Planning an expensive and elaborate wedding has become part of the modern quest for happiness, and an ever-growing battalion of wedding professions is to blame for our misguided approach to marital satisfaction, Rebecca Mead argues in One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding.
In the last three decades, simple family nuptials have been transformed into a $161 billion consumer bonanza. And the blushing bride has become Bridezilla— obsessed with the idea that the candy-coating on the dessert almonds must match the color of the menu cards.
One Perfect Day charts this evolution with chapters on wedding planners, bridal registries, destination weddings, gown sales and a separate section with first-hand reporting from the floors of the Chinese factories that produce these pristine dresses. The book is well-written and researched, with at least one sentence in each chapter that demands a highlighter.
In a chapter titled “God and the Details,” Ms. Mead, a writer for the New Yorker, points out how the religious and sacramental part of planning a wedding has fallen by the wayside. And for Catholics, the book offers an interesting history of—and both sides of the debate about—the Unity candle in modern ceremonies.
Ms. Mead argues that the modern obsession with elaborate weddings is the result of a mass brainwashing of the betrothed by the wedding planners, bridal gown emporium salespeople and clever online registries executives.
The $161 billion industry is “not driven by a mindless consumerism,” she writes, “but by the fervent hope that by…getting monthly facials and registering for fine china…a new self will emerge. This self will be one whose skin always glows with happiness; whose life is one of such grace that fine china will always be in use; and whose progress will never be backward but always forward and upward, to ever-greater heights of joy and satisfaction.”
Sound a bit far-fetched? It’s not. Just as the self-help industry ballooned in the 1970s and 1980s, with advice books overtaking aisle upon aisle of bookstores nationwide, so too has the wedding industry crept into the celebration of American marriage, with ever-more ornate dresses, flowers and knick-knacks crowding the marital aisle. And like self-help, the wedding industry is selling a promise of happiness.
While it seems undeniable that the wedding industry is selling dreams of future happiness, if brides and grooms are derailed from the more sober contemplation of real life, who is to blame?
Ms. Mead blames the “industry” itself because planning an upcoming wedding is a time of special vulnerability to consumer suggestions. Yet free will is still in play—and ultimately it is up to the bride and groom themselves whether they choose to buy into the madness.
It’s unclear who will buy this book: Brides are too busy assembling the welcome baskets for their guests and coordinating the shoot lists for their videographer. Mothers of the bride and groom are too stunned by the pile of nuptial bills to think of spending money on something else. And for the rest of us, weddings are much like funerals: You don’t think about how they work until you are forced to deal with the process.
But One Perfect Day offers a valuable look behind the tulle and lace, and should be assigned reading for young women contemplating marriage. It might dilute that rush of finding the “perfect” dress to know that it’s all been calculated for you in a Chinese sweatshop, but by not fussing over coordinating almond candy coatings, you’ll free up time for marriage preparation programs and thoughtful reflection that will actually help you cope with the joys and challenges of life after the reception.