The 160-billion dollar behemoth that is the American wedding industry and the psychology behind the expense, stress, and folly associated with the typical American wedding
Using the American wedding as a rosetta stone, in One Perfect Day writer Rebecca Mead poses a series of questions that cut to the heart of our national identity. Why, she asks, has the American wedding become an outlandishly extravagant, egregiously expensive, and overwhelmingly demanding production? What is the derivation of the nuptial imperative upon brides and grooms to observe tradition while at the same time using the wedding as a vehicle for expressing their personal style? What does an American wedding tell us about how Americans consume, relate, and live today? One Perfect Day masterfully mixes investigative journalism and social commentary to explore the workings of the wedding industry-an industry that claims to be worth $160 billion to the U.S. economy and which has every interest in ensuring that the American wedding business becomes ever more lavish and complex. Taking us inside the workings of the wedding industry-from the swelling ranks of professional wedding planners to department stores with their online wedding registries to the retailers and manufacturers of wedding gowns to the Walt Disney Company and its Fairytale Weddings program-Rebecca Mead skillfully holds the mirror up to the bride's deepest hopes and fears about her wedding day and dissects the myriad goods and services that will be required for her role within it.
Weddings are no longer a rite of passage, no longer a transition from childhood to adulthood, or an initiation into a sexual or domestic intimacy, nor necessarily a religious ritual. The result of this cultural shift is that the event itself has taken on an ever-increasing momentousness shaped as much by commerce and marketing as by religious observance or familial expectation. The American wedding gives expression to the values and preoccupations of our culture. For better or worse, the way we marry is who we are.
In researching One Perfect Day, Rebecca Mead goes deep behind the scenes of the $161 billion wedding industry to discover how the American wedding is manufactured. Targeting business conventions, trade shows, factories abroad, and more, Mead studies the data produced by the wedding industry, for the benefit of its advertisers, on the consuming patterns of brides and grooms; reads thousands of words in trade publications and industry websites to reveal how the industry thinks and talks about their clients when they are out of earshot-as "a drunken sailor"; "a slam dunk"; or more pointedly, "a marketer's dream." Mead reports from:
Behind the scenes at the Association of Bridal Consultants' "Business of Brides" conference: Wedding planners learn how to target the upcoming "Echo Boom" bridal market, estimated at 4,200,000 brides by 2018. ("It seems like the less money people have, the more they spend," says the association's director of corporate relations, page 36)
"Top Fashion" wedding-dress factory: Mead visits a factory in Xiamen, China, where migrant workers who live eight to a room in dormitories turn out 100,000 dresses a year. A skilled seamstress earns six dollars a day making dresses that sell for a national average of $1,025. (pages 98, 81)
* Disney World's Wedding Pavilion: Mead explores how Disney built up its now-mammoth wedding program in the 1990s to combat threats to its theme-park preeminence. ("Couples are highly brand-receptive in this stage of their lives...If you handle their wedding and honeymoon correctly you create cherished friends," says the co-founder of Disney Fairy Tale Weddings, page 71). Note: rental of Cinderella's Coach: $2500 per ceremony.
* Behind the bridal registry: Department stores see registries as a means of gaining access to young, impressionable consumers who are forming brand loyalties-what one industry report calls "Your New $100 Billion Customer: the Engaged Woman" (page 117)
* Las Vegas, Nevada: Site of a 122,000 weddings a year, where competition is so great that hand-billers stalk the courthouse steps and Britney Spears's swiftly-annulled nuptials are used as a marketing tool (page 170)
* The honeymoon and destination wedding industry in Aruba: This Caribbean island is so eager to capture its share of the American wedding market that it changed its marriage laws-now one out of every three weddings conducted in Aruba is for tourists. "I call it the 'new elopement," says one industry expert (page 200)
* The phenomenon of "vow renewal": Mead visits Sandals Royal Caribbean Hotel, in Montego Bay, Jamaica-a wedding factory, hosting between 5-10 ceremonies a day, of which 1 in 6 is a vow-renewal ceremony. Brides and grooms get to re-enact the "once in a lifetime" moment of marriage as often as their budget will allow (page 216)
* A class for would-be wedding planners: Attendees are taught to size up clients by making house calls-the fancier the bride's home, the bigger the budget-and to persuade brides to attend their "how to plan your own wedding" seminars ("She's going to come out of the course going, Oh, God, I don't want to do that. Just show her what it involves and she'll be scared to death," page 51)
* "Vows" magazine and other trade publications: Mead reveals how trade magazines urge retailers to squeeze more dollars out of each bride: "Just when a bride thinks she'll have to spend no more, it's your job to remind her that her bridal image looks incomplete"(page 83). The number of brides-about 2.3 million a year-cannot be increased by marketing efforts, and rates of marriage are on the decline, so each bride bears more of the burden of increasing industry profits.
* A seminar for wedding dress retailers in Las Vegas: Chip Eichelberger, a motivational speaker, offers advice on the pacing of a sale-"If you get them excited about the three-hundred-dollar dress it's hard to get them excited about the three-thousand-dollar dress"-and how to act upon "the 'Oh, Mommy,' moment," when a bride falls in love with a gown (page 78-79)
* Hebron Church, also known as "The Chapel on the Hill": A struggling rural Wisconsin church is forced by economic pressures to moonlight as a commercial wedding chapel (page 145), while the ranks of freelance wedding ministers-some with credentials acquired online-who will perform crowd-pleasing "spiritual" ceremonies replete with rituals invented for the camera begin to swell (page 130).
* Gatlinburg, Tennessee: The "honeymoon capital of the South," a Bible-belt mountain destination where there are annually 5 weddings per year-round-resident. The wedding-chapel business was founded in 1979 by the controversial Reverend Ed Taylor, a former Baptist minister. "I think it is dangerous, spiritually dangerous, to use the Lord in that manner-in order to gain business, and to use it as a marketing tool," says a rival chapel owner (page 162)
* Behind the scenes at the Wedding & Event Videographers Association International annual convention: Videographers are advised to double their prices ("I was blind to the fact that people want the best for their children," says one successful videographer), told how to incorporate comic shots (the "gift steal" and the "runaway groom"), and learn how to slice and dice raw footage into multiple video products to increase profits. The value of video is promoted as "preserving memories" that will otherwise be "lost." "You have to get [them] initially, before they spend $3000 on napkins" (page 185)