Guest Blog: The Sole Purpose

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February 26, 2013

The wedding industry is a funny business. When did we go from having no choice to too many choices? When did it change from following convention to creating a unique experience?

When did it become common to wear pink wedding gowns instead of ivory? To use colored paper instead of ivory bond? When did dinner go from petit filets to sliders with mac and cheese? Satin heels become cowboy boots? When did black tie become black shirt? When did it change from everyone doing the same thing, to everyone trying to be different?

Today's weddings are so complicated. A wedding used to be like an episode of Downton Abbey; everyone knew their place and the role they played. They knew what they were expected to wear, carry and eat. They knew how they were supposed to walk, where to stand, what music to play and what words to say. There was no wrong way because there was only one way. There were rituals, you see. Serious rituals that mattered, or so we all thought.

I wonder, where is it all going? In the quest to provide clients with distinctive experiences, did we create a level of complexity that's sustainable? Take wedding shoes, for example. Whose idea was it to begin photographing them? Were they related to Jimmy Choo? Shoes are now the stars of their own little show. They are featured on blogs, Pinterest and in magazines. They even have their own page in wedding albums, destined for immortality.

They never used to be a big deal. Actually, people hardly noticed them. I don't even remember the shoes I wore to my wedding. I know that they were either white or ivory, but that's verboten now, since it communicates a lack of imagination.

Today's shoes are super charged with symbolism. They need to be a novel color to express individuality. (Thank you, Carrie Bradshaw!) They must be expensive to communicate status. They must be clearly labeled to communicate taste. These wedding shoes are going to be judged, labels are going to be exposed and secrets revealed. Don't think you can just hide them under some pretty dress--ain't gonna happen. Now you need to lift up that $10,000 dress and show us what you're really about.

A shoe is no longer just a shoe; its sole purpose is something else but I'm not sure what. All I know is that when you add up all the time you spend searching for the perfect pair, and all the time that's spent photographing them, they suddenly become an important line item in the wedding budget. Has anyone run a spreadsheet on the real cost of wedding shoes?

And while we are on the subject of feet, enough with the crazy socks please. If you want to prove you're a risk taker, do it on a racetrack or with a multimillion dollar hedge fund. If you have to say it with socks, then you have to say it, and if you have to say it, well....

I wouldn't want you to think I'm for a return of the old ways. I'm thrilled that convention has finally taken a back seat to self-expression. But, I'm also a little worried that we are putting so much emphasis on the decorative elements of a wedding that we are maybe getting off track. Should there be more photos of the rings than of the exchange? Should we be looking at the bride's shoes instead of the expression on her face?

Inevitably, when I scan through all the design elements of published weddings, I find myself on the same visual path. Like a heat seeking missile, I search for the one image that matters most to me, the one clue that might shed some light on the whole shebang. Do they have the look? You know the one, the look that tells you these two people are totally smitten with each other. If they have it, there's no disguising it and if they don't, well then, it's just a fancy party. I'm always deeply reassured when I see it, because marriage can be tough. If they have the look, then at least they have a fighting chance.

A beautifully designed wedding is a feast for the eyes, but it pales in comparison to wonder of the heart. The heart. It's the only thing that hasn't changed in the celebration of weddings. We can change all the rituals surrounding it, but it remains pure to the core, a golden orb hidden under the mille-feuille of our created rituals. It knows no color, gender or age. Whether we celebrate it on a beach, under a chuppah, in a vineyard or on a mountaintop, the orb remains constant and pure. It has the power to make us weep, to mend fences and to create dynasties. It represents everything we know about the beginning, the end and the space in between that we call marriage.

Sharon Dexmier is president of Napa Valley Linens and the immediate past president of the Wedding Industry Professionals Association (WIPA). She will be presenting Trend Setters, Trend Hoppers and Trend Watchers at the Event Solutions Idea Factory, as part of the WIPA-sponsored Wedding Track.

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