Every year, 2.4 million couples marry in the United States, and they spend a total of $80 billion to do so.
If those weddings were a country, the International Monetary Fund would list it at No. 64 in its ranking of nations by gross domestic product, which is the total value of goods and services each nation produces annually. That’s 64 out of 188 nations listed.
“The average wedding, domestically, runs $26,000,” said David Wood, the president of the Connecticut-based Association of Bridal Consultants, which tracks the wedding industry. The stats, he said, are a bit skewed by the New York and Los Angeles markets, where spending is much higher than in the nation’s midsection. “You can have plenty of wedding in the Midwest for $10,000, and you can’t touch a wedding in New York City for under $50,000.”
As an urban center, Miami wedding prices trend more toward Manhattan than Midwest, Wood said, explaining, “Miami, it’s pricy. There’s a little more space, and it’s not an island the way Manhattan is, but the urban markets are more expensive.”
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That adds up to about $40,000 for a South Florida average, according to Sthefany Pessoa, a Miami Beach wedding planner who runs a company called Happily Ever After, A Wedding Company. In most cases, the biggest expense is the reception, which in over-the-top South Florida often includes floor shows rivaling Cirque du Soleil. In her more than seven years in business, Pessoa has arranged for cigar rollers, caricature artists, samba dancers in tiny bikinis and aerial silk performers who dangle above the crowd from a curtain of fabric.
“It’s showtime,” Wood said. “Some of these weddings really become performances.’’
And that, said Wood, isn’t really necessary.
“I feel bad for this current generation because of the pressures and expectations on them,” he said. “The pressures and expectations because of social media have set people’s goals to be just unrealistic goals. They have these fake lives on social media, with pictures of them traveling, supposedly having this wonderful time. Everybody’s smiling. It’s nonsense. Nobody lives like that. So, unfortunately, that influences the wedding budget.”
Keija Minor, editor-in-chief of Brides magazine agrees. “Social media has definitely upped the ante,” she said. “Every event associated with your wedding is now going to be documented.” Your dress, your flowers, your bridal party will be memorialized on Facebook and sent around the world via Instagram — turning brides’ attention to every last detail.
“Before it might have been just about the wedding dress. Now it’s about the outfits for all of the events leading up to the wedding. Social media... has turned every event into a red carpet moment.”
That translates into a desire for the unique and highly personal, said Brides magazine editor-in-chief Minor.
“I don’t know if it’s about keeping up with the Joneses or outdoing the Joneses. It’s more about having a wedding that feels unique and personal to them. People want to surprise their guests with something new. It’s not about having a wedding at the same place where their friends did or their sister did, going through the same experience.”
Wood, the bridal association president, agrees. “No one wants the last wedding they went to; everyone wants something different,” Wood said. “Part of that is people want to brand their wedding. They want to do something that reflects them as a couple, what their history is, where they met.”
That yearning for specialness translates into these trends:
▪ Destination weddings are in. “Part of that is because nobody’s marrying the girl next door,” Wood said. “The families today are spread out all over the place … by the time you fly everybody to whatever one place where you have the wedding mind, it’s just as cheap to fly to Miami or some warm place or the Caribbean or Mexico.”
When Miamians Jason Press and Fiorella Lanfranco Press married two years ago, they did so in Costa Rica, at Los Sueños Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort. Not only did the out-of-town wedding provide memorable experiences for the guests (such as trips to the rainforest or zip line tours), but also it helped pare down the wedding list because not everyone could make the trip. Roughly a third of the initial guest list ultimately attended, Lanfranco Press said.
“Here’s a little secret,” Lanfranco Press told the Miami Herald, “A big reason why we wanted a destination wedding was because the guest list was starting to get near 300 guests. I just kept getting overwhelmed thinking that the night of our wedding I would be saying hello and talking to 300 people. I kind of wanted it to be more intimate.” The final count was a more manageable 110 people.
▪ Bachelor and bachelorette parties have expanded from the typical one night out to a weekend out of town — chronicled extensively on social media.
▪ Bridal showers now take place in multiple venues. “More girls are having two showers because maybe they want to have one in their hometown, but they live across the country or went to college across the country, so there’s a friend on the West Coast who wants to throw a shower for them, but they’re originally from Miami. So, their mother or aunt wants to throw a shower for them there,” Minor said.
▪ Multiple dresses. “They may have one dress for the dinner part of the reception and then change into another for dancing,” Minor said.
▪ The latest trendy food — be it kale or quinoa — is finding its way onto wedding menus. At the same time, family-style, serve-yourself wedding dinners are supplanting plated dinners, especially at smaller weddings. “For a 50- to 70-person wedding, it feels intimate,” Minor said.
▪ Honeymoons are all about the experiences beyond just lying on the beach. “We just saw something where you could go fishing for your own seafood and then with the chef learn how to cook it,” Minor said. “Or, people were going foraging for crabs and then making a seafood dinner. Or, making your own wine on a honeymoon. If you are going to go somewhere like Argentina for your honeymoon, wouldn’t it be cool to bottle your own wine and drink it on your first anniversary?”
While most people plan their own weddings, those short on time often turn to a wedding planner. Most of those, said Wood, are two-income couples who work 60 to 80 hours a week and can’t take time off from work to sample wedding cakes or listen to bands. “They come to us and say, look, here’s what we’re thinking,” he said. “Please build it for us, and we’ll see you there.”
Whether they’re using a planner or going DIY, the planning timeline is expanding because prime wedding locations are often booked more than a year in advance, Wood said.
For the businesses that serve brides and grooms, keeping up with — and ahead of — trends involves constant innovation. Here are four local firms forgoing tradition in favor of today’s brides.
Forget about pots and pans. Modern marriages call for novel wedding registries, and two Miami-based cruise lines have just the ticket.
“My best friend recommended that we register our honeymoon because we were combining two households into one and already had two of everything,” Anthony and Susan posted on the Norwegian Cruise Line website that provides guests the opportunity to help defray the cost of the honeymoon cruise or purchase specific items such as a spa treatment or dinner at any of the shipboard restaurants. “The last thing we needed was more towels!” they added. “Our honeymoon was truly a dream come true. I could have never asked for a better gift from friends and family.”
Carnival Cruise Lines also offers shipboard amenities and memory-building excursions. For $100, guests can purchase a dolphin encounter for the couple on Blue Lagoon Island in the Bahamas, a “Circle of Fire” helicopter ride over the volcanoes of Hawaii, or an evening gondola ride in Venice, followed by champagne and dinner. For half that price, guests can give the couple Mexican cooking lessons in Ensenada, an Angels & Demons tour of Rome based on Dan Brown’s bestseller, a trip to South Beach or a visit to the Miami Seaquarium. There are even $25 gifts, such as an Everglades tour, snorkeling on Half Moon Cay, and a stingray encounter on Gibbs Cay Beach.
It’s not just here’s $50, have a good time, or a turkey baster and a toaster.
Nancy Williams of Honeymoon Wishes
Carnival Cruise launched its registry in 2007. To date tens of thousands of people have used it, and the donations average $1,800 per couple, said Nancy Williams, business development director for Honeymoon Wishes. Norwegian Cruise Line launched its registry in February, Williams said, explaining why there are currently no statistics for that company.
Honeymoon Wishes of California operates the bridal registries for both cruise companies.
The websites enable couples to tailor their honeymoon experience based on a menu of available services and experiences. It also provides the gift-giver the opportunity to pay for something specific, as opposed to simply writing a check.
Etiquette dictates that couples can’t come out and ask for cash, but they can point their guests in the right direction. The cruise ship registry “validates that this is not just about giving cash for the honeymoon,” Williams said. The bride and groom can say, “We’re going on a Carnival Cruise and you can buy us a dolphin swim.”
The gift giver can even get to see how the money is spent.
“It’s not just here’s $50, have a good time, or a turkey baster and a toaster,” Williams said. “They can share a photo with the giver. They can see the couple swimming with a dolphin.”
You might not think an outlet for discount gowns would fit in next door to a bridal shop long known for its designer styles. But that works just fine for Catherine Fox Milian. The owner of the Chic Parisien in Coral Gables, Milian opened a discount store last June and expects to reap an additional $1 million in annual revenues as a result.
“There is definitely a market for this,” Fox Milian said of the discount dresses. While the Chic Parisien is a white-glove boutique that offers full service, including alterations, The Find is strictly a cash-and-carry operation. “There is definitely a bride that is happy about that, happy enough to have gotten the deal and is willing to get it serviced on her own.” And that can include out-of-town clients. “We get many, many customers from out of the country, just passing through, looking for their gowns.”
The shop is designed to appeal to the savvy shopper looking for a brand name — such as Oscar de la Renta, Badgley Mischka, Jenny Peckham, Vera Wang — at prices that range from 40 percent to 60 percent off the original list price. It’s for the customer who wants couture but doesn’t have time for it to be custom-made, which sometimes takes up to six months.
But its far from a thrift store. “We’re not selling $99 dresses,” Fox Milian said. “Our average ticket is about $2,500 to $3,500, even on sale. So, we’re just selling a finer garment, but at a more reasonable price.
“They are things that may be from a season past,” she said. “It’s kind of the same thing as shopping at Sawgrass, with the Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH or Neiman Marcus Last Call. It’s wonderful, timeless pieces, but it might not be hot off the runway.”
Not every bridal gown is a budget buster.
“We have dresses on sale starting at about $1,000,” Fox Milian said. “We sold a Zuhair Murad for $10,000. So, the range is pretty broad.” (Murad dressed Sofía Vergara when the star married last year in Palm Beach.)
The Find also offers head pieces, veils, jewelry, accessories — but no bridesmaid outfits.
The Find typically has 250 or so bridal gowns in stock. They are mostly off-white or ivory. “We have a couple of pink dresses, which was a big trend, and actually will continue,” Fox Milian said. “Pink and blush and champagne, some gold. We have basically anything that is trending in the bridal market.”
If you’re looking for something blue, the store can accommodate that, too. “We have a couple of dresses that do have blue accents — like blue crystals or blue bows,” she said. “I have one that is actually a hand-painted fabric painted in a very light blue. It has light blue orchids on it.”
A store stylist will help brides find their perfect dress. You can make an appointment and bring your posse to help you chose, similar to scenes from the television show Say Yes to the Dress. The Find has an open floor plan, where brides try on their dresses in a private dressing room and model them in front of friends and family.
“People come in big groups and sit in the middle,” Fox Milian said. “The girls get dressed and come out. We do have that ‘Say Yes’ moment, with champagne and cheer. We definitely try to create the moment and make it a special thing for the bride.”
Fox Milian says that gay couples tend to mirror the taste of brides everywhere. Of the couples who have shopped at her store, each bride has chosen her own dress. “They pick their own wedding dress,” Fox Milian said. “They are exactly what we sell to everybody else. It is not a color. They are not pantsuits, and they are on-trend with what everybody else is getting.” And with all brides, they keep their dress a secret from their partner, she says, in favor of the big reveal on the wedding day.
SPECIALTY FOOD STATIONS
Donut Divas puts the fun in weddings. Think Candyland or a visit to the Willy Wonka factory.
“We’re the only ones who cater fun foods in Miami,” said Yojani Blandino, who along with Maria Acosta, founded Donut Divas in 2008. The company provides foods you might find at a country fair, including mini doughnuts, New Orleans-style beignets with powdered sugar sprinkled on top, mini corndogs and deep-fried candy bars. (No ice cream: it melts and gets messy.)
Trending now, Blandino said: deep-fried red velvet Oreos.
The company comes in toward the end of the reception with carts laden with cake batter and cookies. Cooks make the deep-fried concoctions on the spot for guests to eat on scene or take home. “Normally we set up by the exit during the last two hours of the event,” she said. “So, as guests are leaving they can take it with them. People come back for seconds. We are a hit.”
If the online reviews are any indication, she’s right about that.
“5 words: Red Velvet Deep Fried Oreos,” Jennifer wrote on weddingwire.com after a 2014 wedding. “Heaven in a deep frier (sic). I got a million compliments the night of and my guests are now trying to recreate them in their homes in the aftermath. So delicious. So worth it. Use them!”
Darlene echoed that sentiment in her online post.
“Fun, fun, fun!” she said after a 2013 wedding. “Our guests loved these sweet treats as they danced the night away! We had mini donuts and deep fried Oreos covered in red velvet — I’m still dreaming about them!”
Blandino estimates her company handles more than 200 weddings a year, with an average of three to four every weekend. The divas service a broad swath of Florida, from the Keys to north of Orlando.
The company charges $850 per station for a wedding under 200 guests. That price includes two hours of unlimited doughnuts or whatever treat the couple ordered.
Some special orders are possible, including deep-fried Twinkies and fried pickles. Some clients order as many as seven different dessert carts, Blandino said.
“We’re recommended by the Breakers in Palm Beach,” Blandino said. “The Ritz-Carlton in Fort Lauderdale keep us in their Rolodex.”
The Wedding Planner
Whether you are looking for a traditional fairytale wedding or want a sci-fi spectacle complete with dancing robot, the wedding planners at Happily Ever After say they can help.
Many of the Miami receptions are over the top, with every imaginable entertainment to wow the guests. “There’s the hora loca, the hour of craziness,” said Sthefany Pessoa, who owns the Miami Beach-based Happily Ever, After A Wedding Company. A Brazilian native, Pessoa knows a thing or two about extravaganzas. She has created floor shows with bikini-clad samba dancers in stilettos and sparkly wings, stilt walkers, magicians, cigar rollers and aerialists that rival circus performers.
“People dress up like robots,” she said. “They are big and tall. There’s a special suit for that. There are so many things. My job is to know everything that is out there.”
Pessoa even made it snow in Miami. “At one of the weddings, when they said ‘You may kiss the bride,’ snow began to fall,” she said — thanks to a snow machine.
Of course, her job also entails helping to ensure the couple gets hitched without a hitch.
“We’re there every step of the way, from the proposal on,” Pessoa said. “We take care of everything, including bachelorette and bachelor parties. We rent boats for them. We’ve had proposals in a hot air balloon. We’ve had quite a few cruise weddings.”
One of the latest trends involves creating a chandelier of flowers. “In a tent for 150 guests all you could see was flowers upside down,” she said.
Happily Ever After supplies both basics and frills: tables, chairs, linens, photo booth, gelato carts and monograph lighting. Her in-house florist does the dirt-and-blossom work. “You don’t have to deal with four different delivery trucks and contacting eight different vendors.”
Happily Ever After has handled weddings both large and small. “We’ve done weddings for 750 guests and just two guests” — even arranged weddings where the couple meets for the first time when they take their vows. “It’s actually quite fun. They are beautiful.”
While 40 percent of her clients are local, the other 60 percent comes from as far away as Australia and Europe. “We specialize in the out-of-town guest,” she said. “Miami is definitely a destination. Everyone wants to get married in South Florida, with its beautiful beaches.”
Miami is being marketed as a destination for same-sex weddings, and Pessoa has noticed a 30 percent increase in such weddings over last year, when they first became legal in Florida. Her company averages 15 to 20 gay weddings a year, and she said women are more apt to marry than men, with 60 percent of the couples being women. The outfits range from both brides wearing bridal gowns to one member wearing a white tuxedo and the other wearing a gown, she says. The men tend to wear tuxedos as well, but more colorful, not your basic black, she said.
Founded: June 2015.
Owner: Catherine Fox Milian.
Location: 3306 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables.
Features: Couture, high-end bridal gowns by top fashion designers. This is a bridal gown outlet with sample sale and overstock dresses marked down as much as 60 percent off the list price. Typically, there are 250 dresses in stock. They are predominantly sample sizes, usually 6 to 8. The store also carries a handful of sizes 2 and 4, as well as 12, 14 and 16. Additional stock includes the occasional ready-to-wear evening gown, but no bridesmaid dresses.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Revenues: Projected $1 million for 2016.
Cruise Gift Registries
Registry websites for Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line are run by California-based Honeymoon Wishes. Couples and guests can find details online:
Norwegian Cruise Line: ncl.honeymoonwishes.com
Carnival Cruise Line: carnival.honeymoonwishes.com
Owners: Maria Acosta and Yojani Blandino.
Location: 5779 SW Eighth St., Miami.
Features: The Donut Divas have been serving up deep-fried goodness for the past eight years, and last May opened a 90-seat restaurant. The interior resembles a circus tent, with red-and-white cloth banners covering the ceiling. In addition to weddings, the Double D ladies cater birthdays, bar mitzvahs, corporate events and any celebration the customer wants. Foods featured at weddings include mini doughnuts, red velvet fried Oreos, French beignets, churros, chocolate fountains, deep-fried candy bars and mini corndogs.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily (restaurant).
Revenues: $300,000+ (for catering).
Happily Ever After, A Wedding Company
Owner: Sthefany Pessoa.
Location: 7917 West Dr., Miami Beach
Features: Wedding planning with all the trimmings. Happily Ever After eliminates the middleman by not only designing your wedding but also providing the supplies, such as tables, chairs, photo booths, gelato carts, dessert stations, flower arrangements and entertainment. The company specializes in destination weddings in South Florida.
Fees: $1,000 to $4,500, depending upon the time involved, plus rental fees for equipment.
Revenues: $200,000 annually.
Keija Minor, editor-in-chief of Brides magazine, said, “Same-sex weddings are largely following the same trends as heterosexual weddings in that everyone wants to personalize their ceremony and reception. They are choosing the venue, décor, attire, all based on their personal preferences and style.
“According to Brides & Gay Wedding Institute: 2015 Same-Sex Wedding Study, 42 percent of same-sex couples were having destination weddings, whether because of legality or preference. It will be interesting to see if there is a change there now that same-sex marriage is legal across the country. Since the decision was less than a year ago, most of the couples who got engaged post-DOMA haven’t had their wedding yet.”
Below are more statistics from the study regarding same-sex couples’ weddings:
- In 32 percent of female same-sex couples, one bride is wearing a traditional bridal gown and one is wearing a suit (pant, skirt, or traditional).
- In 46 percent of male same-sex couples, both grooms are wearing a suit (as opposed to a tuxedo or casual attire).
- 72 percent of same-sex couples did/will have a proposal; 28 percent make the decision jointly after discussing with their partners.
- 76 percent wear an engagement ring, and of those
- 58 percent both wear them.
- $22,095 is the average cost of a wedding.
- 45 percent are covering the cost as a couple alone;
- 4 percent say their parents/fiancé’s parents are covering it alone.
- 84 guests attend, on average.
- 61 percent say their ceremony and reception will be at the same location; 28 percent say the ceremony will take place in one location and the reception will take place at another (on the same day/immediately following).