Getting Married? Avoiding The Nuptial Arms Race

WUHAN, CHINA - MARCH 6:  People talk behind we...
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Named a community service pioneer by Time, Katie Fewings knew brides blow serious coin on their weddings — the American average is now $28,000. She launched, a British site, in 2005 after she used fair-trade wine and a gown made locally of organic poplin for her own ceremony.

I love this one, held in Denmark — check out the Legos on their cake.

When I married, I wore a vintage dress from around 1905 and my maid-of-honor a Victorian dress, both bought from local vintage clothing stores; total cost, less than half what one new gown would have been. I didn’t do it to be green or PC. I hate white satin and felt weird wearing a traditional dress; something comfortable and pretty and distinctive worked well. Instead of cut flowers, I used ivy topiaries in the shape of hearts and potted red geraniums. The reasons were budgetary, but the effect was charming. Our budget, more than 15 years ago, was less than half of what brides today are spending, but we had all the elements that mattered.

My marriage? Brief and not happy. But, hey, a stylish affair on a tight budget — one that many friends planning their own weddings borrowed ideas from. At least we got something right.

There are many ways to have a fun, chic, cool wedding without buying into the bridal arms race, described by New Yorker writer  Rebecca Mead in her 2007 book “One Perfect Day.” From Publishers Weekly:

In its nascence in the American lexicon, the term “Bridezilla” has inspired articles, reality television and watercooler tales of brides gone mad. This phenomenon piqued New Yorker staff writer Mead’s interest, sending her on a three-year investigation of the current American wedding and the $161-billion industry that spawned it. “Blaming the bride,” she writes, “wasn’t an adequate explanation for what seemed to be underlying the concept of the Bridezilla: that weddings themselves were out of control.” Interviewing wedding industry professionals and attending weddings in Las Vegas, Disney World, Aruba and a wedding town in Tennessee, Mead ventures beyond the tulle curtain to reveal moneymaking ploys designed around our most profound fears as well as our headiest happily-ever-after fantasies. Goods and services providers alter marital traditions—and even invent new ones—to feed their bottom line. Stores vie for bridal registry business in hopes of gaining lifelong customers. Women swoon for what retailers call “the ‘Oh, Mommy’ moment” in boutique fitting rooms—an unsettling contrast to the Chinese bridal gown factory workers who make them possible, sleeping eight to a room and scraping by on 30 cents an hour. Part investigative journalism, part social commentary, Mead’s wry, insightful work offers an illuminating glimpse at the ugly underbelly of our Bridezilla culture. 

Any tips from your frugal/green wedding you’d like to share?

12 thoughts on “Getting Married? Avoiding The Nuptial Arms Race

  1. larryb33c

    My husband and I married at the courthouse. Right before the nuptials I realized we both had olive colored v neck sweaters on. I felt it necessary to point out that we did not do that on purpose.
    That story is just dreamy, isn’t it.

  2. Caitlin Kelly

    So, with the name larry, are you both male? Canadians, then?

    If not, dressing like your husband/wife in the same clothes in the same color was something I saw for the first time in Honolulu many years ago, with almost every honeymooning Japanese couple.

    Congrats on 13 years!

    1. larryb33c

      Umm… no. Just my screen name. Larry Bird– his number was 33. Anyway, I use it because it rhymes. Bird wasn’t even my favorite player of that Celtics era (I had a thing for Dennis Johnson at that time –R.I.P., DJ. One of those weird, inexplicable schoolgirl crushes.).
      Oh, you’re Canadian. Probably don’t even know hat the I’m talking about!

  3. jake brodsky

    My wife and I were quite frugal with our wedding. I’d say we were easily on the bottom quarter of the normal curve of wedding spending.

    That’s not to say that we didn’t have a fun time and a cool party, but it wasn’t one of these wild events that can take years to pay off. After nearly 14 years, and three children, we’re still married, so I guess we’re doing something right.

    I wonder if there is any correlation between wedding spending and the divorce rate? Curious minds want to know…

  4. Caitlin Kelly

    Congrats, jake. I love these fun stories.

    I don’t think a really expensive wedding is any guarantee of anything, marital success or lack of it. I do think there are many people who overly focus on planning a glitzy party and a getting lot of attention and loot, the wedding, for the prosaic/lovely reality of marriage. A wedding can be an amazing day but it’s too easy to focus on all that stuff and not what happens the next day — and decade(s.)

    Here’s to your next 14 years!

  5. robin27

    I can see how those retailers might convince you to spend that much, but with a little work, it’s easy to avoid it. I got married 6 months ago and we spent well under $10,000 for about 125 people. We managed to pay for a rehearsal dinner for 30, all the tuxedo rental fees and my *cough*cough* $700 dress. (It was Perfection and I wouldn’t trade it in for anything. I have never felt so beautiful–totally worth it)

    We bought flowers in bulk from Sam’s and made bouquets and arrangements ourselves. (a fun activity for the bridal party and family a day or two before the wedding) I bought cases of wine, beer and champagne from a local liquor store that gave me a nice discount. I had a very talented friend do the photography digitally and he gave me a disc with over 10G of gorgeous pictures. I had another very talented friend play acoustic guitar and sing for all the “special” dances–an iPod hooked up to a PA with a carefully selected playlist was perfect for the rest of the reception.

    I realize not everyone has talented musicians and photographers and flower-arrangers among their family & friends, but ask around … you could be surprised.

  6. Caitlin Kelly

    Robin, thanks. Congrats on your nuptials — and frugal style! I agree that being creative (and having creative friends) can save you a lot of money and it’s much more fun than just writing endless, huge checks to people who, I’ve been told, jack their prices WAY up as soon as they hear the word “wedding” — savvy bargainers are told to tell vendors they’re planning a party instead. I loved wearing my vintage dress (and will soon sell it to a dealer and recoup probably half what I paid) and even took some photos myself that day for fun.

    larry, of course I know who Larry Bird is! I’ve lived here since 1988 and Canadians are totally inundated with American media and culture even north of that shared border. We know much more about y’all than some of the most highly educated Americans I’ve met know about us. I met a Harvard Phi Beta Kappa Rhodes finalist who had no idea what the capital of Canada is. Puhleeze.

  7. geekysarah

    I’m not getting married for a couple more years, but we want to go somewhat along the lines of my mother’s second marriage. Her first marriage was to the oldest son of a family that were perfectly happy to write a blank check for their wedding, so she got the experience of a blowout wedding. After that marriage was done, she wanted a simpler wedding since she and my dad (starving college students) didn’t expect any financial help for the ceremony.

    My mom and dad decided to get married on July 4th, 1988 because all the family was going to be in the area anyway, and no-one would have to get special time off work or have to make a second trip. My mom bought a blue silk dress in a color and cut she adored (I have it hanging in my closet, and after I did some surgery on the shoulder pads, it looks great for spring and summer parties), and my dad invested in his first nice business suit. They got married in my grandmother’s sitting room, bought sheet cakes and instant punch for the reception, and had the wedding dinner at Marie Callendars, all told about 30 people (mostly family).

    My fiance and I are aiming for the same sort of style with our wedding, except I want to invest in a good silk kimono (which will probably be the most expensive part of the whole thing). Here’s hoping, we’re not planning on tying the knot until 2012, so we’ve got more time to plan and think.

  8. Caitlin Kelly

    This all sounds fun and stylish and original — good for you for not taking the easy/costly/boring route. Love the idea of a kimono. I have a few and they are so beautiful. On your wedding day you must be gorgeous and comfortable and wear what works for you. It’s easy to succumb to all sorts of pressure from parents or peers and, as they say, it’s your day. I enjoyed the challenge of doing it affordably and well, and (with time available to work on that) was able to.

  9. Lisa Todorovich

    The pressure is astounding. I got married a year and a half ago, and even though we kept it under control (wholesale flowers, J.Crew dress, bridesmaids wore what they wanted, afternoon cocktails we bought because I love drinks during the day), it wasn’t cheap. By far the worst part was resisting the pressure from the crazy dress ladies who kept pushing the madness and the big poufy nightmares when I told them I cared more about my marriage that the “message” my dress was sending (blech). I’m with you, Caitlin — more imagination and care, less mad consumption.

  10. Caitlin Kelly

    Lisa, I got as far as buying a really pretty skirt years ago (got engaged years ago) and haven’t planned a wedding since, even though people keep asking. The whole logistical nightmare and $$$$$ makes us think of eloping and blowing the $$$ on a really great honeymoon instead. So I just keep putting the whole thing off. I loved making all those choices the first time and now think, oy, so much energy for….a total of 12 hours?

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