The New Wedding Book

By Michelle Bilodeau & Karen Cleveland

The New Wedding Book
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Plan your wedding without the weight of outdated customs and get hitched in a way that is authentic, fun, and true to who you are.
From the minute couples become engaged, they are pressured to buy into a one-size-fits-all wedding. By breaking down the antiquated traditions ... Read more


Plan your wedding without the weight of outdated customs and get hitched in a way that is authentic, fun, and true to who you are.
From the minute couples become engaged, they are pressured to buy into a one-size-fits-all wedding. By breaking down the antiquated traditions of that #blessedweddingday, The New Wedding Book will help you and your betrothed throw those icky traditions to the curb in honour of having the wedding of your actual dreams — not the one you've been force-fed for decades by the wedding-industrial complex.
Inspiring couples to plan their wedding in a way that is meaningful to them, Bilodeau and Cleveland debunk the manufactured traditions, advocate for realistic budgets, offer brilliant advice from real-life couples, and confront the crushing pressure for weddings to be perfect.

Michelle Bilodeau

Michelle Bilodeau is a writer and editor. Her work has appeared in CBC Life, Refinery29, Fashion, the Kit, Flare, and Canadian Living. She is also a green beauty expert on The Social. Michelle lives in Toronto.

Karen Cleveland

Karen Cleveland has contributed to the New York Times, Weddingbells, Today’s Bride, Fashion, the Kit, Huffington Post, the Toronto Star, and the National Post. She lives in Toronto, as well.



“But you’re getting married! You HAVE to!”

That empty statement is on the other end of everything from wedding cakes to bachelorette parties, lace veils, engagement photo shoots, and selfie stations. It seems that from the very minute you are betrothed, everyone and their mother (perhaps especially your mother) has opinions about what you should do at your wedding. Heck, even if you just decide to go rogue and forego the old “traditional” engagement route, just wait for the unsolicited feedback to roll in. Couples ruminate on things, ”At my wedding, do I have to…? as if the Wedding Police are going to come and arrest them.

Given the calamity that was 2020, perhaps it’s time we put those expectations into perspective. As New York-based reporter AshleyFetters wrote in “The Pandemic’s Long-Lasting Effects on Weddings” in the Atlantic in May 2020, “En masse, weddings have been dramatically downsized, postponed, or cancelled. The gauzy, fluttery dress Ibought in February to wear to a friend’s now-postponed May wedding hangs solemnly in my closet, a delicate question mark suspended in the air. ” She goes on to lament how the 2020 wedding season was persona non grata, how it gave us our weekends back, and how there was no end in sight for this new normal of smaller, intimate wedding gatherings.

In the same piece, Fetters spoke with Kristen Maxwell Cooper, the editor in chief of The Knot. “Maxwell Cooper said she thinks that as soon as people can throw big weddings, they’ll be back up and running like the pandemic never happened, because ’there’s going to be a greater appreciation for these moments. ’” Like Maxwell Cooper, we do agree that people will be craving special moments like celebratingthe love between two people; however, we have to respectfully disagree with the sentiment that people will jump back into the idea of a massive white wedding to satiate those needs. COVID-19 and our current political climate have brought a lot of things to a head, and at the end of all this the idea of spending copious amounts of money, time, and effort on one day will probably seem like a waste of resources. Sure, there will be those who want to go big and go home, but we can most certainly bet that the majority of people will take a more thoughtful and intimate approach to their not-so-big day.

To put a very fine point on it, due to the coronavirus there has been a colossal worldwide reckoning of just what is truly important. Thankfully, we saw a lovely and startling number of socially distanced weddings that were pared down, yes, but they maintained romance, class, and a sense of intimacy that made our hearts swell. Just look up former Teen Vogue editor Elaine Welteroth’s Brooklyn nuptials for a truly magical front-stoop-covered-in-florals, block-party wedding that was incredibly memorable. She grabbed a dress from the back of her closet and did the damn thing.

As Fetters wrote, “Small wedding ceremonies could, in other words, become more common not just for health reasons, but because coziness and intimacy might organically become trendy. ” It stands to reason that this new collective consciousness will affect how we approach weddings — thank goodness we’ll be able to celebrate weddings with ourfriends and family again, even though weddings likely won’t go back to the way they were pre-2020. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing!

Truthfully, you actually don’t need to do anything at all (including getting engaged or married). It seems that, as a society, we approach weddings like there is one way to do it and to stray or make a misstep means disaster.

When we factor in the expenses and the stress, why do we botherto get married? Historically, the answer was simple: It was just part of the script. You got married because that was the de facto expectation, and religion played a huge role. We used to get married in religious ceremonies to mark rites of passage. We had weddings to be married in the eyes of God and for protection. Without a husband, women were vulnerable culturally and financially. A woman couldn’t own property or really play a role in the community without being married. In exchange for this protection and security, they gave their husbands children and domesticity. Until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed in the U. S. in 1974 (thanks, feminism), credit card applications for women required a husband to co-sign. For generations of women, marriage was the quickest route to economic stability, expanded financial opportunities, the potential for property ownership, and the best shot at claiming a man’s better-paid profession or higher wages.

Of course, today women can buy, borrow, and spend (we’re still working on closing that wage gap, though), yet weddings still have a whiff of “You finally made it. Now you are complete” about them.

So why do we even bother with weddings? The old reasons for weddings aren’t really operative anymore. Knowing that almost half of all marriages end in divorce (yes, still accurate), we can comfortably cohabitate in sin, and we don’t need a spouse to provide legal and financial protection, why do we do it?

Because, deep down, we believe in love. We believe in the promise of a forever love. No other institution in the world gets the same respect asmarriage. Marriage is at the core of financial planning, taxation, immigration, health care, and social currency. It’s hard to talk about these things. It’s often out of the realm of discussion to fall in love and fathomthat your marriage might be one of the 40 percent that doesn’t make it. Perhaps that’s why we funnel so much energy toward the wedding. If we can just make it grand enough or perfect enough, it will offer somesort of protection so that the marriage might last.

Maybe it is because so little else is sacred nowadays that we hold a candle for marriage. Everything can seem so hopeless. So much about the world is messed up. We want to celebrate hope and bring people together for something positive, for crying out loud. Weddings are a balm for all that. A happy couple deliriously in love is hope personified. We cling to the ritual of a wedding and many of the worn-out cliches thatare inseparable from weddings because it feels good to be an optimist.

What’s up with that?

Nothing deadens romance like the feeling that you’re disappointing a bunch of people or that you’re playing a part that doesn’t feel like your true self. How is a person supposed to feel like themself when everymessage they get about their wedding is what other people think they should do? How can couples get down that aisle in a way that feels authentic, awesome, fun, and true to themselves?

You can. We did. And we’re here to tell you that it’s going to be great. Better than great. You and your beloved can pull off a wedding that’sperfect for you, on the budget you want, without isolating the very people you hope to be swilling champagne with on the big day. But to do so requires keeping your eyes on the prize, learning to hear — but not necessarily abide by feedback — and switching out your wishbone for a backbone.

Because, really, what’s the alternative? Well, we know them.

We have a friend who, a few days before her wedding, confided that she couldn’t wait for it to be over, like it was a budget presentation she had to give at work or a long-put-off dental procedure. The stress of the wedding planning was causing frequent and massive fights with her partner, they were going into a paint-peeling amount of debt, both of their families were completely pissed off, and she was over it. It was wedding fuckery of the highest order. She got sucked into a machine that was making her play a role she didn’t want to play. Her wedding was Pinterest pretty to be sure (it ended up in bridal magazines), but her best friends knew that under that French lace veil and airbrushed foundation was one really sad bride. And it broke our hearts.

Our feminist sensibilities also flagged that the roots of seemingly pretty traditions were anything but. While the music and hors d’oeuvres have improved over the years, many couples today still participate in the same archaic traditions that people did hundreds of years ago, without understanding what they’re about. Women have rewritten every part of our lives, except how we marry. We’re still getting hitched in much the same way that generations before us have, albeit with the added modern pressures of having it be Instagram-perfect.

We wrote this book because we too were this close to getting caught up in that machine, that tempting white-tulle bridal spin. This is an entire industry devoted to making people, especially women, feel inadequate for not following the guidebook — the guidebook that the bridal industry wrote, unabashedly to serve itself. This book is our attempt at calling for a modernization of weddings that gives couples the latitude to do what feels right for them. When we decided to get married, it felt like the bridal industry was treating us like wedding-lusty airheads on spending sprees. As downtown women living on working girls’ salaries, we weren’t having it. We were quickly fed up with the everincreasing significance, over-the-topness, and cost of weddings. And since you picked up this book, you likely are, too.


We're in an age of redefinition, when so many "traditional" institutions are getting a much-needed update, and the wedding business is no exception. I've always been cringed out by the "classic" North American wedding standard, but this book takes an industry steeped in capitalist excess, heteronormativity, and conformism and shows skeptics like me that getting married can actually be an accessible, personal, and—*gasp*—romantic process, after all.

This book is mandatory reading for every modern woman who wants to actually enjoy her journey to marriage. It's the best time in history to be a woman with ambition — and society's wedding culture has some catching up to do. You are holding a hilarious and heart-felt permission slip and guide to plan your wedding and life on your terms.

Weddings should be like fingerprints: a bit messy, legally-binding, and symbolic proof of who you truly are. This book beautifully captures the nuances and natural bends on the winding road towards happily ever after, forks and all. Because there is no perfect wedding, no perfect marriage, and no perfect union. I love the notion of releasing oneself from these societal pressures and instead celebrating love in all its wild formations.

Think of Karen and Michelle as the friends you bring to your wedding dress try-ons who actually care that your dress is you — but for your whole wedding. They'll give you that nudge you need to ditch that stuffy tradition you never really liked, and tell you why is was probably rooted in an outdated sexist custom anyway. A must-read for anyone who doesn't want the cookie-cutter all-white Pinterest board, The New Wedding Book is here to usher in a new era of brides (and grooms). Think less "I do" and more "you do you!"

Relationships are not one-size-fits-all, so why should weddings be? The New Wedding Book outlines the many ways you can make sure that your big day is not another generic pre-scripted event, but a dazzling reflection of your unique love.

In a world where weddings are being reinvented out of necessity, The New Wedding Book helps you consider the meaning of the day and how to make it yours. It asks the best questions — practical and philosophical — and also serves as a guide to conflict-free communication with the ones you love. An exhale of a read for anyone planning a wedding after 2020.

Planning a wedding can be a nightmare. You've got guest-list pressure from relatives and seating arrangement drama, bills piling up from the caterer and photographers to interview, all while contending with expectations that you'll also find the perfect venue, perfect dress, perfect flowers, perfect first dance song, etcetera. Even the most seemingly level-headed couple can get swept up in the Wedding Industrial Complex. Let this book be your armour.

The wedding industry was in need of an overhaul long before the pandemic, but as 2020's pared-down nuptials made clear, the elaborate, expensive, and painfully orchestrated Big Day is not required for celebrating love. As they make clear in The New Wedding Book, Michelle Bilodeau and Karen Cleveland get that big time. A modern-day guide to getting hitched (and doing it your own way), The New Wedding Book is crammed with helpful advice on everything from ethical diamonds to engagement photos to why it's totally okay to throw diamonds and engagement photos out the window. The authors understand that everyone has different dreams for their nuptials but also that these dreams can give us more stress than satisfaction. In other words, it's a wedding book that doesn't buy into all the wedding hype. How refreshing!

"Women have rewritten every part of our lives, except how we marry. " This line—from Michelle Bilodeau and Karen Cleveland's delightfully disruptive new book, The New Wedding Book: A Guide to Ditching All the Rules—struck me with the force of a 10-pound bouquet to the forehead. It's just so true. The cultural conditioning implicit in what Bilodeau and Cleveland call the "wedding arms race" is both insidious and infantilizing. Thankfully, the newly engaged now have an excellent guide to navigating the minefield of restrictive, often inherently misogynistic rituals previously filed under "tradition. " The New Wedding Book's mission is empowering and its tone is lively. Most importantly, its advice is practical: Once you're all fired up, The New Wedding Book provides useful tools for how to shrug off the weight of other people's expectations and actually follow your heart. My favourite part of this wonderful, modern, extremely timely book is the personal love stories so vivid that you can practically taste the spun sugar. Essential reading.

From engagement to happily-ever-after, this is a practical “you do you” primer.

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