Shortly after I got engaged, I read a somewhat alarming statistic: central New Jersey was among the five most expensive places in the country to get married in 2011, with costs averaging upwards of $45,000. Six weeks later, through a grapevine consisting of Twitter and my mother, I heard about The Bridal Event at Chauncey Conference Center, which promised to be one of the best bridal showcases around. Cost: $5 with pre-registration. Signing up was a no-brainer.
So on a sunny Sunday in May I went, excited grandmother at my side. I didn’t have the highest expectations. My summer, 2013, wedding date is set, and venues for the ceremony and reception are reserved. They come with significant restrictions on flowers, food, and decorations. My design-minded friend has been enlisted to create invitations, thank you notes, and the like. An image of my perfect dress exists, at least in my head. With so much planning practically done for me, what could I gain from a bridal showcase?
For one, an ice-cold mimosa served from a platter by a tuxedo-clad waiter. My brain had barely registered what the first booth was offering when two people were suddenly helping me juggle the literature I’d already collected to free up one hand for a very full champagne glass. Chances are it was one of the umpteen bridal magazines in attendance that I gave my name and contact information to in return for yet another entry into a drawing to win round-trip airfare for two to anywhere.
(An aside –– a word to the wise: the fourth or fifth time I filled out all of my contact information, it was for Eric Kent, the founder, along with his wife, Beth, of NJWedding.com. I remarked that I could spend my whole afternoon filling out these forms. His advice? “Some people bring labels with all their information on them.”)
My next stop was at the David’s Bridal booth. The bridal outfitter, which recently opened a location in Mercer Mall, provides wedding dresses to more than 25 percent of the nation’s brides. As I share the details of my wedding plans on an index card, I learn that just for signing up and arranging an appointment to try on dresses, I would receive a $50 gift card.
I’ll be there, July 8, but I have a more immediate concern: my mimosa is empty. What’s next? Wedding cake, of course. Cramer’s Bakery, established in Yardley, Pennsylvania, for more than 60 years, is a few booths away. “Have you thought about a wedding cake?” asks the woman there. No, I think we’re going to have cupcakes, I respond apologetically. “Oh that’s OK, we do those, too!” Plop. A napkin with two sample-sized cupcakes, one rich chocolate and one white cake sheathed in vanilla icing, is placed firmly in my hand along with two pre-packaged slices of wedding cake for later, just in case I change my mind.
I’ve already had a drink for breakfast and dessert for lunch, and I’ve only seen a handful of the several dozen vendors. Before I can continue, though, I’m reminded that Chauncey Center is not only the host for the event; it’s also advertising its availability as a wedding locale in the center of ETS’ secluded, wooded campus. Two long tables display a decadent array of pastas, sushi, meats, cheeses, and vegetables.
Plate of goodies in hand, I wander among the other booths. Long-legged models are making their way through the crowd, pausing to show off the gowns they’re wearing. Waiters circulate to collect abandoned plates and offer drink refills. This is too easy.
Then it hits me, in the form of yet another questionnaire that promises free goodies in exchange for my personal information. This one, though, is different. After the usual name, E-mail address, and phone number, it provides a long list of boxes to be checked off. “Which of these services are you still looking for?” it asks.
I skim the list. Band and/or DJ. Make-up and hair. Accessories. Bridesmaid dresses. Party favors. Place settings. And 25 other things, give or take, that I had not even remotely taken into consideration.
Now the booths are just mocking me. Tables of trinkets meant to inspire party favor ideas, mock place settings, photo spreads, and tuxedo rentals –– all things need to be figured out in the next 14 months or so.
And what’s that my blinking, vibrating Blackberry is telling me? I’m supposed to help plan an engagement party? Pick colors? Find an officiant? Gulp.
I’m beginning to think that $45,000 price tag includes the cost of your sanity.
Back at Chauncey, away from the whirling thoughts in my head, I’m still surrounded by luxury. My grandmother and I are settled in folding chairs under the tent set up outside. A multi-tiered platter of sample-sized tiramisu and other desserts is set up temptingly next to our seats.
But the real world hits. Instead of staying for the bridal fashion show, DJ demonstration, and all-important raffle drawing for those round-trips for two, we head home. Grandma has somewhere to be, and I have a fiance waiting for me at home. He wants to create a wedding budget.
Hastings, a 2009 Princeton University graduate and special projects editor of U.S. 1, is engaged to her college classmate, Dan Hayes-Patterson. They are planning an August, 2013, wedding.