Millennial weddings defy disruption

The wedding-industrial complex is not easily toppled.


I’m getting married in June. My budget — including food, venue, decorations, dress and a few other miscellaneous items — clocks in at a mere $1,500.

But my wedding, the cost anyway, is the exception to the rule.

The average nuptials in Oregon last year cost $29,122, according to Value Penguin. There were 26,787 weddings last year in Oregon, making the wedding industry worth more than $780 million.

At first glance, these numbers don’t come as a surprise. Our parents and grandparents spent tens of thousands of dollars on traditional church weddings, the hotel reception and all the trappings.

But we’re the millennial generation (I myself am 25). We're supposed to overturn tradition. But apparently not, at least when it comes to the money we shell out for that one special day.

To be sure: startups like Vow to Be Chic now allow bridesmaids to rent their dresses, and bridal gowns are found at a discount thanks to businesses like Brides for a Cause.

But for the most part, the traditional wedding industrial complex is going strong — in fact, the cost of the average wedding has actually gone up. The number of guests has declined so people are paying more per guest than they used to.

Some of the millennial value system is trickling down to the nuptial exchange. Couples are seeking edgier, urban venues like warehouses (as opposed to churches and hotel ballrooms). Instead of catered buffets, we're going for the local cool restaurant to dish up.

Plus: the millennial wedding is often a curated experience designed as much for the guests as the betrothed. That inclusivity permeates not just the reception, but the ceremony as well. 

“People are going more toward the interactive,” when it comes to the ceremony and reception, says Chelsea Forcum, co-owner of CK Wedding & Event Design.

Venues are also changing. As the population urbanizes, so are the places where young people want to get married. In Portland, everyone wants a downtown vibe, Forcum says. Spaces like the Ecotrust rooftop and the Armory top the most wanted list. Couples are looking for a blank slate to decorate in a way that suits their individual preferences.

Weddings like these aren’t cheap, however. And the price tags on these warehouses go up each year.

“Which is not a good thing for people getting married," says Kayla McCaul, the K in CK Weddings. "But for the industry as a whole is something you want.” 

More than the venue is changing. Cindy Rosen, of Encore Events, says clients consider wedding planning a lesson in partnership. Couples are equally invested in the planning process, which is a far cry from tradition.

“They sit down and figure out what are the key things most import to them as a couple and they put the emphasis on that,” she says. This could mean spending extra on locally curated dinner and a late-night food cart, or devoting a large chunk of the budget to entertainment.

This brings us back to the million-dollar issue: weddings and how much they cost. The average price tag is $30,000. For CK and Rosen, who have clients who work in high tech, healthcare and other professional services, it’s even higher — around $40,000 or $50,000. 

So where does that leave me? My fiance and I don't want to spend three times the cost of my car on a wedding. Here's our quick hit budget for 100 guests: We're getting married in Laurelhurst Park ($400 for permit and noise variance), dinner will be catered by La Bonita ($400) and the dress is handmade by an Etsy shop ($200).

The price point is low, but we are confident the experience will be top notch.

But clearly, weddings are a tradition not easily undermined. Sharing economy businesses are rewriting the rules of so many legacy industries — for weddings, not so much.

Katy Sword

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