5 Lies the Wedding Industry Is Selling (But We’re Not Buying)

I love weddings. Weddings are the soul of my work as a photographer. But they’re also the foundation of a multi-billion dollar industry rife with questionable traditions and irrational expenses. Before you dive into wedding planning, here are five myths you need to identify — and dismiss! — the moment they show their ugly faces.

1.) It’s the bride’s day.

This is absurd for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that many weddings don’t even HAVE a bride. What if neither of you is a bride? What if both of you are brides? What if the word “bride” makes you want to punch babies? Whose day is it then?

Gender sensitivity aside, the notion that ONE person is the primary focus of the wedding day is ridiculous. Your wedding day belongs to both you and your partner, and to your loved ones who have gathered to celebrate. Don’t be selfish. And don’t let anyone put selfishness upon you, as if “it’s MY day” is an honorable and precious sentiment. It’s not. The only thing honorable and precious at a wedding is the love.

Here is your new mantra: “It’s OUR day.” Because it is. And together, you can do anything.

2.) Your guests need favors.

If you hang around at a wedding after the newlyweds have left, you’ll see the cleaning staff swarm the room, tossing baggies of monogrammed candies and sachets of loose-leaf tea into the garbage. Before you drop money on landfill fodder, ask yourself one question: Will my guests actually use these favors? Shocking though it may be, once your guests have enjoyed an adult beverage (or three), they’re not going home to plant a tree with that packet of elm seeds you adorned with a ribbon and presented in the center of their dinner plate.

If giving small gifts to people is one of your great joys in life, then make sure the gifts are thoughtful. My favorite wedding favors of 2013 were vintage records taken from the groom’s personal collection. Each guest’s place setting was marked with an album hand-picked by the couple to celebrate that guest’s presence. Not a single record was left behind.

3.) You shouldn’t see your spouse-to-be until the ceremony.

I realized how ingrained this ritual has become when one couple told me they wouldn’t see one another until their ceremony because, “Isn’t that in the Bible somewhere?” (No, it isn’t.)

You already know you won’t spend much time with your guests on your wedding day. But many couples don’t consider how little time they’ll get to spend with each other. Between all the meeting, greeting, drinking, and dancing, if you don’t see your partner until the ceremony, it’s likely that you’ll spend more time with your photographer than with the love of your life. To me, that’s just crazy talk.

What are your alternatives? Connect over brunch on the morning of your wedding; take a walk together before the chaos sets in; or (yes, I’ll say it) get ready together. Just be in the same space while makeup is applied and ties are tied. Your wedding day belongs to both of you. Share as much of it as you possibly can.

4.) You must have a wedding party.

I was flipping through a friend’s wedding album when she began pointing out her bridesmaids. “We aren’t really friends anymore… We lost touch after a few years… I only asked her to be a bridesmaid because I didn’t want to offend her…” Out of eight bridesmaids, only three of them were still involved in my friend’s life in any meaningful way.

Sadly, many couples feel pressured to have a large wedding party, even when their relationships with those individuals aren’t especially strong. And the social stigma of refusing this “terrific honor” often traps the attendants-to-be into spending money they don’t have on weddings they don’t care about.

Before you ask your friends to drop a week’s income on outfits they will not wear again (I don’t care what the salesperson told you), put serious thought into who you truly want by your side at your wedding. Maybe it’s your mom or your grandfather. Maybe it’s that one close friend you’ve known since grade school. Maybe it’s… nobody. No choice is the wrong choice, as long as it’s your choice.

5.) This is the most important day of your life.

Don’t make me cry. If your wedding day is the most important day of your life, you are bound for a future of insignificance and monotony.

Yes, your wedding day marks the start of a new journey, the establishment of a new family. But it is just one important day in your life.

You will have other parties. You will make new friends. Your family will grow with the addition of cats and dogs and maybe even real human children. You will buy a house, travel to amazing places, get your dream job.

Your life will be full of so many wonderful, terrible, important days, that eventually your wedding will fade to a sweet haze of a memory, with only your photographs to recall your dad’s mismatched socks or your cake with the very definite lean to the left.

When you find yourself panicking because your invitations look more purple than eggplant, it’s time to stop, take a deep breath, and remember that this isn’t the most important day. Your wedding day is one very important day in a series of important days that will make up all the days of your very full, very rich, very wonderful life.

You can also find this article published on Huffington Post.

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  1. OMG! Truer words were never spoken. Hubby and I were married about 15 months ago and it was not the most important day of our lives, we’ve since gotten pregnant, sold and bought two houses, shifted towns and had our life turned completely upside down. We didn’t have wedding favours, heck we didn’t even decorate the reception venue. What was our wedding all about you ask? Well I’ll tell you what, our wedding was about coming together with our family and our dearest friends and celebrating our love for one another, and committing ourselves with those precious witnesses present, to a lifetime of love and support!
    We woke up together, ate breakfast together, got completely ready together and spent the entire day side-by-side – exactly how a wedding day should be.
    Thanks for this excellent article and for telling it like it is!

  2. Oh so true. I chuckled at your mention of the cake. Just last night my daughter asked me what our wedding cake looked like. I hadn’t a clue ; it’s been 15 years.. “Was it white?” Um, pretty sure yes. “Did it have people on top?” Definite no. “Bells then?” Uh, no. Mommy doesn’t recall buying any cake topper. “Flowers? It must have been flowers.” Probably. Yes that sounds familiar. But we’ll pull out the photos tomorrow so I can show you.

  3. This is so insanely perfect! Thank you for sharing! Over the last five years of shooting weddings I’ve slowly become more and more disenchanted with weddings to the point that I no longer shoot them and it’s for several of these reasons. I’ve worked so many weddings that felt less than genuine, less than true reflections of the couples. I have seen so many instances where the bride cared more about being a bride than being a wife and that makes me very sad. Thank you so much for sharing this perspective! We need to get back the reason for a wedding – the start of a marriage!

  4. lots of good points, however, nothing would make me want to “punch a baby”! LOL

    And I have been to many, many weddings and have ALWAYS taken home my favor! The bride and groom chose it and left it for me…I WANT IT! And I have even planted those little seeds with good results!

  5. Love your slant on this. However, not sure it is the industry as a whole “lying” to couples. I, for one, am all about THE COUPLE- not just the bride, or brides or grooms. And, if given the opportunity, I tell all my couples that favors should be a donation to a charity, a simple edible treat or nothing. When couples are trying to cut costs, favors are my number one place to do so!!! I did, however, have a couple who did exactly as you suggested- the CD. Great idea!! Theirs was a big hit.

    I really don’t like it when the entire wedding industry gets lumped together. It is unfair to those of us who really try NOT to lie or cheat people getting married. But, there are so many unscrupulous people out there preying on engaged couples that I am glad when someone takes the time to point out the falsities. Thanks!

    • Wendy, as a wedding photographer, I’m part of the industry; and YOU’RE part of the industry; so you’re right, not everyone who participates in the wedding world is “lying” to couples. But I’m not really speaking to industry people. My aim was to address the conventional wisdom of this industry, which so often makes couples feel that their wedding isn’t good enough if they don’t do things “the right way.” But you know what “the right way” is? It’s whatever way is best for YOU on YOUR wedding day. I hope couples can become more and more comfortable making their own decisions and celebrating in ways that suit them as individuals. :)

  6. Oh, Anne, I cannot decide which of the five is my favorite! I think that most couples would agree with these, but are anxious to get the full experience of a wedding day as fed to them via many avenues. It is a bit like growing up past 30. :) Before my 30’s I thought that what I saw around me and what other people experienced would make me happy and now I know that my happiness is unique to me.

  7. Well said! Hope many brides and grooms can read this before their wedding is planned! Some of your points are painfully true. I wrapped pretty foil Dove chocolates in little baggies tied with a ribbon for guests. Not fancy but none were left behind. We hoped someone would nibble them Sunday morning or take home to a kid. So many people monogram soaps, or seed pkts, or magnets that no one needs. The costs for the food and venue are beyond reasonable. $100 or more per guest for dinner???? There is too much pressure. Your article is so wisely done.

  8. While I agree with most of this, I did not see my wife before the ceremony on the day of our wedding, and I would not change it for the world. I have been to or shot several weddings where the groom did not see the bride. The expression of his face at the first look of her is one of the best shots I have seen at virtually all weddings. I think if you are in the same room getting ready, you lose that moment. Certainly, no one should be forced to be separated, but it is not a ridiculous tradition.

    • You’re right, David; it’s totally each couple’s choice to make! I just hate to see couples doing something because they read somewhere that they have to do it that way. I love to see couples make their own decisions, build their own traditions, and celebrate in a way that best represents them! :)

  9. While I agree that after a lifetime together your wedding may not stand out as the single most important day, for many couples the wedding is certainly the most important of their lives together so far. There’s no telling what the future holds so the significance of a wedding day shouldn’t be diminished simply because something of more significance will probably happen. I hope to enjoy the full weight and gravitas of my wedding day as the most important one we’ve spent together to date.

    • Absolutely, Nicole! And with that perspective, you’ll truly be celebrating your wedding day! I’ve seen too many couples bogged down by the action of planning their wedding the “right” way. Keeping the day’s events in perspective is crucial to enjoying your wedding. I’m always sad to hear a couple say, “It would have been great, except for…” then they share a story about a missing bouquet or a bossy bridesmaid. That stuff just doesn’t matter. :)

  10. I find it amusing that given your plot about it not being just the brides day, the grooms are hardly on any shots in this post and have been cut out of a couple :)

  11. My husband and I got ready together and rode in the same car to our wedding. We were already living together and had lived together for 3 years when we finally got married so we didn’t see the point in hiding from each other. I know some of these traditions are just fun for people. so at the same time you should not balk at others for wanting to partake in tradition.

  12. Love your ‘taking off of the blinkers’ with weddings! We are soon to marry and I have often come across a ‘tradition’ , we have talked it over looking at costs, effort, time and then made each decision on what we would be most happy to do! The most interesting of these chats was bridal flowers..I was not keen on them and my dressmaker told me it came from a tradition where flowers were necessary as Women didn’t wash daily and the scent masked BO! Most likely not a current problem now! Your mention of favours was good – a current grey area for us & I am now thinking…maybe go without. I also think wearing a pre-loved gown is a great opportunity to save on $ or of course reselling items afterwards. Thanks for a well thought out piece!

  13. I got married about 18 months ago and I agree with everything you said. We had a small wedding party (2 each – our best friends and his brother and sister) and I’m so glad we did. I’ve never understood it when people seem to have more people in the party than as guests. I did favors (little boxes with hershey kisses) but about 1/2 of them got left behind. The total cost of the favors was only about $40 so not a big deal and at least we got to eat the leftovers later but I wish I’d skipped that part.

    The only thing I kind of disagree about is the seeing the bride before the wedding. My husband and I didn’t see each other that day until the ceremony because I had spent the night before with my matron of honor. It wasn’t because I felt it was tradition or bad luck or anything like that, it was just a personal choice for him not to see me. Breakfast or something might have been ok but I’m so glad that he didn’t see me or my dress just before the wedding. The look on his face when I came out in my dress is one of the most incredible, precious memories I have and was far better than spending an extra couple hours with him that day when we have a lifetime together.

  14. What a great post. I particularly like the notion of the couple getting ready together. I’ve not once seen this at any wedding I’ve worked at, but I’d love to shoot a wedding this way. My wife and I had a small intimate wedding ceremony day with a larger reception party the following weekend. We were together on the morning of our ceremony day before separating to get ready, but we both got ready together on the day of our reception – and it was great!

  15. Anne, I so agree with you. I’m a wedding photographer in England and often answer bride’s questions online. I once told a hard up bride not to bother with favours and explained just what you have – that so many are discreetly thrown away by the venue staff. I received an angry message from a lady who makes money from supplying favours!
    She compared my advice to being “like telling someone not to have a wedding photographer.”

    The whole industry has gone mad and I see so many people feeding off these poor brides. The tradition in the UK is that only female guests get favours (if at all) yet most brides don’t know that because the sellers tell them they are needed for men as well.

    Another huge problem over here is people posing as wedding photographers. We see large numbers of brides getting very poor quality images from people who told them they were “professional wedding photographers.”

  16. So true! I need to share this article at least every season. I could comment on every one of them, but two that struck me most deeply were #1: It’s not about the Bride, and #5: It may not be the most important day of your life. My wedding was definitely about family and the joining of two families. And the most important day in my life was the day I graduated college. I was the first in my family.

    Thank you for making room for a variety of experiences. It’s easy to get caught up in the should and coulds of wedding planning. I know I was guilty of it as a bride, and I’m guilty of peddling it as a blogger. Bt every now and again, a gentle nudge in the other direction is just what we all need :-)

  17. What an unnecessary article. Made up for the sake of having a go on what people say, mixed up politically correctness.
    “What if neither of you is a bride? – Then it’s not a brides day.
    What if both of you are brides? Then it is a brides day
    What if the word “bride” makes you want to punch babies? – Then you are a weirdo.

    “You shouldn’t see your spouse-to-be until the ceremony.” – That’s tradition, something you funky go go girl may not understand and is none of your business.

    “You must have a wedding party” – no one said you MUST have a wedding party. You just made it up to have “5 reaosons” together.

    “This is the most important day of your life”. For a lot people it is. Not for you, we get that.

    Just realized your rant goes viral of “Huffington Post” too. The voice of the leftoids and feminists with an agenda.
    No questions anymore

    • Can’t wait to start wearing my new “Funky Go-Go Girl” tee-shirt. Pre-orders, anyone? #bestever

    • I think you have misunderstood the posting. The author was not telling you absolutely what you should do. She was mentioning some common practices that an engaged couple don’t have to hold “sacred.” Her point was that the couple should be allowed to do things contrary to tradition if that’s what works for them. The overriding message to me was to do what works for you, and makes sense to you- not what someone else’s wedding traditions call for-unless that particular idea appeals to you. Although the part about the Bride is not my favorite part, for sure.

  18. I loved this post! We always talk about how to grooms gets out of the picture in so many blogs/magazines etc. We really want to work with couples, not with brides. ;)

  19. woah! was that a raw nerve Andreas?
    loved your views Anne even if some people don’t but opinions are just that – I for one saw your blog as a reasoned and well structured insider view on modern marriage which raises excellent topics – can’t say I disagree with any of them

  20. Love this article. I know it is opinion but rings very true to me. Especially about the important events yet to come. This takes the pressure off and adds an element of enjoyment that often gets lost( I think). I am saving this for my daughter. I want her to feel free from the standard traditions.
    She has always been an “outside the box” young lady. I appreciate your insight. Sometimes, reading or hearing it from an outsider is better than Mom.
    Thanks again.

  21. I agree with most of this, when I’m stressing about the chair covers I have to sit down and think, when all is said and done who the hell is going remember the damn chair covers. I don’t quite agree with three for me though; I’m really looking forward to spending the morning with my mum; getting ready with her and spending quality time with her, that for me is also going to be very special part of the day.

  22. My fiance and I are planning our wedding. He’s been involved in every step of everything. It’s his day, too. We aren’t doing a church wedding…. because we aren’t church people. This is already offending people. Tough nuggets. We also are having a friend as the officiant, who is not a religious leader of any kind. Tough nuggets, Aunt Tess! We aren’t having flowers as centerpieces… we’re having boardgames! It’s something for people to do and get to know each other, and we absolutely love boardgames and card games. It’s -us-. Still thinking about personalized playing cards as favors.

    I love this article.

    • BOARDGAMES AS CENTERPIECES! I love this so much! What a killer idea!

      As for trying to please family… sometimes it’s impossible. I hate to see discord surrounding a celebration, but I suppose at the end of the day you just have to press on with the plans that really make you and your partner happy, and not let other people’s expectations weigh too heavily on you.

      Best of luck!

  23. I was first married 31 years ago, big wedding with lots of fuss and I hated it. There was so much hype I was so exhausted by the time it happened all I wanted was to get it over with and leave on honeymoon to get a rest. Births of my children put my wedding day into a secondary place and then the divorce made it painful. My second wedding was about enjoying the day and the love. We had a few people, everyone brought a cooler box with ice and their drinks, we provided simple food and had fun with loved ones and closest friends. Best party ever.

    My daughter believed all the lies mentioned above and yup chaos trying to make everything perfect. She nearly had a breakdown, tears, dramatics, drama, her husbands family relationships collapses, tantrums, panic attacks etc etc.

    I wish the focus would go back to sharing the joy of the union in love between the couple.

  24. The tradition of party favours as we now see them is a modern thing not a ‘tradition’. It has combined a very old tradition and a replacement of thank you letters in some cases.

    The original tradition was to give the bride and groom sugared almonds as they were thought to be good for fertility. This spread to wrapping a few in lace and placing them on the tables for each couple for their fertility too in more recent times. When these were considered ‘old fashioned’ around the late 1990’s they were replaced by chocolate and all sorts of other goodies and have simply got out of control now. So no it isn’t ‘tradition’ it is a new thing.

    Recently, last 10 years or so I think, a thank you note has been attached which replaced the arduous task of hand writing thank you letters for each gift that was received.

  25. It’s always refreshing when couples make their wedding day personal and pretty much do what suits them as a couple rather than doing this just because, ‘it’s what people do for weddings”. Some of your guests will have certain wedding traditions ingrained and it can be tricky not to upset them. People gasped AND spluttered when I said I wasn’t having a bride’s bouquet! I really do love flowers but carrying a bouquet just wouldn’t be me at all.

  26. Just stumbled upon this post after reading another article you wrote… Had to tell you that I enjoy your insights into the industry!

  27. Outstanding! There’s an awful lot of crazy going on out there. Good job trying to keep it real!

  28. Wow, this a fantastic post. I could not agree more, especially with the “don’t see each other until the ceremony” part. Thank you for this!

  29. Only just came across this one on Facebook now – what a great article, so much truth here. In most cases a wedding is enjoyed most by all when it is a sincere wedding thoughtfully planned by two people who are excited to be partners starting a new phase. The guests sense the intention and the whole day’s events are treasured that much more. Love the insights.

  30. I can’t believe I’m just stumbling on this post. Thank you for sharing such wise tips. I’m definitely going the “non-traditional” route when planning my own wedding this December, and love the idea of getting ready together!

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