Pleck and Cele Otnes
of the U of I Business School are the authors of "Cinderella Dream:
The Growth of the Lavish Wedding in Contemporary Consumer Culture,"
due out in October from University of California Press.
"Women expect their
wedding day to deliver an intoxicating brew of magic, memory,
romantic love and perfection, not just for themselves but for their
guests as well. It's the couple's chance to orchestrate and star in
an extravaganza," said Pleck.
And, more often than
not, money is no object. Gone are the days when the bridal party,
elegantly attired for that time and place, adjourned to the basement
of the church for the reception -- where overhead pipes were
showing, guests were seated at tables with folding chairs, and
tables were covered with white cloth and paper napkins.
Today's brides have
adopted the perfectionistic standards advanced by bridal magazines,
the bridal industry and Internet chat rooms where brides-to-be can
discuss the details of their wedding plans as long as another
prospective bride is interested. These standards are encouraged by
the wedding industry, but they have their roots in our larger,
romantic consumer culture, Pleck said.
Pleck said that
today's couples model their weddings on celebrity nuptials, citing
the brisk sales of People magazine's wedding issue. Many brides want
a knockoff of Jennifer Aniston's gown or Carolyn Bessette Kennedy's
gown. Or they may want a gown that's uniquely their own. Whatever
they choose, "they want the sense that this is the dress, and
they will be transformed by it," she said. "Some women can feel the
magic at Filene's basement sale, but it doesn't happen very often."
falls into a category called guilt-free consumption, said Pleck.
"There is no other single event that gives such license to spend.
The excuse is that a wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Except that many
times it isn't a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The romantic appeal
of weddings is so potent that second, third and even fourth weddings
have become far more elaborate, said Pleck. That's not to mention
the increasing number of vow renewal ceremonies done by couples who
feel that they didn't get it quite right the first time or who
enjoyed the experience so much they want to do it again.
"The rule used to be
that you could have a big wedding if it was the couple's first
marriage, if the bride wasn't pregnant, if the bride and groom were
members of the same faith. If it was your second wedding, the bride
could wear a modest blue suit with no veil. But all those rules have
changed," said Pleck.
"The sense now is
that there must be a beautiful reception setting, and the napkins
must exactly match the color of the bridesmaids' dresses," Pleck
said. She and Otnes have dubbed the over-the-top, perfectionist
bride Brideszilla. Most people who work in the bridal industry have
more than a passing acquaintance with her.
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"In the quest for
perfection, it's not unusual for a bride to have her teeth whitened,
to have Lasik surgery and to hire a personal trainer so that she can
have the perfect body. There's really no limit to what people will
do to create the perfect wedding," she said.
Pleck said that
relatives also get caught up in the wedding frenzy and happily spend
more money on clothing than they would ordinarily spend. She
recalled a friend who had always prided herself on being a big
budget shopper. When the woman's son was married, she bought a very
fancy mother-of-the-groom outfit.
"This was the first
time I didn't have to think about the price when I was buying
something," her friend said. "I paid full price, I got lots of
compliments, the dress looked expensive, and I felt good about it."
Pleck sees no point
in trying to check wedding spending. It's a global phenomenon, she
said, "and if you think American weddings are excessive, Japanese
and Korean weddings are even more spectacular, with ice machines
that billow up a white, cloudlike smoke over the couple during the
in these countries are associated with modernity. Families are
smaller, the divorce rate is low, and as families move up into the
middle class, they want to make a splash. A big wedding is a symbol
of prestige, and the Japanese and Korean catering industries have
come up with a lot of innovations to make weddings even more
fantastic. Families in these cultures spend lavishly on weddings,
and the spending contributes to the growth of their consumer
economy," she said.
How well do the
starry-eyed romantics and uncompromising perfectionists who plan
these weddings do when they confront the day-to-day tedium of a
real-life marriage? Pleck mentioned a conversation with a newspaper
reporter who had had what the reporter called a starter marriage --
a very lovely wedding, no children and, within a year, a divorce.
The reporter had done
a survey to find out if there was a relationship between extravagant
weddings and successful marriages. She found that people who had
quickie weddings and people who had lavish weddings were equally
likely to be headed for divorce.
But there was one difference. Almost
universally, couples who invested a lot of time and money on their
weddings looked back fondly on the event. They would say: "Well, the
marriage wasn't so great, but I really loved the wedding. It was the
best part of our marriage. It was so memorable."
[University of Illinois news