Gen X vs Millennials: How Offbeat Brides of different ages are super different

Updated Apr 5 2016
arielmstallings
We are millennials sign from Etsy seller EverburgDesignStudio.
We are millennials sign from Etsy seller EverburgDesignStudio.

In my work with Offbeat Bride, I've been around people planning their weddings for a decade. The best part of touring around with the Lovesick Expo this winter was getting to talk to all the amazing Offbeat Bride readers who in some cases had traveled remarkably long distances to come say hello. (I think the longest driver was Roby who drove from Oklahoma City to Denver? 9 hours! Holy shit.) It's to the point where I meet readers at these events (…adult people! People of acceptable marrying age!) who are like "I've been reading you since middle school." People have been reading this website since menarche, my friends!

As the years have marched on, I've started noticing this shift in weddings that I think reflects a larger cultural and generational shift between my peers (which is sorta the tail end of Gen X) and my younger pals (aww, Millennials I love your beards and artisanal pickles). My undergrad degree is in sociology, so people-watching large groups is my favorite favorite in Favorite Town, and so pull up a chair and let's muse on larger cultural trends, mmkay?

My generation, we loved us some subcultures. When I was starting college in the early '90s, all us weirdos found our ways to our respective weirdo undergrounds — punks, ravers, hippies, goths, skaters, etc etc etc. We were weird and WE LOVED BEING WEIRD. Holy shit, did we love it. We defined ourselves by our weirdness, and how much effort we expended to be weird.

Back in those days (insert waving of cane) you had to skulk around in record stores to find out about underground music events. Yeah, the internet existed, but you had to be nerdy enough to be online (which was a big deal in the mid-'90s!), and smart enough to find your way to the niche message boards that catered to your corner of the weirdness. Google didn't exist — we used Alta-fucking-Vista, and we liked it!

Since all that weirdness was so hard-earned, it was a badge you wore with a lot of pride. This weirdness took effort, fuckers!

20 years later, thanks to the internet, all weirdness has been done. As I've watched Millennials age into defining their own identities, I've watched them first deal with the crushing sense of "Wait, it's all been done before…" (insert emo bangs and tears) and then the relief of "…so who fucking cares?" Millennials care more about authenticity than different-ness, because trying to be different is a doomed recipe for failure flapjacks. Rather than spend much time being emo about it, it seems that many Millennials feel freed up to stop expending so much effort in being weird. My Gen X colleagues and I are seen as a little #tryhard with all our epic efforts in defining ourselves.

Back in my day, self-identifying and reclaiming hateful labels was seen as super fun — remember when Dan Savage's column was called "Hey, Faggot"? These days, my younger friends are like "Ug, labels are for cans of food. I eschew all your labels. I'm just me." I sputter and cough, "But the labels you choose for yourself are so much funnnn, you guys!" My 23-year-old friends roll their eyes at me and are like, "Whatever, mom."

(An aside here: I LOVE THIS. This post is most certainly not me saying it was better back in the day, or whining about how "omg I'm just so old." I love watching things change, and smelling the different flavors. Stagnancy is death. SHIFT SUSTAINS ME. I love new toys and learning new things, so feeling cultural shifts is fun times for me.)

So how are Millennial weddings different from Gen X weddings?

Ok, ok. Rein it in, Stallings. I could go on about cultural shifts for ages, but how does it relate to weddings, and more specifically, nontraditional weddings? Well, here's the thing: us Gen X-ers who loved shouting from the rooftops about how weird we were, were also REALLY into talking about how weird our weddings were. Millennials are like "yeah, whatever: I want my wedding to authentically reflect us, but I'm not into trying so hard to be different."

This isn't to say that Millennials don't have super weird, super wonderful, super offbeat weddings — they're just less about crowing about them and showing them off in the same ways as me and my Gen X cohort. I've also written before about how the wedding industry and American culture is generally more accommodating of weird weddings, and in fact even completely traditional weddings come with the assumption that you'll have a few quirky/memorable elements… but they don't need to shout.

(Back in my day, we really liked shouting.)

I feel like I'm seeing a shift toward everyone's wedding being a little bit weird, but less of an inclination to make your wedding THE WEIRDEST WEDDING EVER OMG! There's a lot less gnashing of teeth over things like "Will my wedding be offbeat enough?" and "Am I offbeat enough to even be on this website?" and more a shift toward "Oh hey, I like this or that thing for my wedding, and don't give a fuck whether you think it's weird or normal."

It's a cool progression!

My generation had to work hard to feel different — and that effort came at a cost. Thanks to the internet, many of today's Offbeat Brides came of age with an instant accessibility of every kind of offbeat at every minute of every day. This has made them both generally weirder, but also less driven to prove it — their offbeatness just is.

But these are all the generalizations of a middle-aged Gen Xer. Fellow people watchers, arm-chair demographers, and offbeat obsessives, you tell me: what are the differences between older and younger Offbeat Bride reader weddings? Or are all these generational generalizations an insult to those of us who like to defy labels?

Come analyze with me!

  1. This is actually a difference between my fiance (40) and myself (31). I detest anything I see as 'trying too hard to meet X image,' whereas he wants to immediately show everyone how 'weird' and 'offbeat' he is. That's led to some fun in our wedding planning LOL
    Personally, I refer to my general aesthetic as 'second look.' I'm queer, poly, kinky, ride motorcycles, bake my own bread hippie chick, with purple hair and tattoos- but if you glance at me getting out of my Prius, all you see is another suburban working mom.
    You know, until you take that second look and notice that my 'dark' hair is actually deep purple, I wear a leather amulet & my pretty 'coin' necklace is a pentacle, and my 'purse' is a military bag embroidered with 'Bag of Holding,' while my 4yo son has painted fingernails and purple-pink under-dye on his long hair.

    We compromise by doing things like theming our wedding around our motorcycles (engagement photos, save-the-dates, invitations, and honeymoon, plus cake-toppers that are miniature models of our bikes), him wearing a kilt and knee-high punk boots while I wear a semi-traditional dress, and walking down the aisle together (we're adults together vs my being 'given away')… after my dads walk me to the head of the aisle and my son walks my fiance there to meet me.

    • I refer to my general aesthetic as 'second look.'

      I love this. After rocking pink hair for almost a decade, I love that now I can go incognito and blend right in if I want to… and then be all SURPRISE! I'm fucking weird! I loved flying my freak flag proud for a long, LONG time, but there's a value in being sneaky, too.

  2. My husband an I always feel caught between Gen X and millennial. We're 32, and kind of embody aspects of both groups. We grew up without Internet or cell phones, and didn't have computers at home for a long time (him longer than me).

    When it came to our wedding, we were definitely going do authenticity over weirdness, but when people started expecting tradition, we started shouting about the offbeat aspects of everything. My "fuck you" fairy came out to play, big time.

    Maybe, for us especially because we're stuck in the awkward middle, we're taking the millennial route of ditching the generational label ?

    • YES! What is it about those of us who are 32 – where do we belong? We've proudly used card catalogs but we also jumped right into all things internet and devoured them as fast as our young selves could. In terms of weddings I have found it much easier to celebrate our love however we see fit and not feel tied down to tradition or the push to be weird. Even in Austin where they want to keep everything weird. Best of both worlds perhaps?

      • I just read a fascinating article that referred to us as the Oregon Trail generation, having witnessed the before and after of technology growing up.

        • I am also 32 and fondly recall using card catalogs and playing Oregon Trail (that Oregon Trail generation article was scary accurate). My first email ever was sent to my 6th grade teacher, and kids in my middle school and high school were more likely to have a pager than a cell phone. That said, I feel more closely linked to the millennials than Gen X, which shocked my 18 year old cousin recently, who thought I might as well be a baby-boomer (I'm soooooooo old to him!). It is a funny experience, being on the cusp between generations, and kind of fun to experience the digital shift so first hand at an impressionable age. I straddle two different generations, two different signs (gemini/cancer) and two different ethnicities.

          My fiance is a youngish Gen Xer at 38. The difference in how we grew up, and the pop culture that shaped us, just 5 1/2 years apart, can be startling sometimes. He didn't have a cell phone till after college, never watched a lot of the same kid shows I saw, was already out of college by the time 9/11 happened – which was the one event that seemed to shape a lot of my college experience.

          • Yeah, the age you were when 9/11 happened is a HUGE generation definer.

          • I was post college for 9/11, I hadn't really thought about how it would have changed my college experience. My ex was just 2 1/2 years younger than me, but I am just on the end of GenX and it made a big difference in our childhood pop culture experience. My current husband-to-be is about 3 years older and we match up much more. So interesting!!!!

          • It was crazy, because 9-11 happened about two weeks before I moved into my freshman dorm. Understandably, parents were on-edge for their little fledglings to be moving out of the house at such a crazy time. It was a topic of discussion for every humanities class I had the next two years, and security was ramped up all over the campus, even though I went to school on the West Coast.

      • CARD CATALOGS. As someone who will be 32 next month, I'm fairly sure my three-years-younger brother never learned to use card catalogs, and they are a wicked generational marker to me. (I also remember, in high school, when we got call waiting and my mom got a cellphone — we'd get in so much trouble for tying up the phone line with our AOLing.)

        And then there's my fiancé, who's 43 and has never seen Reading Rainbow. Because of course not — he was middle-school age by the time it came out!

        • I learned to use card catalogs in school! I'm 21. I don't think I ever used them after elementary school lol, but yeah!

    • I was born in 1982, and I have always felt generationless. This has been an extensive topic of discussion between me and my late-70s to early-80s friends. I thought it was weird that when I was 19, I felt a distinct generational gap between myself and 16-year-olds, but when I was 16, my work friends were all 18-23.

      When I was younger, I made a point to be weird. I curated oddity, and was a major contrarian in middle/high school (I hated on things just because they were popular).

      I also LOVE labels and defining myself, so I refer to our un-generation as "Cuspers" because we are on the cusp of two generations. But, I have also seen us referred to as the Oregon Trail generation, so I also like "Generation OT." http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anna-garvey/the-biggest-and-best-difference-between-millennials_b_7438370.html

      My husband is 100% Gen X. Our wedding was vintage baseball themed, and my historian husband wanted to make sure it was historically accurate. I made a point to include nontraditional aspects, and insisted on having a very short ceremony.

      • Generation OT! I love that so much! I also like the sound of Cuspers. I might whip that one out the next time this discussion come up, which it will.

        I was also one of those that was weird, and my "friends" thought it was just because I could be. Go to the high school down the street? No, I'm going to the art school that will take a million years to get to via public transit!

        Our wedding was Vintage Geek. The vintage part was a mish mash, but the geek part was very well curated; all our fandoms were accurately repped, because reasons, dammit! There you go… Riding the cusp again.

    • Yeah, the cusp is always weird! I mean, speaking in generalizations about cohorts of people is always unspecific and prone to never QUITE lining up, but when part of how a generation is defined is its access to technology, the difference of a few years really can make a big difference. How old were you when you got your first email address, and did your parents help you get it? When did you get your first cell phone, and again: was it you or your parents? It's so interesting to see how just a few years can make such a big split when technology moves so fast.

      • A few years can make a world of difference as far as technology goes. I was born in 1988, and my younger sisters-in-law were born sometime between then and 1995 (I've lost track of how old they are). Point is, those few years made a huge difference because even though chronologically I'm close to their age I feel like they are of a MUCH younger generation than me.

      • Those are such weird things to think about… My parents had a cell first, and while it would still technically fit in a purse, we still lovingly refer to it as the GI Joe phone. It was huge, and had an antenna that pulled up. I can't remember if it made its debut in 1996 or 1997. We did get our first PC in 1995ish, but it had less storage than my phone. Oh god, our first internet was one of those free trial discs that was on a timer, so we all had to share the daily allowance, and of course it was dialup, so there was the worry about waking your parents if you went online at night… Ah, the memories.

        I remember going to computer camp in elementary school and thinking it was amazing. My mum did too, until we learned more than her, and she needed her grade school kids to explain things.

        Side note, I still have floppy discs, with stuff saved in them (in the big, actual floppy format, and the smaller hard format). I still have a VCR and tapes for it too. Good times.

      • I was born in 1988 and we didn't get a computer until 2000 and it had Windows ME on it. My friends had computers and I remember going over their houses and waiting FOREVER to get on aol with the dial up. They had windows 95 at the time. My school had Macs and the computer lab was always crazy exciting. We played Oregon Trail as well. First cell phone was a Nokia with the changeable face plates. My parents got it for me for xmas one year and I remember getting it all set up and it would tell me how many minutes I had left. My friends had to call me nights or weekends so it was free. Good times! It is definitely important I think that our generation grew up without and then with computers. We got to experience that shift in technology and have been along for the ride ever since.

      • My mom had a car phone because as a visiting nurse she was on the road and on call a lot and that was super weird for my friends to stumble upon if I borrowed her car. We had a DOS computer that was basically a word processor and in college I went to a computer lab where I discovered email and IRC (old school chat rooms) and LINUX!!! I got my first cell phone when I was around 25 and I am STILL rocking a TracFone y'all. I LOVE this article. I love finally being old enough to relax on the being the weirdest of the weird thing. I love planning my second wedding so I don't even really give a fuck about any of the things people get all bunched up about because I know they don't matter at all. And most of all, Ariel, I love you. xoxo

        • Ah, DOS… I loved it. So simple, that black screen and those command prompts. At my old job, our inventory was DOS based, and if something went wacky, I was the only one who could make it work without having to call IT. Good times.

    • I'm 31 1/2. I consider myself an ANALOG millennial. I think you guys are all with me on this. We remember life before the internet, we remember logging on to AOL, and the weird chat rooms — it's just that we were 12. Here's my favorite article about this: http://www.popsugar.com/tech/How-Technology-Influenced-Generation-X-37522155

      ANYWAY, I came here to say to Ariel that you should give yourself some credit! I've been reading your blog for years, long before I was engaged, just because I like DIY, creativity etc. Now that I am engaged, I feel like I'm pretty firmly in the camp of what you're describing as a millennial planning a wedding, but it's only because of the years of loud and proud weird offbeat weddings I've been exposed to because of a Gen Xer putting them all together on the internet. So way to pave the way!

      • "But it's only because of the years of loud and proud weird offbeat weddings I've been exposed to because of a Gen Xer putting them all together on the internet. So way to pave the way!"

        Aww, thank you. On Offbeat Bride's 9th birthday I wrote a bit about how it feels sorta like "we won," because the site has been around for so long that at least some wedding weirdness is now almost sorta assumed.

        http://offbeatbride.com/9-years

        I'm really proud of what we've done around here over the past almost-decade, and it's crazy to have reached the point where we've been around for so long that what used to be weird is now just sorta default.
        Like, OF COURSE you can have a weird wedding… Offbeat Bride's been saying that since some of you were in middle school. 🙂

  3. When we got married, I was 30, and hubby was 34. I am now 32. I would say we are right on the edge, but I am an event planner by trade, so things went more millennial, I think. This is mostly because I think labels are for cans, and since I have a lot of experience in all things events, I would come up with a lot of the ideas, and he would yay or nay or suggest a third option; but also because we both like so many things, neither of us would have much luck with labels for ourselves. The thing I like about not being (totally) original is that you don't have to do everything DIY; now even offbeat wedding things are easy(er) to find: black dresses from real wedding shops (I did champagne and black myself), dinosaur-based readings, and our wedding string quartet already had all the weird movie themes we wanted in their repertoire (which were cheaper if they didn't have to learn new songs). Heck, if I wanted to buy doctor who wedding paraphernalia, I bet I could; without having to paint Tennant's face on a Ken doll. Lastly, everything under the sun really has been done; I'm not going to worry about it. I thought I that ours was the only wedding to ever have a unity volcano, but after the wedding I found that idea listed on offbeat bride. But you know? I'm not sweating it, because our guests whooped and hollered when it came out and was unveiled, because it really represented us, and they knew it.

  4. My husband and I are both Millennials, but he definitely had feelings of "Let's show everyone how NERDY and WEIRD we are!" during wedding planning. This led to a lot of these conversations:

    "Would it be weird if we did [x]?"
    "No, in fact, here are three people on Pinterest who did the same thing!"
    "Well, if it's been done before, I don't want to do it."

    So compromise came by way of saying these things would be new to OUR COMMUNITY. Yeah, so some couple on The Knot had artisanal barbecue at their wedding three years ago, well, our community didn't know that and they were thrilled by the novelty of barbecue at a wedding. Our community had never been to a book-themed wedding, seen Elvish-engraved wedding rings, etc. even if the Internet has seen it dozens of times. It is much easier to go viral if your sample size is smaller.

  5. One thing that has jumped out to me, as someone on the cusp of Gen X and Millennial, is how quickly "weird" wedding elements get coopted by the WIC. Back in my 20s, I thought it would be the height of quirky awesome to get married in my favorite pair of Converse Chuck Taylors. Now there are Etsy stores that will personalize a pristine "something blue" pair with your wedding date and initials. Which is soooo not what I had in mind back when the idea seemed edgy and fun once upon a time. In the time that I've been aware of weddings/watched friends get married, I've seen mason jars, flower crowns, the Magnetic Fields' "The Book Of Love", cowboy boots, and succulents go from "weird" to traditional verging on cliche. I wonder if this is what's fueling the Millennial shift of focus, as it becomes obvious that anything a lot of people think would be quirky and unusual can become so normal so quickly.

    • Back in my 20s, I thought it would be the height of quirky awesome to get married in my favorite pair of Converse Chuck Taylors.

      See this very much related post about "othering": http://offbeatbride.com/othering

      It includes a section about Converse!

    • This is so true! It really rings a bell with me because when I was trying to get my fiancé more involved with wedding decisions, he told me he really wanted all the bridal party to wear Converse. I didn't want to at first since I felt it's been too overdone. But I went with it when I saw how excited he was.

      • Yes! I want to wear Converse because they are the shoes that we wear. I could care less at this point that it's not as unique as it used to be. We're just being ourselves and making sure our wedding choices reflect that.

        • Right! That's the "it's all been done before, so I'll just do me"
          internet-saturated millennial perspective. Love it.

  6. Getting married this Summer as Aging Millennials. Being born in the early 80's meant that we had internet access in middle school, but didn't grow up with a smartphone in-hand. I've noticed often times that Husband Elect will say something like, "we aren't having a very traditional wedding," but then frown at the idea of having something awkwardly offbeat (or even a theme, not that one is required). In the end, I think everything is going to be very authentic – low-key, shoestring, close friends and good food. Will it be different? Sure. The main purpose is going to be the same as every other wedding – fill out some paperwork and celebrate. ^_^

  7. Firmly a millennial at 25, growing up with a computer and a closet nerd mom who had me watching star wars & star trek before I could crawl. Had my wedding last weekend & it wasn't that I was thinking of being nerdy or authentic when planning it, I just didn't even think anything about it…till my grandmother nearly had a heart attack when she asked who the officiant was & I told her it was narrated by the guy who narrated the 'One Night Werewolf' app! And I later got chased around by a dinosaur in my light up dress I made myself…so, it was probably a little weird, but most of my crew is so I was in good company!

    • "I was thinking of being nerdy or authentic when planning it, I just didn't even think anything about it"

      THAT! Exactly that. You just planned it, without worrying about what it said about you, bridentity crisis issues, what does it all mean, etc etc.
      This is a huge shift from how things were getting planned 10 years ago.

      • Even five-ish year ago, when we started the planning process. Our planner asked us what we wanted, and I laid it all out: Vintage, but with a distinct geeky flair, and NO hotel ballrooms, unless we have no other choices. I was so not a "hotel wedding" bride, lol. (That could have something to do with a called off engagement to the totally wrong person that would have been there most "vanilla" wedding in existence; who knows.)

    • How in the world did you guy who did the "One Night Werewolf" app to officiate your wedding?! Are you guys friends?

      • We looked him up, his name is Eric Summerer, and he's a voice actor. We had always planned the wedding to be narrated and not have an officiant so we wrote the script with the werewolf narrator in mind, sent him the script, payed his voice acting fee, and set up a few speakers at the wedding to play the narration. It was such a huge hit too! For the official marriage license, one of our groomsman was an officiant so he made it official after.

  8. I'm currently planning my wedding for this October. My fiance and I will both be 24. I've never really thought about my wedding before, and did not even begin to look at stuff until we decided we wanted to go for it! I have found that I populate wedding sites less and less as the planning goes on, even this one. I just keeping making decisions based on what feels right and good to me, and makes me blush and get all excited every time I think about it. Everything I see only just doesn't resonate with me, so I've moved on. Our entire wedding will be family only, and some of them are very traditional, but we just don't care anymore; we don't have the energy to! So what if I want to be a freaking fairy in a Halloween themed wedding? So what if my fiance wants to to look like a freaking deer? SO WHAT if I want to have a cake that is for me and me only, and the rest of those guys can just stuff their faces with candy because NO ONE touches my special cake! Yeah, "so what" has become my mantra and I am excited as hell for the party to finally start, because it will be awesome.

    • "I have found that I populate wedding sites less and less as the planning goes on, even this one."

      I will say that this isn't a generational thing — it's a totally normal and expected behavior that makes complete sense. In any project, there's the information gathering phase, and then there's the execution phase. Once you've moved into that execution phase, it's time to step away from endless information gathering… otherwise you'll get tangled up and get confused about the decisions you've already made! (WOOT! GO DECISION FATIGUE!)

  9. After letting this rattle around in my head for a few days, I thought of something. I like to be a little shouty about being weird, but it's more the combination of things than being super engrossed in one particular kind of weird. For example, in high school I loved being a nerdy jock by taking band and calculus, but also winning state medals at distance running. I think I'm more in the millennial attitude now though. It's all been done, maybe not in my particular combination, so whatever. I'll do what I like because I like it.

  10. Navigating this weird half-generation gap is already part of my daily life because I'm 22 and my boyfriend is 33– also he grew up mostly homeschooled out in the country and I went to parochial school in the suburbs. We both consider ourselves fairly weird people but display it in different ways. In middle school in the mid-00's I was one of those aggressively weird kids verging on scene but not even that cool (if you remember Deviantart from those days you know what I'm talking about– I call it the "XD WAFFLES subgroup) and I've mellowed out a lot since then, while my boyfriend started life as a people pleaser desperate to fit in and has gradually lost all his fucks to give in regards to society. I'm sure this age-specific type of quirkiness will bring up some interesting issues if we ever decide to get married.

  11. It's so refreshing to read an article about Millennials that isn't a Baby Boomer lamenting how awful they are, or another Millennial whining about how Baby Boomers ruined everything. Loved it.

  12. There's this book, Born Digital (http://www.borndigitalbook.com/) that talks about how we should be defining these confusing generations not by year, but by technology. Because even by year, it doesn't matter what technology EXISTED, it's what you had access to/used in your life that seems to define how you approach the world. I see this concept alive and well here in this thread 😉 Recommended read for anyone into these things!

    • Ooooooh, I like that. The concept of technology cohorts makes more sense in so many ways than age cohorts.

  13. I'm finding this a really interesting conversation. I was born in 91 and very much identify as millennial. My childhood was populated with VCRs and cassette tapes and I played Oregon Trail in my elementary school computer lab and clearly remember dial-up internet. Cell phones and good internet happened when I was in high school (I didn't get my first cell until I was nearly graduated, but most of my peers got them somewhere in the high school range). So I'm old enough to have had a non-tech childhood, I'm not the digital native that younger millennials are, but the tech boom happened before I was grown.

    I grew up a weird kid who wore my geek loud and proud, who defined herself by her geek subcultures, and I still very much do. And I personally love my labels, I wear them like badges of honor and fly them like pride flags. But I do care more about being authentic than about being the loudest or most out-there geek.

    When it comes to wedding planning, my partner and I are most definitely geeky enough that we could totally go full geek. And I adore and admire and am inspired by the weddings I see on OBB that go all-in on a Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or steampunk or medieval or fandom mashup theme. But I feel like to do that ourselves, while it would be all kinds of fun, and even a genuine representation of us, I feel like it would either only represent one side of who we are or would be trying to cram in so many disparate elements that it would be an awkward hodgepodge. I'd rather work towards something with a unified aesthetic that more subtly reflects our quirks/interests/hobbies and fandoms. (Of course, this is all easier said than done. We'll see how well it works out.)

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