NEW YORK (MainStreet) — My fiancé, Eric, and I have been planning our wedding for roughly two years, enough time to let me examine nearly every wedding-related product on the market. While many parts of American weddings have real meaning – the rings, for example, can symbolize lasting commitment – some traditions have slipped into the category of But This Is What People Do! Despite my best efforts to fight 20-plus years of romantic comedy conditioning, I have not been able to talk myself out of including certain extras in our wedding.
Most wedding magazines I read assure me that those armloads of flowers or letterpress save-the-dates are not so much extra as essential. Apparently this is the only day I will ever get to wear a gown or buy myself peonies. If I don't do all of the traditional bridal things, I will look back and curse my past self for her ignorance.
Meg Keene, best-selling author and editor-in-chief of wedding and marriage blog A Practical Wedding, has written about the cause of this fear on her site.
"For the past year or so, we've been exploring the idea that the modern wedding industry has been set up so it basically runs on fear of regret," she explained. "Instead of selling a positive, [they are] selling a negative... All the marketing is 'if you don't do X, you will regret it and you'll regret it for the rest of your life.'"
Happily, Keene does not see much post-wedding grief about décor.
"The things that people regret are big picture stuff, stuff outside of their control," she said. She had heard from couples who wished they had eloped instead of having a big wedding or wanted their families to have behaved differently, but she's never encountered someone who wished she'd paid for professional flowers.
"You also can't pretend that you don't care about something so that you aren't the kind of girl who cares about flowers," said Keene. "You end up disappointed in yourself, [asking] why didn't I just admit that I wanted flowers?"
With that in mind, I've decided to embrace certain less-than-essential wedding items:
Flowers: Wedding flowers may have originally had symbolic meaning. Carrying ivy down the aisle meant that the bride was loyal, while daisies would signal her purity. Now, brides carry bouquets, because, well... what else would they do with their hands? Knowing this, I still find myself spending $10 per stem for a bunch of hot pink peonies that I will hold for two minutes, hand off to my sister during the ceremony and then carry back down the aisle for another 30 seconds. Even if it doesn't make sense to have them, I've let myself give in to the pretty. You win, peonies.
The wedding dress: I didn't fight my desire for a ruffle-coated organza wedding dress. Though modern brides and designers have started redefining what it means to look "bridal," the white wedding dress has been a cultural staple since Queen Victoria wore one to her wedding in 1840. I could have found a great, inexpensive dress to wear down the aisle that would be just as fancy as the ivory fluff rocket I picked out, especially since it is a one-day dress. I do love it, and I'm trying to find a way to describe it as business-casual so I can wear it into my office now and then. I can totally make it work, maybe under a blazer?
Bridesmaids: Bridesmaids originally wore outfits identical to the bride's so that they would confuse evil spirits that were out to attack her on her wedding day. Though I don't expect any ghouls to show up at our wedding, I've still asked several good friends to stand up with me at our ceremony. Bridal parties may be slowly falling out of fashion due to the added costs to both couples and their friends – Mint.com pegged the average cost to be a bridesmaid just under $1700 in 2011 – and I've tried to keep my friends' budgets in mind when planning. Even though I don't need anyone to keep away phantoms at the altar, spending the morning of the wedding hanging out with some of my best friends is worth the cost of bouquets, hair styling and thank-you gifts. Besides, how else would I get them to read my lunch-break emails debating the merits of rustic-chic focal points versus eco-hipster wall hangings?
Professional Makeup: Makeup has been around since Ancient Egypt and is currently a billion-dollar industry. Today most wedding media coverage assumes brides will be paying for professional hair and makeup. Real Simple magazine's checklist even includes multiple hair and makeup trials in order to compare salons. Now, Eric knows what I look like both when I'm dressed up and when I've had an unfortunate run-in with tequila. I want to look pretty at our wedding, but I could probably accomplish that with a trip to Sephora and my best friend's carefully wielded mascara wand. Despite knowing it is not necessary, I'm going to get my makeup done at a salon. I justified my decision in large part, because the salon I chose does not charge extra for bridal makeup. (Many places seem to believe that brides have twice as much face as bridesmaids, at least in terms of dollars.) Hiring a professional will also save me the hours I would have spent deciding between "fuschia shock" or "pink cloud" lipstick.
When so much of a wedding can be described as "extra," it can be difficult for couples to know what to include and what they don't need.
"Go big or go home," Keene advised. "What works really well is cutting things wholesale from your budget and just doing other things in full force." In other words, love craft beer but don't care about dancing? Cut the DJ entirely, and put your money toward an epic bar.
"Just be honest with yourself," said Keene, "Do I really care about this? If you do, go whole hog. If you don't, just cut it."
--Written by Laura Chanoux for MainStreet