Let’s have ceremonies that reflect our real lives rather than trying to buy an expensive — and fictitious — dream day
We are now at peak wedding: July and August are the most popular months for the ceremonies in Ireland. So, before you pack your stilettos and that new dress you’re not too sure about and head off to shiver in a marquee with a lot of people you do not know, I am going to ask, not whether you are saying yes to the dress — as a nation we have never said no — but rather Whatever Happened To The Irish Wedding?
What was once a simple ceremony uniting two people in love (or whatever) has morphed into a consumer bonanza that costs an average of €20,000 — and that’s just the budget version.
Weddings have become their own self-perpetuating mythology, and there are no longer any limits: it is the bride’s chance to be a celebrity for the day.
Our grandparents got married with both halves of the bridal couple wearing suits; the women looked so chic, accessorised only with a corsage on the lapel. There were no guests, there was no reception. Most of the time there was nothing we would now recognise as a honeymoon, the most destinations these days being the US, Italy and the Maldives.
Now the wedding contains some sort of cultural hysteria, in which perfection must be bought and anything less than perfection is a personal defeat for the happy couple, especially for the bride.
This is not the adolescent emotion of young lovers. The average age of an Irish bride is 31, for God’s sake, and 33 for grooms. A lot of the couples already have children, yet the brides still want to sweep up the aisle in the second-most expensive item on the list of the wedding planner (don’t ask): the wedding dress.
The average Irish wedding dress costs an average €1, 714, which is extraordinary when you believe, as many of us do, that there is only one wedding dress in Ireland — the strapless, badly boned nylon number which makes even lovely young women look fat.
This is not a problem unique to this country. The most addictive programme on television, Say Yes To The Dress, shows hundreds of women in America trying on what is essentially the same dress, over and over again. No wonder they find it so hard to make a final decision.
Say Yes To The Dress has recently spawned a UK version, hosted by David Emanuel, the man who co-designed Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding dress. Her wedding to Prince Charles in 1981 probably ignited the bonfire that became the modern wedding. No one wants to remember the disastrous marriage which followed, or the fact that, in newly discovered tapes of the late princess talking rather frankly, she described that fairytale event as the worst day of her life.
Weddings are hardly a byword for happiness when it comes to being a guest, either. They are an uncomfortable and expensive day out even if you do not have to fly abroad, stay in a hotel overnight or pay off the damage inflicted by the hen party.
The wedding has become the dream goal of every self-respecting Irish shopper. There is what the industry calls a 19-month planning journey attached to your average ceremony — that’s an awful lot of time to shop, buy and book the absolute necessities. Necessities that these days include someone whom only the wedding industry would describe as a videographer.
The problem with the Irish wedding is not just that it is so expensive, but that it is conducted at such an emotional pitch that rational thought goes out of the stained glass window.
All adults know that phrases like “dream come true” and the “happiest day of their lives” are buzzwords for disaster, but people are talking now about their families “rallying round” and providing “support” as if the couple were enduring some kind of natural disaster. The wedding has become one of life’s entitlements into which we are kindly allowed to buy our way, and any hitch or alteration is therefore a catastrophe.
For all those who are not part of the wedding party itself — and the average number of bridesmaids at the average Irish wedding now stands at three — the day itself is a strangely muted and distant affair.
This feeling may be partly attributable to the fact that guests often have to take the day off work; the Friday wedding is becoming increasingly popular. Or simply that they’ve been up since dawn to drive to that quaint little church in the middle of nowhere. Or perhaps because they were spent too long at the pre-wedding booze-up the night before.
In any event, your average Irish wedding guest does not feel that emotionally invested in the event itself. And any emotional bonds that might have been flickering are stamped out once and for all when the bridal couple go missing for three hours to have their photographs taken.
This moment, which occurs precisely at the juncture where the end of the wedding ceremony meets the beginning of the reception, destroys any chance of the guests gelling. The only two people they have in common have absented themselves in order to fulfil some strange contract with a camera.
The guests are left kicking their heels and making a serious dent in the alcohol budget while their stomachs rumble with hunger. Subsequently, the bride gets furious because her Auntie Betty has fallen into her salmon parcel, but frankly it has been such a long wait for the salmon parcel — and for every course of the meal — that the other guests are firmly on Auntie Betty’s side.
Or they would be if they hadn’t all run out for a fag after the starter, leaving Auntie Betty at one of those huge, white-draped tables on her own, as the absent diners’ meals coagulate around her. Which is just rude.
So it is that people now routinely spend their money, and other people’s money, in trying to have what is routinely called the wedding of their dreams. Maybe we should have the weddings of our real lives instead.
Fashion outlets aimed at the young, such as Topshop and Asos, are starting to come up with reasonably priced wedding dresses, and this might be the fraying thread that will unravel the whole strapless wedding lunacy at last.
Let’s have the weddings that fit us. Let the videographers shoot that and sell it back to us.