• Raina

Costly Wedding Traditions and their Origins


Did you know that the average American wedding costs $30,000?!

And that's without the honeymoon!!


Nope. That's not a misprint. We’re talking about $30,000 for a single day.

And yet, anyone who has endured all of the joy and stress of planning a wedding, fully understands how things could get out of hand quickly if you’re not careful. There are so many components to the modern wedding...so many things to consider, from the dress, flowers and music to invitations, reception, rehearsal dinner, wedding cake, and photography.


Here’s how we get to that $30,000 figure.

Obviously, the reception is most expensive of wedding traditions. That’s where everyone wants the most delicious food, the best DJ, the most elegant table settings, and the tallest cake. The average venue will cost you around $3,000 – $5,000 on the low end, but it’s the food and drinks that really bump up the cost. The average couple spends $6,000 – $9,000 on food and drinks.

Other reception expenses

  • The cake: $300 – $700

  • The decor: $1,500 and up

  • DJ or band: $900 - $4,000

You can see why the reception tends to be such a big player in your wedding budget.

Other notable wedding expenses

  • The average wedding photography costs more than $2,500. That’s not including a videographer.

  • A full service wedding planner costs over $5,000 on average.

  • The perfect wedding dress will run you around $2,000. Actually, that’s not true. The PERFECT dress will cost you more like $6,000, but stay away from that one!

  • And the engagement rings cost more than $3,000 on average. De Beers better be right about that diamond being forever!

So, the logical questions are…Who says that we have to spend at least 2 months’ salary on an engagement ring? Why do brides have to buy an expensive white dress when you can get something gorgeous from Rent The Runway instead? Why can’t I have apple pie for my wedding instead?

1. Diamond Engagement Ring

Fellas, you can blame the Archduke of Austria for the bridal bling. He gave his betrothed, Mary, Duchess of Burgundy, the first known diamond engagement ring in 1477.

However, while Archduke Maximilian may have been an innovator, diamond engagement rings didn’t really catch on for another 470 years. We really have De Beers to blame for that. They began in the late 19th century when the giant Kimberly diamond region was developed in South Africa. Ironically, diamonds became so saturated in the market, that many engagement rings featured other gemstones instead of diamonds.

That all changed due to their brilliant marketing campaign in 1947, claiming that “a diamond is forever.” They didn’t just happen on this slogan by chance. It was a very strategic move. In fact, according to their strategy plan, they sought to “strengthen the tradition of the diamond engagement ring” and “make it a psychological necessity.”

Lecturers were actually sent to high schools across the country to talk to thousands of impressionable girls about diamond engagement rings. De Beers also targeted Hollywood celebrities and provided descriptions of the diamonds worn by them to newspapers across the country. Socialite “role models” were publicized to create a yearning in the poorer middle classes. In order to overcome the fact that the lower classes wouldn’t be able to afford a diamond engagement ring, De Beers decided that “it is essential that these pressures be met by constant publicity to show that only the diamond is everywhere accepted and recognized as the symbol of betrothal.”

Talk about changing a nation’s mind. They created a need for diamonds out of thin air! Making us believe that we HAD to have a diamond to get engaged to the point where it was a part of our status and actually quite embarrassing if you couldn’t provide a diamond for your bride. They even had jewelry salesmen educate men that women expect them to spend at least 2–3 months’ salary on their ring. Where did that standard come from? De Beers. However we’ve bought into the hype hook, line, and sinker and now few men would even consider going an alternative route because their brides-to-be wouldn’t let them.

2. A White Wedding Dress

Though there have been certain cultures throughout history that used white in wedding ceremonies, the white wedding dress that we know now wasn’t really introduced until 1499 by Anne of Brittany when she wed Charles VIII. Even then, however, white dresses were not common. Most brides only had one or two good dresses, so they would simply wear their best dress, no matter the color. In fact, practicality often dictated that their best dress be black so that it could be worn at funerals too. Not to mention, a white dress at this time wasn’t exactly easy to keep clean. No dry cleaners and too much mud.

Queen Victoria can be credited for making the white wedding dress popular. When she married Prince Albert in 1840 she wore a white dress trimmed with orange blossoms, and since every little girl dreams to one day be a princess, the white dress began to catch on with impressionable minds everywhere. As entrepreneurs realized that they could capitalize on a young woman’s princess aspirations, the wedding dress industry was born. Few brides today consider wearing anything but a new white dress, and $1,500 is usually only the starting point for a dress you will wear only one time in your life.

3. A Large Wedding

Most weddings in early America were simple family affairs held at the home of one of the parents. Due to the space restrictions of an early American home, there really wasn’t enough room to invite 70 of your distant cousins. It was in the 1800′s that upper class weddings began to become more lavish in nature. It was not until the Industrial Revolution that the middle class begin to follow suit. Just like the white dress and the diamond engagement ring, we tend to take most of our cues from royalty and the upper classes. We lust after what they have. Large, lavish weddings are no different.

Much of the cost of the modern wedding is tied to the number of people attending. Especially if you’re catering the food, offering an open bar and holding it at a fancy venue, a 300 person reception can cost a small fortune.

4. Professional Photography

Wedding photography is very different than it used to be. In the 1800's, the early days of the camera only a single photo of the bride and groom would be taken. As cameras became more commonplace in the early 1900′s, special events like weddings became prime targets for photography, but the number of pictures taken was still quite limited.

In the 1950′s and 60′s, wedding photography began evolve into what we are more familiar with today. However, even in the 70's and 80's, only the basic poses were covered, along with a few fun shots of the bridal party. The event would, of course, be captured, the family photos would be taken, and some of the traditional poses as well.

Now, most of the couples want “the works.” Every second of the wedding and reception will be documented, and in most cases, even the preparation for the wedding. The traditional photos are still taken of the families, marriage license, etc., and then the bridal party and photography team often heads off-site to a number of different locations to take as many fun pictures of the bride, groom, and bridal party as they can handle. When it's all said and done, photographers are often snapping photos from 8:00am to 11:00pm resulting in several thousand pictures to sort through. Not to mention, it can take weeks to sort through and edit all of those photos. It used to be different, however, ever since the dawn of the digital era, the industry has grown by leaps and bounds and the number of photos and the complexity of the shoots has doubled or tripled in size.

5. A Fancy Wedding Cake

The wedding cake evolved from…

1. Throwing wheat at the bride and groom for luck and fertility to…

2. Creating small, sweet cakes in Roman times to…

3. Bringing your own biscuits or scones to the ceremony in the Middle Ages to…

4. The glorious tiered cakes that we have today.

During the Middle Ages, the small biscuits or cakes were often stacked up into a pile. The bride and groom would then kiss over the pile. The taller the stack, the more prosperity would come to the new couple. In the 1660s, a visiting French chef was quite appalled by the uncouth piling ritual and recommended a more stable stacking system instead, using sawn off broom handles. However this more elegant use of tiers didn’t catch on until later.

What to Do?

There’s nothing wrong with a diamond ring or a fancy wedding cake.

Contrary to popular belief, most wedding traditions are not set in stone. They were usually invented by royalty and popularized by marketing, so don’t feel like you’re cornered into spending $30,000 on your wedding. Have it at smaller more intimate venue. Wear a gorgeous gold dress you thrifted, even. Exchange rings with pearls or garnets if you’d rather. Take fewer wedding pictures like your parents did. And if you still don't mind going all out on your wedding day, go for it!! Its YOUR wedding day, after all. Just remember that you always have options.At the end of the service, you’ll be married no matter how pretty your invitations are, and that’s the most important part.


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