‘Couple culture’ has taken a marked swing away from consumerism in the wake of the pandemic, say some cultural commentators. Is the small wedding here to stay?
There’s an irony in how a pandemic on a global scale has compelled us to reconsider our lives at micro level – from the 2 metres separating us from our nearest neighbour, to scaling back work and social lives.
Social distancing has had an inevitable impact on matters of the heart, too, as Covid-19 has strong- armed couples into either abandoning their wedding plans or reimagining their big day on a smaller scale.
Now, some point to signs that tiny weddings and the concept of ‘minimony’ are here to stay. Image-sharing site Pinterest has seen a 160 per cent increase in searches for ‘small back garden weddings’ and a doubling in searches for both ‘simple wedding cake 1 tier’ and ‘registry office wedding outfit’. One Cornwall-based company that specialises in ‘intimate weddings’ saw web traffic up by a third in 2020/21 compared to the previous year.
“I think that can only be good,” says Dr Mary Harrod, associate professor in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Warwick. “It’s about escaping that pressure to spend so much money, and escaping capitalism encroaching on all walks of life, even on something that should really be very personal and outside those circuits of power.”
Harrod co-edited the book Imagining ‘We’ in the Age of ‘I’, which considers changes in intimate culture. She admits the book has a “strong seam of pessimism” as it explores an “ambivalence about romantic love”. But one positive takeaway, in Harrod’s eyes, is the shift towards micro-weddings, where the true meaning of the day – shared with a handful of guests – trumps sparkle and spectacle.
“It was out of hand,” she says, pointing to evidence uncovered by colleague Suzanne Leonard that the spiralling cost of weddings in the US, for example, was ‘classing’ marriage by making it unaffordable.
“The tail was wagging the dog. At a time when marriage seems less and less important, the wedding was getting more and more important. However, there’s a huge change now. During the pandemic, people couldn’t have these big ceremonies, and they began asking themselves: ‘Is it about spectacle and the party, or is it about the few people I really care about – something more meaningful?’. Perhaps the idea will last.”
Of course, for many, a smaller wedding is a way to cut costs after an economically challenging 18 months: a necessity, rather than their first choice.
Jane Caterer runs Cornwall-based Petite Weddings, a business that focuses exclusively on organising elopement and ‘intimate’ weddings. Whatever the reasons for couples opting to downscale, she believes the concept will stick: “The current climate has normalised the idea of having a small wedding and made them more acceptable. We don’t see demand for these smaller, more heartfelt and personal celebrations of love stemming any time soon.
“Couples have concerns about spending lifechanging sums of money on a wedding in the current environment. Equally, we are hearing from lots of couples who are actively choosing to spend more per head and have a really special time either just as a couple, or surrounded by their inner circle of friends and family.”
For some, a new spirit of fearlessness has inspired them to break with wedding convention and get married the way they want. For others, seeing the positive impacts that a global slowdown has had on the environment has spurred more eco-conscious choices.
Options for sustainable wedding ideas now abound – from more eco-friendly decorations, to greener options for food and even wedding rings.
We don’t see demand for these smaller, more heartfelt celebrations stemming any time soon
Broadcaster and journalist Nichi Hodgson discovered first-hand how small can indeed be beautiful when she tied the knot with husband Ferdie in November 2020. Instead of the 120 guests, fairground and champagne-bearing llamas they had planned, the couple invited close friends to a ceremony at Old Marylebone Town Hall – saving £28,000 in the process.
Hodgson recalls: “We got so much more time with each other on the day, we could be more present with our guests, and when we said our vows, we could focus on their true meaning, with our best friends as witnesses.
“It wasn’t the grand wedding we’d planned, but it was still amazing.”
Wedding lists with a twist
Wedding gift registry service Patchwork allows guests to contribute time or skills towards a much-wanted gift or experience, as well as cash. People’s priorities have changed post-Covid: here’s what couples really want in 2021, according to Patchwork
After over a year of not being able to see friends and family, couples are increasingly including options for guests to pay for train tickets, so that they can visit each other.
Image: Priscilla du Preez
Patchwork has seen couples add beehives, shepherd huts and a hedgehog house to their wishlists in recent months. Guests have also collectively funded a tractor, a patch of woodland and even a flock of sheep.
Image: Jocelyne Yvonne
With engaged couples spending so much time at home recently, many more are now asking for contributions – cash, time or skills – towards home improvements. Ali and Richard asked guests to help make their garden “magical”. “We’re fairly minimalist and environmentally conscious. We just don’t want a bunch of stuff to fill our house and weigh us down,” they say.
Image: Roselyn Tirado
One couple, Nancy and Callum, created a local gift list. “Lockdown really made us appreciate how much we enjoyed little things like going to the cinema or meandering around a museum or gallery on a Saturday,” say the pair. “We also really wanted to encourage people to support smaller businesses in our area after such a tough year.”
Image: Yulia Khlebnikova
Main image: Isabelle Hesselberg/Alamy