley, 1). That does explain why brides now would like a replica of Duchess Middleton's wedding dress. Brides want something to make them look special and to set them apart for other brides. But should that mean spending seven thousand dollars on a dress?

Ms. Otnes, an associate professor of business administration, and Ms. Pleck, a professor of history and of human and community development, write in Alice Gomstyn's article, "the unique "once in a lifetime" status of a wedding motivates consumers to spend vast sums to fulfill romantic fantasies without feeling guilty. It's one of the few occasions that consumers feel they can embrace perfection through consumption," says Ms. Otnes. Ms. Boden, a sociology research associate at the University of Leicester, argues that splurging on weddings allows couples to express their love through the use of material goods and services. Couples seek to "set the scene" with ornamentation and elaborate dress, she says, to "openly display" their commitment to one another.

The current situation

Although a wedding was originally a practice to bring a man and a woman together in matrimony, things today are quite different. While the majority of men and women marry today for love, their lives cannot begin lawfully without a wedding. Unfortunately, consumerism has made its way into the special day. Couples spend so much money on a day that will only happen once. They hire wedding planners, buy exceedingly expensive dresses and try to pull out all the stops. But why do they do this?

There are television shows in the United States that are exploiting this important day for women by introducing them to things they don't need. One of the shows, Say Yes to the Dress, brings the viewer into the inner workings of the world's premier bridal salon, Kleinfeld Bridal (Kleidfeld, 1). The role of the staff members is to help the brides find their perfect dress. It is very common for a bride who is on a budget to find a dress beyond her means. This causes a very realistic complication. Women save for years on the event, even though it lasts one day and it is very easy for them to become in debt. There is another television show, which fueled me into writing about this topic.

TLC picked up a show called Four Weddings, where four brides-to-be attend each other's weddings and then critique them. This is a very touchy subject to critique, especially because each bride invested so much work and money on that special day. These television shows are a bad example to modern brides because they are giving them a false idea of what a wedding should be. Instead, a wedding should be a very intimate celebration with the people the couple loves to rejoice their new step. It is not a crime for a bride to want to look great on her day, but these television shows will provide false representation. With the dress, there are the tiaras, the nylons, the perfect bra, the glitter to make your dress the best it can be. There is even that beautiful necklace that, when you walk down the aisle, will make your eyes sparkle in the perfect light. If a couple is not careful, they can start of their marriage in debt. One of Currie's participants said about her wedding, "We rented a limousine for four hours which is fairly expensive and rented a car for our parents to drive in. They could of used their own, but we wanted them to have a nicer sleek white. And we put the fathers in tuxedos, the ushers in tuxedos- we paid for all of that. The ring bearer, we paid for his tuxedo. The two flower girls, we bought their dresses and accessories. We had real flowers too". She had spent money on things she could have avoided and maybe used that money for other things. Another participant "balanced" her wedding finances and deferred them for "another month she and her husband had some money in the bank account" (Currie, 8). The repercussions of big, expensive weddings are that newly wed couples will have bad credit ratings and this will hurt them later on when they have children or they are trying to take out a loan for something they absolutely need.

Weddings back home

In Quebec, weddings are on the rise. In the late 60's, people were not getting married, but rather living together instead because civil marriage was instituted (Byfield, 1). Since couples now had "choice," the assumption was that they would choose to leave church, priest craft, solemn vows and all the other religious falderal behind. People who were married after that time seemed to do so because that is how tradition dictated it. Their ancestors were married in a church, so the couples felt they should also. Now that weddings are on the rise, will Quebec be subject to consumerism like in the United States? Will there be a Say Yes to the Dress: Montreal?


1) B.F. Timmons. The Cost of Weddings. American Social Review (1939). 224-233. Web.
2) Byfield, Ted, Byfield, Virginia. "Church weddings are back for good reasons though they might mystify the 60's people". Alberta Report (1995). 39. Web.

3) Currie, Dawn H. "Here Comes the Bride": The Making of a "Modern Traditional" Wedding in Western Culture". Journal of Comparative Family Studies. (1993): 403-421. Web.

4) Kelley, Raina. "The Price of Marriage". Newsweek 149 (2007). 12-12. Web.

5) McIntyre, Kelsey. "The History of the White Wedding Dress". Web.

6) Bell, Ellen. All about Weddings. Toronto: Dundurn, 2088. Print.

7) Gomstyn, Alice. Hot Type. Chronicle of High Education (2003). Web.

8) Jacks, Matt. The History of Weddings- Tying the Knot though the Ages. Thur. 11. 2008.

9) KleinfeldBridal. Say Yes To The Dress. New York. 2011.

10) Boden, Sharon. Consumerism, Romance and the Wedding Experience. 2003. Print.

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