No price too steep for a perfect day

Marketplace Staff May 18, 2007
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No price too steep for a perfect day

Marketplace Staff May 18, 2007
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TESS VIGELAND: Here comes the bride all dressed in white lace and silk chiffon with a 10-foot train, a veil secured with hundreds of tiny pearls. On the altar, towering white calla lilies wrapped in pink organza ribbon. A chauffeur awaits outside to wisp bride and groom off to a party with 200 guests and an open bar and everyone takes home a brick of pure platinum. Okay, maybe not in that last part. But the typical American wedding still costs a fortune. Rebecca Mead has written all about it in her new book, “One Perfect Day.”

REBECCA MEAD:
They say that the average American wedding costs $28,000. The industry is worth $161 billion. So it’s an awful lot of money. It’s being spent on the pursuit of perfection. I’m not sure whether it’s being spent on the achievement of it, but that’s the expenditure.

VIGELAND:
How did we get to this point where we expect perfection out of this day?

MEAD:
It’s a very emotional sail, isn’t it? I mean the people in the wedding business know that this is one occasion on, in people’s lives when they’ll be willing to spend top dollar. It’s – somebody said to me that, you know, there are three events, birth, marriage and death when somebody will spend top dollar and not look for a discount. And I make as much money as I can on those occasions. People aren’t looking for a bargain on their wedding day. They’re looking to make it very, very special. And they, you know, the wedding industry exploits this fact to the max.

VIGELAND:
Yeah. And, you know, you talk about Kleinfelds in New York, the very, very famous wedding gown store, and their motto is that the day that you find your wedding dress should be just as wonderful and exciting as your wedding day. And I have to tell you, the day I tried on my wedding dress was horrible, because if you’re not a two or a four, trying to figure out actually what that sample is going to look like on you. I mean, it’s just, a lot of this stuff it’s hard to make it fun.

MEAD:
Well, one of things that I learned while I was reporting One Perfect Day was something called the oh, mommy moment, which is the moment in the bridal stall when the bride tries on the gown and sees herself fulfilling the fantasy that’s she’s been having. And she says, she turns to her mother who’s with her, and she says, oh, mommy. That’s the emotional high pitch and that’s also the point at which the salesperson will say to her, you know, you need a veil with that, you need a tiara, you need a pair of shoes.

VIGELAND:
Right. Right.

MEAD:
This is where they come in and really make the sales pitch.

VIGELAND:
And at some point, during that process, you have to look at the price tag.

MEAD:
Right. That’s another oh, mommy moment, indeed. But you know, they’ll always show you the more expensive dresses so that you’ll perhaps fall for the more expensive one first.

VIGELAND:
It really is a mass manipulation of your emotions and your finances for sure. The industry really has a stand on science.

MEAD:
They do. I mean, that’s, you know, I went to seminars, I went to classes where people are taught how to be a wedding professional. You know, if you’re going to be a wedding planner, do you have the bride to your house where you can create a sort of persuasively bridal atmosphere or do you go to her house so that you can perhaps size up how much money she’s going to spend on the wedding before you even walk in the door by looking at the value of the house and the cost of her car. It’s increasingly a professionalized business.

VIGELAND:
How many brides do you think look back on what they spent on their weddings and think, oh, my goodness, it is such an enormous layout for such a short amount of time.

MEAD:
I think that the fact that it’s going to cost so much money is so often repeated. I mean everybody knows that weddings are extravagant and elaborate.

VIGELAND: Right.

MEAD:
And so, you know, as soon as you get engaged, you start being told that the average wedding costs $28,000. If you spend $15,000, you think you’ve got a bargain. And the things that one buys for a wedding are very often the price as higher of the wedding related. I was at a bridal fair not long ago and I was talking to a limousine company. If you rent the limousine for four-hour slot, it’s, you know, $650 or something. If you rent it for a wedding, it’s $750, and you can’t rent it as a four-hour non-wedding slot. If it is a wedding, they won’t let you in the car if you’re in the gown.

VIGELAND:
So given this average of $28,000, what do you get for that? What does a standard wedding look like?

MEAD:
I was told by the Association of Bridal Consultants that a standard American wedding now requires the services of 43 different professionals, so that’s an awful lot of different people who are getting in on the act. But I think that people will be surprised to learn that many of the things that we think of as elements of a standard wedding, you know, one standard at all, not so long ago, I found a study from the 1930s in which middle-class American group were surveyed, and one-third didn’t have an engagement ring, one-third didn’t have a wedding reception in addition to the ceremony, and one-third didn’t have a honeymoon.

VIGELAND:
What do you think our wedding style as a nation says about us as consumers?

MEAD:
What it says is that we have turned this event into a consumer event and a consumer experience. And certainly, becoming engaged transforms you into a new kind of consumer.

VIGELAND:
May I ask are you married?

MEAD:
I am married.

VIGELAND:
What was your wedding like?

MEAD:
It was very modest. We were married in, on a Thursday afternoon by a judge, and then we had a party in the house that we already lived. It was much, much less expensive than the average American wedding.

VIGELAND:
Rebecca Mead is the author of “One Perfect Day.” Thank you so much for coming in to talk to us.

MEAD:
I’m delighted to be here. Thank you for having me.

VIGELAND:
And you know, you can always elope. This is Marketplace Money from American Public Media.

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