Go ahead, let me plan your wedding

It’ll be cheap, there won’t be much ceremony, and I’ll yell at you to get over yourselves. Matthew Yglesias cites me…for good advice on wedding planning, which is not quite what I would have expected. But that’s OK, the Mediocrity Principle applies to everything.


  1. says

    We’ve got the planning pretty well in hand, I think, but can I get you to yet at our invitees who haven’t RSVPed yet? ;)

  2. says

    In my experience there’s often an inverse relationship between the cost of the wedding and the success of the marriage. Perhaps it’s because couples doing shoestring weddings are smarter about what’s valuable in life.

  3. cartomancer says

    I’ve never understood this modern fad for spending excessive amounts on conspicuous consumption simply because you’re getting married. I expect, at bottom, it’s a natural outgrowth of a capitalistic culture that rates value primarily in pounds, shillings and pence, rather than in terms of deep personal meaning or significance.

    Having reached the age at which all my friends are now getting married, I see it all the time. Even in intelligent, sophisticated people who ought to know better. There’s this unspoken assumption that spending many thousands of pounds on a wedding is just what you do, and that there’s no alternative. And yes, the article is entirely correct – you end up with a tedious round of identikit weddings that say nothing special or profound about the participants at all. Even the decorations and stylings are the same indistinguishable, anodyne explosion of frills and gilt. It’s really quite pathetic.

    Which is why, when it came time to organise my twin brother’s wedding, we were having none of it. The whole thing came in at only a couple of hundred pounds, with a cheap catering firm, a reception in a room at the local town hall, the photographs taken with the (free!) backdrop of Glastonbury Abbey next door, and the entertainment provided by the guests themselves, also for free. Very few weddings include a martial arts display, a pub quiz, stand-up comedy, all the speeches in verse and a three-piece amateur harmonica band, and that made this one rather special. We also leaned on the venerable old tricks of our thrifty Irish family from years gone by – my dad made the cake himself, my mum knitted the banners and place decorations, the sound system for music and to project the speeches was rigged together from old computer speakers we had lying round – and all of it worked just fine. Everything felt intimate and special and collaborative, rather than soulless and gauche like all the other weddings I’ve ever been to.

  4. Anthony K says

    I’ve never understood this modern fad for spending excessive amounts on conspicuous consumption simply because you’re getting married.

    Eh, it’s a pretty common human behaviour. Think of it as the human version of Irish elk antlers. (Of course, there are different motivations for displays of ostentatious wealth. They can be straight up markers of affluence as well as nose-thumbing at deprivation (cf zoot suits, and the current Congolese social movement known as La Sape).

    DIY weddings, like the one your twin brother had, are not without their signifiers too: in this case family connections and resourcefulness, rather than material wealth. (Please don’t take that as any sort of insult—it sounds like it was a great time, and more like the type of weddings I’m used to than the fancy hundred-dollars-worth-of-boring-flowers-per-table-centrepiece affairs I’ve been lucky enough to mostly avoid.

  5. Bernard Bumner says

    …you end up with a tedious round of identikit weddings that say nothing special or profound about the participants at all. Even the decorations and stylings are the same indistinguishable, anodyne explosion of frills and gilt. It’s really quite pathetic.

    Or, you could decide not to judge people who decide to spend a lot in the same way that people shouldn’t judge those who decide to spend less. As long as people are spending within their means, then it is pretty shitty to pour cynicism on their wedding-day priorities. You’re meant to be there to support the couple and join in with their (chosen) celebration, not to critique their table decorations.

    You’re invited to a wedding, not forced to go.

    Low-cost weddings, high-cost weddings, and everything in between – it is the people who make it. I’ve enjoyed both kinds, more or less, depending on the company.

  6. Artor says

    Some friends of mine are getting married next year, and they’re going kind of over-the-top on the planning. Fortunately, he’s a skilled pastry chef, and she’s a skilled tailor, so the cake, dress and outfits are covered. I’ll be getting a nice dress kilt and waistcoat for my part in the production. I’m helping out building set pieces, and the whole ceremony will be in a pop-up style open-air cathedral that rises out of the ground (sort of) as they walk down the aisle. They scored a large modular stage for free from a local mega-church off Craigslist, and a whole yardful of heirloom rose bushes this spring. It should be a pretty epic wedding, but on a shoestring budget. Rather than being a conspicuous display of disposable wealth, it’s intended to be a display of their ingenuity & resourcefulness.

  7. Amphigorey says

    The bit about the cost of the wedding dress is disingenuous, because the cost quoted only takes into account the fabric in the dress. I was a professional dressmaker, and I can tell you that by far the cheapest part of the gown is the fabric. The labor is what makes it expensive – all the detail work, the hand beading, and especially drafting the pattern and fitting the dress if you’re getting a custom gown. Leaving the labor portion out of the cost estimate of the dress is ridiculous and insulting – what, you think that pile of $250 fabric is going to jump up and sew itself?

  8. numerobis says

    The Quebec thing is to just not get married. You save a lot on wedding costs that way.

  9. The Mellow Monkey says

    Amphigorey @ 9

    The labor is what makes it expensive – all the detail work, the hand beading, and especially drafting the pattern and fitting the dress if you’re getting a custom gown. Leaving the labor portion out of the cost estimate of the dress is ridiculous and insulting – what, you think that pile of $250 fabric is going to jump up and sew itself?

    Yeah, it’s a bit like talking about how much the paint for a portrait cost instead of the effort of the painter. It completely dismisses the biggest part of the effort.

    If the only value you can see in the wedding dress is the $250 worth of fabric, then you should go ahead and sew it yourself. Can’t be that hard if the labor isn’t worth anything to you, right?

  10. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    Some friends of mine did the low-cost thing. Legal stuff with a few family & close friends at a registry office (the legal stuff needs to be done at a licensed venue in England. Churches/etc usually have them, plus some hotels & venues, temporary ones can be arranged). Free private room “hired” at a nice pub if enough spent on a bar tab, with catering from the pub kitchen. She wore a cheapo vintage dress, he wore a regular suit.

    Much fun was had by everyone! I’ve been to a wedding in a hired castle, stuff like that, but I felt really out of place.

  11. blf says

    Huh? What happened to the ancient and honoured traditional of clunking the other person on the head and dragging him or her off to wake up in yer harem? Other than the wear and tear on the fur / hide due to the dragging, main cost is the club. And if the other person’s clan decide they don’t like you, the blood feud.

  12. cartomancer says


    Why should one refrain from judging the value and consequences of a highly prevalent but superfluous and damaging social convention? A convention, moreover, grounded entirely in an ethic of capitalistic conspicuous consumption and fostered by a multi-million pound industry with only the lining of its own pockets at heart?

    We judge, and rightly so, when religious groups try to hijack the special, intimate, significant moments in our lives and try to make them all about their own nasty dogmas. We judge when the multifarious forces of institutionalised sexism try to hijack children’s toys for the purpose of perpetuating gender stereotypes. How is this any different? How is fostering the notion that you need to spend vast sums of money to have a good wedding a beneficial thing for our cultures? Particularly in an environment where there is a whole bloated network of businesses artificially hiking up the prices of the things it tells you that you need? Why should we just blindly accept the notion that rabid conspicuous consumption belongs in the sphere of wedding ceremonies any more than the notion that a god belongs there?

    I do not believe that tying flagrant resource-expenditure, ostentatious display for its own sake and the pursuit of gaudy opulence to the institution of marriage is a good thing. By acquiescing in that convention, whether one can afford to or not, one perpetuates it. I am indeed cynical of the modern overpriced-frills-and-lace wedding industry and its endless parade of soulless chitnz and saccharine – because that industry and the social conventions it touts are nothing but pure cynicism.

  13. says

    @3— I hired George R. R. Martin to plan my wedding. I figured the copious amounts of wine, the traditional music, and the violent deaths of all the people whose names I can’t remember would be worth the price. (Do you know how awkward it is trying to remember who the hell someone is while they talk to you as if they’re your old friend?)

    Unfortunately, the wedding was supposed to be in 2007, and the last I heard from Mr. Martin, he just said he was totally still going to get around to it one of these days.

    Apparently, he’s spent the last six months exclusively dedicated to someone else’s wedding. And I don’t mean planning it— the actual wedding started six months ago and they’re still nowhere near the vows.

  14. magistramarla says

    Oldest daughter’s wedding was at The Cal Tech Alumni house, which she got to use for free.
    The groom’s best friend, who can solemnize secular weddings, married them. An old friend and Cal Tech prof did the catering. Another old friend provided a cupcake tier, and yet another provided wine and other booze. The campus photographer took the pics and posted them online. My daughter found a beautiful vintage gown online for $120. It was lovely and very meaningful for all.

    Another daughter was married on the grounds of the Art Museum, with a picnic reception in a nearby park. I made a cake to resemble a basket of fruit. Everyone took and shared pictures. It was all casual and fun.

    The youngest daughter got married within two weeks of telling us that her fiancee had orders and that they wanted to get her officially listed as his dependent. We pulled off a nice wedding at the JOP just off base with a reception at the local Olive Garden. We found a beautiful goddess style gown on a sale rack, bought a ready-made cake and of course, many in the wedding party (including father of the bride) and among the guests were in uniform. The most expensive part was renting a large van to drive our extensive family to the base where the young man was in training.

    My son was married in an outdoor venue in Houston, with a breathtaking backdrop. Since it was outdoors, their beloved English bulldog participated in the wedding. The bride’s extensive family pulled everything together, including a reception at her mother’s home. We weren’t able to be there, but we gave them plane tickets to come see us in California for a honeymoon and gave them two nights in an historic military venue for alone time ($41 per night!). It worked as the bride’s mother had hoped and our grandson was born 9 months after that stay!

    We have one unmarried daughter left, who was engaged at Christmas. Her fiancee’s stepmother wants to plan an intimate family wedding for them at her home, and I will help as much as I can from out of state. The kids are talking about eloping, but I certainly hope that we can all get together for a fun family party.

    We eloped nearly 38 years ago, and our college friends threw a nice little party for us.
    The expense of the wedding really doesn’t count. What does count is the love between the couple being married and the affection that their family and friends have for them.

  15. Bernard Bumner says


    How is fostering the notion that you need to spend vast sums of money to have a good wedding a beneficial thing for our cultures?

    Now, I would agree that there is a lot of pressure on people to spend, and I would agree that the industry is very shoddy in its sales and pricing practices. Both of those things are bad, and should be condemned. However, a wedding should be whatever the participants want it to be; it is a cultural ritual, a party, a gathering, and therefore very hard to overdo.

    Most cultural rituals are frippery. Even a cheap version of a wedding celebration is an unnecessary expense, not required by the institution and certainly not necessary to life or coupling. The entire thing is a conspicuous waste of resources, if you want to be purely utilitarian about it. I’m sure, though, that you don’t, any more than I’m advocating completely unrestrained and disgusting consumption.

    There is definitely a lot of cynicism in the industry which surrounds it, but a wedding is a deeply personal event to the couple, and I’m inclined to say that whatever they want and can afford, so be it. Most people budget according to their means, and they may sacrifice something in other areas of their lives to buy stuff for their big day, but that is really their choice – most people aren’t stupid, and they recognise the nature of the wedding industry they are buying from.

    My own wedding was relatively expensive, although I did things like make the invitations myself and hand print our own place settings. We had not-inexpensive flowers, but we gave them away to the guests. We had cupcakes, rather than a big traditional cake, from someone who didn’t charge a higher rate for weddings. I put together the playlist myself and mixed an auto-played set. However, we also got married in a castle, and we hired a hotel for the reception so that our nearest and dearest could have a bedroom, and we hired a band who got the crowd dancing. Some of these things were expensive, some not so much.

    All in all, it still cost tens of thousands. It was a great party, and it brought together many of our old friends that we’ve not had time to see. We could have done it with less expense, and it might have been just as good, but it is the only time we’ve had exactly what we wanted for a day, and the only time we’ll ever spend that sort of money on ourselves in that way. What else would you like people to do with their money which meets your approval? (We knew that we can only spend it once!)

    On the other hand, a couple of our best friends were married with a much less expensive reception in a community hall, and it was just as good a party. They did it their way.

    It wasn’t the money being spent that made these great days, it was a happy couple, surrounded by their friends, doing what they wanted, and celebrating their lives together.

  16. HolyPinkUnicorn says

    Having never been married myself, I don’t exactly have any personal experience with the whole marriage thing, but it’s really the idea of a big, over-the-top wedding that holds no appeal to me. And in a way, they make running off to elope in Vegas look more romantic. Had someone in my own family do that in the mid-’70s, which was both her and her husband’s second marriage, so the family was pretty skeptical. But they remained happily married for thirty years and never even bothered with a formal ceremony for the family (sadly, it ended when one of them suddenly died of a heart attack).

    And if, as Yglesias writes, “your wedding is a really big deal for you,” then I can’t really imagine getting all that excited about the tradition of putting on a tux (or more accurately, being put in a tux) and standing around for a few hours gabbing with a bunch of people, many of them strangers. Instead, maybe a beach wedding with an enforced dress code of shorts and tuxedo t-shirts.

    Though I did find this wedding to be strangely beautiful. Or perhaps one held in a park with active volcanoes.

  17. says

    I think I have to take issue with Yglesias over the cost of the wedding dress. Sure the cost of the material may be only $2000, but you don’t take that from the final price and figure the rest is mark-up. What about the value of the labour, comrade? I’ve never been married or worn a wedding dress, but from what I can tell, it’s a pretty labour-intensive business: those pleats and seams and fancy embroideries don’t sew themselves. Neither does the dress magically fit itself to the bride to be, unless you’re planning on the wedding being one of the most expensive toga-parties on record.

    Even mass-produced clothing requires a lot of manual labour, and it’s only cheap for us because of the low value of semi-trained labour elsewhere in the world and cheap transport. Bespoke tailoring and dress-making takes time and skill to look good, and if it’s to be responsive to your needs it needs to be local, paying at least what you pay for property and premises; that’s why it’s expensive, not just because of the evil wedding shop proprietors feeding the seamstresses in their cellars gruel.

  18. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    I think I can win the “cheapskate” award for weddings: my own band played my wedding.

    There was indeed a whole lot signalling going on at my wedding, deliberately so. We used the occasion to not only demonstrate our commitment to each other, but to reaffirm the values we hold in common with each other and with our community.

    We hired a secular celebrant and wrote our own vows which prominently featured ideas of partnership and equality.

    We hired a caterer who employed disadvantaged and at-risk young people.

    We asked for money rather than gifts and donated half of it to charities, MSF and the local food bank IIRC.

    We had a cord-less mic set up and when the wedding party were done talking we passed it around the audience so everyone had a chance to express whatever they liked. I highly recommend this, but only if you have sense of humour about yourself. It was hilarious and my blush reflex got a good work out.

    We held bicycle races instead of a bouquet and garter toss. Along with the usual prizes of a bouquet made out of recycled spokes, inner tubes, and reflectors, and a garter made out of a retro-reflective leg band with attached lace there were prizes for most inappropriately dressed racer and for the last placed rider. A competition that was surprisingly stiff, featuring faked mechanical problems and a stellar bit of fake cramp acting by the eventual winner.

    So yeah, signalling. Ain’t nothing wrong with it so long as you’re aware you’re doing it.

  19. says

    “it is the only time we’ve had exactly what we wanted for a day”

    This is the attitude that annoys me most about typical weddings. If it’s all about you and what you want, why invite other people? These giant fuck expensive weddings usually end up being awful for the guests, because the bride and groom want “their day” to be “perfect.”

    Fuck. That. If you’re inviting others, celebrate with them. They’re your guests. If you’re not primarily interested in being a host, don’t waste their time. If you spend more time thinking about the color of the napkins and how pretty the venue is than how much fun people YOU invited are going to have, you’re being an asshole.

    And no, “they don’t have to come” isn’t an excuse. You know damn well how much social stigma there is about turning down a wedding invitation. Inviting someone to your wedding is an imposition on them. They can’t turn it down without looking like an asshole. Then they’re paying for travel, taking time away from home, and buying a gift. If you’re spending tens of thousands of dollars, you could at least make sure the attendees enjoy themselves.

  20. Pierce R. Butler says

    Weddings have been an occasion for conspicuous consumption for a long time, but it seemed to me that the go-for-broke marriage ceremony as an institution really took off in the late ’80s.

    At the same time, we in USAstan started getting lots of news datelined Iraq – including stories about families staging megaweddings there because of (a) long-standing traditions and (b) the spirit of one-last-big-fling-before-doom-descends-upon-us, since they knew what Dubya Daddy’s protestations of using force only as a last resort really meant.

    Empires usually absorb some cultural traits from their conquests. The US, no exception to this rule, just moved a little faster this time. How long until we pick up the venerable Middle Eastern custom of having all male attendees fire their guns up into the air to celebrate the nuptial conclusion?