Married at City Hall: Ditching Tradition


A recent article the Wall Street Journal explored multiple ways in which The Millennial Generation (that group typically defined as born between 1981 and the early 2000s) is redefining adulthood. For many this includes putting off traditional milestones like getting married, buying a home, and having children. Not surprisingly, the diversion is linked to an impossibly tough job market (over-qualified, underemployed, under-payed) and the Atlas-sized burden of student loans. (Based on 2014 projections, everyone is doomed to turn to stone.)

Independence looks mighty different than it used to, and more than ever financial freedom is the first milestone that paves the way to others. However beyond good or bad economic standing, these traditional markers also appear to be changing as traditional morals shift. It’s not only about the money.

While Dax Shepard, 38, and Kristen Bell, 33, don’t exactly fit into the “Millennial” time frame, the pair have been together since 2007, welcomed a daughter, Lincoln, this past March, and made their union “official” last Thursday at the Beverly Hills County Clerk Office. Bell previously stated that the couple would not wed until gay unions were recognized by the federal government, but the actress also recently stated she wasn’t keen on a a big, lavish affair, explaining, “It’s not a desire of either of ours to have any sort of day of celebration for us. I feel like we get enough attention in our daily lives and we just want something sort of private that involves pen and paper.” She added, “Honestly, I could go home and we could do it today, there’s no forethought really going into it.”

Their headline making decision reflects an emerging pattern.

Tiffany Chao, an urban planner, is one such example who put her and her now husband’s decision to marry at City Hall quite simply: “We personally think weddings are a big waste of money, and given the size and production of weddings now, they seem to have lost a lot of their purpose and meaning.”

She’s not wrong. Weddings and marriage (currently only 22% of millenials are married according to the Pew Research Center) don’t reflect modern life– especially the tradition of the “white wedding,” which didn’t become popular until the 1920s. In the early 1800s weddings were still generally simple affairs. This was often due to practical needs, not the desire for simplicity. For example, many 19th century brides had only one dress, and more often than naught, they were married in that dress. It’s why so many wedding photos featured dark colored garments– practical for a funeral, practical for a wedding. The shift toward the white wedding is often credited to Queen Victoria, who in 1840, wore a white dress to wed Prince Albert. The trend spread from across the pond to the States, and wedding vendors began to see big dollar potential.

Today the wedding industry is estimated to be a 99 billion dollar a year industry, with the average wedding costing 25k. That a lot of green for a little white and it makes sense that something’s gotta give for Millennials who can barely afford to move out of mom and dad’s house. For many looking to tie the knot without tying up their credit for the next decade, City Hall is looking better and better.

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