Q&A: Inside the Wedding Industry

Here comes June—and that means weddings and more weddings. In "One Perfect Day," Rebecca Mead examines how the bridal industry has turned the wedding into a shopping expedition. She spoke to Raina Kelley.

Why are brides spending so much money—and losing their minds?
We live in a consumerist society. You're not a bride, you're a consumer of bridal products. And second, there's something very profound psychologically happening. A wedding once marked a major transition in a person's life—the first time you slept with your spouse, lived with your spouse. Today, you're just not that different the day after the wedding, so the wedding planning has to function as a traumatic experience. So you can say, "I've been through this experience that was so demanding, it must mean something."

Is it fair to say the bridal industry took over the sacred space that religion left behind?
The bridal industry has filled a vacuum of authority that used to be important to how weddings are conducted. If you talk to ministers now, they hate doing weddings. The brides want to change the vows. They want to put flowers where they don't belong. They don't listen. What's so interesting is that one of the things the bridal industry says it's selling you is tradition. But if you asked your grandmother if she needed a personalized aisle runner when she got married, she'd say no.

You say Americans are eager to present themselves on their wedding day as more beautiful, better dressed and richer than they are. Why?
In a celebrity-saturated culture, this is your opportunity to be a movie star for a day. I was at a seminar for brides, and one bride asked how soon she should begin getting facials, and the answer was, as soon as you get engaged. Sixteen months of facials? It's very seductive.

So we've been leaching all the meaning out of a wedding?
Definitely. As a culture, we're losing sight of what a wedding is really about. Matching your chair tie-backs to the lining of your Save the Date envelopes is not going to prepare you for marriage, unless you're going into the catering business.

Has a wedding ever ruined a marriage?
Good question! I did hear from a wedding planner who told me about a bride who wept at every meeting and told the planner that the wedding had been so upsetting and the honeymoon was just terrible. And then said, "I'm getting divorced, but when I get married next time, I'm still going to use you as my planner again."