Public Release: 

Lavish weddings on the rise at home and abroad, authors say


University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- In case you hadn't noticed, the modern wedding, like some big Hollywood production, is in morph mode. Over the past few decades, it has undergone major changes -- from a modest family-bonding ritual to a lavish, sometimes obscenely luxurious, consumer event, and become "the most significant ritual in consumption-oriented cultures."

So claim Cele Otnes and Elizabeth Pleck in their new book, "Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding" (University of California Press). Otnes is a professor of business administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Pleck is a professor of history and of human development and family studies at Illinois.

The authors demonstrate that everything in the path of the new wedding becomes transformed, if only temporarily. The knot-tying rite is now expected to turn brides into princesses, grooms into Prince Charmings and shopping into an unparalleled experience of acquisition for the couple. Metamorphosis by consumer bingeing isn't just for the American elite, either: "The lavish event has now become a necessity, a right, and even an entitlement for middle- and working-class women in North America."

Moreover, the new markers of lavishness -- ice sculptures, champagne fountains, 12-piece orchestras, doves and butterflies -- are going global. Expectations of a wedding delivering romance, perfection, magic and diamond-studded memories have been exported to brides all over the globe. Yet despite its socioeconomic importance, the wedding has been overlooked by scholars, till now.

The authors offer dozens of reasons why the lavish wedding is capturing imaginations and incomes. One is that fabulous fetes marry "two of the most sacred tenets of American culture: romantic love and excessive consumption." People also desire lavish weddings because they want to experience magic -- or an escape from everyday life, the authors say.

Moreover, such weddings enable people to emulate celebrities in a culture fascinated by their every move, and to be stars of their own show, at least for the duration of the wedding weekend. So as a portal to enchantment, the wedding "does not so much hold up a mirror to who we really are, but instead offers a temporary dream world for all in attendance."

Hollywood, the authors argue, is partly responsible for fanning the flames of the lavish wedding. One chapter explores the role of film costumes, studios' P.R. machines and a wide range of "wedding movies." Otnes and Pleck also examine engagement rituals, bridal showers, the white wedding gown, honeymooning and alternative forms of weddings, such as gay and Las Vegas ceremonies.

Magic, as it happens, comes with a price. From 1984 to 1994, the average cost of a formal U.S. wedding rose from $4,000 to $16,000. Last year, consumers paid $22,000 on average; the average cost of second and third weddings also rose -- to $12,000. Nevertheless, the lavish wedding "may be the one time when true transformation and transcendence of the ordinary seems not only possible but also, to those who embrace the tenets of romantic consumer culture, well deserved."


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