Culture has told us what a classy wedding is. It has told us what a tacky wedding is. The former is huge, even if it doesn’t look it. The latter is huge, and it will intentionally look it. And while Carrie Bradshaw’s wedding wasn’t so different in scale and absurdity from the weddings we so viciously judged on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (a show which aired two years after Sex and The City: The Movie), we applauded Ms. Bradshaw’s as the ultimate in taste. And we shook our heads in shame at those iconic women who wore light-up snow queen dresses.
See, it’s all about taste. These days, the conundrum at a middle class wedding is how to spend inordinate amounts of money while making it look like you haven’t. Whereas at some working class weddings, the conundrum is how to spend a lot of money while making sure every guest knows that you have. The so-called taste-makers/middle classes – 'those in the know' – will make a TV show mockery of the princess bride with a five-tiered cake while simultaneously engaging in exactly the same wedding-status play with no self-awareness at all.
And why is that? It’s a question I go deep into in my upcoming book, First Comes Love: On Marriage and Other Ways of Being Together. Why do some people, like the royals or Carrie, get to have expensive weddings and be seen as classy? While others — Katie Price, the women on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, anyone who grew up poor — are ridiculed as hogs of bad taste?
For a long time we would do it without thinking. My friends and I, certified SATC girlies, would be decked head to toe in Primark, drinking Smirnoff Ice we’d snuck into the movie theatre where we would gasp in deep delight as Carrie hired the New York Public Library and wore a bird in her hair. The same girlies would gasp in utter horror as we watched a bride-to-be permanently scar her hips on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding some two years later. And yet the reality is that my friends and I were and still are all far closer to the latter, since Carrie’s wedding is estimated to have cost over a quarter of a million dollars in total.
So why are we particularly classist about weddings? Why are rich people, even marginally middle-class people, allowed to have giant weddings with terrible lighting and dry beef in gross tourist attractions like Edinburgh Castle yet when working class people, like the girls I went to school with, go big, we sneer? It doesn’t matter whether it’s a big middle class wedding or a subtle, understated one (with a pink-haired bride on her family-owned Norfolk woodland where everyone takes DMT and toasts to gay rights), middle class weddings that often look much worse than working class ones are simply understood to be more tasteful, even if they cost the same as or more than the working class equivalent.
Put simply, this is because we are all really classist. When it comes to weddings, the tastes of the middle classes have been affirmed by respected cultural institutions like art galleries and well-made TV shows, while contemporary fashion and social politics has decreed anything ‘over the top’ or garish to be in bad taste. Anything that shows what victims of capitalism we all are is too much to look at and so we judge the big wedding, even though it’s what all of culture has demanded. Middle class taste is celebrated because it’s understated. It spends the same, if not more, money on something simple, luxurious — and nobody has to spend a wedding day remembering that weddings are giant capitalist constructs and wondering why we need a legal certificate to prove we’re in love anymore.
Until Queen Victoria got married in the giant white dress she would eventually be buried in (sad!), big weddings weren’t really a thing. The problem here isn’t how we’re getting married, it’s the fact that we are judging each other for doing something society literally demands of us. And while there are countless other threads to the tapestry of weddings and wedding fashions, something which struck me hard during my research and my interviews is that everyone is so judgmental about the ways other people get married. I’ve heard bridesmaids bitch and best men complain, I’ve spoken to wedding planners who rolled their eyes at their clients and best friends who brutalize the choices of their bride/bridesmaid.
Judgement is everywhere. Especially with weddings and especially when it comes to spending on them. But once you realize that taste is defined under strict, class-based parameters, it frees you up to be more compassionate than judgemental and to have a lot more fun: whether it’s your princess wedding or your tasteless friend's.