Updated May 29, 2023 - Economy

The era of over-the-top weddings

Illustration of coins falling into a cake as if it were a piggy bank.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

After a pandemic-induced backup and pent-up demand, weddings have come roaring back with bigger budgets, longer guest lists and grander ideas.

The big picture: Almost every aspect of planning, hosting and attending weddings is getting pricier.

By the numbers: The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. ticked up from $28,000 to $29,000 from 2022 to 2023, according to the wedding planning website Zola.

  • But the average cost was far higher in some states, like Washington, D.C., ($45,400), New Jersey ($44,219) and Massachusetts ($40,097).

What's happening: Inflation and high demand are driving up the price of weddings, as everything from music to flowers to makeup gets more expensive.

  • 77% of wedding vendors surveyed in a recent study said they’d be raising their rates in 2023, CNBC reports.
Estimated change in price of select wedding items, 2019-2022
Data: The Knot; Chart: Axios Visuals

On top of that, social media has infiltrated the wedding planning process — and more and more couples feel pressure to spend big to make their events pop.

  • They’re splurging on details like doughnut walls, custom cocktail napkins, and champagne towers to add pizzazz.
  • "[C]ouples continue to lean into the desire to have a high degree of personalization," says Kirsten Francis, director of global insights at The Knot. Some 63% of couples said that personalization was the most important element of planning, per data from The Knot.
  • That adds to costs because it calls for extra effort from vendors.

"We're just really inundated with images of wedding possibilities," says Landis Bejar, a therapist who specializes in talking to couples and wedding guests.

  • "Maybe 15 years ago, if you got engaged you got a couple of bridal magazines. Now, a quick Google search can turn into six hours of wedding research. It’s analysis paralysis."
  • One in three 2023 couples are looking to TikTok for wedding inspiration, Zola notes.

The stakes: Pricey weddings aren’t just burdening couples.

  • 40% of people who've gone to weddings in the past five years have gone into debt to be there, per a recent LendingTree survey.
  • That jumps to 62% if they were also in the bridal party — which comes with additional obligations, like showers and bachelor and bachelorette parties.

After years of isolation, these gatherings still feel really special, Bejar says. “[Guests and bridal party members] feel sad saying no.”

Trend to watch: One wedding cost that's bucking the trend and declining is attire for the groom. That's because grooms are increasingly opting for a more casual outfit than tuxedos, Francis tells Axios.

What's next: The U.S. wedding services business is booming as a result of the rush — growing 10% in 2022 to a $71 billion industry, according to market research firm IBISWorld

  • That growth is likely to continue if bigger, grander weddings become a fixture of the post-pandemic era.

Go deeper: Listen to the Axios Today podcast, where host Niala Boodhoo and Erica Pandey talk about why small pandemic weddings are being replaced by splashy, pricey affairs.

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