I wrote awhile back about the fact that everything goes up in price once you start planning your wedding but I had no idea (although I totally should have known) that there’s an actual name for this phenomenon:
The Wedding Industrial Complex
*What? You expected something sexier?*
I started thinking about this today when I stumbled upon an NPR piece on why wedding dresses cost so much. It actually wasn’t the piece itself, but many of the comments that led me to explore the WIC concept. At least the author, Caitlin Kenney, recognized that the price was jacked up just because it was a wedding dress, but she never really explored what the WIC is and how it functions:
I knew I wasn’t just paying for the fabric and the craftsmanship. I knew I was paying for the word “wedding” and all the feelings attached to it.
So I did what any good researcher would do in my situation. I googled it. And came across a whole (whole, whole!) lot of stuff about it – like the fact the parent company of David’s Bridal has their own lobbying group in Congress! But hey, so does Tiffany & Co. And Macy’s has a Political Action Committee which donated $38,000 to federal candidates during the 2010 election cycle.
Apparently there’s whole books on the subject. In an interview with Salon, Rebecca Meade, author of the 2007 book One Perfect Day, the selling of an American Wedding, said a wedding used to signal the beginning of your adult life, but anymore it doesn’t. Yet people still need that “becoming an adult moment” and the wedding is becoming a stand-in.
I think that people still need to feel that this transition is a viscerally affecting experience. Because being married is very different from not being married…It’s much harder to break up a marriage than it is to break up a nonmarital partnership. So I think people need the sense of “Wow! Something really big has just happened.
Ironically Meade thinks the wedding industry actually popped up because of feminism.
Women used to make their own dresses, cook, take care of the kids, and now we outsource all of this: childcare, cooking, even getting your eyebrows done or getting your legs waxed. Nobody does their own if they can afford not to — or even if they can’t!
What’s weird to me, and Meade touches on it in her book, is that the certain parts of the wedding industry insist on initializing the brides. First they assume that all brides have had their wedding day planned pretty much since birth and that all brides want to be a princess. Disney even offers Cinderella packages. Meade explains,
They won’t let Mickey Mouse host the weddings because it’s not “traditional,” because it would compromise the dignity of the ceremony. But the company’s idea of tradition, curiously enough, permits couples to hire someone dressed up as Major Domo [Prince Charming’s footman in the Disney version of “Cinderella”] to serve as their ring bearer.
More on the Disney wedding package. According to Meade:
When you’re in the Magic Kingdom, there are 100 places to buy ice cream, but you can’t get a drink anywhere. And when I was there, that was really what I wanted! There’s this very childish fantasy about what life is like, what married life is like and what the world is like.
Okay, so what happens if the bride and groom (because let’s not kid ourselves, most of the wedding industry in an exercise in heteronormativity) say “to hell with it all! Let’s elope!” Welcome to the land of Destination Wedding Packages. And the fact that family and friends still expect something.
It’s not that brides don’t have agency over their own weddings. It’s that by exercising agency, there’s a fear they’ll let someone down. And, even if they don’t have a ton of money saved, they still expect the big day to feel like, well, a big day. According to Meade,
It’s easy to say, “Why the hell not spend this money” and “Let’s go all-out.” But what’s bad is if the whole culture of extravagant weddings encourages women to think that they have to do it — even though they’re not going to be able to pay the rent the next month, or even pay the DJ.
Over the last couple months of my own wedding planning, I’ve noticed I’ve been able to choose when (and when not to) step into the WIC three-right circus.
Maybe because I’m a lesbian getting married in a state where it’s not legal, I haven’t had a ton of actual companies beating on my door. At one point I signed up at the knot.com so they send me occasional “bride and groom” emails even though I clearly indicated in the “other details about your wedding” category that I was planning a “same-sex marriage,” the store where we bought my wedding band sends me “buy her love by buying a(nother) $2,500 ring” emails and every once in a while, I get actual mail (!) to remind me that my day is going to be here before I know it. Otherwise I’m pretty much left alone.
Which is nice.
I should qualify that statement. I’m left alone by the WIC. But not by the friends and family that really matter. My mom couldn’t have been more excited to help me find a dress and my friends (both local and not) have at least asked me how the planning is going.
The wedding is one day in what is going to be a lifetime relationship. I get occasionally caught up in the WIC myself, but for the most part I’ve been okay.
For those of you wondering what the deal is with the title of this blog, it stemmed from a conversation at my local coffee shop today. I was telling the guy behind the counter about the whole Wedding Industrial Complex idea and he offers to sell me a wedding latte anytime I want.
It’s exactly like a regular latte, but it’s $6 instead of the normal $2!