weddings

'From the dress to the date, I planned my own wedding. But I'm never getting married.'

Standing on a small crate with red carpet glued to it, holding a bouquet of plastic roses, draped in a two-metre-long veil and wearing a dress that costs more money than my bank account contains, a feeling I never expected comes over me.

I feel like a bride.

Has the room gone silent or have I lost the ability to hear as I stare at myself in the mirror? It seems like the kind of moment where speaking would be inappropriate, the moment all little girls dream of growing up. Or, at least, the moment all little girls are told to dream of.

Psst! On our You Beauty podcast, host Kelly McCarren shares all the products she used to do her own wedding makeup. Post continues below.

Marriage has always felt like an expectation: at some point in your late-20s or early-30s you get married, and a few years later you start producing offspring.

The average cost of an Australian wedding currently is around $50,000. That’s a hefty price tag for a paper signing ceremony.

Of course, this price can be drastically reduced. As I twirl in my $3,600 dress to show off all the different angles to my two-person entourage, I am fully aware of the op shop around the corner where I could find a white dress for under $10. Hell, I’ve been hitting the gym recently – I’m sure I could squeeze into the midnight-blue dress I wore to my year 12 ball.

That would never do though, because wedding dresses have to be white, they have to be the latest fashion, they have to be extravagant. In other words, they have to be expensive. But… why?

As someone who will never get married, whose prepubescent ‘dreams’ of marriage caused more stress than anything else, I have never understood the appeal of weddings. That’s why I’m now standing in this lacy, sparkly, ruffley gown with my two best friends and a sales assistant fawning over me – I’m on a quest to understand. 

And what better way to understand than to plan my own wedding? 

As a true millennial, my wedding planning process begins with downloading a free wedding planning app on my phone. To set it up, I need to supply the name of my partner, the date of my wedding, the number of guests coming and the budget. I plug in all this information, picking names and numbers at random, and when it’s all done the app presents me with a checklist of tasks to get done and the dates they need to be done by.

Task 1: “Announce your engagement to family and friends.”

Engagements are a funny thing. They used to be a handshake between two men as a woman was sold from father to husband. Here lie the origins of the engagement ring; they exist as a symbol of the ownership and subjugation of women. 

Of course, this has changed for the most part. Now women actually have a say in who they marry, and rings say, ‘I’m not single’ instead of ‘I have an owner’. Another change has been the ring itself: what used to be a simple band now holds on it a diamond.

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Diamond ring
Nowadays it's all about the diamond. Image: Getty.

Diamonds have been the standard in engagement rings since the late 1930s. During the Great Depression, people stopped buying diamonds (shocking). Allegedly, to save their business, the De Beers Group created an ad campaign to convince people that diamonds are a symbol of love and everyone who wants to propose to their significant other must first buy a diamond ring.

This hugely successful campaign, launched over 80 years ago, is why I now find myself inside a fine jeweller looking at rings that cost more than 15 weeks rent.

I’ve done quite a bit of window shopping at jewellery stores in my time, so I know that I can get a very large diamond for under $1000. The store I’m at now, though, has much smaller diamonds priced at above $3000. I ask the woman behind the counter why this is, and she pulls out a small book full of diagrams and numbers to show me all the different areas a diamond is judged on before it’s given a price.

These areas are: carat weight, colour grade, clarity grade and cut grade. They also all have registration numbers that can be used to track the origin of the diamond and ensure its authenticity. 

To be completely honest, I can’t actually see the difference between these diamonds and the ones on sale for much lower prices. The woman trying to explain everything to me assures me that there is a major difference, but I don’t give her words much weight given that she’s hawking an item that’s value is built on...lies.

Though they may not be as common as dirt, diamonds are much more common than other gems and precious metals. The myth that they are rare was created by the people who own all the world’s diamonds so they could mark up the prices – who’d have thought that the supposed symbol of love is actually a symbol of capitalist gains made through manipulative marketing techniques?

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Me. I would think that. Because as I delve deeper into the world of wedding planning with the help of my phone-turned-wedding-planner, I am confronted with more and more things that I am expected to spend ridiculous amounts of money on.

Another task placed high on my to-do list (which in all has 134 tasks) is to “choose and book an officiant.” I decide to do this next as I need someone to explain to me the point of weddings, and who better to do this than someone whose entire career is built on performing them?

“Short hair, pregnant, black dress with apples on it,” is the description my chosen celebrant gives me to help find her once I reach the café we’re meeting in.

Her name is Shae, and I very quickly realise she will not help me understand the $50,000 modern Australian wedding because she doesn’t understand it either.

Shae is an accidental wedding celebrant whose career began as an offhand joke made during a Friends binge. She is also a wife whose marriage began after her English boyfriend said he needed an Australian visa.

Shae got married in a backyard while wearing a multicoloured dress she bought on sale, she had a friend officiate the wedding and the food was a potluck.

Most of a wedding's expense comes from an adherence to tradition: diamond rings, white dresses, flowers, cake, bridesmaids, groomsmen. By ignoring tradition, couples can get hitched without breaking the bank. Shae knows this firsthand, so she always tries to get the couples she speaks with to really think about the traditions they’re following.

“The question I always ask couples is, why?” She says, and the answer is usually, “We don’t know.”

She says that couples often find themselves having to walk the line between what they want and what their families want. In the end, weddings become less about the couple getting married and more about the fulfilment of family expectations. 

These are expectations that I feel quite heavily on my own shoulders, which is why I find myself pulling on a door handle shaped like a woman’s body and entering a dress shop less than 24 hours after meeting with Shae. After telling my friends about my wedding planning adventure, they jumped at the opportunity to see me in a wedding dress. 

Already vaguely uncomfortable, my feelings of unease heighten immediately upon entering the store. Dresses, so many dresses, all of them intimidating through their sheer size and sparkle. 

A red carpet is rolled out, leading from the door into the main area of the shop. The lighting is provided by chandeliers, the floor is polished wood and the walls are lined with mirrors. This over-the-top extravagance is to be expected given the product being sold.

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Wedding dresses have been used as a symbol of the status of the bride’s family since at least the middle ages. If the current year was 1419 then I would be wearing a simple tunic and I would likely be much more comfortable. Based on the dresses on display, it is clear that this store does not usually cater to someone like me.

The friends I brought with me to fulfil the role of my bridesmaids are keen to begin perusing, but the three of us are stopped within seconds of entering the store.

“Hello, may I help you?” A sales assistant materialises, eyes squinted as she takes in my faded jeans and scuffed-up sneakers.

“Hi, yes, I have an appointment booked under Emily Johnson?” It’s phrased as a question despite being a statement of fact. A brief pause, another pointed look at my chosen attire, and then a nod. She interrogates me as she walks us over to the racks.

“When is the wedding?”

“What styles are you looking for?”

“What is the price range?”

The answers are: September 2020; I want to try a bit of everything as I’ve only just begun looking; and daddy’s paying. I decide to lie because she seems the type to have no qualms throwing me out.

I don’t blame her; she likely works on commission so talking with a perpetual spinster is a waste of time and money. At least the store is empty aside from my friends and me; she has not lost any potential sales because of me.

Three dresses are quickly chosen for me to try on. All are large, all are sparkly, all are white.

I strip off all my clothes in front of the sales assistant who then helps me step into the first gown. We make small talk as she does up all the zips and buttons. She asks me about my partner, my parents, my friends, my job, my hobbies, my passions, my dreams. Now this woman has seen me practically naked and knows my entire life story, only some of which is fake.

All conversation stops when the dress is on and I look at the mirror for the first time. 

Wedding-dress-
The moment no one expected.
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No words can describe how strange it is for someone who has known for a decade that they will never get married to look at themselves and see a bride.

“You’re glowing!” Says the sales assistant, who has mistaken my pure dread for overwhelming excitement. She shepherds me through the heavy curtains separating me from my friends and they squeal the moment they see me.

A veil is then placed on my head and flowers are thrust into my hands to complete ‘the look’. The moment a woman sees herself turn into a bride, the moment I just had, makes the reality of the impending wedding seem real.

“This style of dress works well with your shape; this is definitely going in the maybe pile!” The moment is broken by a compliment that rings false. In truth, the only thing this dress does for my shape is show it – any dress I wear will do the same thing. But the perception is that women can’t wear just any dress on their wedding day, it has to be a gown.

These gowns cost an average of $2,475. 

Even I feel emotional while wearing a gown. How would a real bride feel? How much money could she be convinced to spend?

Here lies the crux of this issue, the reason for the massive over-pricing of everything with the word ‘wedding’ attached. We are taught that our wedding is the most important say in our lives, we’re drunk on love and notions of eternity, we would do anything to ensure that our wedding is the biggest, the best - it’s what our relationship deserves.

So young couples are starting their lives together under the weight of crippling debt because a mixture of social expectation and capitalist greed has turned what should be a celebration of love into a tradition-laden cash-grab.

As I walk out of the wedding dress store, I open my phone and delete the wedding planning app, thanking the God I don’t believe that I’ll never have to go through this ordeal again.  

Do you agree with Emily's take on the modern wedding? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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