A few weeks ago, I opened Facebook to find one of my “memories” atop the news feed. I’ve been ambushed by these ghoulish little dispatches before, but this one caught me especially off-guard, as I never tagged myself in the photo and so had not seen it since the day I posted it. The photo featured me and my ex-boyfriend at his cousin’s wedding four years ago with the caption, “Wedding season begins.”
I had completely forgotten about this particular wedding, but was reminded of what a beautiful occasion it had been. As several friends get deeper into relationships that will likely lead to weddings I’ll have to help plan, I tried to recall what it was about this one that made it especially enjoyable. I couldn’t place the gown or the content of the speeches or a single thing we had eaten. Even as I came up empty-handed on the actual substance of the wedding, I kept returning to two words to describe the overall feel: It had been tasteful and classy.
As wedding season begins anew, the legions of wedding haters have reliably emerged on social media, in articles, and over the course of gossipy brunches. Marie Claire published a wedding guide last year for the “anti-wedding girl,” a not-so-subtle nod to how on-trend it is to hate weddings. Kathryn Jezer-Morton at Jezebel declared the modern wedding to be a “grotesque, barely recognizable caricature” on account of the influence of late-stage capitalism, making solid arguments against nuptial overexertion and the outrageous demands put on bridesmaids to spend a fortune on the weddings of friends.
Many people who express their disdain for weddings rely on anti-consumerist rhetoric, while others claim objection to the archaic institution of marriage itself. But listening closely to these detractors, the substance of their arguments still reads mostly as distaste for particular aesthetics. In an article on Mic attempting to explain the “science” of why people hate engagement and wedding photos, a woman named Ariella declares, “I feel like this is a new trend where everyone is taking these super-posed, cliché photos and then posting them to Facebook, and I do not get it at all … Like, would I ever frame an ‘artsy’ photo of myself and said fiancé staring longingly into each other’s eyes? No! Or how about a picture of us from behind holding hands walking through train tracks? No!” Ariella doesn’t mind that people get married, you see. She just wants to make sure that the engagement photos accommodate how she would choose to decorate her own home with personal photographs.
The anti-wedding guide promises to deliver “the literally-no-frills, not-uptight-at-all, chillest, happiest non-wedding wedding you never knew you wanted.” That is not about hating capitalism, it is about hating unabashedly feminine gowns. Women are socialized to treat their wedding day as the fulfillment of their highest feminine ideals, yet we shit on them if they take that deeply gendered expectation and turn it into too much femininity in the form of tulle, layers, and long trains. And I was with Jezer-Morton until she wrote, “Why can’t we just … stop? Why can’t people just have a big party with food and a band, people can get dressed up if they want to, the couple says they love each other, and … that’s pretty much it?” In other words, weddings are tolerable if they meet the simple and understated tastes of this particular guest.
The core of most critiques of wedding culture is not about materialism, but about taste — and taste is how class manifests in the material world. And though they say that money can’t buy you either class or taste, money can buy you someone to fake them really, really well. I have rarely heard anyone speak disparagingly of the subtly elegant weddings of friends with money. People claim they want to see candid, effortless images that truly capture the essence of a partnership’s enduring love. But they forget or willfully ignore that such images are largely the elaborate constructions of professional photographers staging things to appear natural. Yes, the photo of a woman showing off the glare of her Kay Jewelers bauble with a big goofy smile on her face and her fiancé holding her from behind prom-style looks corny as hell. Chances are lower that they’re tacky narcissists than that her dad took the photo at Christmas and demanded big smiles out of the both of them. The classy, subtle, understated version of this is presumably a candid shot: lit to flatter, with shadows and contrasts and a sense of deep peace across the bride-to-be’s face rather than a big cheesy grin (which, by the way, signals ecstatic joy).
Allegedly tasteful weddings are much the same. These fairy-lit affairs with form-fitting attire and solid oak tables gracefully set with rustic china for vegan catering in the redwoods feel more authentic than weddings where the bride wears tulle and at least one groomsmen ends up with his tie around his head (Chuck, what a rascal). But the more tasteful weddings we attend are more often displays of particular privileges than measures of greater love.
Though the tasteful wedding exists most often at the intersection of disposable income and discerning taste, it does not necessarily require huge sums of money. But it does require an amount of cultural privilege: living in a city with accessible vendors to provide unique experiences rather than mass-produced ones, being enmeshed in or near creative communities that can help tailor a wedding dress, venue, or ceremony to exacting standards, and enough relationships with people who have thrown similarly tasteful weddings to know what these allegedly “more authentic” affairs look like. I saw friends relentlessly mocking this viral story of a photo shoot that five sisters took to thank their parents for paying for their weddings. Each wedding clearly involved a lot of money, but the execution was too corny not to earn these women the internet’s scorn. Surely there are more egregious examples of consumerism run amok than couples wanting to take photos of a gentle kiss at sunset or on an old-timey truck with their sisters in their wedding gowns.
And though I begrudge no one taking their wedding as an opportunity to throw a “big party with food and a band,” this setup can be easily spoiled by the politics that goes into throwing such an affair. Too often I’ve attended weddings at which the preferred way to talk about the approach to the day is by shitting on other people’s weddings. Using a wedding day to critique the way other people choose to celebrate the start of their marriage is far more tasteless than any engagement photos on a train track I’ve ever seen. The genuine premise becomes a superior posturing that defines the party itself by its own high-mindedness. Don’t let your super-mad-chill party be the Bernie Bro of weddings.
As I retraced my steps to recall the details of the wedding I saw in my Facebook memory, I remembered that it had been rife with conflict. The side of the family that I was seated with was angry with the bride for having excluded some members of the family, and they made it known throughout the occasion, though the bridal party remained admirably unflappable. That I remembered the event as so tasteful and classy despite the family drama I was privy to is a testament to how powerful tasteful decorations and event execution can be. In the absence of any personal connection to the bride or groom, I had only sensory memories of the event. But seeing as a decent number of the weddings we attend in our lives will be for people we know and love, it would be wise not to mistake their consumer reflexes for the strength or weakness of their commitment to one another. The only thing more grotesque and caricatured than a tasteless couple is the smug guest who thinks that the wedding’s execution is any of their business anyway.