But there is much more at stake than the mere measurement of quantities of tulle produced for, and filet mignon consumed by, American brides, grooms, and their guests. While the wedding industry certainly moves a lot of product -- it was estimated in 2006 that the wedding business was worth $161 billion to the United States economy -- the most significant thing that the wedding industry is selling is fantasy, about the wedding day itself and the marriage that follows it. The foremost product peddled by the wedding industry is the notion that a wedding, if done right, will provide fulfillment of a hitherto unimagined degree, and will herald a similarly flawless marriage and a subsequent life of domestic contentment. From this perspective, naturally, doing a wedding right means doing it according to the wedding industry playbook, with no expense spared and no bridal trifle uncoveted. If a bride buys into the wedding industry, she is promised the happily-ever-after that she, in her big white dress and tiara, deserves.
The perpetuation of this fantasy, it seems to me, is much more pernicious and damaging than any amount of havoc that might be wrought by a Bridezilla on the rampage. A bride who is gripped by the desire to have her guests' chair-backs tied with ribbons colored to coordinate precisely with the envelopes in which her save-the-date cards have been sent out can always laugh later at her own folly. But the bride who has been convinced, in some barely articulated but nonetheless persuasive sense, that coordinating her ribbons and her envelopes will contribute to the future harmony of her marriage has been sold not just an expensive complement of stationery but a dangerous bill of goods.
This book, then, comprises a journey through the wedding industry, exploring the degree to which weddings have been transformed by outside interests into machines for making money, as well as the ways in which those outside interests tap into the deepest hopes and fears of their consumers in order to accomplish their economic goals. I begin in chapter one with a look at the bridal media and at their influence in establishing what has come to be expected as standard at an American wedding, as well as their role in brokering relationships between brides and the businesses that serve them. In chapter two I look at the novel career calling of the professional wedding planner, and at the implications of handing over the conduct of weddings to hired hands. In chapter three I consider the importance of tradition when it comes to the practice of weddings, and the emotional uses to which the idea of tradition is pressed into service by all sorts of commercial interests, from the manufacturers of wedding favors to the Walt Disney Company and its Fairy Tale Weddings & Honeymoons program. Chapter four examines the iconic wedding product -- the wedding gown -- and traces it from the American aisle back to the Chinese factory floor.