Modest Weddings

Wedding guestbook with signatures and a bouquet of pink roses

Modesty is an attribute that may be applied not only to clothing but to all lifestyle choices. The type of wedding celebration that a couple may plan is one area in Western society since the late twentieth century that seems to have grown inconsistent with more moderate choices the same couple may often make in other areas. Is it peer pressure that drives today's brides (and sometimes their mothers) to think that a wedding that overextends the budget is necessary? A 2005 "American Weddings" survey by the Fairchild Bridal Group placed the average cost of a wedding in the United States at over $22,000, not including the honeymoon.

My mom has always said that she was pleased with her wedding ceremony, and her marriage has lasted for over four decades now. "An expensive wedding does not a marriage make," she has said. My parents were married in the home of friends back when weddings were traditionally simple and affordable. Two friends served as attendants and wore formal clothing that they already had. The ceremony required no rehearsal, and the time required for planning fit into my mother's schedule as a high school teacher. She finished her school year on Friday and was married on Sunday. The reception food consisted of cake, punch, nuts and mints, the usual wedding fare for that era. At a cost of under $500, including for the dress and rings, my parents' ceremony was an upgrade from that of their ancestors. My grandfather, a rancher, was married in the 1930s wearing his best clothing which was a shirt and red corduroy pants.

Since their wedding, my parents reared a family with concern for economy and modesty as a way of life. We drove older cars. We sewed much of our own clothing, shopped for sales and at thrift stores and saved up for special purchases without going into debt. Today one of their children (yours truly) has committed her professional career to promoting modest clothing for women. One of my favorite definitions of modesty is from Webster's old 1828 dictionary, fourth in the list, "Moderate; not excessive or extreme; not extravagant . . . ."

The average weddings of my generation are unfortunately different from those of my parents'. A modest wedding that is within budget and does not stress friends of the wedding couple with excessive demands is like a beautiful dream rarely seen in real life, from my modern-day perspective. I would love to see a trend of return to lowered expectations for weddings that would relieve financial and logistics pressure from those involved. For families who can afford to hire services and pay for the costs of elaborate weddings, including covering costs for wedding party members if they exceed perhaps $100 per person, that is definitely a choice those individuals are free to make. However, my circles seem to be the do-it-yourself groups that rely on unpaid participation. Especially in recession days, asking friends to donate or discount professional services such as sewing, cake decorating, musical performance or photography may mean a loss of needed time and income. Or, asking out-of-town wedding party members to pay for their own travel and hotel to a destination could dig into someone's living expenses budget for months. Even the cost of new dresses for bridesmaids or gifts for multiple showers may place friends in difficulty these days. During tough economic times in years past, bridesmaids' apparel was not expected to match. Girls often wore the best dresses that they already had, and showers were held among only the closest of friends, not among large groups of acquaintances.

Friends may hesitate to be honest with a bride about how much of a hardship it is for them to volunteer large amounts of time for ceremony preparations and to cover their own expenses as a member of the wedding party. More than one friendship has been strained by a bride insisting upon too much from her friends for her wedding day. When brides stress not only their own budgets but also those of their parents, family and friends by expecting sacrificial financial input, those people may agree to participate because they do not want to risk losing the relationship. However, it is my observation that happiness and strong relationships are nurtured by planning the wedding within your budget, not in trying to enjoy one you cannot at the expense of family and friends who cannot afford the costs either.

Some couples refuse to listen when people who care about them warn of financial troubles that await in the future from spending too much on a ceremony in the present. Of course, one person cannot push her own values upon a friend, and sometimes all that can be given is a gentle word and then a step backward. From comments in current magazine articles and online forums, it would appear that this shortsighted planning and refusal to accept advice to scale back on ceremony plans is not uncommon among twenty-first century brides. In the half dozen weddings in which I have participated, more than one bride has spent thousands of dollars that she and her fiancee could not afford for a ceremony and then struggled with bills as a new couple. I have seen at least three couples spend their first year without adequate food (so much that early pregnancies were endangered or miscarried), inadequate housing, unreliable transportation or debt after planning a ceremony beyond their means. Had the cost of the few hours' long ceremony been put toward living expenses in these situations, the couples would have enjoyed lower stress for months over the start of their marriage.

Fairchild's American Weddings survey indicates that although couples become engaged year round, the winter holiday season still dominates. So, if you are one of the millions of American brides who will become engaged this Christmas season, please stop and think about the beauty of modesty at every time, in every place as you plan your nuptials. The benefits will be evident in relationships with family and friends as well as with your future mate as you start your married life on a stronger financial foundation. If that means a home wedding with a handful of guests, then you will still be just as married as any couple who spent millions on a celebration. As written in Scripture, Phillipians 4:5, "Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand" (KJV).