Relationship

Intimate, emotional and midweek: how Covid redefined weddings – possibly for good


At 5.40am on 24 October last year, Anna Butler and George Tapp walked hand-in-hand from their nearby apartment down to Bronte beach’s ocean pool. Though a popular site for swimming and exercising, the pair weren’t visiting for morning laps. Butler and Tapp were getting married – one of many couples in 2020 who eschewed a large wedding in favour of a more intimate affair.

“It was the place of our first date, and where George proposed,” explains Butler of the location’s significance, though truthfully it wasn’t their first choice of wedding venue. They had originally intended to wed in Mollymook, on the New South Wales south coast, alongside 150 of their nearest and dearest, before Covid-19 and its various lockdowns forced them, frustratingly, back to the drawing board.

Which is how they found themselves standing barefoot on the pool’s ledge, beside their parents and myself, their celebrant, sharing their wedding vows at sunrise. A handful of immediate family and close friends watched on nearby as remaining guests dialled in via Zoom from the United Kingdom, United States and Melbourne.

“It was more emotional and intimate than I could have ever expected,” says Tapp.

“Only our parents were there as witnesses, so we were able to unleash some pretty heartfelt vows and emotions without the embarrassment or self-consciousness of a large crowd,” agrees Butler. “It allowed us to be present and real with no element of ‘putting on a show’ for others.”

For Toowoomba-based couple Catherine Winner and Mitchell Simpson, a similar upheaval of their December wedding plans saw them shave 100 people from their original guest list, redrafting their 130-person affair into a 30-person “micro-wedding”.

“Cutting our list to 30 people was without a doubt the hardest part of our entire wedding saga. There were some really important people in our lives that we didn’t get to celebrate with,” says Winner.

Despite the reduced headcount, she echoes Butler and Tapp’s positive sentiments. “Some of our favourite parts were only possible because of the intimacy of it – we were able to involve every one of our guests in the ceremony in some way.”

Catherine Winner and Mitchell Simpson cut their wedding guest list from 130 to 30
Catherine Winner and Mitchell Simpson cut their wedding guest list from 130 to 30. Photograph: Powderpuff Photography

Rebound weddings

And so the story goes for thousands of couples in Australia who married in 2020, as the pandemic prompted widespread downsizing as well as the lowest rate of national marriage registrations in 60 years.

Data collected from individual Births, Deaths and Marriages departments indicates the number of marriages registered in Australia fell from a reported 113,815 in 2019 to approximately 78,000 in 2020.

Though all states and territories experienced significant decreases, Victoria suffered the largest downturn with 41.7% (dropping from 28,577 marriage registrations in 2019 to just 16,636 in 2020), due in part to its prolonged period of lockdown restrictions.

NSW saw an overall decline of nearly 30%, while Queensland dipped by a reported 28.2%. Considering the wedding industry contributes nearly $4bn to the local economy each year, it was a plummet felt by couples and businesses alike.

Most states, however, experienced a comparatively strong end to 2020. In its 2021 Australian Wedding Industry Report, Easy Weddings CEO and founder Matt Butterworth predicts “the industry will not only recover but 2021-22 will exceed any prior year”, with 160,000 weddings forecast to take place in 2022.

Just don’t expect a full-blown return to the pre-pandemic wedding extravaganzas of, say, 2019. While the volume of ceremonies is expected to surge in coming years, industry insiders say the shift in priorities brought about by Covid are likely to be more permanent.

Small, quick and Wednesday

Micro-weddings and elopements aren’t going anywhere. Thanks to the ubiquitousness of Zoom and other streaming platforms, a wider circle of guests is now able to share in the ceremony without the additional costs of hosting and feeding them. The pre-Covid average wedding in Australia, according to government figures, cost $36,000, with the majority of couples taking on debt to finance the celebrations.

“Not only was our day perfect for us and precisely what we wanted, but it also saved us a small fortune,” says Butler. It is a benefit that’s expected to increase the popularity of small-scale events in the future.

The times are changing sartorially, as well. Melbourne-based womenswear designer Emily Nolan, who creates made-to-measure suiting under her eponymous label E Nolan, has experienced a rise in tailored bridal commissions in the last year. “A suit is sharp and fabulous enough for the registry office or a function,” she says. “A $15,000 gown may lose its appeal if only 15 people get to see it.”

Cristina Tridente, director of Adelaide-based bridal wear boutique couture+love+madness, says her business is currently “busier than we’ve ever been”, though notes production lead times are shorter. “We have seen an influx of clients that want to get married much sooner rather than later,” she explains, with many brides placing orders less than six months out.

This desire for briefer engagements, coupled with the volume of 2020 postponements, has opened up a previously untapped avenue for prospective newlyweds: the midweek wedding.

For NSW Central Coast couple Jennifer Robinson and Alex Holmes, their forthcoming (twice-rescheduled) Wednesday ceremony was the only way to preserve as much of the original plan as possible, including the 120-strong guestlist, venue and vendors.

“We had a conversation about whether we try and make all these concessions to change the day, but it was just so close that we found it hard to shift that idea of our wedding day in our heads,” Holmes recalls.

“At this point we don’t care what day of the week it happens,” laughs Robinson. “We’re just excited to finally be getting married.”

Meanwhile Amy Parfett, co-founder of digital wedding directory Wedshed, forecasts a rise in infant invitees. “The recurring concern we heard from some couples postponing their weddings [in 2020] was that they felt like it was pushing the baby milestone back too,” she says.

Such is the case for couple David Fitzgerald and Mikaela Lehvonen, who have been living in London for the past two years. After Australia’s strict border controls thwarted their October 2020 wedding plans they re-examined their priorities.

“We didn’t want to wait forever,” explains Fitzgerald. “With no certainty on when we’ll be able to travel back to Australia, we decided to put the wedding on the back burner this year and instead focus on starting a family.” The couple are expecting their first child in August and intend to host their wedding at a later date.

Another shift in an industry characterised by excess is a reported increase in environmentally sustainable weddings.

“Ironically, the restrictions of Covid have been liberating for many couples,” says Sandra Henri, the founder of wedding impact calculator Less Stuff – More Meaning.

With decreased headcount and often less travel for both couples and guests, the company estimates there has been a substantial decrease in the environmental impact of Covid-era weddings. Anecdotally, those in the industry report an increase in hired pieces over single-use items, biodegradable confetti, farm-to-table produce and an added focus on recycling.

“We’d love for couples to continue making the most of the small wedding ‘excuse’, only this time for the sake of our Earth,” says Henri.

More perfect days

The pandemic has added pressure to what is already a fairly high-stakes life event. It’s also accelerated the growth of a mindset that has been lingering for some time: a longing to depart from the prescribed matrimonial script.

It’s not that those preparing to get married have lost their willingness to party or are keen to scrap the large wedding format completely. Many people still seek an emotionally climactic ceremony or a day spent dancing alongside 100 other revellers.

Anna Butler and George Tapp celebrate their marriage with. ahadful of guests
Anna Butler and George Tapp celebrate their marriage with a handful of guests at Bronte beach. Photograph: Jack Stillman

Rather, the definition of what constitutes a “perfect day” has expanded, allowing the affianced and their loved ones to imagine more than one version of wedding day bliss.

“We had friends who were initially wary or sceptical completely change their perspective as to what did or didn’t constitute a wedding, and those who had initially baulked at marriage become more interested,” says Butler.

“I think 2020 was a year of true perspective, a year where what’s important came into clear focus. A lot of people may now strip their planned weddings to facilitate something simple and intimate, and exactly how they want their wedding – not how they’re supposed to want their wedding.”



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