Wedding Industry: Are Today's Weddings Nothing More Than Big Business?

Enjoying time with loved ones is no picnic when an ocean separates you. 

My father's family is in Egypt and every year we make the transatlantic trip to visit. When my cousin got engaged over the summer, we knew this would be the perfect opportunity for her to trek out to our side of the pond. But this wasn't a standard New York sightseeing holiday. We had a very specific mission to accomplish: purchase a wedding dress. What we went through was not at all what we had expected.

The first day they arrived was spent on the phone making appointments with any and every bridal salon in the New Jersey/New York area. And I can say is that making those calls was undertaking in itself. Most places had no openings for at least a week. Kleinfeld Bridal in Manhattan was fully booked for two weeks but encouraged me to call every morning in case of a cancellation. These bridal boutiques had tightly packed schedules from open to close. My aunt was shocked. Were this many people getting married in America?

The appointments were a flurry of white, excitement, lace, and anxiety.

“So, what's the date for your special day?”

“We don't think the dress can be ordered in time.”

“Hold on, another bride is trying that dress, you'll have to wait.”

“If you don't buy it now you won't find it later, I can guarantee you that.”

There are currently too many weddings shows to count on TV, from the most well-known, Say Yes to the Dress, to the appalling Bridalplasty, which ran for two months and featured brides competing for a dream wedding and plastic surgery procedures.

Everyone has heard of at least one of these shows. Most of us can name Kleinfeld's Randy before someone in public office. There's no doubt that weddings today are big business. They have become so much more than two people meeting and deciding to make a life-long commitment. These shows aren't about love. They are about things: dresses, centerpieces, favors, catering, the list goes on. When did the bridal industry mushroom into this colossus?

American weddings are estimated to cost us around $50 billion a year. That's to plan a luxurious and memorable event in the middle of an economic recession! According to author Dave Barry in his book, I'll Mature When I'm Dead:

"If the wedding were a solar system, the bride would be the sun; her mother would be another slightly smaller nearby sun; the wedding planner would be a third sun; the caterer, floral installation professional, photographer, videographer, cake design engineer, etc., would be planets orbiting these suns..."

It's not simply about a white dress and cake anymore. Now the list is so long we hire wedding planners to help us take care of it: the dress, catering, flowers, invitations, ceremony and reception sites, entertainment, photography, videography, makeup ... And that's for one day which is now averaged to cost $26,989.

When my best friend got married in 2011, I helped her through most of the planning process. At the banquet hall, one of the staffers told us something I will never forget. He told us to stop watching wedding shows, cold turkey. These programs were eating away at any realistic expectations we might have had.

A wedding, he said, should be what you want it to be, and not in competition with those around us or the TV screen. So in staving off the behemoth that is the wedding industrial complex, try laying off reality TV and think about how best to enjoy the day with loved ones.