Angela Thompson, Ph.D., knows quite a bit about weddings. In addition to her research focusing on the industry and its traditions, the sociology instructor at Texas Christian University once went through the extensive wedding planning process many brides undertake to say I do — only to choose to say “I don’t” six weeks before her big day. Planning taught her a lot about her relationship, and even more about wedding culture. It became her dissertation for her doctorate studies.
“Around that time, more women moved into the workforce, and where historically it would’ve been the activity of moms and daughters and the brides to do the planning, a lot of women simply didn’t have time to do that and were relying on professionals,” she recalls to ESSENCE. “When I was looking for a dissertation topic, I saw all these people who were really doing this professionally and making careers out of it. That was one of the things that spurred me into weddings as a topic.”
Nowadays, she shares her knowledge to help us understand why weddings are such a big deal for people of all cultures, to advise grooms and fathers of the bride on ways to get involved in planning (she has a new e-book for that: Wedding Planning Unveiled: A Playbook for Dads and Grooms) and to share the major trends in the industry. And after the pandemic rearranged the way we say “I do,” Thompson says people are going full speed back to the altar, with large guest counts and even bigger plans.
With that in mind, we spoke with her about the obsession with go big or go home weddings and what to expect of nuptials in the “post-pandemic” era.
ESSENCE: Why do you think that people are so drawn to going for the big and the bold weddings? There have been some changes due to COVID, but I feel like that’s what people are drawn to.
Dr. Angela Thompson: For many people, the wedding is the fulfillment of a childhood fantasy. Women in particular are socialized around the fantasy of the wedding. The happy ending is the wedding. And there’s that push to make that fantasy come true. On top of that, we do live in a society that’s really focused on consumerism. We spend and we buy, add to that a desire for individuality and wanting to create an event that really is personalized. Then on some level there’s a belief that having the perfect wedding is an inoculation against divorce. If we do the wedding right, then that must mean we’ll be happily ever after. So I think all of those things come together and impact the choices that people make in regard to how much they’re willing to spend or the size of the weddings, or just going big on weddings.
Speaking on that, obviously the last two years have greatly shifted the idea of the perfect wedding. A lot of people ended up having to do courthouse ceremonies or they had to scale back their dream weddings. Do you feel like this shift is something that could continue or are we going back to the norm?
According to industry reports, we are going big this year and a lot of people are going for it. I guess if you go back to 2020, the average of the number of weddings was about 1.3 million, which was a big drop. This year the estimates are that it’ll be about 2.5 million. People are going for it. And many people did postpone, not as many in 2021 because we had the vaccine rollout and there were some loosening of standards and requirements, not only on the state level, but from the CDC. But if you compare 2020 to 2022, people are going for it and they’re going for it big time.
So what are some of the trends that you’re seeing through your research?
Arguably, it’s all trending, everything. And that’s a big backlash against the pandemic. If you think about what happened after the 1918 pandemic, you had the Roaring ’20s and people went for it to have fun. And people are interested in having fun now. They’re going for bigger weddings. Some people are still doing small weddings and small events, but they may be more elaborate with their small wedding than they previously were. More formal events are showing up. People want to get dressed up and get out of the house. They want to go and have fun and do something. Destination weddings, as we see the restrictions for COVID dropping, not only in this country, but around the world, people are interested in destination weddings and going places to have fun. So I would say it really is all trending. People are interested in getting out and having a good time and celebrating this important rite of passage.
As people plan weddings during this time, how would you say that they should proceed? With COVID variants and things of that nature, nothing is ever 100% guaranteed to go off without a hitch.
Yeah. If you’re looking specifically at planning and the issues of COVID, you really need to have a backup plan in mind.
So in your invitations, if you want people to be vaccinated, make sure that people are vaccinated. It’s important to note being vaccinated doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve got the booster also. So you need to keep that in mind.
What about family members who are immunocompromised? How will their participation in the event occur or be adjusted? Virtual weddings, having virtual setups, whether Zoom or something else at the event, so maybe somebody who cannot physically come can still participate or view the event.
In terms of the numbers of people at your reception, you may want to consider a shift wedding. That’s really where you have people come in shifts. Some guests come at the five o’clock hour and then another group rotates in at the six o’clock hour as a way to keep the numbers of people there down. So there are tons of things to consider. There’s also wedding insurance. You need to investigate to see whether or not it would cover cancellation during COVID. But that’s another possibility, to go ahead and get some wedding insurance in case you do need to postpone or make changes in the event.
Lastly, I wanted to ask you if you didn’t mind sharing, based on your own experiences of calling off your wedding after doing a lot of planning, if there are people out there who are going through the process and they’re seeing things about their relationship or about their partner, or they’re just having different feelings, what should they keep in mind?
During these stressful times, you get to see your partner honestly. And if you honestly don’t like what you’re seeing, don’t just focus on the wedding, realize that this is a marriage that you’re working toward. That’s your real goal. The wedding is beautiful, but that’s not the ultimate goal here. The marriage is the ultimate goal, and what marriage will you be having? If you add kids to the mix, you can just assume the stress level will go up. So you need to make sure you’re going into it with open eyes and not rose colored glasses, because you’re talking about your life experience and it’s important to get it right.