Ironically, the setting is supposed to evoke rustic simplicity.
If you're invited to a wedding this summer and the couple has been spending any time on Pinterest, then there is a chance it will be held in a barn. Barn weddings are enormously popular these days, with 15 percent of couples choosing a barn, ranch, or farm for their reception in 2017. This is up from 2 percent in 2009. (Meanwhile, interest in traditional ballroom-style venues dropped from 27 percent in 2009 to 17 percent last year.)
Barns are appealing because, as San Francisco-based wedding planner Gwen Helbush told The Atlantic, Millennials are a casual generation. They want to feel relaxed when they're standing up to make their vows and celebrate this milestone event with family and friends. Many value descriptors like "laidback" and "chill," and getting married in a barn reflects that.
Or, at least, it does at first glance, but in reality it's still quite an expensive and complicated ordeal. There are Mason jars, wooden barrels, chalkboards (who knew?), and burlap table coverings to purchase, white lights to string up, and porta-potties to bring in. I was surprised to learn that many of the barns used for weddings are essentially sets that have been constructed specifically for the purpose of being a venue. Furniture is brought in specially to create the right effect, since apparently you need more than just benches and hay bales for seating in the modern version of a barn wedding.
"The tarnished brass lamps and faded couches are generally hauled in from boutique vintage rental companies — another business booming with the barn-wedding industry — more akin to props than random, left-over farming accoutrements."
According to The Atlantic, the barn wedding experience is more about the faux-barn experience, or as one recently constructed barn venue owner said, being "expensively understated." And expensive it is, without a doubt. The average wedding cost climbed to $33,391 in 2017, compared to $27,021 in 2011.
Couples, however, are willing to pay this price because, as Helbush said, they fantasize about a simpler, calmer life, "a life removed from the big city, where couples and their guests can be one with the animals (or, if none are available, at least the spaces they could theoretically inhabit)."
I'm all about the barn weddings myself. Coming from a big Mennonite family in southern Ontario, barns are the go-to venue for every large family gathering, be it wedding, birthday, or reunion; but we do it because it's the cheapest way to host. My relatives clear out their barns, park the tractor in the field, sweep the cracked concrete floor, and put up plywood tables on sawhorses, set with mismatched china. After the potluck dinner, there's an informal jam session with whatever musicians happen to be present, along with group singing (in four-part harmony) and maybe some dancing. There may or may not be homemade wine, but the total event probably costs around $500.
Because of this personal experience, I feel a faint sense of horror at the amount of money being spent to recreate something that, at its very essence, is supposed to be a symbol of frugality. I wish we could witness a return to barn weddings as they used to be -- a reasonable option for young couples who reject the Pinterest ideal and refuse to rack up that much debt on a single day at the start of their lives together.
I realize not everyone is lucky enough to have access to an aunt or uncle's barn, but there are other ways of accomplishing the same cheap yet rustic event. Rent a community center, outdoor pavilion, or borrow someone's large garage or workshop. Rally the neighborhood troops to assist with decorating and cooking. Raid friends' gardens for home-grown bouquets. Dig old jars out of grandparents' basements. It's time we took the barn wedding back to what it once was, or better yet, to the next stage of its evolution.