American weddings are big business. Since 1990, the average amount spent on weddings has doubled to nearly $28,000. According to Daniel Lagani, vice president and publisher of the Conde Nast Bridal Group, "The wedding industry is not only vital but is in fact thriving" (CNNMoney.com, 2006). Increasingly, couples of marrying for the first time later than couples of a generation ago. They tend to have more education and with it, more earning power. More and more couples are paying for their own weddings, rather than relying on their parents, and they do so to maintain control over every detail. Income, as well as social class, drive modern wedding planning decisions.
There are a number of bridal magazines on the market. Each is hundreds of pages thick and contains mostly advertising for dresses, jewelry, bridal registries, honeymoon destinations and other wedding-related items. In addition to print magazines, there are countless web sites that offer planning information and shopping resources. In Case 9: Princess for a Day, the author states "Twenty-four percent of engaged women use the Internet at their primary source of information for planning their wedding and a total of sixty-two percent do some of their wedding shopping on the Internet."
One of the most popular is WeddingChannel.com, which provides links to retailers, planning tools, and a forum where brides-to-be can support each other ("Need help finding a first dance song!"). One can follow WeddingChannel updates with Twitter and Facebook. Another popular site is TheKnot.com, where one can look at over 2,000 wedding cakes, over 300 wedding rings, and over 3,000 dresses. Like WeddingChannel, there are links to numerous vendors, planning tools and other features, including a blog titled "Wedding Obsessions." The digital divide that has been cited in education and access to health care information on the web can probably be generalized to wedding planning as well. The women who plan all or even some of their wedding via the Internet must first have access, which they probably get at work and with home computers. Poor women would not have the same access and, unless they have credit cards, they would not have the means to spend money.
Much was made in Case 9 about the importance of the right dress for brides-to-be. Alice bought a dress at Saks Fifth Avenue; she had decided at an early age that Sakes was the only place to buy the classy, elegant dress she believed she deserved. Her friend Vicky, whose modest means meant that she had to plan a wedding with a strict budget in mind, was quick to assure her friends that she recognized the difference between shopping at a store like Saks and a discount bridal store. It was important to her to make it clear that she had good taste. She shopped at the discount store only because her finances dictated that she must; it was not as though the merchandise appealed to her. Vick was pleased, in fact, to report that she found a classy, elegant dress at such a place, amidst the many other dresses with puffy sleeves and cheap lace that would obviously only appear to a different (inferior) group of brides-to-be. The women in Case 9 definitely viewed their wedding dresses as extensions of themselves and indicative of their social class.
As the story of Alice illustrates, many American women began dreaming about their weddings from the time they were young girls. The consumer-product relationship between women and weddings is thus a very personal and emotional one. Because some women have dreamed of their ideal wedding for so many years before the actual event, they may feel entitled to have everything they ever wanted, regardless of the cost. Despite divorce statistics, couples marry believing that they will beat the odds. If a woman were going to live the American dream and remain married happily ever after, she would reason that every expenditure associated with the wedding would be justified. After all, she was only getting married one time. It would be important to do it right.
The sanctity of marriage is one core American value the women hold, as reflected in their choice of a once-in-a-lifetime dress. Another value is religion. The Case 9 author…