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Is marriage back in fashion?

From politics to dinner party conversations, the ‘M’ word is back in fashion – and everybody (even Mr Cameron) wants to have their say...

Photos: Rex Features

If you’re planning the biggest day of your life, you may want to consider adding another name to the guestlist because David Cameron loves a wedding. Already this month we’ve witnessed the House of Commons backing a bill to legalise same-sex marriage, the PM proudly declare he is a “marriage man” and culture secretary, Maria Miller, announce that marriage is a state to which people “aspire”. Considering we spent the last century being told marriage was outdated (Germaine Greer branded it “a mess”) and in terminal decline, you’re allowed to check if you’ve unwittingly travelled back in time.

But sure enough it is 2013, the very year that Britain’s Prime Minister has stated that he wishes to “promote marriage, defend marriage, encourage marriage.” Aside from pushing for equal rights for same-sex couples, which is not before time, Cameron has always been a very vocal supporter of the age-old union – he’s described it as a “wonderfully precious institution”, a vital component of “strong families” which in turn are a building block of a robust society. And whether it’s Cameron’s influence or not, it’s impossible to have missed the rise in wedding fever. From DIY village ceremonies filled with handmade bouquets of hydrangeas to sunset ceremonies in Tuscan villas with a scattering of family around you, the wedding has become the summer event.

Not surprisingly, Cameron is cleverly pushing his promarriage stance with tactical government policy. Married couples are set to receive tax breaks in the 2014 budget (amounting to £150 a year) while common-law marriage still has no legal status. If a partner dies out of wedlock, their other half can’t claim on their pension and would inherit absolutely zero unless they’ve been named in a will. All in all, in the eyes of the law, co-habiting might as well not exist.

ABOVE: David Cameron is a vocal supporter of marriage

And there is a wealth of pro-marriage evidence to suggest Cameron is not the only one who understandably gets misty-eyed at the thought of a Nigella-inspired five-tier chocolate Guinness wedding cake. There was actually a 4% marriage increase in 2010; an impressive stat given weddings have been gradually in decline since 1972. While last week research released by the Marriage Foundation revealed that three-quarters of 18-24 year olds and two-thirds of people cohabiting want to get married. And it’s women in their early 30s who are leading the trend with a 6.1% increase in weddings. According to our Stylist Census last year, marriage is ‘very important’ to 64.9% of you.

So what’s fuelling this new era of fondness for matrimony? Writing for The Huffington Post, psychologist Mairead Molloy blames the recession: “In times of austerity, we all have a natural desire to seek comfort and security”. Her belief as to why marriage has enjoyed a swift hike is in essence a return to “steady values”. And she may be on to something. In certain parts of the UK, church weddings have shot up by 20% – a figure one spokesperson ascribed to a need for “something spiritual” in a transient society. Essentially we’re all embracing a much-needed bit of romance in tricky times.

There is also the simple explanation that marriage has a certain cache again. Kate and William’s 2011 tree-lined aisle had three billion people around the world tuning in to watch the royal union. And, according to the Church Of England, enquiries about church weddings rose 50% in the months after. Even Kate Moss – the eternal trend setter – deemed 2012 the appropriate time to finally take the plunge. Lily Allen last year stated that “marriage has been everything I hoped for and more”. Combine this with the rise in beautiful Pinterest wedding boards, vintage blogs (Love My Dress, Rock My Wedding…), touching Facebook best man video speeches and the quest to find the quirkiest wedding favours and it’s hard to deny that our generation is embracing weddings – and some much needed fun and escapism.

But despite the fact we’re embracing weddings with more gusto than ever before, marriage is also a rather loaded subject. And one about which everyone (not just our PM) has some rather strong views – whether you’re rushing the wedding or he’s left it too late to propose; whether it’s an outdated concept or the pillar of a good relationship – it’s all up for debate.

ABOVE: The Royal Wedding - fuelling the marriage trend?

Marriage, it seems, exposes our inherent traditionalism and (possibly) judgmental views. The opposition to same-sex marriage proves just how prevalent that particular outdated view is but that’s far from the whole story: many of us are secretly old-fashioned in our views when it comes to the institution. Think about it. Eyebrows are raised when a bride suggests they won’t be opting for white on their wedding day, when they opt for a wedding abroad rather than a traditional church wedding. But it’s not just the details which spark comments from everyone from your colleagues to your bridesmaids; the decision to validate your relationship by getting married isn’t just something that Cameron thinks he’s justified to have an opinion on. Just last year, the charity Marriage Foundation was launched in order to champion “the gold standard of relationships”, which suggests that people who are not married may only be aiming for silver in their relationship.

Then there’s the fact that weddings can sit uncomfortably with our feminist sensibilities. Desiring a fairy-tale wedding and all the connotations that invokes, contradicts our desire for independence. Traditional vows which state we should ‘obey’ a man and traditional customs which suggest we wear white to declare our virginity, wait for a man to ask us and take our husbands’ name are so glaringly at odds with how most modern women think, means that marriage can shake the foundation of what you believe in.

Not forgetting the question: what’s the point? The number of practising Christians in the UK is declining annually meaning marriage has lost its compulsory religious imperative and the average cost of a wedding is £21,000 which is clearly a huge investment for just one day. Plus there are solid reasons to stay a cohabiting couple: there’s good evidence to suggest that long-term cohabiters are more likely to divorce once they finally marry often because the wedding usually comes about for convenience or financial reasons rather than good old-fashioned love, and research reveals that co-habiting couples are just as likely to have children than married ones. So inspired by the topic that’s set to grow and grow in 2013, we asked six people for their twopenneth on taking the plunge…

“I’m pregnant and unmarried – what’s it to you?”

Stylist’s acting associate editor Francesca Brown has been with her partner for 11 years (including a five-year separation) and is expecting her first child in April

“When I was young (27…), I presumed I’d move in with a boyfriend, buy a house, get married, have children… And then, real life took over and what actually happened was we moved in, split up, spent five years as best friends watching box sets, got back together, moved in and, six months later, got pregnant. There was no time to get married. We realised (to very loosely paraphrase Taylor Swift) we’re never ever breaking up again and therefore, we’re ready to give our child a loving and secure home. When I told certain people (in some cases close family members) that I was pregnant, I was instantly greeted with the response, ‘Are you getting married?’ Since I currently live in 2013 and not a Northumbrian village in the Thirties, I couldn’t help but feel this response was a) rude, b) impertinent and c) utterly impractical (I’d rather save any wedding budget to feed and clothe my child thanks). In fact, I felt so outraged by the parochial response of these people that I banned my boyfriend from proposing while I was pregnant. However… in a fit of total contradiction that I can’t explain yet feel very strongly about, I have been known to judge male friends who are unmarried with children. When they told me they’d never popped the question my instant reaction was ‘They don’t love their girlfriends enough’. Insane and inconsistent? Yep. I hold my hands up to both but that’s marriage for you – it causes people to make snap judgments that make absolutely no sense.”

“I’ve been criticised for my unconventional wedding”

Emerald Street’s deputy editor Mollie McGuigan is marrying her partner of five years in May

“‘You really have it in for people who like weddings, don’t you?’ That was the first comment posted below the Stylist wedding blog, which I’m writing in the run-up to my wedding this May. Why was a reader so quick to criticise? Several reasons it seems: Because we’ve asked guests to contribute money to the day itself rather than a honeymoon fund or a wedding gift list, I won’t be taking my partner’s name and I’ve banned bunting and cupcakes. I’m surprised by the criticisms levelled at me (‘Very tacky and so cheap!’ ‘Rude, rude, rude’) because I’ve never suggested others should follow my lead. Much of the fiery, pompous scrutiny – comment boards make for a quick, easy and unaccountable place to do that – is from readers who missed the point: it’s our wedding. It’s not supposed to be a manifesto for how you should hold yours. The fact is we’ve asked guests to contribute to the day because even with a low-key wedding and heavy corner-cutting, we’re struggling to afford it. So, we asked our guests for a contribution of £20 per person. It’s a voluntary contribution and one that will only cover a small part of our £7,000 budget – but it will help us afford a reception for 65 guests. We spoke about this with our friends and family who all seem relieved that they don’t need to scour a wedding list or gauge how much money to contribute – plus we’ve lived together for four years; we don’t need ‘best’ crockery. What we want is to put on a big party for our friends. I am genuinely bemused by the level of vitriol our plans seem to have unearthed – it’s our wedding. We’re having it our way.”

“We got married on holiday to mark the family we had made”

Phil Hilton is the editorial director at Shortlist Media. He married his long-term partner last year after 21 years

“Like many modern couples we were married in four stages. The first was when she left her flat, beneath the prostitute in Finsbury Park and moved in with me. We had to be together. Also she was living beneath a prostitute. The second was buying a place together. Our commitment was formally recognised by Abbey National. Then my old friend Paul took us upstairs to look at his first child asleep in his cot. ‘You want to get yourselves one of these,’ he said. Deciding to have children meant staying together forever. Stage three was easily the most significant part of our marriage. We didn’t go for a proper one because we didn’t believe in God and owned records by The Undertones. It didn’t feel as though it was for people like us. Weddings seemed like dress-up fantasy days. They also appeared to make everyone very angry about smoked salmon and flowers. We changed our minds because we thought it would be lovely to mark the family we made in the presence of our children. So 21 years and two children after stage one, we secretly arranged a wedding while on holiday – just the four of us on a beach in San Diego. A man called Mike officiated for a small fee and we took pictures on our mobiles. There was a slight feeling that we were betraying our values, and I’ve been known to introduce my wife as mywifebutwedidn’thave aformalweddingoranything. So stage four was beautiful, a little embarrassing, incredibly moving and, fortunately, has changed nothing.”

“Having a white wedding after 30 misses the point”

Kate Spicer is a journalist and in a three-year relationship

“There is a moment in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and for me it is way more shocking than the pretty lady getting slashed in the shower. Towards the end the mysterious Mother character is finally revealed. We see her hair over the top of a chair, which spins round to reveal her dug up, shrunken, dried out corpse. In recent years, as my older friends have settled down and got hitched, this scene has been replayed again and again. I would never begrudge anyone a modest wedding. Maybe I’d have a modest one myself. Over a certain age, though – I’d say 30 – the sight of a maiden lifting her veil and giving it the full, slightly coy, blushing bride is pure Psycho’s mother. The bride and groom’s complete lack of innocence placed in the middle of all this virginal and religious symbolism is ridiculous. It’s an insult to a grown woman’s intelligence to still be living in hope of the dream of meringues, veils and little pageboys in shiny buckle shoes. That fantasy is meant for little girls, symbols of a time when women were meant to be virgins and chattels of their husband. When brides were Princess Diana and experienced men married a fluttering innocent, these weddings made a rotten kind of sense. No-one should begrudge anyone an ancient excuse for a banquet and a rave up, I’m not an antimarriage curmudgeon. All I ask is that women keep their dignity, their mind and their style about them. Placing a woman at the centre of a scene that’s been prescribed by Walt Disney and Queen Victoria should be a 21st century crime against female humanity.”

“Newlyweds get taken more seriously and it’s not fair”

Ellie Hughes is a writer who has been with her partner 12 years

“What really gets me about marriage? The way newlyweds are promoted as ‘better’ than a cohabiting couple who have been together 12 years, have two kids, been through three house moves and supported each other through a hefty dose of difficult stuff… Don’t get me wrong – I love weddings. I’m the first one to tear up the minute the bride appears. I’ve thrown myself wholeheartedly into my duties as chief bridesmaid and best woman. And my other half (Boyfriend? Partner? It annoys me that there is no good-enough word) is even more of a secret wedding romantic. We invariably leave a wedding drunk on champagne and love, agreeing that THIS is the year we’ll definitely get round to it. But, well, it’s just not a priority. My parents got married when my mum was seven months pregnant and that’s set the tone – my two sisters are both co-habitees too. No doubt I’m conflicted – marriage seems off-puttingly conformist and anti-feminist; but, yes, that party and a ring would be nice… At core it should be a personal decision and it really riles me that we’ll have to do it because that’s the only way to get your relationship taken seriously in the eyes of the law. Tax, pensions, inheritance – as an unmarried mother you’re vulnerable; married you’re supported and protected. Outdated but true. And the Daily Mail line about the children of unmarried parents being less secure and happy? Do NOT even go there. Getting married won’t change how we feel: we’re in it for life and we have a better relationship than many married people I know. So why should I have to do it?”

“I would never have children outside marriage”

Stylist’s feature editor Lucy Foster is in a relationship of two years and is getting married this year

“As a surly, apathetic teenager, I remember asking my mum what the point of marriage was. I was probably trying to upset her, trying to cleverly allude to what I thought was the meaningless nature of her and dad’s boring existence. ‘It stops you from walking away when times get tough,’ was her deadpan reply. It’s taken me nearly two decades of serious romantic relationships that slowly puttered to a halt to fully grasp what she meant that day. Because sticking with each other after excitement and romance has been replaced with dirty socks, and broken boilers and interminable months of work and nights spent on the sofa is tough. Add to that children, who need years of routine and stability to thrive, and you can understand completely how parents are pushed to breaking point. That’s why I would never have children outside marriage. While I don’t doubt co-habiters love their children, they haven’t made a public and legal commitment to hang on, through the very worst. Once you’re wed and legally share everything, and you have the wrath of family and friends weighing heavily on your mind, you are far less likely to walk out the door. Therefore, marriage is far more likely to produce a robust family structure that makes children feel safe and happy. When I say those vows this year I know that I am committing to sit out the boredom, disaffection and anger that punctuates adult life. And it’s more than a gold ring and a piece of paper in a registry office. It’s a promise.”

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