For Emily* it quickly went from wanting “every detail” of her wedding day to be perfect to becoming excited at the prospect of getting married to her fiancé in a sundress in her outer suburban backyard.
“At first, I threw myself a bit of a pity party since I watched all my friends and family get married in recent years and now I might not have my chance,” said Emily, who is currently uncertain whether her September wedding will take place as scheduled. “My dream wedding went from this big, magical fairytale of a wedding to, if I could, I’d go back in my backyard, BBQ up some burgers, throw on a sundress and get married under the tree there.”
The coronavirus pandemic has affected just about every area of our lives — large events especially. The wedding industry’s growth has traditionally been thought of as unstoppable even as Australia’s marriage rates decline. The logic behind this assumption is that rising expenditures on weddings will expand revenue even as fewer marriages take place.
And expenditures have indeed grown, along with the social media wedding industrial complex and the pressures to pull off a luxurious, grand-scale event. According to Moneysmart.gov.au, it estimates that the average Australian wedding costs $36,000. According to a Moneysmart.gov.au wedding survey, 82% of couples dipped into their savings to pay for their wedding. Another 60% got a loan and 18% used their credit card.
As the novel coronavirus pandemic unfolds, the modern wedding industry faces an unprecedented challenge, with brides-to-be, who’ve already spent thousands on non-refundable deposits with their preferred wedding venue, caught in the crossfire. Yet while many decisions — such as whether the venue will be able to reopen or whether their wedding suppliers, such as marriage celebrant, wedding photographer and even their guests are available — may ultimately be left out of their hands, many couples are purposefully choosing to downsize their wedding celebrations.
This decision to downsize is not just rooted in financial and safety considerations as a record number of people file for unemployment benefits and lockdown and social distancing measures endure. The pandemic has also forced a broader reckoning among some brides, inspiring them to re-evaluate their priorities. In doing so, certain aspects they once thought were non-negotiable have become superfluous at the height of a global pandemic.
“Everything is so up in the air, from the date to whether the groomsmen’s suits will be ready to being able to get a marriage license, to how many guests can come,” Emily’s fiancé, Jason*, said. “At this point, I’m just hoping we are able to get married, whether it’s the wedding we’ve been planning or just the two of us.
Sue’s* upcoming wedding celebration looks drastically different than the one she had been planning in her head all her life. About a 5 months ago, the bride-to-be rescheduled her March wedding to November, cut her guest list from 150 to 50 to 20 attendees and opted for more economical floral arrangements than the ones she had originally envisioned.
“Wedding culture is usually sold as ‘your perfect day’ and once that wasn’t possible anymore, I saw the reality of what I was spending on one day and it was a wake-up call,” Sue said. “I spent half a year looking for and interviewing vendors. I had a huge Excel spreadsheet noting all the nitty-gritty details and it all became very complicated and I just couldn’t be bothered anymore.”
Sue recognizes that other brides, whom she has connected with online through Facebook groups and Reddit threads swapping ideas about how to plan during the outbreak, are more distraught than she is about the change in their wedding plans. She said that because her wedding is far enough out, she was able to choose to how to downsize and then realized she didn’t actually want the added frills. Her fiancé is a factory worker whose hours were recently reduced, solidifying her desire to spend “on the things I want to spend on.”
“My mindset shifted completely and I felt more free once I started looking at it as a regular party,” Sue said. “I realized I was influenced by my friends who had these grand events and when costs started racking up, I shrugged it off as normal.”
It will definitely take some time to define what ‘normal’ looks like again for events and weddings following the COVID-19 pandemic. There will definitely be a ramp-up period and consumers who are hesitant to travel or be in large crowds at first, but what the coronavirus has done for so many is show them the value of human connection with those near and dear to their hearts.
According to government data, currently around 4 percent of couples have outright cancelled their weddings as indication that the industry will “thrive” post-pandemic.
Yet given how rapidly COVID-19 has changed daily norms, industry experts and brides-to-be alike say the outbreak could forever change wedding culture as we know it. More couples will possibly schedule weekday weddings in 2020 and scheduling ceremonies and receptions on different days. Coronavirus may also give wedding attire new meaning.
“I don’t want to offend people, but I’m going to be in contact with all these people, so maybe for the wedding we say “I love you, but we’re not going to do any hugs or handshakes,” Monique, a bride-to-be, said. “Maybe having people wear gloves and masks could be the new norm.”
A couple who come from big Greek and Italian families and will have to downsize their guest list, which contains hundreds of people — one of the hardest parts of wedding planning. She is considering live-streaming the ceremony and may plan to have separate blessings with older relatives who are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus so as not to put them at risk.
Although it is inevitably somewhat sad to downscale their weddings, brides say the coronavirus has helped put things in perspective.
“In the end it’s all about marrying the person you love, so at least you get to do that. Try and focus on that and maybe also drink a lot of wine. There are so many things after the wedding. This is a huge day, but there’s so much more to look forward to, and in the end you’re going to look back and say, ‘hey, I was a part of history’ because this is going to be one for the history books.”