Is having an offbeat wedding any different than having a traditional wedding?

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111008_Kate-and-Tom_0176That's the question that Jezebel.com asked this weekend, and I figure maybe I should give my answer.

First, I want to acknowledge that although the Jezebel post clearly references the concept of Offbeat Bride, it never directly names or links my site or book. (This actually seemed to cause some confusion in the comments section, where people unfamiliar with Offbeat Bride were like “What are you even talking about, ‘offbeat weddings'?”)

Therefore, I don't think the post is intended as a jab at Offbeat Bride. Rather, it observes that some brides spend just as much money, time, and energy on their nontraditional weddings as other brides do on traditional weddings. Then the question is posed: how nontraditional are you REALLY if you're still spending so much time, energy, and money on your wedding?

This assumes that the most nontraditional way to have a wedding is to go the courthouse and do it Justice of the Peace style. Which, sure: a courthouse wedding is awesome! But what about people whose communities are important to them? What about people who love to party? What about people who are actually (CRIME OF CRIMES!) excited about their weddings?

It seems like the root of the issue is that for some folks, there's still a lot of guilt/judgment around “caring about wedding = victim of patriarchy and/or wedding industry.”

To me, this feels like it assumes that as women we're not able to think through decisions or control ourselves when faced with wedding fluff. It assumes that once you start planning a wedding, you're clearly on the slippery slope to suddenly wanting chairs with ruffles and monogrammed everythings! You're blinded by the cupcakes and ribbons and suddenly you forget your own (last) name and just want MORE PERSONAL DETAILS! MORE SPECIAL FAVORS! MORE MORE MORE!!

It's a risk, sure. That once you open Pandora's Wedding Box, all the expectations come flying out and you find yourself agreeing to a $200 ring pillow or reciting Catholic vows when you're really more of a Wiccan Buddhist.

That absolutely can happen, and part of why I wrote my book was to support people who are trying to keep it from happening.

That risk is part of why I continue to write posts reminding people “your wedding is not a contest,” “don't fetishize your nuptials,” “try not to get caught up in trends.”

To me, part of planning an offbeat wedding is walking into the process with your eyes as wide open as possible, so that you can make thoughtful decisions. I want to empower women to go into this process with the ability to make their own decisions outside of both religious/traditional expectations and consumer/industry pressures.

But when you assume that anyone enthusiastically planning a wedding is automatically a victim of outside forces, you're asserting that women can't think for themselves and are powerless against the lures of taffeta and tiaras. That once we see something sparkly, it's all white blindness GIVE ME MATCHING GARTER bridezilla bullshit. That if you're planning a wedding, on a certain level … you've already lost your mind.

Some people like big parties and are drawn toward extravagant weddings, offbeat or not. Some people hate big parties, and therefore plan a beautiful simple wedding. As long as it's an honest reflection of the couple getting married (and that includes an honest reflection of their budget!) I'm all for both ends of the simple/extravagant spectrum.

I heartily believe that with support and encouragement, intelligent women can plan weddings of all kinds thoughtfully and with their values intact.

So, my final answer to the question: Yes, it's different — because of instead of asking “How can I keep up with expectations?” you're asking “How can I create a wedding that's authentic to what I actually want?” It's all about the intent.


[I'm cautiously leaving comments open on this post, but I want to clarify that I'll be closing them quickly if the discussion turns toward bagging on Jezebel. As y'all know, online civility is extremely important to me so please don't go flaming Jezebel's comment section. I want to believe we can disagree gracefully on this subject.]

Comments on Is having an offbeat wedding any different than having a traditional wedding?

  1. When I saw this on Jez, I wondered if it was bagging…but then I read the article. I love all the freedoms and choices women enjoy now, even if it comes with a seemingly endless debate about where we are and where we’re going. It sounded mostly like Jez was against fetishization, just as you are. And ultimately, I think all women benefit from this expanded vision of options. As someone with both websites on my blogroll, I want to say THANK YOU! to both you and to Jezebel for helping us see all the options and choose the feminism and the wedding that fit us best.

  2. I agree! I’ve seen some huge elaborate weddings that the brides and grooms have put a lot of time and energy into, and were by no means a big “look at how much money WE spent on this!” weddings. It’s like you said, some people like big parties, some like small, simple weddings. I’m not opposed to either.

    Sadly, two of my sisters ended up doing VERY traditional weddings that didn’t want and spending wayyy too much money on things that were not important to them. Because of outside pressure to have a “proper” ceremony, etc. Which is why they are now so adamant that I get to do what I want.

    And that’s not to say that I haven’t seen some beautiful traditional weddings. But when you look at the pictures of the brides and grooms, it’s obvious that this is the type of wedding THEY wanted.

  3. I think this hits the nail on the head when it comes to anything even remotely related to feminism. It’s not about choosing Option A instead of Option B all the time or avoiding Situation X in favor of Situation Y. It’s about CHOICES in every single part of your life from the choice of whether or not to shave your legs, to being a working or a stay-at-home mom, to keeping your maiden name, and all the other things that happen in our lives. So what if your choices happen to fall in line with what’s “acceptable?” Wearing a white gown or getting married in a chapel doesn’t strip me of my “feminist card.” I chose these things because they’re beautiful, not because the Big Bad Patriarchy expects me to.

    Because honestly, if your choices are categorized and limited, then it’s not really anything new. It’s just the same old song and dance with new management.

    • I don’t know why but it was this specific response but for some reason this has made me feel SO much better about my decision to change my last name (which hasn’t happened yet.) I KNOW and BELIEVE in the concept of choice feminism (although many don’t) but I guess relating to it in a post that ISN’T about changing your last name makes it feel all the more honest. Thanks.

  4. I, too, read both Offbeat Bride and Jezebel and I actually had posted links to some of the Jez posts on my OBT blog just to make other people on OBT aware of them because I think it’s a really interesting discussion going on. As usual, Ariel has put it much better than I ever could, but I think that a lot of the difference between offbeat and traditional wedding planning is just the level of intentionality involved. I also agree with Laney that feminism for me is ultimately about choice, so I don’t really want to demonize either side – traditional or offbeat – for their different choices or even for making the choice to marry in the first place.

  5. Thank you for this post, Ariel. As someone who’s already faced criticism from her mother about why we chose to spend inheritance money on a wedding instead of a house (because even if we used it for a downpayment, our incomes don’t support a monthly mortgage in L.A.), I feel it’s important to recognize that just because you’re having a wedding–any wedding–does not mean that you haven’t thought about it, or made well-informed decisions.

    As mentioned above in other comments, even if you decide to have a “traditional” wedding, YOU are the one who is doing the deciding. And I think that is what being an “offbeat” bride is all about: the freedom to make those choices.

  6. I really appreciate this post. I love Jezebel, but was fairly put off by the tone of that piece. By the same token, I’ve been put off by many wedding bloggers out there who routinely deride anyone who puts time/effort/andworse,money into their wedding. I think what’s fantastic about weddings is that there are more outlets for inspiration to make our weddings our own than ever. But the downside, or backlash, to that experience seems to be assumption by many that brides are either being suckered in by the wedding industry or going to the courthouse without any celebration at all. That’s offensive to nearly all of us, in my opinion.

    I wrote about this a bit ago here, btw… And some of you might find my feminism rant here interesting. 🙂

  7. ‘create a wedding that’s authentic to what I actually want?” It’s all about the intent’

    I completely agree with this sentiment.

    I’m gonig through the process of planning my own wedding/handfasting at the moment and whilst a big part of me would be happy to elope, there are certain pressures as to why I’m not and that involves honouring my family. I didn’t realise that it was that important to me until I considered not including them in my preparations.

    Intent and authenticity is important; if you can’t look back on the memory (or photos) of the day and feel happy and proud of what you did to mark an important rite of passage in your life, then you know you’re on the wrong track.

  8. When I found this website, and subsequently bought and read the book, I was just so happy that other people were out there doing weddings that were about who they were as a couple, versus what a wedding was supposed to be. Some parts of my wedding are utterly traditional (whitish dress/Catholic church), and some parts really aren’t (No dancing? Under 50 people? No tan/weight loss/mani-pedi???) but it really took Offbeat Bride to back up the choices that I wanted to make, but wasn’t sure how I could defend them. As I pick up Martha Stewart Weddings mag I start to think there is less of a line between OBB weddings and traditional weddings, and then other days when I pick up some other (unnamed) bridal magazine I think we are further then ever from escaping the WIC thing. Either way I am happy I am spending a lot of time and energy (although not much money in my case) on the first day of my marriage. It is something that is important to me, and it is my personal way of showing I value it. I don’t know if that is traditional or offbeat, but it is Me, and if I have learned anything from OBB that was never the message on the knot and the five million bridal mags I have read, making the day about my FH and me and those we love is number one.

  9. I think that there is some confusion about weddings with small budgets and offbeat weddings. A small budget wedding may be offbeat, but could be traditional too. A big budget wedding could be plenty offbeat (ie. let’s take the whole family to Brazil to get married!)

    In my opinion offbeat is about evaluating all the wedding fuss and deciding which bits you want to keep, change or drop. If you want to keep it all but consciously made the decision it’s still an offbeat wedding. If you decide you need grab every trend labeled offbeat blindly then you are failing before you start.

  10. Erika: agreed. While I know from my reader surveys that the vast majority of my readers are planning weddings under $15K USD, I get emails every week from higher budget brides complaining that there’s too much focus on low budget stuff. That’s why I try to feature everything from DIY chocolate legos to wedding dresses that are up in the many thousands of dollars. With a readership as diverse as mine, I’ve got to keep things varied…

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