One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding, by Rebecca Mead. Penguin, 2007. 245 pp. 978-0-14-311384-3.
... in which we learn about the American wedding industry and the culture surrounding it.
In One Perfect Day, Rebecca Mead takes us on a tour of bridal industry conferences, wedding dress factories, decoration companies, and all of the other aspects that contribute to the $161 billion wedding industry in America. She interviews several professional wedding planners, and attends conferences and expos to get a feel for what both the professionals and the brides experience over the course of planning a wedding and reception. She explores the wedding dress industry, and its move from proudly-American-made dresses to large factories in China. Mead spends one fascinating chapter exploring the current trend for the "traditional" at a wedding, while still keeping the wedding personalized and modern. We also get a chapter on officiants, and the many different officiants on offer to a couple, religious or not. She explores the wedding niche markets on offer in places like Gatlinburg, TN and Las Vegas, NV. The whole book comes together in a very interesting look at the business of weddings and what this massive industry says about American culture.
I found this book in the sociology section of my local Borders, while I was searching for a different book. After getting married very recently, I wasn't really out looking for a book about weddings. However, the cover blurb made it sound like it could be a funny read, so I went in expecting amusing stories about Bridezillas. What I got instead was a fascinating inside look at the bridal industry.
Rebecca Mead does a nice job of exploring all major aspects of the modern day wedding. The strength of her book is due to the many industry professionals that she interviews... the consultants and planners, the wedding dress makers, the officiants. It's easy to forget that these people aren't really out to make your perfect day that much better... the wedding industry is well aware that the typical bride is an almost ideal customer, willing to spend whatever it takes to get her fairy tale wedding. While I wouldn't go back and change much in my own wedding, after reading this book I'm glad I didn't go any bigger or fancier.
The writing in the book is fantastic.... Mead has a wry, humorous tone that makes the book an easy and quick read. I found her to be an astute observer who noted many important little details that provide extra insight into the wedding industry. For example, her discussion on officiants gave the reader a really interesting look at how the modern wedding relates to Americans' relationship with religion and the traditional. One non-denominational minister, a woman who dabbles in all faiths and even new age-type practices, allows her clients to mix and match any traditions they like, and even invent their own, resulting in a ceremony that feels semi-traditional but is somewhat lacking in meaning.
My biggest complaint is that the tone of the book frequently becomes a little too judgmental. Mead notes that she herself got married during the writing of this book, and also notes that her wedding consisted of a trip to city hall and a party at home. She writes this as if she is superior, simply because she avoided falling into the trap set by the business-centered wedding industry. For some reason, Mead often implies that since the wedding industry is really mostly interested in their bottom line, the products and services they offer are going to be inherently less meaningful. I don't think that's true at all. Some people want the cookie-cutter wedding packages that thousands of others have had; if that makes them happy, then I don't see why it makes their wedding less profound.
Apart from the sometimes sanctimonious tone to the book, it was still a humorous, enjoyable and educational read. Recommended reading for people interested in the culture of weddings.