Monday, March 29, 2010

The WIC, and What It Really Means

Last week, there was a lot of really great discussion about the WIC, or the Wedding Industrial Complex, and the ways in which consumerism has staked a big ugly claim on our personal rituals such as marriage and on the ways in which so many of us are both pulled in and repulsed by the wanting. If you haven't read both the posts yet, I highly recommend diving in.

As Jason and I have started to interview vendors and weigh our options against our values, budget, friend-helper alternatives, and wantwantwant desires, these posts were particularly resonant.  Because the truth is that I want something to rail against when this gets hard. I want to be able to scream at the damn WIC for how expensive this is and for pressuring me with all the cultural expectations that I simultaneously want (pretty dress! amazing photography! fabulous shoes!) and yet know are entirely besides the point at a wedding. These desires and decisions are fraught with import, silliness, and the emotional weight of marriage, and I find myself wanting an easy scapegoat, and the effing WIC fits that need pretty d*mn well.

However, in my more thoughtful moments, I know that there is no easy target for my frustration because there is no single Evil Wedding Beast.  I think the recent Classic APW post about the WIC over at A Practical Wedding captured the true complexities and my feelings on the matter.  Meg's definition of the WIC is one of the best I've seen, as she explains how the WIC encompasses the Wedding Industry, the societal expectations about The Way Things Are Done (and therefore, usually, the way we are not necessarily doing things and therefore Ruining Everything), and our own complicit desires in wanting all the pretty things that we're being sold by the Wedding Industry.

As I get deeper into the decision-making process, I'm finding it even more difficult to get riled up by Wedding Industry hatred, and therefore even more confused about my frustrations. I've never been anti-business or anti-profit: Jason and I both work in the private sector and I, in particular, am dedicated to reforming public policy outcomes via critical buy-in and involvement by business entities.  However, I'd heard so many horror stories and frustrations about wedding markup and ripoffs that I was wary about embarking on this vendor search.  And I've been genuinely horrified by the insidious ways in which the Wedding Industry (as a whole, not necessarily it's individual players) have given us "must have" guidelines that warp our perceptions of need versus want on everything related to weddings.

Given my wariness, it's been a genuine pleasure to recently meet so many lovely, dedicated, hardworking, caring, artists and smart scrupulous businesspeople who happen to tailor their work to meet the wedding market and needs. Yes, artists. And yes, businesspeople I would love to work with (again and again and again), if money were no object. In particular, the artists we're meeting with (musicians, DJs, photographers, caterers/chefs) during this process challenge these false demarcations between Indie and WIC weddings.  It's true that there are wedding professionals who simply identified a market and provide a service, but it's also true that there are incredible artists out here who appreciate the emotion and importance of a wedding and have directed their artistry towards serving the wedding market niche out of joy and business principles.  Our own DJ search has been really illustrative of the difference.  Once we admitted that yes, a DJ was important to us, we started emailing around and getting references. We received some quotes from people who seemed passable and like they provided reasonable music services without the cheeseball overtones. Professional, matter-of-fact service providers. And then, we emailed the Flashdance DJ, on the remotest offchance it was in our budget. The experience of meeting Michael in person showed us that his DJ services have very little to do with the standard wedding expectations. Aside from getting us geekily excited about his musical transitions, mixing and choices on his sample CD, monthly mixes, and the recent in-person experience at the Kick Ass Cake Bash, Michael just got it: music, weddings, business, and everything we were aiming for in our day.  Talking to him got us excited. Talking to him about the entire Flashdance wedding artist collective with Max Wanger, Our Labor of Love and other expanding options got us excited about their entire approach to weddings as an important emotional experience that they want to serve artistically.

It may be out of our price range to hire high end artists for all our wedding needs, but it feels good and right to be searching out and working with people who I like, respect, and admire as people and artists. It doesn't feel WIC-like at all, in the railing-against-it way I've been thinking about it. I don't feel the need to rail against anyone or anything. It simply feels right, albeit understandably expensive. In refusing to work with vendors I don't respect and adore, I've found there's a lot less to rail against at all.  My wedding doesn't feel crass or commercial or like a process of exploitation by vendors. I've ended up simply wishing I had a lot more money to support all the artists I've found and adore via this wedding research process.

I think, perhaps, those of us who rail against the expectations for weddings and who want to focus on the honesty and emotion of the day while not breaking the bank or DIYing everything have it rough. We want to scream about the WIC because this whole process is so effing expensive. So we turn away from the Knot and Martha etc and towards websites that promote independent artists and handcrafted options that better meet our aesthetic and ethical values. And then we're furious that we get sucked into the "alternative" vintage-type, sunburst photography, impossible DIY paper decor insanity and aspirations. "Eff you and your d*amn inspiration boards!" we cry, confused about where WIC and Indie begin and end, because we've ended up coveting stuff and getting further away from the meaning of the day when we really thought that's what we were avoiding. While my ethics support the trend towards quality, handcrafted (if possible), service-driven, local business, entrepreneurship by artists who really value the music, photography, food, desserts, flowers, and other wedding-related options out there, hanging around the so-called Indie blogs is really just a shift in the aesthetic and type of sales and manipulation inherent in this negotiation with the WIC.

I stepped away from the photo/planning centric blogs around the holidays, when I had overdosed on "inspiration" and needed time to focus on my family and what's truly important about the holiday season. But now, as we hit the year-out mark from our April 2011 wedding, I've had to jump back in. I'm researching vendors and those sites have a tremendous amount of resources for the sort of artists I value. Yes, we're also reaching out for referrals, we've been inspired by many of you, and we have a ton of creative independent-minded ideas of our own.  But, if you're starting to research DJs and photographers and invitation options (because you've already deemed these things important to you and not because you need them), there's a real benefit to a centralized location that largely aligns with your aesthetics and possibly even your values. But there's also a real chance you'll either overdose on bullshit details or you'll crawl away licking your budgetary wounds because you can't afford the amazing artist photographers you found.  We're running smack up against the Wedding Industry, but it's hard to rail against the WIC when I'm really just against my own budget limitations and honest desires for beauty, art, and joy.


  1. The true enemy is yourself. Right? Yes, you are flooded with these negative images, but it is up to you to decide whether you are going to let them hurt you or not. Once I decided those pressures no longer had anything at all to do with me, my marriage or my wedding, 96 percent of my wedding fears disappeared.

  2. Yes. So well said Becca! It's so hard to find the balance/compromise between the beauty/art we desire and the budget/integrity we want to maintain in the process of hiring vendors! My only advice is that you stick to your guns and give your money to people you feel good about, ya know? ps. if you have The Flashdance & Max Wanger I will be forever jealous. just saying.

  3. @Ms Awesome: No way we can afford Michael and Max Wanger (though more power to the lucky folks who can!) But we're getting really excited about the DJ splurge.

  4. Indeed. I am all about deals and only paying for stuff that's worth it and you've hit it - some of this WIC stuff is totally worth it. I always hated the polarized rants against WIC because I hated to admit that I wanted some of that stuff.

    I totally agree that the indie sites are just a variant on WIC at times and rail against you for NOT DIYing everything and having a wedding that cost $2k or $10k.

    I love your approach towards vendors and what you'll spend $ on because that's what we tried to do too. At the end, our wedding was a labor of love and freaking awesome.

  5. Once we started looking for People We Wanted to Work With - which is the way we'd undertake any other major financial endeavor - I felt a lot less beholden to the Wedding Industrial Complex, and a lot more willing to part with our hard-earned money. It felt much better to give money to working artisans - who got it - to support the expression of their and our vision, than to give money to faceless corporations making a buck in the wedding niche.

  6. I'm looking forward to following your vendor search, you are always such a breath of fresh air as we all stay sane planning.

  7. There is so much about this post I like that I'm having a hard time nailing it all down. But.

    I get very frustrated when people act like perpetuating the economic cycle is the problem, because as far as I'm concerned, thoughtful spending is one of the most powerful tools for change that we have. Also, I'm biased towards wanting artists to make a living doing what makes the world a better place (their gift) rather than filing papers or slinging coffee. So. Like you, we made a lot of choices around doing without or doing it ourselves on things that were low value for us, so we could pay artists on things that were high value. I'm glad we did.

    As for WIC and Indie, I'm not sure how different those things are at this point (or at any point, since Indie becomes a tool for sales... we all want to be more like artists and free thinkers). I think the dividing line for me is use of emotional manipulation to sell. If you manipulate, I'm out, if you don't I'm in. I work with a lot of photographers that I know for a FACT don't want people to feel forced into photography, or like the fear of regret is making them pay for photography. They want to work with people that want to work with them (more than enough of that to go around). That's the make or break for me, really.

    But then I think we have to divide out the fact that weddings are not, in the end, about what we spent or the stuff we got. That should influence our decision making process up to the point that we can absorb it before the fact. That said, weddings not being ABOUT stuff does not mean that stuff can't have significance, even ritual significance. My dress ended up having ritual significance for me... which was great. But it also wasn't a reason to spend $5K on that lace prettiness. If I'd chosen to do that, it would have just been for the pretty... not because the ritual garment HAD to cost a fortune. Our pictures? Well. I'm glad I have them. They are such a beutiful way to encapsulate that day. But I could remember what it felt like with or without pictures that were themselves art. I'm just glad I got the chance to choose with.

    So. We continue to learn about ourselves. And that is what makes it worth it.

  8. what about two sets. One set of nice little pricier things and another of dyi not expensive stuff. example making a nice card for your parents and close friends, who might actually keep a card, and give just a nicely put together invitation for people who will throw away your card the minute the wedding is over. If you send out a date, why not ask people if they would like an e-card. sneak in the posh, but not the cost.

  9. I think sometimes we can get caught up in b*tching about all of the bad things to do with weddings.

    When it comes down to it, we blog about our weddings because we are interested in it and we do like weddings, whatever our version of that is.

    Wedding bloggers are a part of the WIC.

    I'm so glad you are happy with your choices- it really is all that matters.

  10. i kind of enjoyed (sometimes) the challenge of finding awesome things (dress, shoes, photos...) that met my high wedding hopes, and still fit in the budget. (is that weird to say??)

    @ miss c: a few months into planning, i got rid of MOST of the "inspiration" blogs in my reader. it had shifted from "getting good ideas" to "wanting everything under the sun for my wedding."

    there are TRUE indie wedding blogs out there- blogs that start with some awesome inspiration, and then creatively work out some diy/inexpensive/sane approximation.

    that was part of the fun challenge of wedding planning- being inspired by those girls, prioritizing my own wants, and working around the obstacles.

    also- the truth is, quality creative services are going to cost money. and its ok to spend money on them. if youre doing that because YOU want to, and not because some amorphous being out this is making you feel like you NEED to. things being expensive- well, that's the way life works. but when prices skyrocket simply because of a "wedding" tag, that's when outrage is justified.

  11. That last sentence sums it up so well. I was surprised to find how much it all costs. I thought I was crafty and determined enough to pull off a blog worthy wedding for cheap. But our budget exploded because what we want costs lots of money. Not because we want expensive, frilly, over the top things.....just because plain old things (like feeding people food) are expensive. We are having a modest wedding for what I consider a more than modest price. And that is just the way it crumbles.

  12. After all that, the only thing I could focus on is that you are about to hit your one year mark! So exciting...we are at 17 days out today - scary!

  13. I honestly think that every bride waxes and wanes with WIC. I've had my moments where I'm fed up, and my moments where I've gone to the blogs for help. Now I'm at a point in my planning where I peruse for the sake of perusing, but not for my own wedding benefit.


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