Reviews of Homeward Bound

“3.5 out of 4 stars” - People Magazine                                                               “The brilliance of Emily Matchar’s new book is that it exhaustively describes what disillusioned workers are opting into: a slower, more sustainable, and more self-sufficient lifestyle that’s focused on the home. Matchar synthesizes dozens of trend stories … into a single, compelling narrative about the resurgence of domesticity….Refreshing.” -The New Republic                                                       "[P]rovocatively explores what the movement says about the role of women in society today.” – The New Yorker                                                                       "I unreservedly loved it…It’s empathetic and funny and thoughtful and smart, and I encourage all of you to read it."– The Hairpin                                                         “Cogently argues that choosing a more hands-on, DIY lifestyle – family farming, canning, crafting, can, without sacrificing feminism’s hard-won gains, improve on an earlier time when ‘people lived more lightly on the earth and relied less on corporations, and family and community came first.’” - ELLE                                                               “[I]ntelligent and insightful...essential reading.” - Christianity Today                                                       “A lively and perceptive reporter… a valuable and astute assessment.”—Publishers Weekly                                                         “A well-researched look at the resurgence of home life…. Offers intriguing insight into the renaissance of old-fashioned home traditions.”— Kirkus Reviews

What is New Domesticity?

This blog is a look at the social movement I call ‘New Domesticity’ – the fascination with reviving “lost” domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc. Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex & the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal? Where does this movement come from? What does it mean for women? For families? For society?                                                                                     My book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, which explores New Domesticity in greater depth, will be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2013.

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On “ironic, low-key, unconventional” weddings


Me playing with goat at our "unconventional" farm wedding ;)

Oh, man, does this ever hit home.

Writing in The Atlantic, Phoebe Maltz Bovy dissects the phenomenon of the “ironic, low-key, unconventional wedding” – the non-diamond engagement band, the non-wedding wedding dress, the reception at the local dive bar. Brides planning this type of wedding are displaying what Bovy calls “fauxbivilance” – they want a wedding, but are embarrassed that their dreams are so conventional.

I totally understand this. I – a woman who NEVER had wedding fantasies as a kid – felt really weird and squicked out by diamonds and white dresses and the word “fiance” (uggg! still hate it!) when I was engaged. I wanted to feel like I could do a wedding – and a marriage – without losing my identity.

Ironically, however, planning the ironic, low-key unconventional wedding is just as involved (and probably MORE involved) than planning the “typical wedding.” And when it’s over, you’re just as conventionally married as the girl who had a 12-bridesmaid taffeta-n-pink roses extravaganza at a church.

As I’ve written before, my husband and I had a low-key, rustic, handmade, DIY wedding on a local goat farm, which ended up costing far more money and energy than if we’d simply rented out the local Marriott ballroom, bought a white wedding cake and gotten my dress from David’s Bridal. It also – shocker – turned out to be more similar to the rest of the weddings we attended in the 2009-2013 period than it was different. In all the weddings I’ve attended in the recent years, only two were at houses of worship (one at a synagogue, one at an Episcopal church co-officiated by a priest and a Buddhist monk). Most were at farms or on rooftops or in art galleries or exposed brick “event spaces” in old tobacco warehouses. I’ve only been to a couple weddings where there was an actual white tiered wedding cake – more typical were wedding pies (us), wedding cookies, wedding cupcakes, wedding mini rhubarb tarts. Probably 90% of the couples wrote their own vows.

Unconventional, it turns out, is the new conventional.

I’m not complaining – I loved our wedding, and the planning was extremely fun. But the reality is, getting married is an extremely conventional act (in the best meaning of the word ‘conventional,’ I think), and no amount of DIY or ironic mustache photo booths makes you different than the billions of other people doing the same thing.

What were your weddings like? How did you feel about the planning process? Does the term “fauxbivilance” ring true for you?

14 comments to On “ironic, low-key, unconventional” weddings

  • May I introduce you to Such lovely pictures…

    We had a Quaker ceremony in the Quaker hall. Quakers are neat because they believe God has married the couple already, so it doesn’t really matter if the State gets involved.

    Her (very lovely!) wedding dress was off Craigslist. My Savile Row suit came from eBay. The engagement ring was Craigslist and the stainless wedding bands were eBay for $3 each. The cake was tiered, made by the bride. We made sausages. I smoked eleven pounds of bacon. We slaughtered rabbits and made confit and rillette. I made Brie.

    But it took us four months to recover from our handmade backyard wedding–so much work.

  • We married young(ish), in our early twenties, and pretty conventional to please everyone else (apart from being 6 months pregnant:-)).
    Sometimes I think I would have liked to plan a wedding of my own, but these days I do not really care anymore. A wedding is not that important, but it is made into a huge thing by so many people. You end up married like everyone else and that is where the hard part comes in for most people.
    I totally agree that trying to be so individual in this day and age is very labour intensive. Everything has been done already. Many couples would be better off putting the effort into their relationship I think.
    There is beauty in the white dress and all the other traditions too I think. It is a ritual that connects us to other people as well.

  • Liz

    The author of that piece doesn’t really seem to grasp the idea that people might genuinely, unironically want to have this sort of wedding. My best friend is about to have a DIY-heavy wedding at a local winery with a reception in her backyard. She isn’t doing this out of an anxious desire to reject the trappings of conformity… she just isn’t all that religious, and this is the wedding that she and her fiance WANT to have. She isn’t wearing a purple dress as a statement against outdated patriarchal ideas about female virginity… she just likes purple. Geez.

  • Joy

    I agree with Liz in some ways. When planning our wedding a little over a year ago, my groom and I were interested in a wedding that was uniquely “us,” which not only meant aesthetics but also which parts of the ritual we kept (white dress, minister), which parts we rejected (father walking me down the aisle, church setting, the sand or candlelighting ceremony…ugh!), and what we added ourselves (a Frederick Buechner reading, reciting together a prayer of St. Francis of Assisi). But there was definitely the pressure to exclude “conventional” or what everyone else was doing in order to be uniquely us. So we just really tried to not care if everyone was doing it or no one was doing it–if it’s what we want, then we’re doing it! So yes, there were mason jar lanterns in the trees and whoopie pies wood rounds on the dessert table, but to know that each element was something we loved and wanted to share with our guests was what’s important. Also, I think our ceremony was incredibly personal and that is what most people have commented on…
    All that to say, none of my “unconventional” choices, including my 1920s emerald engagement ring, had anything to do with butting up against gender roles or whatever, I just went with what I felt was “me,” and I just could not picture myself with a giant diamond on my hand!
    The name change thing, though, was a struggle for me…I ended up changing my name and I’m very glad I did, but some internalized feminist ideas did make me think it was “defeat” and “losing myself” in some ways…until I actually did it and realized, I’m still me!

  • Joy

    And since we’re sharing pictures of our weddings…

  • Christina

    My wedding was like this: My family don’t have the resources to afford an big wedding, and as such, my aunt made me a wedding dress as a gift (a few family members chipped in for the fabric and notions) My parents split the bill for the food and lodgings for my guests in a beach house, and a friend of the family who is a judge officiated the ceremony. One of my othe aunts took the photos,my uncle recorded it on his video camera, and as for the brides-maids dresses…well, they wore sarongs which I made from home. I also made my ring-bearer pillow myself. My husband and I had no honeymoon, we just spent our time after the ceremony hanging out the following few days with our family. The men wore kahaki pants and plain white dress shirts. Everything was very low key. And, as for an engagment ring, well….my husband is Welsh, and so they don’t have that tradition, so instead of an engagment ring, I got a Welsh Lovespoon :) (For those that don’t know, the Lovespoon is exactly what you think it is…it’s a small wooden spoon that your fiancee gives to you. There are various traditional symbols which could be carved on it that mean different things. Mine has the Welsh Dragon on the top, and the stem of it is two intertwined knots which come to the spoon and the spoon is carved into a heart shape. The Welsh are Celtic people, so they have really old tradtions, and any woman who recieves a spoon knows that it’s a WAY sweeter thing to have than a diamond.

  • tenya

    Oh man, this topic! (Cute goats!) I don’t think the author of the piece really spends a lot of time dissecting the difference between opting into marriage vs. opting into weddings. There is a large difference, especially as marriage can just involve the courthouse or, in some states, a notary public, and a few witnesses, versus the church + 100+ person reception dinner and dancing fest I have in my head as a traditional wedding.
    I had an art gallery wedding last year and it was a blend of traditional/non-traditional – for example, I really didn’t want an engagement ring, and my husband couldn’t afford one anyway. When an elderly family member gifted one, my husband took one look and told me “you don’t have to wear it.” Ha! It sits in a box. I made the cake, and the vegetarian foods, and my mom did the rest of the cooking. We had a non-religious ceremony. My maid-of-honor made paper flower bouquets. I did have the voluminous white dress, but that was also a family heirloom. When the planner at the gallery said “well, we know you must have been planning this since you were a little girl so let’s see how we can make it a reality!” I just thought “actually not really?” It was deeply weird, because everyone kind of expects you to have super-set preferences and expectations and if they aren’t perfect you’ll cry and be unhappy forever!! Yet you must also meet all the other expectations people have or think up: “of course everyone you’ve ever met can come! no we’re going to keep it small and intimate! of course I’ll wear Aunt Petunia and Grandmother and Fiance’s-Mother’s veils – we can stack them! Of course we’ll have an open bar! No of course we won’t serve alcohol, what with suchandso’s alcoholism!” it is impossible to meet them all.

    DIYing really comes up a lot with the non-traditional weddings, because you can easily end up spending more and tons more time making everything “unique” and “you” and “special-er and better-er” by painstakingly or laboriously crafting every detail, from shoes to *cough*uterus clutches for your bridesmaids*cough* to wedding favors. Because god, you don’t want to have a cookie-cutter wedding, do you? Your most special day made non-special by being all pre-made and like everyone else? I get where the author is coming from with the one-upping going the other way.

  • Katy

    Last year, I and several friends spent untold hours hand-making all the decorations for a friend’s wedding over the course of our last year of grad school. Most of the DIY-ness of the wedding was more about the couple’s lack of finances than their desire to be unique (although they both had that in spades). I remember multiple arguments with her mother, who wanted a more traditional and elaborate reception, ended with her suggesting that if that element of a wedding was important to her mother, perhaps paying for that should be her contribution/wedding present. Apparently, that shut her up a few times.

    What was really interesting about that showdown was my friend’s comment that she and her mother wanted exactly reversed weddings. My friend wanted (and had) a traditional Catholic wedding in our church with a full Mass and then a laid-back, non-traditional reception. Her mother wanted an outdoor ceremony, to officiate herself with funky touches, and then a traditional full-course sit-down meal with dancing reception.

  • Twenty years ago, when we married, the wedding industry was on the cusp of Big and Bad ( taste). Our smaller, more intimate nuptials, were hijacked by well intentioned parents who bit at the ” if you want it you pay for it”. Much to our chagrin. The wedding turned into an over the top “Tony n Tina’s Wedding”, bearing little resemblance to either bride or groom. We were in grad school and a professional program, so our attentions and energies were focused elsewhere. We got what we got. In spades. The wedding of our parents’ dreams.

    However, as we walked up the aisle, a newly minted married couple, we looked at each other, ” Glad that’s over!” Proceeded to enjoy the after- party. The day was fraught with stress, mishaps, and ridiculousness, but it cemented our resolve, ” It’s gotta get better than this!” And it has.

    The wedding is but one day of the relationship. Not the culmination. Not The Most Important Day of My Life, but one of a series of Most Important Days of My Life, including obtaining that hard won professional license and the births of my children.

    DIY celebration/ceremonies as the latest incarnation of the bridal industry. Fewer sequins, more goats. More guilt vs gilt. ” Is it free range or vegan enough?” ” Have we responsibly sourced all products and vetted the manufacturers/contractors, etc?” ” Is the cake gluten-free?” Pinterest just adds to the stress, as do the wedding planning websites. My niece attempted to grow her own wheat for center pieces- at the same time she was starting demanding career and relocating. Really?/ Due to the draught last summer, the crop failed, but the marriage is going strong.

  • Nicole

    Interesting topic!

    My “wedding”: we packed our daughter, our dog, a couple of decorations (including mason jars- haha) and headed to the Drakensberg (we live in South Africa) with close friends and family for a weekend away. No wedding dress, no cake, no ceremony, no wedding rings, no photographer (but lots of wine).

    We never actually got around to doing the paperwork when we got home, so technically we’re still not married! But we did have a good party.

  • Mackenzie

    I’m a Quaker. Most Catholics would probably think our 300 year old wedding traditions are non-traditional modern hipster stuff too.

    In a house of worship, no minister, a simple dress (that probably will be worn again), no music, no photography, no rings, and an alcohol-free potluck reception? That’s 100% conventional for us, and that’s what I’m intending to have someday. I’ll do the calligraphy on the marriage certificate that all the guests will sign.

    I’ve been to two weddings where the reception was a picnic in the grass outside the Meetinghouse. One of those involved an outhouse (gotta love a 300 year old Meetinghouse!).

  • Emily J

    My husband and I vacillated between a very conventional wedding, and just eloping. Either way, we knew we would be married at the end of it. In the end, we opted for a lazy way out – had a small, but mostly conventional wedding, in a local railway hotel that required very little decoration. We didn’t have cake, but because we both loved creme brulée, we served that for dessert, and cracked each other’s instead of cutting the cake. A friend performed the ceremony between drinks and appetizers, and since we fell in love over a shared love of cooking and wine, we concentrated on that. We threw in plenty of geeky jokes (references to Battlestar Galactica, and video games), and spent the night chatting with our friends and family. Our photographer grew up with my husband. Afterwards we went back to our apartment building with our friends and played Rock Band and Mariokart. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Between the white dress, flowers, and sit down dinner, it was conventional – which meant easy – but with the handmade invitations and place settings (pieces of cardstock set into wine corks to stand upright), the focus on food and drink over ceremony, the after-party, and the laissez-faire attitude if something went a bit awry, it was also a bit unconventional. We weren’t exhausted afterwards. We were elated. We stayed up watching Doctor Who and opening wedding gifts.

    We could have had our service in a church, presided over by a minister, but it would not have been faithful to our marriage. I am a mainline Protestant, studying at a seminary as an academic theologian. My husband is somewhere between agnostic and atheist (he neither actively believes there is a God, nor actively believes there isn’t. He’s perfectly happy throwing his hands in the air and saying, “No idea! Let’s move on.”) Though he is very supportive of my faith, to be married in a religious ceremony would have had fundamentally different meanings for each of us. That would have been inauthentic, and really, just a terribly uneven way to begin.

    My concern was authenticity, wanting a day that was comfortable, not one were we felt out of joint. The end was a mix, conventional and unconventional, but all fairly easy, and taken with a laugh and a martini.

  • Becky

    Yes! Unconventional is the new conventional and the wedding industry caught on to that fast. Check out if you don’t believe me. Steampunk wedding? Octopus cake? Rustic barn venue? Comic book-themed favors? Everyone wants to be one-of-a-kind but it’s all been done, many times over, often just as expensive and definitely with just as much work.

    And then everyone feels the need to share in agonizing detail their own “unique” wedding story and one-up how “authentic”, “inexpensive” and non-Wedding Industry Complex it was. I’m better than you because I bought my dress at Goodwill. Well, we DIY’ed the light sockets. But we knitted Unity Socks for the entire wedding party AND the ceremony was officiated by a Japanese doula. Thanks for being honest about how all of this is really just more of the same. In the midst of planning a wedding myself, I have never been more aware of being one of 7 billion.