Excerpt: 'One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding'

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How did this happen? What are the forces that are contributing to this increase in wedding pressure, not just among so-called Bridezillas, but among all American brides and grooms? And what is the significance -- beyond the impact on the purses and personalities of marrying couples, their friends, and their families -- of the escalation of the American wedding? What, in other words, does the American wedding tell us about the rest of American life? It was questions such as these that propelled the writing of this book, as well as a hunch that some answers might be found not by looking at the grotesque behavior of a handful of individuals, from whose excesses an amusing but ultimately trivial tale might be wrought, but by looking at the larger context -- at the wedding culture in which those individuals were immersed.

If the state of the American wedding strikes the bride, groom, family member, and guest as troubled (as appeared to me to be the case while researching and writing this book, given the way in which almost everyone to whom I mentioned its subject immediately rolled his or her eyes in recognition, and then insisted on telling me about a niece's, or sister's, or best friend's wedding plans gone wild), then who, I wondered, was happy about the way in which Americans were getting married? In whose interest is it that weddings should be this way? Who, or what, begat Bridezilla?

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In order to seek an answer to this question I decided to turn my attention from weddings themselves -- the finished productions upon which so much effort has been lavished -- and to focus upon the less examined side of weddings: what has come to be called the wedding industry. This term is used as a catch-all expression to describe the infrastructure of service providers and businesses, ranging from individual entrepreneurs to massive corporations, that seek to provide the bride and groom with the accoutrements of the wedding day -- and, in many cases, seek to do business with them long after the wedding day is over. It is a capacious category, one that encompasses the small-town florist supplying bridal bouquets and boutonnieres as well as department store conglomerates that compete for bridal registry business. The expression also refers to the wedding media -- the magazines and websites and television shows that court the bridal customer, or simply appeal to the apparently limitless appetite among Americans at large for coverage of celebrity weddings (in publications such as In Style magazine) and for insight into the wedding dramas of real people, such as those whose plans are chronicled by the hugely popular Learning Channel show, "A Wedding Story."

Weddings in America have long been identified by commercial interests as offering a likely prospect: In the spring of 1901, a trade journal for store keepers called the Dry Goods Economist published a jauntily-written item entitled, "June Brides a Fair Mark," which advised, "The merchant of refinement may reach all or nearly all, and tell in an unobtrusive way of how much you can do for them in the taking care of many details incidental to the preparation of a wedding trousseau." Social historians date the establishment of what we would now recognize as a wedding industry as having occurred between the 1920s and 1950s, as jewelers, gown manufacturers, and caterers set standards to which American brides were encouraged, through the bridal media, to aspire.

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