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Book Review: One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding

As you know, we've been paying a lot of attention to weddings this season on the Sugar Network. This week, we're wrapping up our coverage by talking about what happens when the honeymoon's over and the newlyweds begin their lives together.

Of course, one of the things the happy couple might be doing upon their return home is paying the wedding bills. With the plethora of vendors involved in assembling a modern wedding, the costs can add up fast. But how did American weddings become such a major investment, with an average cost comparable to a year's education at one of the nation's top universities?

That's the question New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead sets out to answer in One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding. Mead traces the anatomy of a standard wedding, from the first attempt to capture an engaged woman's attention through bridal magazines to the department stores' attempts to secure a customer for life by providing a gift registry, and analyzes how the flowers, gowns, and honeymoons add up to a $161-billion industry. By putting weddings in their historical context, Mead also suggests that what we think of as a "traditional" wedding with all the trimmings might not be so traditional at all, with marketers inventing new customs to serve our fantasies of happily ever after. To read more about Mead's revelations — and learn about the book's one major shortcoming —

Some of Mead's revelations are sobering. In one chapter, she visits a videographers' convention where those in attendance are ordered to double their prices to prey on the families who will want "only the best" for their daughters. In another, she visits a bridal parlor where she discovers a supposedly high-quality gown with a "100 percent polyester" price tag and traces the creation of others to a sweatshop floor in China. She reports on the glee with which wedding vendors react to the ever-rising cost of the average American wedding, figuring that if people are told they should expect to spend upwards of $27,000 on a wedding, they'll assume they have no choice but to do it. It's fairly terrifying — though maybe not entirely unexpected — to see all of the ways in which head honchos in the wedding industry refer to brides as consumers and customers, people who only exist to fill their coffers — hopefully long after the wedding day has passed.

But in Mead's takedown of the wedding industry, she fails to include one major segment of the wedding population: the brides — and grooms — themselves. The engaged couple Mead portrays is totally at the mercy of the wedding industry, hemming and hawing over the perfect shade of napkins and ultimately pulling out the credit card again and again in search of some fantasy of a perfect wedding (and, therefore, a perfect marriage). But save for some anonymous interviews at the very end of the book, Mead never asks real-life brides and grooms why they feed the machine. And she never talks to any couples who have chosen to have their weddings outside the corporate wedding culture; to hear Mead tell it, she and her husband — who got married in a courthouse ceremony, as Mead makes clear at the end of the book — might be the only such couple in existence.

Ultimately, Mead does a fine job of exposing the corporate side of wedding culture. But when it comes to achieving a true understanding of why couples often choose to marry in an elaborate, expensive way, the book falls short.

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steen steen 9 years
LaLaLaurie - one thing I picked up in my planning is to check out a local culinary school to see if they might be able to do your cake at a discounted cost! I scoured high and low, all over the internet, to find the best deals I could. Knowing some people helped, of course. Also, ask anyone and everyone you speak to in regards to the wedding if they can give you a list of vendors. Sometimes you can find a hidden gem --- someone new to the biz but equally talented --- or get a discount! I tried to stay away from bridal-related shops; the costs tended to be skyrocketed! I bought my wedding dress online once I had my measurements and found my shoes on eBay. I also checked with the florist to see what flowers were in season.
bpjedi bpjedi 9 years
"...to hear Mead tell it, she and her husband — who got married in a courthouse ceremony, as Mead makes clear at the end of the book — might be the only such couple in existence." Trust me, when you go this route, most people will treat you like you are the only couple that thinks spending 30K isn't a good idea.
ash_marisa ash_marisa 9 years
i like whos wedding is it anyways...you see alot about the inside stuff, and most shows have one wedding under $20K, and so you can get ideas on how to cut costs and really cute ideas that make weddings look expensive that are cheaper and easy to do
LaLaLaurie06 LaLaLaurie06 9 years
p.s. Those of you brides who managed to spend less than $12k, give me your tips!! lol
LaLaLaurie06 LaLaLaurie06 9 years
Maybe what you thought was lacking in this book will make a good sequel? *hint hint, Ms. Mead* I'm interested to read this!
nancita nancita 9 years
This was a great review of a book I hadn't heard of but which sounds morbidly and utterly fascinating. I understand your gripe with it, though...pretty annoying that she didn't interview lots of couples.
delia delia 9 years
Ooo, I'll have to read this one! I work in the wedding industry (as an invitation designer) and when I got married in 2004 I thought for sure I could "beat the system" by being hip to the industry tricks (and by recruiting all my talented friends to help). I was SHOCKED when I started getting initial quotes for the simple but interesting event I had in mind. I wound up being able to pull off a very stylish dinner in a major metropolitan area for 100 people and only spent $12,000 (less than half of the national average), but that was WAY more than I wanted to spend. And now that my husband and I are trying to buy a house, I'm kicking myself for spending so much...
crispet1 crispet1 9 years
Very interesting. Great review of the book. It really has become sickening how expensive some brides make their weddings these days.
CestLaVie CestLaVie 9 years
This would be an interesting read for me even though I am no where near planning a wedding. I can't see myself ever going to extravagances some people do though for one day- or the stress! The main focus, to me, should be the love for one another and families, not frills and 36 bridesmaids. Ever seen Bridezilla?
coscharm86 coscharm86 9 years
I think some of the "Must Have Grand Wedding" syndrome may be due to a lot of these television shows like "whose wedding is it anyway" or celebrity weddings. Don't get me wrong I love those shows, but I can see how it would inspire a bride and groom to live out their dream wedding too! Like Steen I will probably look for this book in my local library. Although I'm no where near getting married, it might be food for thought.
steen steen 9 years
I may have to check this out, most likely from the library. Throughout the course of planning my wedding, my vendors and research kept bringing me back to ridiculously priced items for some extravagant wedding. J. Crew, for example, had cute dresses but as soon as "wedding" or "bridesmaid" was tacked on to the style name, the price tripled! Wedding cameras, no different than the rest of the cheap disposables, were two bucks more per camera. Fortunately, I managed to have a fairly elegant beach wedding for under $12k, for about 90 people. I combed through vendors and decor ideas, often imitating things I'd seen in magazines or on websites. Our DJ was also an emcee and live musician. My gown cost a whopping $200 but looked way more expensive than that. People are definitely taking advantage of brides who have a set dream wedding or have parents who only want the best. It's insane.
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