From personalized envelope stamps to custom napkin folds, the $73 billion wedding industry demands from its patrons more time, money and creativity than ever before.
More than 13,000 marriage licenses were granted in Tarrant County last year, and more than 115 weddings are held annually in TCU’s Robert Carr Chapel alone.
But with more than a dozen places of worship representing almost every major denomination, the 109 is up for the challenge of accommodating the ever-expanding wedding industry.
Not your mama’s wedding
Angela Thompson, a TCU instructor of sociology who specializes in sociology of weddings, said part of the change in the industry was due to a shift in the emphasis on the production of the big day.
“It’s no longer just [the bride’s] day, it’s her event,” Thompson said.
Thompson said modern brides want something different than what their parents wanted. They want a wedding that’s unique, elaborate and fits their personality—even if it doesn’t fit their budget, she said.
The average price of a wedding in the U.S. is now about $25,000, she said, up from $13,000 in the mid ’90s and $4,000 to $5,000 in the early ’80s.
“People are willing to spend huge amounts on a wedding,” Thompson said, “Whether it’s putting their wedding dreams on a credit card or taking out a second mortgage on their house, people are spending significantly larger amounts of money.”
Thompson said most ceremony traditions have stayed the same, such as walking the bride down the aisle and the white dress, but the production of the event is almost unrecognizable.
Making it your own
To make the wedding unique, many couples are looking outside the church for weddings at unusual venues to fit their personality.
Thompson said some locations are selected to tell something about the couple, such as people who are into sports having it at a sports venue.
“And we’ve all seen the videos of people getting married on a roller coaster or while scuba diving,” Thompson said.
April Coltharp, owner of Arlington-based event planning service, A Flair for Elegance Inc., said the city’s traditional locations, such as the Fort Worth Club, are being customized to meet modern trends.
“The trend is going toward natural elements,” Coltharp said.
But rather than attempting an outside wedding in North Texas’ unpredictable weather, wedding parties are bringing the nature inside their air-conditioned venues in the form of live trees and birds.
“In Texas you have that unknown aspect of the weather,” Coltharp said. “I did an outside wedding in June last year that was 105 degrees, but I did one in November that was beautiful. You just never know.”
Wedding planner Chrissie Stuntz, who lives just outside the 109, said finding unusual locations in the Fort Worth area can sometimes be a challenge, but even traditional venues are becoming more accustomed to accommodating unique requests.
“There are several talented and young vendors that are very cognizant of modern trends and have the ability to translate a bride’s vision and personality into a unique affair amidst a traditional backdrop,” Stuntz said.
Catering to the masses
Coltharp said the concept of customized weddings supported the idea that the event needs to introduce the couple’s personality to the guests.
Even people who go with a traditional wedding in a church will sometimes drive 25 or 30 minutes to an unusual or personality-indicative reception, she said. Others will use unique locations, like a baseball stadium, for the rehearsal dinner.
In addition to making a statement about the couple, having a reception that entertains and engages the guests has become an increasingly large concern.
“You don’t see many cake-and-punch receptions anymore,” Coltharp said. “It’s more like four-hour receptions than the hour, hour and a half receptions we used to see. It’s essentially a big party with food, drinks and a DJ.”
The addition of cigar rollers, photo booths and other novelties are designed to entertain guests so that they leave thinking, “What a great wedding,” she said. “[Couples] don’t want their guests standing around looking at each other wondering when they’re going to cut the cake,” she said.
How to wed in the 109
The Stonegate Mansion
The former home of Cullen Davis, a Fort Worth oil tycoon who was arrested for and acquitted of several murders in the house in 1976, is now in its third year as a wedding and event venue.
The 12,000-square-foot house was remodeled since its construction in 1971 and has marble and hardwood floors, high ceilings and a spacious yard for ceremonies and receptions. Now owned by Dos Gringos, it served as a church and as a restaurant before becoming an event venue.
Event sales coordinator Lauren Timmons said the mansion hosts about 55 weddings a year in addition to corporate events and parties. The house’s courtyard can hold up to 175 guests, while the great room houses up to 300. Many rooms in the house are available for different sized events. All rental services are included on-site, and an event coordinator is available as well.
Timmons said very few customers seek out the house specifically for the novelty of its former owner but that most were excited when they found out about its historical past.
“It depends on the cultural differences,” Timmons said. “There have been a couple (people) that have been a little weirded out by (the house’s history), but for the most part people are really excited about it; it’s part of Fort Worth’s history.”
$3,850 for a Saturday wedding
$2,950 for a Friday wedding
Robert Carr Chapel
The 186 bells of Robert Carr Chapel can be heard all across the campus of Texas Christian University where the venue was build more than 50 years ago. Though notorious for booking quickly with the university’s students, chapel events coordinator Brittney Smith said between 30 to 50 percent of the weddings in the chapel are unrelated to the university.
Smith said that a rumor involving TCU students booking the chapel as freshmen, four years in advance of an anticipated wedding, was untrue.
“It’s actually a myth,” Smith said. “We don’t even open our calendars up that far in advance.”
The calendars actually open up a year and a half ahead of the date, but Smith said the chapel is booked solid for the next 18 months. She books two weddings per weekend, and three or four per weekend during the summer.
Smith said the bells and the chapel’s pipe organ attract a lot of people who want to get married with a traditional church atmosphere but who aren’t members of any particular congregation.
“A lot of churches require you to be a member to get married there, so that’s one reason why a lot of people choose the chapel,” Smith said.
$895 for Saturday Morning
$1,095 for Saturday Afternoon
$1,295 for Saturday Evening
$1,095 for Sunday Evening
*Discounted rates given for current TCU students, faculty, staff, alumni or trustees
Traditional church weddings
The 109 is home to a large church district representing almost every major denomination, but not all of them are available to the public. Both McKinney Memorial Bible Church and Beth-El Congregation have facilities that are available to their brides only. Beth-El rents out part of its facilities for outside party receptions, but the sanctuary is strictly for members of the congregation. McKinney requires premarital classes, while Beth-El does not, unless the bride or groom is not Jewish.
University Christian Church allows outside weddings, but requires that a staff minister to perform the ceremony, along with host of other ceremony policies that regulate everything from music selection to flower placement. Conferences with a minister must begin three months before the ceremony. University Christian also provides a weddings coordinator who helps handle all arrangements with the church and is present on the day of the ceremony.
Prices are generally less expensive than non-traditional venues, averaging about $500 for sanctuary rental, but most are not all-inclusive. Additional costs apply for receptions inside the church and staff required for the ceremony.