"The bride who has been persuaded that $28,000 is a reasonable amount of money to spend on her wedding day is less likely to measure that total against the nation's median household income -- $42,389 in 2004 -- and reflect upon whether it is, in fact, reasonable for her or for anyone to spend the equivalent of seven and a half months of the average American's salary on one day's celebration."
-- Rebecca Mead
One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding is a sociological look at the North American wedding industry by British author Rebecca Mead. Mead, in these 256 pages, examines the increasingly consumerist nature of the modern Western wedding and the multi-billion dollar industry that feeds it. It was published in May 2007 by Penguin and currently has an average customer review rating of 3.5 stars on Amazon.com.
The book's overall thesis is that the North American wedding has become less about uniting two lives than it is about having one hell of a party. The industry, Mead argues, has become so commercialized that its aim seems to be convincing the bride (and to a lesser extent, the couple) that her wedding is less about getting married than it is about being a princess for a day. The princess aspect, she writes, has become so much a part of the wedding industry that even Disney has gotten in on the act, almost literally offering the couple the opportunity to be treated like -- or, at least, look like -- royalty.
It also examines the Bridezilla phenomenon, wherein the bride becomes obsessed with "one perfect day" (hence the title) and spends so much time stressing out over the wedding that she alienates her family, the wedding party and her partner. She also explores the growing phenomenon of going into debt in order to pay for a wedding.
The book is divided into sections, each dealing with a different aspect of wedding commercialization. The wedding planning business, the wedding attire sector (including the "oh, mommy" moment, the wedding industry term for the moment when a woman knows she's found "the dress") and the destination wedding phenomenon are all given equal time here. Mead takes a look at small island countries whose GDP owes much to the fact that people want to get married there, as well as the expected wedding industries of casino towns such as Las Vegas and Reno. Another interesting focus is the "memory" portion of the industry -- the people who earn unbelievable amounts of money selling photo and video reminders of the big day.
Among the book's more interesting details is a look at the wedding planning sector. Mead attended a conference of wedding planners and bridal consultants in order to research the book and learned just how much business research goes into planning these things. The echo boom generation, for instance, is generally more "conservative" and more accepting of tradition than its parents' generation (that is to say, not rolling around in the mud), and is therefore more willing to go for a "traditional" (read: expensive) wedding. This is clearly a generalization, but Mead cites the example as one that suggests just how commercialized and business-like the industry has become.
She also provides an interesting history of the industry, from the etiquette tomes published during the 1920s to the advent of the bridal magazine to the modern-day bridal trade shows that sweep across the continent, as well as a look into the unseen aspects of wedding planning. A woman shopping for a wedding dress in North America or Europe likely does not consider the people who worked in a factory in Asia to create said dress, nor might the factory workers ever be able to afford one. But, Mead writes after having visited such a factory in China, the women charged with assembling the dresses want to know why European and North American women are so "big."
There are also looks at religious weddings versus secular weddings, including people who specialize in solutions for couples who want their wedding to contain some kind of spiritual element without being explicitly religious. She speaks with spiritualist ministers who offer non-denominational spiritual ceremonies that the couple can customize. She also profiles a minister who, in order to help defray the costs of maintaining her church, began to offer non-religious ceremonies in a religious setting (for couples who don't want a "church wedding" yet want to get married in a church).
Another of the most interesting points Mead raises is that of the wedding "comedown" effect; that is to say that people spend so much time and effort planning their weddings that the "settling in" to married life is often anti-climactic and even depressing. Many wedding websites, including The Knot, offer message boards that newlyweds can apparently use to support each other.
Everyone I've lent my copy of the book to has praised Mead's writing for its humour and wit, and her willingness to fully explore the subject matter. For instance, when she details the packages offered by Disney, she quotes a spokesperson who stresses that the company's famous characters are available to appear at receptions, but not the weddings as it might detract from the dignity of the occasion. But the carriage-drivers can wear powdered wigs, Mead points out, and you're still getting a frigging Disney wedding. It's not until the epilogue that we learn that Mead herself got married while writing this book, but she shares that the process of writing the book helped her to cope with planning her own wedding.
The book is also notable for its hardcover packaging, which emulates a wedding invitation with ornate and delicate script -- but "stapled" on top of the invitation is a "receipt" with the book's title. The paperback cover features a photo of a bride and groom with arrows pointing to various aspects of their attire, indicating how much it all cost. Among my favourite moments is the interview with the woman who expressed surprise when a wedding magazine to which she'd subscribed while planning her wedding asked whether she wanted to renew her subscription -- as though they expected her to need their services again.
The book was an easy read and certainly an informative one. After finishing it, I lent it to a friend who then asked me if she could lend it to two other friends of hers, one of whom is a DJ. He really enjoyed it, she said, because he related to some of the horror stories told by some of the wedding professionals interviewed. I definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the changing face of one of the world's biggest industries, regardless of whether readers are already married, plan to get married or don't want to get married. It says a great deal about the world we live in and what we consider to be important.
Mead, Rebecca. One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding