According to an annual survey from the Knot, traditional black-tie weddings at banquet halls, country clubs, and hotels have seen a steady decline over the past 10 years. So where are modern couples trading vows? The survey revealed that nontraditional venues like farms, barns, and ranches reigned supreme for 15 percent of couples in 2017, up from a meager two percent in 2009. And according to a recent Atlantic article on the uptick of “rustic chic” weddings, “even if a couple isn’t actually getting married in a barn, there’s a good chance they’ll make their venue look like one.”
Rustic chic is an aesthetic immediately recognizable to anyone who’s spent time on the wedding side of Pinterest. But for the uninitiated, think wildflowers in mason jars, artfully distressed furniture, chalkboard signs, fairy lights, and lots of dark wood. As Caroline Kitchener writes in the Atlantic piece, “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 Kitchener, the rise of rustic chic can be directly tied to the fact that millennials are getting married later than their parents and grandparents. By the time their wedding comes around, these millennials theoretically know themselves a bit better and see their nuptials as more of an expression of their identity than a pre-existing ritual or script to be completed. By that logic, the rustic chic aesthetic is both a rejection of black-tie formality and a statement of authenticity.
But look a bit closer and the veneer of homespun minimalism starts to rub off. Not only are these rustic chic weddings just as expensive or more expensive than their traditional cousins, but their claim to authenticity goes no deeper than the man-made ponds at the faux-barns designed exclusively to host these ceremonies. The aesthetic traffics in the passing familiarity with the pastoral that most city-dwelling millennials would have and evokes a simple life that only exists in the urbanite’s imagination. After all, as Kitchener notes, “There is a certain social capital that, as a 20- or 30-something, comes with being labeled ‘laid-back’ and ‘chill.’ ” On the surface, there’s nothing more chill than getting married in a barn, surrounded by nature and rented animals. But once you realize that these laid-back weddings set most couples back an average of $33,391, the façade of natural authenticity starts to break down.
The same natural chicanery can be seen in the no-makeup wedding trend, where a fresh face on your wedding day theoretically signifies authentic maturity and a casting off of tradition. Except blushing brides are trading foundation not for a product-free face, but for an eyebrow-raising arsenal of 70 skin care products and a bag of “facial tools” including “masks and serums rich in oxygen, collagen, placenta, antioxidants, and anti-aging properties.” What, exactly, is natural or authentic about an anti-aging placenta mask is an open question. The rustic chic and no-makeup wedding trend are theoretically communicating a lack of concern with appearances, but that image is quickly banished upon inspection of the price tag. Attempts to buy authenticity are not only fairly transparent but signify more of a preoccupation with what others think of you than any banquet hall wedding would. That’s not to diminish the spate of barn weddings I’m sure I’ll be attending over the next few years. They’re sure to be lovely—but I don’t expect them to tell me anything about the couple that I don’t already know.