trendy offbeat bride

Recently, this question came up on the Offbeat Bride Tribe:

Through my past two years looking into wedding things, I've noticed more and more of a push for “offbeat” in the mainstream. It got me to thinking, has being “offbeat” become the new wedding trend? I keep seeing things like funky hair colors, mix-match colors, DIY items sold for tons by the wedding industry, etc. etc.

I am having mixed feelings about this, mostly because I enjoy the offbeat look and it's also been a way to be more cost effective as opposed to the “traditional” wedding. My fear is that as this becomes the new most trendy thing in the Wedding Industry, sure we will see more available offbeat options, but the demand and costs will sky-rocket to fit the greedy Wedding Industry prices.

Ok, so let's talk about this.

Has offbeat gone mainstream?

obb compared trafficBefore I get to the concept of nontraditional weddings have become trendy, first I have to address whether Offbeat Bride specifically has gone mainstream. Certainly, the growing popularity of Offbeat Bride over the last five years is steady and strong (we have 2.2 million pageviews a month, which is significant) … but the last time this question came up, I used cold hard web stats to answer it. These stats which confirm that Offbeat Bride is still a lightweight compared to mainstream sites like The Knot and Martha Stewart Weddings. There are always going to be more people interested in Style Me Pretty's more accessible take on weddings. Offbeat Bride may be growing in popularity, but we are still pretty fringe.

Based on web traffic (which, as a web publisher is what's most important to me), then my first answer is no: offbeat weddings have not gone mainstream. Then the question becomes this: have corners (and maybe even whole hallways) of the wedding industry woken up to the fact that nontraditional weddings are a viable business market? Yes. Absolutely yes, and if you think that's a bad thing, well, I hate to tell you this — I am to blame. Offbeat Bride is a business… and even more than that, it's become an industry node. A whole niche wedding industry has sprung up around this site.

Offbeat Wedding Industrial Complex

I heard from one of our early ad clients recently. She IMed me last week to tell me that when she surveyed her readers, 40% of them were STILL coming from Offbeat Bride, almost four years after her first ad. I'll keep her anonymous, but you know who she is. She makes distinctive wedding accessories that are duplicated so extensively that they're basically a micro industry in themselves. She now supports her family with her small business and has several employees. This is, without a doubt, the very coolest part of my job: helping little tiny indie businesses blossom by sharing their awesomeness on the website. I am a farmer of awesome blossoms!

While this is warm and fuzzy, it also means that yes: offbeat weddings have indeed become their own industrial complex. (I suppose we could call it the OWIC, if you're into acronyms — which we all know I'm not.) There's a whole tiny micro market of artisans and designers and planners and jewelers who make their living off of you and your wedding. The real question is — does this mean you'll pay more for your wedding stuffs? I haven't seen this to be the case.

What does an offbeat wedding look like?

I'd like to comment on the whole concept of an “offbeat aesthetic.” While there are absolutely visual trends that come and go through offbeat weddings, I think the core unifying value of an Offbeat Bride wedding is authenticity to the couple. If there are trends in offbeat weddings, it's because they're reflecting the interests of the couples getting married — and interests roll in trends. Is the wedding trendy because it's offbeat, or is the wedding just reflecting the trends that ripple through our shared collective lifestyles and cultures?

As an obsessive people-watcher and trend spotter, I looove watching these patterns roll through the amazing people we feature on this site. I've said many times that what I love most about Offbeat Bride isn't the weddings themselves — I've never really cared about weddings, even my own! Before Offbeat Bride: Creative Alternatives For Independent Brides was published, I pitched a book called Left Coast Landscapes: Culture and lifestyle with west coast weirdos. Perhaps wisely, my New York lit agent told me no one in hell would buy THAT fucking book, but they MIGHT buy a book about wedding planning. So I wrote a wedding book — about how weirdos get married.

Trendy: it's not a bad word

People-watching is one of those endeavors that improves as you age. As I move through my mid-30s, I'm realizing that I've got almost 20 years of trend-watching and pop culture obsessing and subculture ogling to call on. I feel like I start to see patterns and fractals spidering through the cultural trends — it's like I'm staring at the stars on acid, but the stars are wedding trends… MAN! I'm kidding, but seriously: I love watching trends and watching cultures morph and shift. I love learning about new pockets of culture I didn't even know existed.

This is all to say: trends are FUCKING AWESOME. I realize that not everyone loves them like I do, and that some people eschew being affected by trends. Some people eschew it so hard, that it's like they're always watching to see what's become trendy so that they can officially stop liking it, because it's OVER. This bar? It's over.
(Sorry for the hulu link, non-US readers! This Portlandia video isn't available on youtube. 🙁 )

Or as one Offbeat Bride Tribe member said:

I'll admit, I was beyond pissed when stuff I've loved forever, like old beat up apothecary equipment and rustic industrial factory stuffs, became the new “in” thing, mainly because it made it harder for me to GET this stuff now that I'm old enough to buy it — but it also felt like a betrayal.

“I've loved these things since before they were cool. I was decidedly uncool for ages, and put my time in. I deserve these things, not you! You don't care about them, you just care about being trendy!”

The relief is that these things are cyclical; people will eventually get bored with flea markets, and neon Chucks under designer gowns. Dresses will eventually go back to having sleeves, roses will come back into favor, and the world will carry on. The subcultures will get their mojo back (at deeply discounted prices!)

We are all sheeple

The trend-averse reactive response — I totally get it. It doesn't always feel good to feel like a sheep. We're all special snowflakes, aren't we? Yes, we're all snowflakes — exactly the same in our perceptions of our somehow-differentness. The truly amazing book/photo project Exactitudes pretty much nailed that discussion for me. Back in 2004, I was flipping through the book, laughing at all the “we're all different in the same way!” studies of sheeple, and then I came to this page:

The description of the set read, in its charming ESL poetry:

Children of the flouro force, creative DIY girls, running up hip outfits, spontaneous fruits in the chill-out room, spaced out on laughing gas.

I blinked. I stammered. This identity that I had worked so hard for, that I had molded and carefully tended like a bonsai tree, that I thought of as truly ME — it was summed up by some photographers in Rotterdam, describing a bunch of girls who had tended their own careful bonsai trees. These weren't my people — these were people on the other side of the planet doing the EXACT SAME FUCKING THING AS ME! I was in my late-20s when I had this realization: we're all sheep in some form or another. We are social creatures, and we are navigating through our lives in proximity to each other, and this proximity translates into cultural trends.

It's not a bad thing. I swear. Not if you're awake about it, and aware of the influences around you. One old raver friend summarized this as “scene not herd.” It's not a bad thing to be part of a scene or trend — you just need to be self-aware enough to recognize it and examine it to make sure it's what you really want. You can't fall asleep at the wheel, but you don't have to pull over and get out of the car.

Aesthetic patterns & editorial fatigue

So, yes, there are trends. But then there's the next question: is there an “offbeat aesthetic.” We make a point to feature weddings that scatter as widely as possible along the aesthetic spectrum. Certainly we see clusters of wedding styles — the UK red dress retro weddings, the American folksy chic DIY aesthetic, the steamy/noir/gothic stuff, the sci-fi/cosplay and historical fringe, etc etc. But we also have featured simple, stripped down weddings that don't have much of an aesthetic at all — people standing in the mountains holding hands, or walking down the non-aisle with not a single decoration.

Do I “look down” on a wedding that features a design element I've seen many times? …Are you kidding!?

Certainly there are visual trends that come in waves. We have a super secret “editorial fatigue” list of concepts that have gotten over-exposure. (And no: I'm not telling you what's on it.) I don't see these over-exposed trends as in any way bad — for me, it's not an issue of taste. It's simply a matter of editorial quality. That's part of being a publisher; you think about content on a meta-level. Do I “look down” on a wedding that features a design element I've seen many times? ….Are you kidding!? People do not (and should not) plan their wedding with a publisher in mind. “Editorial variety” is not a factor in your wedding planning.

If you're having an offbeat wedding, your goal is crafting a wedding that feels like an authentic, genuine reflection of who you are — and that includes those of you who are trendy dilettantes who dabble in aesthetics.

Following trends vs. finding your authentic vision

I say this as exactly that kind of trendy dilettante. This weekend marks the seventh anniversary of my and Dre's wedding. It's starting to be long enough ago that trends have moved on and shifted. I look at my wedding and aspects of it are dated — my outfit is very much reflective of who I was at the time, just like the outfit I'm wearing as I type this is also dated. My aesthetic has never aimed for descriptors like “a timeless classic” or “a modern vintage.” I love novelty in fashion, and so of course that means my 2004 wedding dress is going to look a little dated in 2011.

But the core of my wedding celebration? The part where we're camping with friends and family, being in nature, dressing up, relaxing in the grass, celebrating under the stars, and sleeping in the forest? That was so timeless that we do it every freaking year at what's become known as Meadowfabulous.

camp Meadowfab Ellen

In this way, because my wedding was focused on what was most important to us (the camping/celebrating part), it's totally timeless. Being in the woods wasn't an aesthetic choice — it just is who we are. I didn't see pictures of a forested wedding and decide “Ooh, that's what I want for my thing!” I was a person raised in the woods marrying a dude also raised in the woods, so we got married in the woods.

If the “offbeat aesthetic” is “your wedding reflecting who you are,” then it's hard to worry about it being co-opted or whored out or jacked up by an industry. The offbeat industry that's sprung up around this website isn't looking to secretly exploit you — they want to help you craft a wedding to meet your own visions.

Wait, what was I talking about?

Ok, ok. So let's reel it back in here. Lemme see if I can summarize:

  • offbeat still in the minority
  • but yes it's a trend, and that's not a bad thing
  • and yes it's an industry, but that's not a bad thing either
  • doesn't really matter though, as long as you're authentic to your own vision

Final note: it's odd to notice how my views on trends and culture have evolved as I've gotten older. For me, once I got into my 30s, I felt sort of freed from trends-as-shackles that I'd experienced in my 20s. I felt like I had permission to like or not like whatever, regardless. The cheezy fucking music I adore, that my music snob friends look down on? Meh, that's cool. We don't have to like the same music. The differences in parenting styles and philosophies? There's a reason Offbeat Mama has a category called “It worked for me!” Different things work for different people. It's cool. I feel like I'm more aware of how these trends interplay, and less triggered to be reactive. I'm excited to see how it evolves in my 40s.

Comments on Are offbeat weddings trendy?

  1. One place I’ve seen a lot of offbeat-wedding talk is in media about the cost of weddings. There seems to be some backlash about how expensive some weddings are these days, and when people talk about an antidote to cost they often bring up less-traditional solutions–DIY, creative locations, etc. I think that being thrifty and not over-the-top is trendy these days, so that often requires the creativity and intentionality of an offbeat wedding.

  2. My thoughts: Shouldn’t be celebrate the fact that brides are embracing what it is that THEY want to do? Is it just a terror of not having a “mainstream” to rebel against?
    I work for a southern magazine company and we publish two bridal magazines a year featuring local “wow” weddings. Few weddings I’ve seen were perfectly in line with bridal tradition. Brides are incorporating details from their family heritage, fun themes, crazy cakes, colorful accessories, locally-sourced food… and these are $25,000+ weddings where brides wouldn’t THINK of wearing anything but white. (Though I did see a wedding that I desperately wanted the couple to submit to OBB. SO CUTE.)
    My point being–I love it! I love seeing brides putting themselves into their weddings instead of going through the motions for the sake of the people around them. These brides meticulously choose details to reflect who they are while operating within the framework of the appearances of a traditional wedding. I applaud their work and I think it’s wonderful to see so many brides choosing to spend their budgets in really conscious ways. (Many of the brides use etsy, biodegradable “silverware”, local bridal boutiques, locally-grown produce and other “trendy” stuff that are Offbeat favorites. And yes, I’ve seen mustaches and photobooths and buntings.)

    • Is it just a terror of not having a “mainstream” to rebel against? HA!! Yes.

  3. Ariel, This commentary is the reason I keep coming back to Offbeat Bride, Offbeat Mama, and Offbeat Home. Perhaps it is because I am in the same stage of life as you. It’s what I see as maturity/life experience meets individual spunkiness. Thank you and all of those who work with Offbeat Empire for letting me feel like I “fit” while simultaneously “standing out”.

  4. Getting married outdoors can (and does) cost more than getting married in a church. My wedding reception in a museum is going to cost a lot more than the same thing in a country club. It’s not just about thrift.

    I think the general point is that everyone wants to look unique, and so a lot of people are having cookie-cutter uniqueness. A librarian having a literature themed wedding might be touchingly significant, whereas someone who barely knows how to read having the same wedding because she likes the flowers made of pages from a book just ISN’T.

    As Ariel has said time and again – Offbeat is a misnomer. Authentic is what we’re aiming for.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head with “authentic”, as opposed to offbeat for the sake of being offbeat. The problem with setting up oneself as the antithesis of the “mainstream” is the tendency to identify solely in opposition, losing track of what is important. It really shouldn’t matter how “mainstream” something is- staying true to one’s own identity and beliefs (authenticity again!) is what we should all strive for.

    • I agree but I think you have to be very careful when applying this logic to other peoples weddings.

      It’s like the endless online arguments about who is entitled to call themselves a “true fan” of a band or a sports team or a TV show or whatever. Is the true fan the guy with the season ticket who’s at every game kitted out head to foot in merchandise, or the guy who saved up all the money he could reasonably spare for one ticket to one game? Or the guy who lives too far away to even make one game but still supports the team because his father and grandfather did before him? Maybe it’s all of them, or none.

      When you get into talking about other peoples intentions and what their choices mean to them it can seem very easy to identify who is being more sincere but it’s virtually impossible to know because you rarely have all the details. Maybe she wanted to be a librarian but was talked out of it because her family percieved it as a low paying or hard to get into job. Maybe flowers made from book pages mean the world to her but she can’t find a way to clearly articulate that, or it hasn’t occured to her that she needs to justify her choice at all.

      Of course you could be completely right. But the point is it’s rarely a good idea to assume you understand another persons intentions.

  5. I think my father-in-law-in-waiting summed it up better than I could:

    “You’re not having an untraditional wedding to be different but having a traditional wedding that’s true to you both and that’s what matters.”

  6. Great post! I’ve heard a lot of people say. “You shouldn’t wear ___, because you are going to look back at your wedding photos and they will look dated.” We have to DO what feel right not WEAR clothes and hair that will be at the height of fashin for ever…

    • I wrote in my book about datedness being a goal — I wanted my wedding to reflect the time when it happened.

      • As my new partner/husband kept saying: the marriage is forever, but the wedding has a date! We shoudln’t be afraid to let our weddings reflect the time in which they occurred – look how much we’re loving the vintage snacks! And it will be a great reminder of who you were when you married, and how you have evolved. He loved reading that part of your book.

    • If anyone says this to me during my planning, I’m going to go grab all their wedding albums (which they’ve shown me multiple times at various ages) and open them up and go “You mean like this?”.

      I will look precisely like I mean to on my wedding day, just like they did.

  7. I could not love this post enough Ariel! To be authentic to self (as individuals and as a couple) is above all the most important goal – not conforming to either tradition or trend that carry no personal meaning. Being who you are is embracing it even if it’s now trendy.

    Well written as always!

  8. I’ll never forget my mum summing up my fluoro handmade tutu, blue fishnets, army shirt and statement t- shirts as a uniform. Didn’t she know how different my clothes were? How dare she say I was a part of something!
    Now I look at electro kids and think damn it, she was right, we were all different shades of the same thing!
    I think another part to this is the fact that people are now far more aware of the big bad conglomerate boys and a little more attuned to the indie cindies who are making a far better job of making something that is completely “us” rather than being told what we want!
    Bravo Ariel! Awesome bit of writing!

  9. Sometimes I’ll go to a wedding and the couple won’t even have found me on here (or may not have mentioned it)- but I can immediately tell something’s up. “Have you been reading Offbeat Bride?” I’ll ask, and I am always right. In my experience no two of these weddings are alike, I mean there are commonalities, but aesthetically they are unique. There’s just something very OBB about them. Also these weddings have always been awesome. Without exception.

    So while I agree that Offbeat or ‘alternative’ weddings are deffinitly trendy, I would say first of all: Thank goodness, and second of all in my experience Offbeat Brides somehow maintain their autonomy within that trend.

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