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Weddings are downsized during the cautious '90s


Weddings, whose price tags this column tracks from time to time, are being downsized in the cautious '90s.

More American couples are avoiding the "royal wedding" mentality of the lavish '80s. If you take a look at the scandal sheets, the actual royal weddings didn't wind up all that &L; successful anyway.

"The average number of wedding guests has fallen from 200 in the late 1980s to 171 this year, reflecting financial concerns and a desire to be more discriminating about individuals you include in this important event," said Barbara Tober, editor in chief of Bride's & Your New Home Magazine, formerly known as Bride's.

"In addition, because many couples today are older when they get married, we find more are paying for all or part of their wedding expenses."

The average cost of a wedding has declined several hundred dollars in the '90s to around $15,800, though that remains a significant sum.

"The bride 25 years of age or younger is still having the traditional large, black-tie function with dinner, dancing and evening reception," observed Isabelle Gordon, wedding consultant and owner of Weddings by Isabelle in Wadsworth, Ohio. "However, brides over 25 are having weddings as different as their personalities, using creativity and experimentation while choosing events such as the champagne brunch."

Brides and grooms are more value-conscious at all levels of planning. Yet the problem of modern couples from different parts of the country has added some travel costs.

"The 'destination' wedding has become more common, meaning that, because the bride, groom and their families are all from different regions, they choose a separate, third location," explained Gerald Monoghan, president of the Association of Bridal Consultants in New Milford, Conn., with 1,200 members in the United States and 12 foreign countries.

"So we see a lot more people going to places such as Disney World, the wine country in northern California or other attractive spots for their weddings."

Other couples solve geographic complications by holding several smaller events tied to the wedding, such as a send-off party or post-honeymoon reception, in different regions, so family and friends can attend without having to spend an arm and a leg in travel costs.

More people hire wedding consultants to keep everything in line. Their fee is generally 10 to 15 percent of the cost of whatever portion of the wedding arrangements they actually handle.

It pays to plan ahead. You need a full year if you're seeking one of the more sought-after locations, though six months can generally get the job done.

"We didn't anticipate how hard it would be to book a date with a church, and that many churches won't even consider you unless you're a member," said Holly O'Toole, a Chicago bride-to-be who ties the knot in June. "In addition, many churches fill up their

wedding schedules a year in advance for the popular months of May through August."

Though prices and tastes vary widely, set a realistic budget and stick with it, adjusting one item if another gets too high. Get letters of agreement that assure you'll receive all you're paying for.

The price range on wedding dresses can be from $100 to tens of thousands of dollars, with many designer styles gaining the limelight. Ready-to-wear dress firms now offer greater selection and unique choices. A few brides even rent dresses these

days, in the same way the groom rents his tuxedo.

A breakdown of average costs for some traditional wedding items, based on a survey of Bride's & Your New Home Magazine readers, includes:

Invitations and announcements, $228; flowers, $463; photography and videotaping, $1,208; music, $539; clergy, church, chapel, synagogue fees, $113.

Limousine, $192; rehearsal dinner, $409; bride's wedding dress, headpiece and veil, $869; groom's formal wear rental, $77; wedding reception, $5,957.

Not included here are rings, attendants' gifts, attire for attendants and mother of the bride, and honeymoon apparel. Average income of the magazine's readers is above average for U.S. families.

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