Not Your Grandmother’s Wedding: The Rising Costs of the Modern Wedding

There’s an old adage that says it’s good luck to have “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” on your wedding day. The “something borrowed” once may have been a veil or a piece of jewelry, but for many of today’s couples, it’s a loan from the bank. With each passing year, the cost of the average wedding rises, and today it’s sitting at an astonishing $31,000 – honeymoon not included. With the current economy already being tough enough on young people, why are so many couples mortgaging their future for a single day?

catwalker / Shutterstock.com

catwalker / Shutterstock.com

It could be because marriage has gone from being a humble rite of passage to a billion dollar business. From the way weddings are portrayed in bridal magazines and TLC reality shows, it feels as though the lavish trappings that were once reserved for the very wealthy are now compulsory for everyone – whether they can afford it or not.

So how long has it been this way and how did it happen? Your grandmother will probably tell you that things weren’t like that in her day and she would be mostly right; however, the wedding industry has actually been around a lot longer than you might think. As far back as the 1920s, jewelers, dressmakers and retailers were advertising to young couples and many practices that today’s brides (and their grandmothers) now consider to be “traditional” were in fact inventions of the wedding trade.

So how does a wedding of yesteryear stack up against a modern ceremony? A 1939 study conducted by University of Illinois professor B.F. Timmons collected information on 154 couples who were married between the years of 1934 and 1939. Although the sample group was small, Timmons contended that his data was a fair representation of what the average couple would have spent on their nuptials at the time.

Lindsay Basson / Shutterstock.com

Lindsay Basson / Shutterstock.com

Timmons found that his couples spent an average of $392.30, or around $6,481 in today’s dollars, which at the time would have been nearly a quarter of their household income. In an era when America was deep in the middle of a deep economic depression, that’s still a lot of money. Today’s couples budgets work out to be around half of their household income.

Although the overall cost of a wedding has skyrocketed over the decades, when the expenditures are broken down, some elements of a modern wedding aren’t that far off from what they were in the 1930s. We compared Timmons’ study with a 2014 poll conducted by the popular wedding website The Knot, which surveyed 16,000 brides and grooms, and the findings might surprise you.

Gomita / Shutterstock.com

Gomita / Shutterstock.com

The Ring

We’re all familiar with the phrase, “diamonds are forever” but did you know that sentiment, which implies that a diamond is the measure a couple’s love, was invented by an advertising copywriter in 1947 to sell gems? In Timmons’ day and age, one third of the couples he surveyed walked down the aisle without purchasing a ring at all, whereas today nearly three quarters of all brides wear one. So how did it become the norm for men to supposedly need to spend three months of their salary on a diamond engagement ring?

Jan Faukner / Shutterstock.com

Jan Faukner / Shutterstock.com

Before World War II, only 10% of engagement rings contained diamonds at all. De Beers, a diamond company that during the 1930s controlled 60% of the worlds diamond supply, was hit hard by the stock market crash of 1929. In an attempt to sell a luxury good during a difficult time, they propagated the myth that a couple’s love is best represented by none other a diamond and that a man should be spending at least one month’s salary on it. By the 1980s, one month became two and even three in some circles.

On average, the 1930s couples in Timmons’ study who did opt for a ring were spending what would be the equivalent of $1,824 in today’s dollars. Although many modern grooms are now opting for conflict free diamonds or non-traditional stones, they’re still spending an average of $5,855 on a rock.

Dewitt / Shutterstock.com

Dewitt / Shutterstock.com

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