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The wedding industrial complex

By June 16, 2014 4 Comments

It’s high season for weddings, and this time around I’ll be a bride. Yes, I’m happy to share the news that I got engaged this past winter, and Jonathan and I will marry in August. I’ve walked down the aisle many times as a bridesmaid, and I’ve signed marriage licenses on the “officiant” line, but the whole bridal thing is a new endeavor. 

I knew going into this wedding-planning process that the wedding industry would do its best to get us to obsess over the details and spend to the max, but I didn’t realize how much that pressure would subtly tempt us to override our own values. In fact, the wedding-industrial complex doesn’t really care what your values are, as individuals or as a couple. Getting married in America seems increasingly an act of commercial consumption, and unfortunately our nation’s divorce statistics reflect the fact that nuptials are sometimes as disposable as the decorative knick-knacks and favors that accompany weddings.

One of our hopes for this engagement period was to practice living out our priorities and commitments in the way we made decisions about the wedding, seeing it as an exercise in how we make choices and negotiations, how we spend our financial and other resources, how we express our gratitude for the important relationships in our lives thus far, how we bear witness to the faith we share. I’ve increasingly noticed that these aims hardly overlap, if at all, with the marketing lobbed at me in every direction. The wedding industry does not care what kind of marriage we establish, it just wants us to plan a lavish event. So lavish, in fact, as to constitute more than half of a year’s income, which is the case for the average wedding in these American cities. 

I care a lot more about nurturing the marriage of my hopes than about achieving the wedding of my dreams. I don’t need a fairy tale, the “perfect” day, or the princess treatment. I want to celebrate, and show hospitality, and glorify the God who has seen fit to put me in a pair at this point in my life. I trust that the day will be filled with beauty and meaning because of the people and the occasion, regardless of the details.* We still have a lot of wedding planning to do, and we keep trying to navigate the fuzzy lines between hospitality and pretension, between the genuine and the affected, between the substantive and the showy. Lord help us. 



** For example, “details” might include but are not limited to: What are your wedding colors? What are you doing for favors? Music? Wedding party? Table numbers? Place cards? Menu? Flowers? Centerpieces? Photographer? Videographer? Guest book? Transportation to the reception? Where are you registered? Have you found a dress? Accessories? Shoes? Veil? What are your bridesmaids wearing? Who’s officiating? Are you doing a bouquet and garter toss? What song will you have for your first dance? Are you sending save-the-date cards? Where is your rehearsal dinner? Are you having a wedding coordinator?  How are you having your hair done? Are you changing your name? Are you having flower girls? A ring bearer? What does your cake look like? Will there be dancing? What design did you use for your wedding website? Are you doing a slideshow at the reception? Did you book hotel blocks for your guests? Are you monogramming everything from napkins to M&M’s? Are you having a head table at your reception? What are you doing for your “first look” photo? Are you having a photobooth? Where are you going for your honeymoon? How many of the 2,398,616 wedding-related items on do you plan to purchase? 


  • Debra Rienstra says:

    Congratulations, Jessica! And stay strong. Tell the wedding industrial complex you're doing it YOUR way!

  • Laura says:

    I'm pretty sure I regularly baffled people I worked with in planning my wedding; I kept telling them no, really, it doesn't matter as long as we worship Jesus and end the day married. They just didn't know what to do with that.

  • Chad Engbers says:

    My wife and I were both grad students when we married, so we planned well beneath the Wedding Industrial radar. I designed and printed all invitations and programs on my laptop; she bought all of her regalia at a place in rural Maryland called Lefty's Bridal Boutique.

    (When they tried to sell her on a veil, she said she didn't want it. The lady told her, "It ain't for you, darling, it's for him–it's for the MYSTERY," and my wife replied, "He know what he's getting.")

    I was (and am) a Calvinist; my wife was (and is) a Catholic. Our priest was the man who led the Catholic initiation class that I attended for eight of its nine months, the man who helped me to see that I couldn't really be a Catholic, and the man who sat us down and helped us to envision an ecumenical marriage when we weren't quite ready to think of that.

    One of the many things we agreed on was (and is) that marriage is a form of witnessing God's love. No one ever told us that our wedding was the most beautiful they had ever seen. Several told us that it was the most meaningful.

    I wish you the same kind of wedding (and I suspect you're going to get it).

  • Terry DeYoung says:

    Thanks for the helpful window into this pressure-cooker, Jessica. I'm relieved that I seldom officiate at weddings (one or two a year, tops), but the more I see of them the less I understand. I'm confident yours would not strike me that way, BTW.

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