Header image credit: Becky Harley Photography
2020 is going to change weddings. Couples have been shaken in a rollercoaster of announcements, postponements and limitations since the first lockdown last March. For some of us, the change has affected our whole lives: we’ve lost loved ones to a pandemic which could have been prevented, had our government and others worldwide acted quickly. Others have lost jobs, finances, homes, relationships and more – the effects on daily life of 2020 have been unbelievable.
My heart goes out to young couples who’ve put their lives on hold because of postponed weddings. It breaks for people in their twenties whose love lives have been trampled over by the virus and by the restrictions we’ve had to abide by to save lives. The mental health impact of 2020 for our generation has been huge, and the isolation and fear caused by covid will have a long term effect we’ve yet to really comprehend.
I feel I’m taking a deep dive into social trauma here, but I wanted to publish this piece about the future of weddings, and so I’m mindful of who will be getting married in the coming decade. Those isolated fifteen year olds, and university students who were locked in halls in 2020, will potentially be planning their weddings in 2030. Will they see weddings differently because their life experience has been so sharply estranged from that of the generation before them?
More than just a pretty celebration
The wedding industry and wedding media are often guilty of existing in a cloud of happy fluff. I hold my hands up: it’s easier to publish a styled photoshoot I’ve been sent by a lovely wedding planner I want to support, than it is to pen an article about the psychology of weddings. It’s easier to share newlyweds’ happiness and smile at their gorgeous photos than it is to step back and consider the responsibilities of the wedding industry’s shared voice. But that happy fluff we share on a daily basis has the potential to whip itself up like candy floss on a stick, to grow and become so huge and overwhelming it blinds engaged couples to the serious side of wedding planning: loans, debt and insurance anyone?
[Don’t click away just yet… it gets lighter, I promise!]
Occasionally, we need to stop, breathe, and take a look at the bigger picture. What do weddings mean? How do they fit into the rest of our lives? How will something as awful as a global pandemic impact the future of weddings?
Independent wedding businesses
Economically, 2020 has been devastating for many wedding businesses. Big names and venues have disappeared: with no bookings and big overheads, the What About Weddings campaign states 40% of wedding businesses are at risk from closure as a result of the pandemic (and having little to no support from the government). This will have a short- and long-term impact on couples planning weddings in the coming years.
At first, suppliers will be heavily booked with a backlog of couples who’ve postponed their weddings. 2022 and 2023 will be VERY busy years for weddings (so long as the pandemic doesn’t continue to affect us in those years). This will lead to a DIY trend, with couples scaling back on professional suppliers and making decor, stationery, cakes and bouquets themselves.
Very sadly, some of the incredible independent businesses which make up the wedding industry have already been forced to cease trading. This is a huge shame and will leave big gaps in the wedding industry which will be keenly felt in their local areas. In the short term, this again means a lack of providers for coming wedding seasons, as well as choice for couples.
In the long term though, this gap in the market will be filled. New businesses will spring up all over the UK, and bring new life and character to the wedding industry.
Trends in styling and planning
Weddings are like fashion: styles and trends come and go every year or two. The industry shifts in line with current wedding trends, and the past decade has seen vintage and boho styling, fine art photography and urban wedding styles. The most recent trend before 2020 turned the wedding world upside down was sustainability. All of these follow wider high street trends.
Weddings with personality
Planning a wedding is all about creating a celebration of you, as a couple. Whether you’re laid back and extrovert, music lovers or fashionable urbanites, your wedding celebrations will reflect your personalities. (And literally anything goes – just be YOU!)
Outsiders to the wedding industry may sniff and assume we’re talking about the colour of the bunting and what goes in the wedding favours – but it’s not a superficial consideration at all. Laid back couples might have a celebrant-led ceremony on a hill and sharing platters with 15 guests in granny’s garden. Music lovers might opt for a quick registry office ‘do’ and a mini festival at a local pub. Everything from budgets to guest lists will be decided based on personality. (And nowhere, ever, are couples styling their weddings just to compete with their cousin-who-got-married-last-year-and-hired-a-castle.) It’s not about that any more, if it even ever was.
With personality being key, the way we’ve changed as a result of the pandemic could be huge for weddings. Some of us are bound to be more cautious. Some will be shy of big crowds. Some will be desperate to see as many friends as possible. There will be the social butterflies, the party lovers, the quiet folks who don’t want a fuss. And there’ll be a rainbow of weddings shaped by all of these different personalities.
Early in the pandemic, I read an article predicting wedding trends for “when this is all over”. There were two distinct opinions: one, that we’d all be desperate to celebrate, post-war style, with street parties and big spends. Life (or 2021, as the article put it back then) would be one huge party.
The other opinion was that we’d be careful: careful with our money, spending little (again mirroring post-war society) and with a strong sense of community. Weddings would be cheaper, smaller, and more intimate.
Both of these seemed equally valid (and appealing!) to me, so I reached out to some wedding business friends to see what their predictions for the future of weddings might be.
Dressmaker Ailsa Munro: “I think there’s going to be a deeper understanding of the way that weddings serve as a meeting point for the whole community. In the past people have talked about weddings as if they are a selfish indulgence, but a year away has given us a new perspective because we understand that in a world where our loved ones can and do live all over the country and world, coming together to eat and laugh and dance is so important and what other events enable us to do this like weddings? I think we’re going to see an increase in wedding weekends and bigger group functions like stag and hens.”
It’s such an important point to make. Voices in the wider media have dismissed weddings over the last year (Rishi Sunak’s crushing ‘not a viable business’ assessment of the wedding industry hurt, a lot) but this only comes from ignorance of what weddings mean to the generation they mostly belong to.
If we want to build strong community and support mental health, we need human connection. We need day-to-day interaction, and we need strong bonds in families, and supportive friendships. Where else will we as a society find a space to have meaningful, honest conversations about our mental health? Friendships are hugely important – and even a micro wedding is a unique opportunity to build on a strong friendship so it becomes a loving support network for life.
Gemma, The Lilypad Florist: “I actually think they will get smaller. Partly as people have realised who their real circle is, not ‘needing’ the great big elaborate day, as well as financial based decisions… There are still thousands of people who are getting engaged, desperate to tie the knot, but who will really struggle to pull all the suppliers together now as order books are pretty chocca for the next couple of years.
“I think that venues are the first barrier – so perhaps [we’ll see] a move towards registry office and then alternate venues, which in turn I feel will result in smaller weddings (think pubs, small garden marquees, etc). Lots of mid week weddings happening too!
“Perhaps couples will go slightly more DIY? Personally I would be a bit wary of booking and paying deposits right now in case businesses fold – it’s sad but I have seen it happening.”
Smaller, thriftier and more DIY weddings are already happening around the UK, and they’re all the more beautiful for that personal touch. As suppliers like Gemma approach capacity for wedding bookings, there’ll be less availability and many couples will forgo professionally made stationery, cakes and styling.
Photographer Hannah Larkin: “I think Covid has shown just how special a small wedding or intimate elopement can be – they can be beautiful, meaningful & really reflect the couple. So I think we’ll see more of these tiny but perfect celebrations.
“I also think there’ll be a trend for more outdoor weddings & more celebrant-led weddings as they can take place wherever you’d like to get married.
“And lastly I think there’ll be more emphasis on family – whether that’s grandparents walking down the aisle with you, displaying framed photos of past family weddings, having more family members give a speech or celebrating in your family home.”
All of these are going to really resonate with couples, not least the flexibility of outdoor weddings and celebrants. If there’s one trend I’d love to see emerge after 2021, it’s booking independent celebrants for personalised wedding ceremonies.
Camera Hannah: “I think we will see generally more people having smaller weddings but not necessarily out of caution. I think that people will have seen a lot of small lovely weddings happening and maybe have always wanted a small wedding but might have been pressured into something bigger. I think people will feel more able to choose small if they want it because they’ve been the norm for a year. Some people might not have realised that a small wedding can feel as special as they do and realise that’s what they really want.
“But big weddings will still come back for the people who want it. I’d imagine after a year of not being able to have lots of people in the same room that hunger for that is even stronger than before.”
Alicia, Red Maple Photography: “The trend on inquiries is definitely smaller for 2022 guests than I would have thought.
So far it seems to be 40-60 as the max. This may be to protect themselves in case things flare up again but at the same time I think people just want to get married and are aware of how quickly things can change moving into the future with Covid. It’ll be a few years before it sorts itself out I think… I think people will spend more on details because they don’t have the cost of lots of guests.”
While it can be hard to compromise on guest lists if you have a large family and friendship group, we definitely agree the flexibility of lower numbers is a wise wedding planning move.
Octavia, Occasionally Octavia: “I think smaller weddings could grow in popularity as couples may realise the value of intimate celebrations with their nearest and dearest, looking to host something more old fashioned. There is also financial recovery to consider after so much redundancy and furloughing. Small occasions don’t mean less important!”
Akilah, Events with Akilah: “A lot more couples will feel comfortable streaming to guests who can’t make it. It’s all about small details and home destination weddings are going to be a big deal.”
Akilah’s prediction fits neatly with the smaller weddings we’re expecting to see in the coming years. Wedding weekends were already on the rise, where couples will hire a venue with accommodation for 10 – 20 guests and spend the weekend together, tying in a much-needed holiday with the celebration of their marriage.
Two futures for UK weddings
It’s really interesting to see two very different expectations for the future of weddings coming through from many suppliers. One, for smaller weddings where money will be saved on guest lists and the focus will be on human connections with much-missed friends and family. And another, for larger weddings where people are gathering in numbers, celebrating not just the couple’s love but also the joy of togetherness after a tough year, often more, spent apart.
There’s a best of both worlds scenario too. A future of weddings where closeness and connection reigns supreme, and where we apply all the lessons we’ve learned in 2020, both as wedding suppliers and couples planning to marry. Where we appreciate that smaller can be better, and that thriftiness is a healthy habit and foundation for married life: where we avoid debt and focus on precious moments which are, after all, what matter most.
My own prediction is that the trend for sustainable weddings will come out of the pandemic stronger and prouder than before. Sustainability isn’t just about cutting down carbon footprints of imported florals, serving plant based meals or wearing an ethically produced, peace silk wedding dress.
Sustainability is about no more wedding loans, and no more waste or purchases made just for one day. It’s about conscious consumerism: seeking out and supporting those businesses who are environmentally aware, donating a percentage of their profits to charities and reducing their own impact on the planet.
And it’s about hiring wedding decor, not buying, not reselling on eBay the week after. Sustainable, smaller weddings are special when they involve family in thoughtful ways: when green-fingered parents can grow a bouquet, or your family’s star bakers can bring treats to share instead of buying a cake.
It’s time for a sea change in weddings.
It’s time for elopements and micro weddings to be our “new normal”, while larger celebrations with 100+ guests and a sit down meal are an option for people who can afford it without going into debt.
It’s also time for the wedding industry to step up and talk about finances and the debt many couples face after marriage. Because your best day ever should be the beginning of a sustainable life together – and as we’ve struggled to make ends meet through the pandemic, blowing money we don’t have on expensive weddings just doesn’t seem right any more.
The future of weddings has to be sustainable, backed by a creative industry which will grow stronger – and I’m proud to be a part of it.