Modern matrimony, money and madness - when every bride thinks she's a celebrity
A few years back, a friend of mine got married for a second time. She'd moved to Los Angeles because of work, met a guy, fell in love and bought a house with him in quick succession.
They probably didn't need to get married, because as she says, "buying a house together felt like a much bigger commitment," but it was certainly going to help her residency process along and improve her work prospects.
It was a courthouse affair, though she admits that she may have worn a vintage Diane Von Furstenberg dress. "There were two other couples; one young and very pregnant and the other older bikie-types who reeked of alcohol. It was 10am!"
With the deal sealed they filed her updated immigration paperwork in another part of the court house and headed to the beach for a surf. A week later a group Facebook message went out – I don't even think it contained a happy snap – informing her international coterie of friends of what had taken place.
"One day," she says four years later, "we might have a beach ceremony in New Zealand, but probably not." Getting married was about the commitment they were making to each other. Nothing else.
And while people do opt for the small and more down-home kind of weddings because the money could best be spent elsewhere, and marriage has been on the decline since shacking up became socially acceptable, the big, styled-to-the eyeballs and outrageously expensive special day appears to be eternal.
There are endless Pinterest and internet wedding posts, and bridal magazines are obviously doing good trade judging by how many of them there are… all glossy and aspirational. Hateful things, guilting women into haemorrhaging money, because men, on the whole, allow women to run this particular show.
Then there are the non-western cultures for whom marriage is still a mainstay of their lives and expectations. Such weddings are typically elaborate and in some cases, an extended celebration with a gigantic cast of players, including matchmakers and wedding planners. Weddings, no matter where you live, are big business.
The recent nuptials of Pippa Middleton to James Matthews, a fabulously wealthy hedge-funder, was the media's hot ticket story last month.
The Daily Mail covered it best, buying the pick of the paparazzi photos and providing in-depth and possibly highly unreliable speculation on the cost of the bacchanal put on by the most upwardly mobile middle-class British family in recent history. The Boleyn sisters by any other name.
There was the $70,000 Giles Deacon dress, the $350,000 engagement ring and the Robinson Pelham pearl tiara (cost not known). The $115,000 that was spent on drink and the $530,000 on catering. Production costs and the venue and marquee hire at $382,000 and the wedding planner company's estimated $176,000 fee. The flowers came in at a relatively frugal $28,000.
Throw in all the other bits and pieces including music, cars, bridal party, additional frockage and the groom and his party's cost, it's easy to see where all that money went. All up the Mail estimated that the wedding came in at about $2.4 million. And while a big part of me is of the opinion that if you have the money and it's that important to you, why not?, there's another quite big part that enjoys being repulsed by such extravagance in a world where so many live in abject poverty. Still, compared to celebrity weddings such as Kim and Kanye's ostentatious display of wealth in regard to their nuptials – an estimated $16 million (Daily Mail) – the Middleton-Matthews wedding seems positively restrained.
The Kardashian-West wedding took place over a four-day weekend and in two locations – Paris and Florence – and featured couture and gemstones galore, private jets, lavish accommodations for all, spectacular venues, a $188,000 flower wall and a $700,000 marble table for Kim and Kayne to sit at on their thrones once hitched.
The celebrations for what would be Kim's third "special day" started in Paris where, among other things, a lavish rehearsal dinner was staged at the Palace of Versailles. How very apt for a couple who are self-proclaimed American royalty. Though Kim would probably suggest the peasantry try lip gloss – preferably one spruiked by a sibling – rather than eat cake.
While on the topic of Marie Antoinette, history's ultimate party girl, extravagant weddings have been around since time began of course. Historically the type of union that would elicit such a response would be one that was politically important. A show of power and/or money as two families or countries came together, with two people, who often didn't know each other at the centre of the alliance.
The union of Marie Antoinette of Austria and Louis-Auguste of France in 1770 came about by the desire of France and Austria to secure an alliance in order to curtail the empire-building ambitions of their respective neighbours Great Britain and Prussia.
The teenagers at the centre of the marriage were nothing more than pawns for their country's aspirations. They weren't even in the same country when they were married under the eyes of God.
Maria Antonia, as she was then, stood before the priest at the Augustinian Church in Vienna with her brother Archduke Ferdinand by her side as proxy for Louis-Auguste. A month later she would meet her husband for the first time. The religious aspect of their nuptials may have been a quiet one, but the ceremonial wedding which took place at the Palace of Versailles was something else. She is said to have dripped with diamonds as she came down the aisle.
Marie Antoinette would spend the next two decades throwing the longest party in history, more than making up for her solitary wedding, before losing her head during the French Revolution.
The weddings of royalty continued to captivate over the intervening two and a half centuries and as media became increasingly more prevalent and speedier, the details of these nuptials of national importance became more and more accessible to the general public. When Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip at Westminster Abbey in 1947 the wedding was not only lovingly and thoroughly covered by Fleet Street and filmed by British Pathe Films as their newsreel of the week, but also broadcast by BBC Radio to an estimated 200 million listeners.
There was a good reason for this unprecedented media access which saw Pathe filming inside the Abbey during the ceremony; Britain was still reeling from WWII, its people needed something triumphant and hopeful and a Royal wedding fitted the bill brilliantly. That's not to say the Royal family weren't mindful of the austerity measures – rationing would continue until 1954 – with the Princess saving up her clothing coupons in order to have a beautiful dress, just like every other British bride had to do in 1947 if she didn't want to wear someone else's dress.
Fast forward to a television room in 1981 at a boarding school in New Plymouth. For months the magazines and newspapers have been filled with nothing else but the upcoming royal nuptials of Prince Charles (who none of us thought was good-looking) and Lady Diana Spencer, a shy kindergarten teacher who disliked horses, hadn't done well at school but was impeccably bred and just the right kind of demure.
In short: total princess.
One hundred and thirty girls all with a bad case of "Princess Fever", and for just this once we were allowed to stay up all night and watch the wedding broadcast on the television. It was the first time the world had been able to sit in its armchair at home and watch a royal wedding in real time and in living colour. And it was amazing.
Royalty, cultural practices, celebs and people with huge expendable incomes aside, what is it about weddings that makes people – ordinary people – lose their mind and their life savings for just one "perfect day"? How much does a small (say 50 people) and stylish wedding cost?
I ring a friend who has put together some lovely weddings and we plan my pretend "perfect day".
It turns out to be really fun, though I'm shaken by how quickly and surely I lay out what I want – I'm not the type of woman who has been planning her wedding since boys became interesting. "Or maybe you are," the wedding planner friend says.
The getting married part was easily the cheapest part of the equation, with even the gorgeous old church about a kilometre down the road from me being an inexpensive hire.
It was after that it all got a bit ridiculous – even without a flower wall. I could do an awful lot of renovating for what it would cost.
And that's really the heart of it. Weddings – big, small or simply not happening – are about personal priorities and what makes you happy.