How to Plan a Modern Wedding

The secret to the perfect wedding? Do it the way you want to.

By: Jeremy FreedDate: 2021-08-27

Weddings can be stressful and expensive, but they don’t have to be this way. That’s the hot take behind The New Wedding Book: A Guide to Ditching All the Rules, which looks at the reasons – historical, cultural and economic – that weddings have become as complicated, costly and drama-filled as they frequently are. We spoke with the book’s co-author, Karen Cleveland, about what to keep, what to ditch, and how to have whatever kind of perfect wedding you want.

You write about how weddings have become much more elaborate and expensive in recent years. How did things get so out of control?

Weddings got out of control because we let them. There’s been this sort of arms race culture that weddings have to be more lavish, more unique and more special than previous ones. It’s a combination of a really savvy industry, with a really powerful marketing machine behind it, but also the influence of social media and celebrity culture. It’s this perfect storm that really puts couples in a pressure cooker.

Why do you think weddings need to change?

I’m all for beautiful things. If you’re a couple that really enjoys décor, and you want to put that high-polish touch on your wedding, by all means you should do that, but if that’s not something that speaks to you, couples should have license to move away from things that aren’t important to them. What happens is that everything becomes prioritized, and it gets really expensive and really stressful. We’re not encouraging people to step away from things that they feel are important; we are encouraging couples to have an honest audit of what is meaningful for their wedding before they dive into planning and pull out their credit cards.

When you talk about the “wedding industrial complex,” what are you referring to?

Before the pandemic, the average wedding in Canada cost between $22,000 and $30,000, so by some estimates that means the cost of a wedding has doubled in the last 10 years. What’s driving all this is a behemoth machine that markets to couples this feeling that if you’re not blowing the bank on your wedding it’s not going to be great, or that you don’t care about your wedding. And if you don’t care about your wedding you don’t care about your marriage. What’s also happening is because of social media, we’re seeing weddings of celebrities and influencers – and a lot of those weddings are sponsored, so they’re getting things for free – and it trickles down. So we really encourage people to take a discerning eye to all of that imagery and ask themselves, ‘Is this accurate? And do I care about it?’

Is it possible to do too little for your wedding? Or too much?

No, but it is possible to lose yourself in the process. So, if you and your partner have been dreaming about a 400-person, weekend-long wedding, that's great because that's authentic for you. But on the flip side, if you don't really care about having an over-the-top wedding, or you don't have the financial means, you really shouldn't feel pressured to do that. It's really about getting to the heart of what matters to you as an individual and what matters to you as a couple.

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What are some ways to make a wedding a bit more personal and meaningful?

Before couples do any thinking about what sort of colour story they're going to have or who should be invited or who should be in the wedding party – or if they even want a wedding party – they should have a conversation about what their values are, where they see themselves financially in five years, and also what things that they really care about. Because you have this $72 billion marketing machine telling you what should be important to you, and it's hard to turn down the dial on that noise.

What does this mean for clothes on the big day?

Go with what makes you feel best rather than what you feel like you “should” wear on your wedding day. Do you love dressing up? What do you like to do for fun? Wear what you feel best in. So for grooms that could be a more casual look, with a suit that you might wear again, or going all-out with a black tux. I also think there’s something really cool about being subversive, like having it at a really casual venue but in black-tie attire.

What other wedding traditions would you suggest throwing out?

The traditional ‘his and hers’ wedding party, it's high time to hang that up. Most people I know are friends with people of both sexes, so if you want to have a wedding party and have your friends stand up for you, it doesn't matter if you have an equal number of men or women. Just have the people that are closest to you. And frankly, it's weird to rank your friends, and we don't need to do it.

If there is one thing that’s worth spending money on, what is it?

Yeah, there's definitely that one thing, but I can’t tell a couple what that one thing is. That's where it comes down to getting super confident about who you are as a couple and as individuals before you start your wedding planning. There's no rush, so take your time, decide on what sort of wedding experience you want to have first, and then prioritize that one thing and build your budget around it. Then everything else should fall into place.