The 3 dark wedding industry secrets I unearthed at a mainstream bridal show

Guest post by Lydia Bell

Photo by JKCaliff

Shortly after my engagement, a friend who was also planning a wedding gently dragged me to a big bridal show in Atlanta. I knew it wouldn't be the most exciting experience for me. While we didn't have many things planned at the time, we definitely knew it was going to be a little untraditional. We know we weren't getting married in a church, we'd have a mixed-gender bridal party, and a big poofy dress was simply NOT happening. Plus, our budget was small. Not mainstream bridal magazine small — like, actually small.

Still, I figured what's the harm? Maybe I'll find a booth that inspires me. Maybe it'll be a little fun, expand my horizons. Maybe there'd even be free champagne?

There was no free champagne. And it wasn't fun. I will say that my friend had a fabulous time. This show was perfect for the dream wedding she had in mind. And of course I was happy to see her face light up at the booths. But it wasn't my thing. More than that, it left me some major knots in my stomach. It almost ruined the magic of wedding planning for me.

There are three big things about the wedding industry that I learned from the one and only big bridal show I attended…

1. No idea is too offbeat… unless it's an offbeat budget

Vendors will entertain any wedding concept you can dream up. Want a green dress instead of white? Not a problem! (But if that dress is not designer? Well, that's just “tacky.”) Going for the “rustic feel?” GREAT. We have adorable mini Mason jars at $15 a pop. (Getting the same Mason jars at Goodwill? Well, that's just “in poor taste.”)

Vendors seem very eager and very interested in hearing all your unique little ideas about doing an original wedding. But they want to leave you with that one-of-a-kind “special order” bill. If you're not willing to pick up the tab, they'll quickly look past you to the next dazed bride-to-be.

2. You're not pretty enough to get married (yet)

So your partner has decided to commit their life to you. They love you more than anyone in the world. Well, hold on there! Whether you knew it or not, you just can't walk down the aisle looking like that.

Among the booths were multiple vendors for weight loss and breast augmentation. And it wasn't enough that the booths were there for women who might approach them with interest. Pamphlets were shoved into my hand as I passed. I felt like someone was telling me, “Congratulations! Let me make you feel body-conscious on what's supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life!” The feminist in me wanted to rip the pamphlets into tiny pieces and throw them in the air yelling about why their social construct of beauty was sickening! I didn't do that. I sheepishly explained that I'm actually really comfortable with my body how it is.

There is something really wrong with telling a bride she isn't good enough while simultaneously slapping a tiara on her head.

3. It's not really about the wedding day; it's about the souvenirs

Every wedding photographer and videographer had the same sales pitch: I wouldn't remember my wedding day. I would be far too stressed and far too nervous and the next day it would be like a dream. Apparently the real joy would come from having a perfectly packaged wedding book and video.

To be fair, I'm sure there are things that are missed on the big day. With all the talking and music and drinking, many things will go unnoticed that will be lovely to view in the post-wedding photos. But actual wedding amnesia? Hmmm. Seems a bit unlikely to me. And if I can't remember a moment of my wedding, well, I'm not so sure I want to have one then!

I'm sure there are things about big industry bridal shows that are appealing to some couples. I'm glad they exist for those couples. But for offbeat couples, a mainstream bridal fair can really leave you feeling like you're doing everything all wrong.

But you know what? You're doing everything exactly right! As long as you stay true to your authentic self, your wedding will be a success.

Comments on The 3 dark wedding industry secrets I unearthed at a mainstream bridal show

  1. This is great and very true! I went to the bridal show in my smaller city and it made me feel sick and really stressed. We had a smaller budget and offbeat-lite ideas and the whole thing was so overwhelming. Between the $200 bouquets and PUSHY sales reps, I started second-guessing what we wanted for a wedding, and honestly what kind of girl I was, since I didn’t care about so much that was shown. I actually ended up chilling out for a while in the “Men’s Area”, where they had big comfy couches and a flat screen with college football playing. That definitely helped!

  2. Oh, Lydia! I went to that same Atlanta show – albeit a few years ago. It was pretty much just like you described and I left early after a quick walk around. I did see some beautiful flowers and tasted a good cake.

    In a way, though, the WIC show was helpful. The show helped me identify and then let go of clingy residual “but-you-have-to-have”s. It made me more confident in my own decisions – to order tulips online, to get a dozen varied small cakes instead of a big one, to actually appreciate the hips and butt my partner already loves. You see, WIC expectations are boggarts. They feed on our fear. And as Professor Lupin has taught us, if you can stare a boggart straight in face and shout “Riddikulus!”, it will lose its power.

    • Edit to say: Our decisions. Partner could not make the show, but credit where due, he was fully a part of the wedding planning.

  3. The only reason I go to those things is for free cake.

    I had a lady try to push tanning services on me. When I told her I wasn’t into cancer-causing services, she offered a spray tan as an alternative. I laughed and told her that my people don’t tan.

    I got the Irish skin genes from my mother’s side of the family. I would look seriously ridiculous with a tan.

    There was some pretty good cake at that one, though.

    • An awesome advertising slogan for bottled water over here (Ireland): “So Irish, it thinks tan comes from a bottle.”
      I’ll be villified for my Persil-white skin, off-the-shoulder dress that exposes lots of scar tissue and B-cups (and hopefully a tattoo), and lack of gel/acrylic claws too.

      Except my hairstylist is my mother, who knows better. My bridesmaids have known me 23 and 7 years respectively, and know that if I say no then it ain’t happening. My back-up bridesmaids are my SCA friends, 2 of whom are male, and will be more disappointed that I don’t wear my hamster onesie. And FH and I regularly snark about Oompa Loompas and girls rolling around in Bisto powder…..

      I’ll leave the tanning beds to my brother who needs UV treatments, thanks. And Sally Hansen destroyed my college bathroom so unless she’s reimbursing my ex-landlord she can go jump…

  4. Plastic surgery? Maybe I skipped all those booths. I did see a couple of med-spa places, so maybe they had some sort of enhancement packages there, but I just smiled and kept walking.

    At one show I felt so warm and happy and another show I felt very lonely. But I was rarely accosted or given a hard sell. There are some shows I didn’t go to because I expected they were geared towards those with larger budgets, at least based on the vendor list.

  5. While I can’t say that bridal shows aren’t useful, because we found our non-denominational person to marry us and a photographer, I’d have to say that I was pretty disappointed with the large number of vendors who were appearance fixer-uppers, such as plastic surgeons, weight loss programs, cosmetic dentists, hair extensions, spray tan, etc. Also, the wedding gowns featured in the fashion show were something left to be desired–which I was shocked because I live in a large metropolitan city and the show had well over 200 vendors showing their wares.

  6. I love this post. I actually went “under cover” to a large, supposedly non-traditional, wedding expo in Los Angeles. I didn’t tell anyone I was from Offbeat Bride, and I attended to see how “our” peeps — super-geeks, LGBT community, tomboy brides, excited grooms, etc — would feel.

    It was so painfully gender-normative, so exclusionary to any couples other than “bride and groom,” and the one dude who admitted that he was there on his own (sans bride *gasp*) was mocked by the MC. I even ended up fucking crying at one point after talking to vendors — while pretending to be an planning-stage Offbeat Bride — and seeing their look of confusion, horror, pity, or the triple whammy combo, for the umpteenth time. And I’m not even feelsy!

    Seriously, screw wedding expos — it’s all about our Lovesick Expos. I promise not to make any of you cry. 😉

    • I loved Lovesick Expo. It was the only expo I would attend…Even more fun after a few cocktails, and gave me some great ideas!

      • At the risk of being a Negative Nelly (or kicked out of the Tribe)… the Lovesick Expo left much to be desired for low-budget couples. I attended here in Denver, and to agree with the other folks, it was fun. I drank (a $6 beer, cheapest thing there), I danced (while the $600 per 15 minute show) fire dancer was dancing, and I wrote down ideas. However, I couldn’t even come remotely close to affording any of the vendors. All of the photographers were more than twice what the one I found by myself costs, the floral arrangements, while stunning, were many hundreds of dollars more than what I’m going to be spending, the food was fantastic, but none of the vendors will drive into the mountains without many more hundreds of dollars on top of the food. It was fun, but didn’t provide me with any vendors I would ever consider hiring. More than anything else, it gave me ideas to research (mostly on OBB, for that matter) on how to do them myself, or in other ways.

        Perhaps anyone who can afford to be a vendor at any wedding expo, offbeat or otherwise, will rarely also be someone who is budget-friendly, but that there is my $0.02.

  7. It’s unfortunate that photography is being associated with the idea of a souvenir. Being a photographer, I disagree with that perspective. I feel I’m documenting part of a visual history for the couple and their families. That’s not a trivial trinket. Photos preserve significant moments for every family and those are a part of what is now passed down between generations. Weddings are rare times when most family members and close friends are together in one place. It’s the photos that capture the emotion and moments of that day and it’s one of the few things couples have left at the end of their wedding. If you walked away feeling that photogs were pitching a souvenir, then I think that says more about the insincerity of their intentions, not the value of the photographs.

    • I wholeheartedly agree. One of the biggest reactions I get from wedding clients is how thankful they were that we could capture moments that they missed. Photographers are able to capture all angles, literally, of a moment, rather than just one perspective of one person. It’s not trivial to acknowledge that brides can be overwhelmed with everything happening all at once, it’s nearly impossible to catch every little moment that you might want to look back at later on. I have never once pitched to a client that they wont’ remember their wedding day, but rather that over time they’ll remember less and less of the tiny little details and that photographs can bring those memories back to being as vivid as they were the day you got married. Whether it’s the moment you missed while you were looking away or another moment that you missed while you were off talking to a guest, photographers have the ability to show you so much more that happens during a wedding day than what you may catch. That, to me, is far from being a trivial little souvenir.

      • YES to being thankful for capturing moments that the bride(s)/groom(s) would otherwise miss! I had two photographers at my wedding. The second shooter was able to photograph guests at cocktail hour while my husband and I were elsewhere, taking portraits with our “main” photographer. Those cocktail hour photos are some of my favorites: seeing my college friends get back together, or watching family members reunite after not seeing each other for years (or even DECADES!)

        I would never have seen those moments without having photos of them, because I literally wasn’t there. So the photos are so much more than just a souvenir to me.

      • I loved that my photog got images from the procession before I came in. Getting to see the grins on my nieces’ and nephew’s faces as they led the processional (waving ribbon wands, they were NOT flower girls) was great. I didn’t get to see that as I was still in the lobby. There were other images as well that I hadn’t seen, of friends laughing and talking and dancing. A very precious one of my aunt and uncle dancing in front of my chuppah (as it was hanging in the reception hall) that I will love forever. That’s what makes the photos. I wasn’t there to see all those moments, but I can now!!

    • Thanks for your comment. I should point out that my fiance is a photographer himself. So I do have the utmost respect for the artform. However, the sales pitch they all gave me had nothing at all to do with capturing beautiful moments or even their talent and creativity. It was nothing but “You are going to be so stressed you won’t even remember it.” That’s a pretty negative spin don’t you think? If that were true, we could just pass out disposeable cameras to all the guests. But that’s not a very good sales pitch for one’s photography skills :/

  8. Um, the surgery thing is gross. But as for point 1 – they are businesses. Who paid a fortune to advertise there. They don’t have time to whoop with joy at your ideas when it means they make nothing from them. They just can’t afford to.

    As for point 2 – it’s entirely subjective of course – but I remember about 3 things from my wedding day. And I don’t even drink.

  9. I went to one bridal show in Philly that was EXACTLY like t his- but I did get a free cookie, so that was nice. Exactly exactly exactly- and then when I left them a review after the facebook targeted ads BEGGING me to like their page, the Facebook site moderator chose to invent a magical realm where she could instantly discover my address and serve me with legal action for providing feedback. And she was going to sue everybody who commented on the thread informing her this magical land was not real, and maybe she shouldn’t be in charge of social media. It was a 47 comment HOOT (I even tried to call the owner of the event board to inform her this volunteer was going crazy) but she never returned my calls- just deleted their comments, then the review section entirely. It was fascinating.

    And it’s such a shame, because there are legitimate, earnest businesses that go to these (I used to work them with my small-business travel agent mother), but they’re being ruined by big-budget all-ticket options.

  10. We went to a total of two bridal/wedding shows. One was an Open House type deal for a venue we were looking into, and they brought in several vendors they have good relationships with. Neither the venue nor their vendors were a good fit for us, so it was a good thing to do. We were really creeped out by a few of the vendors, honestly. The other expo we went to was Lovesick! It was awesome, even if we had most of the wedding planned by the time the expo came to our area. Even our wedding planner was a vendor that day!

    Not every expo is insidious, but not enough are offbeat budget friendly. Or body friendly, apparently.

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