Flanked by an advert for the Ocean Club honeymoon resort in the Bahamas, with young bride and groom toasting a glass of champagne, Brides – “the UK’s number 1 bridal magazine” announces to its readers that “Planning your wedding starts here” (1). It continues: “Sit down together, or with your parents if they’re going to contribute, and work out what you can afford to spend. As a guide, here are the average amounts that ‘Brides’ readers spend: Reception £4189, catering £3069,….” Another seventeen items later, and the total cost for the day is given as £24,716. There are other glossy wedding magazines in addition to Brides. Wedding Ideas puts the average total cost of a wedding in the UK at £17,000; while You and Your Wedding magazine puts the figure at £20,500.
My daughter is getting married, and my wife has been helping her with arrangements. Before this I did not know that there were wedding magazines, and I did not know that it was now a big business “cashing in on couples’ happiness”, as Billy Bragg once sang. I had been completely ignorant of how things had changed since I married my wife in a Catholic Church, gave the priest a small donation, then went to the pub with family and friends for a “do” afterwards.
According to Maxine Briggs, the editor of You and Your Wedding magazine, these high costs are because couples “want to throw a party of a lifetime”, and that “there is a move towards one-upmanship and high profile weddings such as the recent Kardashian’s is [sic] setting the bar higher” (2). She goes on to remind readers that “50% of brides expect to go over budget to get the day of their dreams”.
My daughter is not outwardly religious, but I was surprised to find that she and her fiancé had been searching for a barn to get married in. Seemingly, again according to Maxine Briggs, finding the right venue is ranked at the top of the “21st century bride’s survey” in terms of importance, and the top three marriage venues are: castles, stately homes, and then barns. I imagined an old stone-walled, dirt floored structure with a corrugated iron roof; but it was made clear to me that this was not the right sort of barn. The type in which brides and grooms aspire to be wed is a centrally heated, double glazed, and carpeted barn, with a gravel drive leading up to it rather than rutted soil.
The availability of these alternative wedding venues is a consequence of the Marriage Act 1994, which permitted that a marriage ceremony could now be solemnized in other “approved places” (3). It opened the door for a whole new way of making money, particularly if you happen to own a castle, stately home, or barn. The amounts being paid are not trivial either, as Ms Briggs goes on to report, with venue hire the biggest wedding expenditure at an average price of £3,397. They charge this because they can, as competition is fierce, and people are willing to pay for their “special day”. Not only is every Saturday invariably booked up often two years in advance for the best venues, but Friday, Sunday, Bank Holiday, and weekday weddings are commonplace, and so the property owner can make a small fortune.
I did some research and found that in comparison, a registry office wedding costs at its most basic, £70. Bizarrely, this standard fee is actually quoted at £35 per person, as if perhaps they expect to get less (or more) than two applicants. There are extras on top such as a date reservation booking fee of £25, and also a room can be hired with prices varying between £100 to £200.
Weddings are also advertised on The Church of England website. In style and content this competes with the glossy magazines. There are no adverts for Bahaman holiday resorts, but the front page portrays the flexibility offered, with pictures and stories of “biker weddings”, “football weddings”, and a couple who got married at the same time as their son was christened. It is also advertises that “there are now more churches to choose from”. Regarding cost, the Church of England promotes their weddings at “less than £450”. This fee, it is stressed, does not include extras like “organist, bells, or even “heating the church”. These costs are at the church’s “local rate”.
The Roman Catholic Church still have no charge attached to their weddings. They consider that marriage is a sacrament, like the Holy Communion, and as such the sacraments are dispensed by the Church as gifts from God to the community. No payment is therefore expected, although it is asked that if the couple want to, they can make a donation of whatever value they wish.
This historic Christian tradition where love between two people grows with age, strengthening them against adversity, and forming a bond which cannot be broken, must still remain, for despite having lost all of its financial benefits and most of it social importance over the last few decades, people still want to get married. The latest figures available for the UK are 260,000 weddings per year (4). These natural instincts for love and companionship are innate, and not just restricted to human beings. Monogamy is common in many other animals. North American beavers are a good example, building a shared home and living compassionately together all their lives. Other examples include wolves, foxes, gibbons, lizards and 90% of birds. In particular swans, barn owls, magpies, and crows are popularly known for having one mate for life.
So, despite these glossy magazines and their advertisers stirring up business, encouraging waste, and debt, selling fashion weddings and status to a generation raised on the Disney culture, there is hope. And, in the list of top twenty wedding “themes” (there are such lists), alongside the categories of Hollywood, Glamour, Beach and Military, there is D.I.Y. This does not mean that the bride, groom, and guests will be wearing overalls, but that they will be doing everything themselves. My daughter and her fiancé come within this category.
To help them out, my wife offered to provide for the stationary and flowers (wedding invites, table settings, etc). She also wanted sustainable and ethical products only, but when searching for options, she could fine none. So she began sourcing her own materials and making everything herself. It allowed us to know that there was minimal waste, and that every part of the wedding was doing as little harm as possible to the environment. It turned out that in everyone’s opinion, what she made was far more beautiful too.
So, my wife has now started making wedding stationary for others, and has teamed up with a local independent florist. As a consequence she is also branching out into other areas. All materials are handmade, using paper that is recycled, reclaimed or tree-free. Some of the paper contains flower seeds so that it can be planted after use. Others are made from recycled denim, banana, hay, and even reindeer, giraffe, and rhinoceros poo. For decoration, she uses bio-degradable twines, recycled textile, and natural paints. Because of this, and because materials are usually sourced locally, she has found that she can make this stationary at usually less than half the price of others that are advertised. She also does not charge 100% or more for profit, which has led to her receiving unpleasant accusations from competitors that she is intentionally undercutting them. Everything my wife makes is made to order, and is sustainable; and although there are a range of designs available, she usually makes bespoke stationary to meet customer’s specific requirements. For details see here.
- You and Your Wedding 15th January 2015. Available from: http://www.immediate.co.uk/news/brand/you-your-wedding-survey-reveals-the-average-cost-of-a-wedding-is-over-20500/
- Great Britain, Parliament. The Marriage Act (1994), chapter 34. May take place in other than religious or licenced offices.
- Office of national stats. http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/marriages-in-england-and-wales–provisional-/2012/stb-marriages-in-england-and-wales–provisional—2011.html
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Paul Jennings October 13th, 2015
I don’t really see what marriage has to do with monogamy, Andrew, neither do I see what a promise made to a God I don’t believe in, or to a witness of a state the very existence of which is an affront to real human community, has to do with staying together with the person I love. If it were up to me I’d not encourage people to make promises that their future selves might not want to keep, but only to be the very best they can be for those they love in the here and now. Marriage has pretty oppressive roots to be honest, and is now a vehicle for an unrealistic and consumerist myth of romantic love which is treated as if it is a religion in itself. I think it’s yet another substitute for meaningful citizenship and a healthy wider community……… a bit like supporting a football team, except probably even more disappointing.
Anyway, good luck to your wife with her business, if folks must get married they may as well support small businesses and do so as ecologically and cheaply as possible.
p.s I’ve been with my partner for 20 years; we have 3 children, and we’ve never seriously considered marriage of any kind.
2Peter Richardson October 13th, 2015
In my view, if people wish to legally shackle their partner to themselves, they are showing little faith in their choice of partner. “I don’t think he/she will stay with me or share things fairly unless legally obliged to do so.”
Why involve the state in important personal relationships? We don’t do it with other personal relationships… imagine the nonsense of “Now that we have become friends I’d like you to sign this friendship contract binding us to follow the regulations laid down in the Friendships Act 1934.”
As regards the cost of weddings, if people are going to be crazy enough to spend money on a wedding, they should keep plenty back in a deposit account to cover the costs of divorce, as over a third of married couples will divorce before their 20th wedding anniversary: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/divorces-in-england-and-wales/2011/sty-what-percentage-of-marriages-end-in-divorce.html
Somehow I suspect that the higher the proportion of their annual income a couple spends on their wedding, the higher the probability of divorce.
The only justification for getting married is, I think, in the case of those few unfortunate couples who are forced to marry due to the interference of nonsensical immigration and citizenship laws.
3Paul Jennings October 13th, 2015
…….. and towels, Peter, you get to ask for presents like towels. I’d quite like to get the presents for getting married. If anyone would like to get Sarah and I a set of nice towels or some saucepans to celebrate our monogamy then just message me and I’ll let you have our present list! ?
4Dave Darby October 13th, 2015
The thing is, a wedding is a good excuse for a party. That’s got to be a good thing.
Plus are there any financial benefits to being married – tax breaks etc?
But really, it’s a public declaration of love and commitment – although of course you can do that with a ceremony other than marriage, in which case all the things in the article still apply.
But even if you think marriage is not a good thing, people will still do it, so they may as well do it in a sustainable way, including not spending £20k, which all helps to grow the economy, which is what’s causing our ecological problems. The same goes for other Lowimpact topics – if people are going to eat meat, it’s better to get it from sustainable, non-factory-farmed sources; if people are going to drive, it’s good if they share rides / make biodiesel / go electric / don’t buy a gas-guzzler etc. etc.
5Dave Darby October 13th, 2015
Paul – I’ll get you towels if you have a monogamy party.
6Paul Jennings October 13th, 2015
Totally agree about the low impact side of things, Dave. My feeling is that everyone getting married should have the reception in their local pub – sandwiches, crisps and a couple of hundred quid behind the bar for the first round or two. This would help keep local pubs open.
I’ll tell Sarah about the towels……… better start planning the party! ?
7AnnieV October 13th, 2015
Well. I used to work as a celebrant for the usual (and some unusual) rites of passage. The weddings varied from humble to grandiose to theatrical (one even made it into Hello magazine). I’d talk to the couple, find out what they wanted, write the ceremony and, if it was a Pagan event, bring the paraphernalia. These were mostly humble, homemade, low key ceremonies where guests would bring food and drink, kids, dogs etc and they were often held in woodland, on beaches, at stone circles etc. They cost very little and were very personal and meaningful. They were about making vows in front of family and friends, a public commitment that everyone witnessed and celebrated. Some couples would do the Registry Office thing, some wouldn’t. Personally, me and himself get handfast every year and a day and jump over a stick. We got legally hitched a few years ago so that we could switch off life support as next of kin (romantic, huh?). So whereas I totally agree that the modern wedding industry is hideous, I also feel that making a commitment to one’s best beloved in front of your loved ones and having a party is very human.
8Dave Darby October 13th, 2015
I’ve been to a couple of those kinds of ceremony, and they’re much more intimate, personal and fun than the plastic fantastic ones.