Brides Inc.: American Weddings and the Business of Tradition

By Neal, Arthur G. | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), June 2007 | Go to article overview

Brides Inc.: American Weddings and the Business of Tradition


Neal, Arthur G., Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Brides Inc.: American Weddings and the Business of Tradition Vicki Howard. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press. 2006.

Professor Howard focuses on the process by which American weddings were commodified over the course of the twentieth century. The commercial enterprise has been successful in creating the illusion that the modern wedding is the traditional one in the history of the United States. Weddings today have become a seventy billion dollar a year business and are an important part of the American economy. The cost of the average wedding is around $30,000 and is second only to home ownership as an expense item in family purchases.

The author focuses in chapter one on attitudes toward large and showy weddings prior to the twentieth century. She notes ". . . fiction writers, etiquette authors, reformers, and religious leaders attacked useless wedding presents, ostentatious gift displays, the excessive accumulation of bridal finery, trousseau fashions, and costly receptions." The objective of the book was to trace the historical development of big and ostentatious wedding as the normative preference.

The growing pretentiousness of American weddings stands in sharp contrast with the increasing divorce rates in modern times. Between 1867 and 1929, the divorce rate increased by two thousand percent, while personal consumption more than tripled between 1909 and 1928. The earlier criticisms of big weddings had dissipated by the 1920s as the commercial enterprise introduced a series of invented traditions. The new methods of advertising were drawn upon to create new needs and wants. Transportation and communication technologies reduced the psychological distance between the different parts of the country.

The author notes in chapter two that the ring became the cornerstone of the new wedding traditions. The jewelry industry became a key player in the commercialization of twentiethcentury weddings. The meanings of the wedding ring were embellished and were extended to men as well as to women. Retailers and manufacturers organized national advertising campaigns and promotions to push the elaboration of older customs and to link them with brand-name engagement rings, matching bridal sets, and grooms' wedding bands. …

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