Recently The NY Times Magazine's "Economy" section ran a piece by Catherine Rampell called, "The Fix is In." It has ignited the ire of many in the wedding world, for once again, mainstream journalism has presented a picture of a shifty, shady, monolithic wedding industry, seeking to gouge happy couples that are just looking to celebrate their love. This is covered and tired ground -- Rebecca Mead wrote a book about it, and Dateline loves to tell this story annually. Ms. Rampell's was worse, though, because as part of an economics column, it relayed many "intellectual" arguments, though it lacked much common sense.
Her premise is that it's suspiciously unethical that wedding vendors and services don't all charge the same thing, or allow you an apples-to-apples shopping experience. Her conclusion is that such an unregulated industry must be in on a massive swindle. In actuality, nothing could be further from the truth: the "billion dollar wedding industry" as seen in the media is, in reality, a loosely related network of creative professionals running very small businesses. The last I heard, we're precisely the group of people needed to keep our middle class afloat.
Let me break it down in more practical, economic terms. As the owner of two wedding related businesses, and a writer on weddings and etiquette, I've been studying and participating in this industry for more than 10 years. I have yet to meet a modern bride (or a groom) who wants exactly what someone else has had at their wedding. The results are tailor-made services to meet tailor-made requests. What Ms. Rampell views as our industry's unregulated "dysfunction," is actually a direct response to the consumer's desire for more artistic, unique and "bespoke" requests. Year on year, the wedding consumer's demand for attentive customer service, magazine-ready creative output and couture guest experiences increases, requiring a greater expenditure of resources from wedding vendors to produce. As even small businesses exist to generate profit, it's only natural that with increased demand put on resources, prices need to go up. Similarly, while no two client weddings are the same, it's within the vendor's right (and common business sense) to intake information, assess the clients' unique needs and be able to respond with an appropriate price that still allows them to generate a (generally, modest) profit.
The larger issue here is not that weddings are an unregulated industry, it's that, while small business owners are mythicized in American media, they are vilified if their profits come at the expense of another American dream: the perfect wedding.
Ms. Rampell, and others determined to host weddings, while feeling simultaneously swindled at the same time, would be best served to stop thinking of wedding planning as akin to ordering takeout online, and more like renovating a house. As not all cabinet-makers, plumbers, contractors and architects are alike, nor do they charge like it. The same goes for stationers, designers, florists, photographers and venues. Nice things cost money; nicer things cost more. Joining your lives might not be an option, but hosting an event is. Having a party is a luxury.