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Why Are Weddings So Expensive?

The average wedding these days costs, depending on whom you ask, somewhere between $19,000 and $29,000. Those outrageous numbers, we recently learned from this AOL WalletPop video, you can blame at least in part on Marshall Field’s.

The Chicago department store that is now history (it was acquired by Macy’s, Inc. in 2005) played a big part in the history of weddings in the United States — and how they evolved to become the retail extravaganzas we are accustomed to today.

In 1924, Marshall Field’s became the first department store to launch a bridal registry. It was also the first to start catering to middle-class brides by introducing low-cost knock-offs of high-fashion garments, according to Timothy Long, the costume curator of the Chicago History Museum, where wedding gowns from the 19th century through present are now on exhibit.

Today, bridal registries have become a staple of wedding planning — and, let’s face it, plenty of brides dream of a designer gown that likely carries a price tag higher than anything they ever have or will spend on a garment to be worn just once.

In the 19th century, meanwhile, wedding dresses were little like those we’re used to seeing walk down the aisle today. To begin with, they were not white. To wear a white dress, in fact, would have been considered ostentatious and rude, according to Long: white was not only difficult to produce, but also difficult to keep clean. Back then, wedding dresses were meant to be worn again, and again. In fact, according to WalletPop, the typical cost of a wedding back then would have been around $400.

By the 1940s, the term “white wedding” had already entered our vocabulary. And that meant trouble for those footing the bill.

In an article published in the Saturday Evening Post on May 26, 1946 (a scan of which landed in our inbox thanks to Shane Murray of The Wedding Report), author Horace W. Osborne gives a humorous, if overly detailed account of his daughter’s wedding preparations — and all the costs involved.

“To the distaff side, a ‘white wedding’ merely means that the bride will be married in a white wedding dress,” he writes.  “But to the old man ‘white’ forever afterward will be linked inseparably with the past tense of the verb ‘to bleed.’”  His daughter’s wedding dress cost $191.45, the florist charged $220 and the wedding cake was $45. The total tab wedding tab ran at $2,238.47.

And before you marvel at that inexpensiveness, remember that those numbers are not adjusted for inflation. We used the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator to do just that and arrived at the following, in 2010 dollars:

Dress: $2,320.57

Florist: $2,666.62

Wedding cake: $545.45

Total: $27,132.49.

So much for blaming today’s overblown wedding budgets on reality television.

Why Are Weddings So Expensive? Historians Find The Answer” video provided by WalletPop.com.