American Weddings and the Business of Tradition
"A fascinating read that has much to offer historians of business, labor, and culture—not to mention anthropologists and specialists in gender and cultural studies. 'Marrying' the symbolic concerns of new cultural history with the material concerns of business history is one of the book's considerable strengths."—American Historical Review
"Howard provides a thorough study of the growth of the wedding industry, using numerous primary sources on a subject that has previously received too little attention."—Choice
"This richly illustrated and exhaustively researched study provides systematic and long overdue analysis of the evolution of wedding industry products and marketing."—Business History Review
Named "Best of the Best from the University Presses" for 2007 by the American Library Association
Weddings today are a $70-billion business, yet no one has explained how the industry has become such a significant component of the American economy. In Brides, Inc., Vicki Howard goes behind the scenes of the various firms involved—from jewelers to caterers—to explore the origins of the lavish American wedding, demonstrating the important role commercial interests have played in shaping traditions most of us take for granted.
Howard reveals how many of our customs and wedding rituals were the product of sophisticated advertising campaigns, merchandising promotions, and entrepreneurial innovations. Tracing the rise of the wedding industry from the 1920s through the 1950s, the author explains that retailers, bridal consultants, etiquette writers, caterers, and many others invented traditions—from the diamond engagement ring and double-ring ceremony to the gift registry to the package-deal catered affair. These businesses and entrepreneurs, many of them women, transformed wedding culture and set the stage for today's multibillion-dollar industry.
The wedding industry began to take shape between the 1920s and the 1950s. Bridal magazine editors and etiquette writers, jewelers, department store window display artists, bridal consultants, fashion designers, and caterers invented new consumer rites and promoted higher standards of wedding consumption. Claiming ties with "ancient customs" and various historical periods, the wedding industry promoted new goods and services as timeless and unchanging. It introduced new ring customs and wedding apparel fashions, and "modern" services, such as gift registries that rationalized gift customs, bridal salons that saved time and made wedding planning more efficient, and wedding packages that standardized ceremonies and reception celebrations.
During World War II, the traditional white wedding grew even more prevalent as jewelers and bridal gown manufacturers successfully sought exemptions from wartime restrictions, linking the diamond engagement ring, the double-ring ceremony, and the formal white wedding gown with democracy and American prosperity. By the 1950s, the wedding industry had made the formal white wedding tradition a part of a new cult of marriage and the modern American Dream.
Entertaining and informative, Brides, Inc. reveals the origins and development of this most exemplary American enterprise and brings the story up to the present with a discussion of such new phenomena as David's Bridal and the gay wedding industry.
Vicki Howard teaches history at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York.