It seems like, every year, the sheer quantity of items needed for your wedding increases almost ten-fold. OK, so you need a fancy dress and/or a tux, an officiant of some sort, and a place for all of this to happen- seems reasonable. But then you need plate settings, accessories, a fancy caterer, floral arrangements, table decorations, a DJ, a creative guest book, save the dates, wedding invites, a wedding photographer, wedding cake, musicians, a makeup artist, hairstylist, bridesmaids/groomsman attire, a wedding website, hashtag, rings, and wedding guests will even consider it rude if you don’t opt for an open bar.
As if it wasn’t enough for the word ‘wedding’ to immediately double the price of all of these items, but tradition dictates this day (which you’re going broke to curate) must be meticulously scheduled and planned according to custom. The cake cutting, the first dance, the exchange of the rings, the serving of various dinner courses- it all must be coordinated with perfect precision, all vendors perfectly in place and ready for their cue. No wonder this is a billion-dollar industry, right?
All of these ceremonial touches feel sacred, passed down by generations, rooted in rich historical tradition. Well, what if we told you that a lot of these traditions are were actually created by marketers?
A Royal in White
The first wedding tradition that magazine advertisers tricked us into believing was a wedding necessity was the white wedding dress. Before the 19th Century, a white wedding dress wasn’t the norm. Prior to this time, white wedding dresses did exist but they were simply a symbol of wealth. Even the rich didn’t always don on an ivory gown for their special day, often opting for gowns of gold or blue. And those who didn’t have wealth or status at the time would simply wear their ‘Sunday best’ dress- whatever color that may be.
In addition to the color not being standard, women of this time period would’ve found the idea of wearing a dress for only one day completely ridiculous and wasteful- even for the wealthy. If a woman did purchase a new dress or had a new dress made for her wedding day, this dress would simply end up becoming her new Sunday best.
This perception was completely altered due to two things: Queen Victoria and print magazines. Queen Victoria married her first cousin, Albert, and she wore a white dress with a billowing ballgown silhouette. The British people romanticized the love between the royal couple so much that they all sought to emulate her wedding look.
Women’s magazines of the time decided to capitalize on those romantic notions, even revising our ideas of history to make it seem as though the white wedding dress trend had always been in vogue. According to JSTOR Daily, one magazine in particular called Godey’s Lady’s Book stated that, “[c]ustom has decided, from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue [for brides], whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one.” So not only were they rewriting history to make us believe that white dresses were always the height of wedding fashion, but they added in the idea that they also symbolized purity when in fact they had only symbolized wealth until this point.
Inventing New Traditions
Prior to the creation of bridal magazines, businesses interested in targeting engaged couples or newlyweds had to reach a bit (to say the least). Starting in the 1920s, businesses such as furniture dealers, ice companies, real estate agents, etc. began sending out congratulatory messages by mail to newly engaged couples who are in the process of setting up their new joined households. They also placed some ads in newspapers and on radio shows and, though it originally seemed to be a bit of a stretch, the wedding industry started to become more lucrative.
According to Cleveland, a 1925 article titled “Purveyors to the Bride” stated ‘that the cost of society weddings had doubled since the mid-1910s and “even the trades have joined in the conspiracy for more and bigger weddings.”’ So the wedding trade was already becoming more and more expensive at this point- and then bridal magazines came onto the scene.
With the introduction of bridal magazines, suddenly advertisers now had a direct line to the exact market they had been trying to reach previously. One such magazine, aptly named Bride’s, was founded by Wells Drorbaugh (a former advertising manager for House and Garden). He was originally drawn to the idea of creating Bride’s due to the ‘depression-proof’ nature of the wedding industry. He grew the magazine’s audience by relying on clipping services to track engagement announcements in newspapers, eventually growing into a national advertising publication.
What Is Bridal?
Because magazines like Bride’s now had direct access to the wedding-planning market, they had the freedom and power to expand the definition of what ‘bridal’ means. These magazines began publishing lists of companies that offered ‘wedding-related’ services across the country. Because these companies would be paying to be featured in their magazines, bridal magazines had to convince some advertisers that there would be a market for their types of services in regard to wedding trade. Therefore, many of the more lavish/unnecessary wedding traditions were suddenly painted as a necessity such as picking your plate settings, centerpieces, flower displays, bridesmaid dresses, etc.
In addition to expanding our definition of wedding necessity, bridal magazines also helped in large part to develop the specialty wedding/bridal shops and gift registries we know today. Bride’s specifically hosted annual bridal business expos beginning in the 1930s for department stores looking to start bridal shops.
Growing More Frivolous
Although the lucrative nature of the wedding industry originated with magazine advertisers, it has only continued to grow and become more lavish over our history. According to Wedding Wire, the average wedding cost is $38,700- including the cost of the engagement ring and honeymoon. So, to summarize, we’re either putting a huge financial burden onto our parents or going into debt to pretend to be rich for one day because bridal magazines told us we need to do it. Well played, magazine advertisers.