The first real fight with my fiancé since we began wedding planning in November started with a faux tree — one adorned with tea lights dangling from its big, leafy green branches. If set in the middle of our cocktail-hour room, my florist assured me, it would most certainly bring the “wow factor” as she called it.
I had never thought much about a wow factor to dazzle my guests for that one-hour span. But afterward, I found myself thinking that you couldn’t really have a cocktail hour without one.
The faux tree, though, would raise our floral budget by nearly $2,000, which my fiancé had objected to. This might have been OK had we not also increased our budgets for the band and rehearsal dinner. Still, I wondered, why not splurge? When else would we get to really wow friends and family?
Having a wow factor can help a wedding stand out among guests — knock their socks off, have them spread the word that your wedding was the best wedding, that the chargrilled filet mignon was just to die for (not to mention, you were the most radiant bride they’ve ever seen, and your dress was both trailblazing and timeless).
Of course, wowing guests isn’t what weddings are truly all about. Yet parsimonious planning sometimes gives way to fantasy fulfillment, which may account for the steady rise in wedding costs. Last year, the nationwide cost of a wedding was $33,931, according to the Knot. That was more than half the national median house income of $61,372, according to the most recent census data.
The most common sentiment from newlyweds across every budget is that their wedding is the best day of their lives. So are all the extra costs worth it? Are you happier if you splurge for pin-lighting in the flowers or hire that 15-piece band? Or will you end up miserable because you could have saved that money for a down payment on a house?
My fiancé, David Rogg, who works in venture capital, argued that our “tree for an hour” could be a nice couch one day, and several arguments later, our wow factor was scrapped.
But others clearly feel differently. Samantha Edelstein Chetrit, 25, an event planner from Lawrence, New York, and Abraham Chetrit, 26, who works in real estate, had a 600-person affair in New York City’s Cipriani Wall Street in June 2017 that Brides magazine billed as “over-the-top.” She declined to disclose the total cost.
For the reception, her florist, Birch Event Design, built two custom-made, gold-base tables that were covered in moss, candlesticks and hundreds of pink roses in varying shades (the photos went viral). Edelstein Chetrit had confetti fall onto the dance floor after her first dance with her husband, and hired an artist to capture the whole scene on a canvas. She elevated her ceremony aisle 2 to 3 feet so everyone could have a proper view. It was the kind of wedding that Pinterest dreams are made of.
Edelstein Chetrit noted that Pinterest and Instagram had influenced her planning. “For years, even before I was dating my husband, I would always save things, take screenshots, have a folder for all these different inspirational pictures,” she said.
The prevalence of social media has “huge impact” on a certain wedding “madness,” said Brenda Berger, an assistant clinical professor of medical psychology at Columbia University’s Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. “People are comparing themselves and their lives and pictures of their lives constantly with other people.”
Berger sums up our grandiose thinking: “What’s happened is there’s now a zeitgeist and the zeitgeist says that you should spend a fortune and have that gorgeous cake, and have those gorgeous flowers. The food that has to have so many courses that nobody can remember two weeks later what they ate.”
Such extravagance can be detrimental to the couple. “The obsessionality creates a rigidity of thinking,” Berger said. “It’s inflexible. It has to be perfect. Perfection is a defense against emotions of some sort. What’s going on inside you that you find the perfect anything?”
But Edelstein Chetrit notes that even without the many extras, “I would still be so happy. It was the best day of my life.”
For couples working with a slimmer budget, wow factors don’t necessarily have to be big, over-the-top gestures. Small, personal touches can stand out just as much, according to Jennifer Taylor, the founder and creative director of A Taylored Affair, an event planning company.
“I’ve done weddings that are $600,000 budgets at the Pierre that have wow factors and tiny budgets at a bookstore,” Taylor said, “And sometimes, those smaller budget weddings are a lot more heartfelt.”
She suggested idiosyncratic touches, like giving guests Venus Et Fleur roses with their escorts cards, or buying a meaningful book for every attendee to take home.
Leah Pence, the founder of Another Wild Hare event planning company agreed. “In my opinion, the best wow factors are, like, ‘Oh, of course that’s there, of course that’s there because it makes sense.’”
Pence mentions a wedding she planned on a private estate in the Hamptons, where she used ladders from the couple’s grandfather and old barn wood as shelves for party favors. They were wow factors that were “really sentimental to the family,” she said, “but only the family would know that they were sentimental in that way.”
Listening to the advice of the planners (an expense I did not budget for), raised a host of other questions and concerns about my own wedding. I thought about what special touches we could add to make ours feel more personal. I searched via Google the price of Venus Et Fleur flowers ($39 for one Eternity Rose!) and scrolled through Pinterest and Etsy for fun escort card ideas.
“Ask yourself, ‘What does the bling mean to me?’” Berger said. Will it make you smile 20 years from now? Or only for that one night?
“And if you say it will make you happy and make you smile 20 years from now, or it’s enough that it only makes me smile one night, and you can still really go, ‘Yeah, I want it,’” then you’re barking up the right tree.
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