In her Facebook profile picture, Pamela Lin is sitting at a restaurant for brunch, sipping a mimosa and flipping through the pages of an issue of a magazine called The Knot. Pamela is getting married in September and The Knot is a wedding magazine, which she has been looking through to find inspiration in planning her big day. The ceremony will take place in San Francisco and the most important thing she is looking for is a venue.
Marcy Scott, who is getting married on Memorial Day weekend in Detroit, is a nontraditional bride. She’s not into flowers or church weddings. When choosing favors for her 200 guests, she doesn’t want to give them some predictable customized object with a picture on it. What to do? She found the answer in Brides magazine, which inspired her to create her own wedding favors from scratch.
Lauren Koffler got married a couple of months ago, in New York. She knew exactly what she wanted a wedding with all the traditional trappings—and she found no available magazines that seemed useful to her.
Organizing your wedding is one of these events in life that many little girls dream of from the time they are old enough to know what weddings are. But what they don’t dream of is the stress that can come with it. Getting married is a complicated business—which is where wedding magazines come in. There is no magazine that can suit every bride’s concept or vision for her big day, but there are plenty of them to choose from.
There are about fifty wedding-related magazines on the U.S. market today, some of them national and some local. Among them: Martha Stewart Weddings (for practical advice), Destination I Do magazine (for couples considering a wedding away from home), DIY Weddings Magazine (written and created by brides for brides), Wedding Dresses Magazine (specifically for fashion aspects of the wedding), Bibi Magazine (for South Asian-American weddings) and Equally Wed (for same-sex marriages).
A recent study published by The Wedding Report website found that fifty-seven percent of engaged couples use wedding magazines to help plan their wedding and spend an average of thirty-four dollars on the magazines. The report also said that couples consult an average of five wedding magazines per wedding. Ninety-seven percent of people who use the magazines consult them for tips and ideas for their wedding, sixty-seven percent use them to find products for their wedding and thirty-nine percent to find service providers.
Two of the best-known wedding publications are The Knot, which is the largest publisher of regional wedding magazines, with a circulation of 1.2 million in eighteen cities; and the nationally distributed Brides, with a circulation of 307,454. Each has its own personality and offers its own menu of special features.
The Knot focuses on real weddings, with a fifty-six-page section featuring the nuptials of real couples, detailing the specifics of each event, from the table centerpieces to the bride’s dress. It gives information about each couple and their wedding style, and displays photos of the event. In the March 2012 issue, fourteen weddings were featured. One of them, for example, was the marriage of Erin and Rahim, whose inspiration came from their desire for it “to feel like a page out of an Edith Wharton novel,” with an “Old New York” flavor.
The magazine, which comes out seasonally, resembles a catalogue, with a thickness of half an inch, glossy paper and numerous ads for different components of a wedding, including local shops and service providers. Readers can find many pages of advice and recommendations from real brides, such as: “I used A Special Occasion Limousine in Wappingers Falls, [N.Y.] They had amazing service—from the gloves to the red carpet and champagne toast, they were wonderful.” The Knot also has a color report in every issue, showing the latest trends in color schemes for wedding celebrations, plus information about marriage licenses, multiple-choice quizzes that establish what sort of wedding might be most suitable, and even advice for workouts to shape up the bride to fit into different styles of dresses: the dropped-waist-dress workout, the strapless-dress workout or the open-back-dress workout.
On the surface, Brides, unlike The Knot, resembles Cosmopolitan, Glamour or other women’s magazines, with a model dressed as a bride on its cover each month. Founded in 1934, it is the oldest—and probably the best-known—wedding magazine. Inside, one can learn “what to check out this month,” such as new fashion lines, beauty products and celebrities’ opinions. A recent issue provided ideas for a bride’s styling, from “53 gorgeous hair ideas for your big day” to a beauty section featuring Chanel lip-glosses and Dior lipsticks in the trendiest new colors, appropriate for wedding makeup. This season’s hot color for lips seems to be “mango orange.”
The magazine of choice for Pamela Lin is The Knot. Pamela and her fiancé, Brady, are now in the process of planning their San Francisco wedding. “It’s been less enjoyable and more stressful for me, on top of, I guess, everything else that’s going on in my life,” Pamela says. The main issue she wanted to solve before everything else was the choice of venue. Until she knew where her wedding would be, she felt that she couldn’t decide anything else—food, number of guests, even the bridal gown. All depended on it, which was why she was looking for ideas in The Knot.
As it turned out, the magazine did not solve her venue problem, even though every issue has a back section that is an eight-page reception-site finder—a list of possible wedding venues, with capacity, price range and phone numbers. Instead, Brady found the venue online.
Even if wedding magazines can’t resolve every issue, they can, for brides-to-be like Pamela, provide a hidden benefit: therapy! “Every once in a while I freak out because I’m really stressed with work and school and planning the wedding and everything else in my life,” she says. “My fiancé will buy me a wedding magazine to calm me down. Surprisingly, it’s happened twice in the process, and it worked.” She explains that flipping through wedding publications, unlike consulting wedding websites, makes her feel like she is doing research but not work. It feels more enjoyable to her and eases the stress.
For Marcy Scott, Brides was the most helpful magazine. Marcy wanted her wedding to be different from anything shown in The Knot’s real-weddings section. “We don’t like the whole traditional feel of the church and the thousands of flowers and the ‘Here comes the bride’,” she explains. “We took all those elements and threw them out the door.” Her big event, as she describes it, is to be “modern, minimalistic, with a touch of Victorian style.”
She was looking for unconventional ideas and struggling, in particular, with finding a creative idea for wedding favors. Brides led her to a decision to make her own wedding favors. “I did a little bit of research, and because we are getting married in downtown Detroit and people are going to be staying in hotels there, I started making bath products,” she says. She has been producing her own delicately packaged bath bombs, soaps and fragrances for all of her guests, by playing chemist with a couple of different products. Marcy says that these kinds of ideas represent the true value of Brides: “They help you create and develop your own spin on things.”
Aside from creative ideas, Marcy says that Brides has helped her find vendors. “They don’t just give ad space to whoever wants to pay the most money. They actually give reviews, and these are people that they recommend and other people recommend,” she says. In the March 2012 issue, for example, an article is dedicated to “Five Super-Flattering Gowns,” in which the writer reviews five dresses from five different brands that can be ordered online and “look amazing on almost everyone.”
The search for a dress is, of course, a central element in wedding planning. Pamela says The Knot was very helpful in this respect: “I got an idea of what I want and what I don’t want. I knew from looking at the pictures I definitely didn’t want a mermaid or a trumpet or any sort of, like, fitted dress with flare at the bottom. I knew I wanted a big, puffy ball gown. So, from the magazine, I determined that.”
Still, not all brides find wedding publications helpful. Lauren Koffler, whose wedding took place at the Harvard Club in Manhattan, didn’t feel the need to consult any magazines. “I planned it with my mother and I’ve been dreaming about my wedding for so long, I knew what I wanted.”
In her view, magazines are “not what they used to be.” She recalls two magazines she liked, which no longer exist: Elegant Bride and Modern Bride, both Condé Nast publications that were shut down in October 2009 during a period of budget cuts. According to Lauren, those magazines featured high-end designers, such as Vera Wang and Carolina Herrera, and displayed the kind of things she wanted for her wedding. She feels that today’s magazines cater to lower-budget weddings, and she was not happy with the options they gave her.
“It’s hard to describe, but I was looking more at the designer end of things,” she says. According to The Knot’s 2010 data, the average wedding costs about $27,000. “And that’s what today’s magazines cater to—the average wedding,” says Koffler. “Not the higher-end New York wedding.”
It has been said that a couple’s wedding day predicts the way their marriage is going to be, so prenuptial research seems like an important task to ensure that this new chapter in one’s life starts in the best way possible. As with many other aspects of life, magazines can be a helpful resource at a crucial moment, but, as these three wedding stories attest, every bride has different ideas and different priorities, and there is no magazine that works for all of them.
I have no way of knowing how Natalie Portman, one of the most prominent brides of the year, planned her marriage to dancer-choreographer Benjamin Millepied. In fact, the gossip magazines have not been able to learn anything about their secret ceremony beyond the fact that the couple sported wedding rings on Oscar night. But Natalie could have followed Marcy’s initiative and opened the March 2012 issue of Brides, in which she would have discovered that the magazine had solved all her problems. In that issue, on page seventy-two, the headline read: “If We Planned Natalie Portman’s Day . . .” under which she would have found pictures of a possible cake, a pair of $2,860 amethyst pendant earrings and even an idea for a signature cocktail.