You're the Wedding Planner. Now What Do You Do?

Patti Mohamed, 21, views a sample book of wedding hairstyles during Maggie Daniels's class. Subjects also include cultural traditions and crisis management.
Patti Mohamed, 21, views a sample book of wedding hairstyles during Maggie Daniels's class. Subjects also include cultural traditions and crisis management. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 3, 2007

George Mason University students waited expectantly as the guest lecturer plugged in her curling iron. The topic on the syllabus: updos.

The stylist attached a mop of shiny fake curls to sophomore Brittney Tobin's long blond hair, swept it up onto her head and pinned on a bridal veil. "Is there a veil on my head?" Tobin squeaked, wide-eyed, fluttering a hand in front of her face.

"It's every girl's dream to have a class about weddings," Tobin said later. "It's a dream!"

Sure, a dream. Until the bride freaks out, the best man gets plastered or the altar boy topples over in the middle of the ceremony. And everyone expects you to fix it.

If there's one thing assistant professor Maggie Daniels wants students to know in her semester-long class on wedding planning -- apparently the first in the country at a four-year college -- it's that this is not just fluff.

Daniels teaches crisis management and event planning for what has become an enormous business, estimated at anywhere from $80 billion to $161 billion a year nationally. Spending on weddings has nearly doubled in the past 15 years. In just four years, almost every expense increased more than 20 percent as people added days of events, gifts for all the guests, elaborate lighting and all sorts of other extras promoted by magazines, TV shows and the rest of the marital-industrial complex. More than a third of couples outspend their wedding budgets.

With that booming industry comes demand for wedding planners who know their peau de soie from their charmeuse, who can coordinate timing and such details as flowers, music and hors d'oeuvres, who can whip recalcitrant groomsmen into shape.

And who can, when the inevitable crisis hits, take the bullet.

"A wedding planner has to be a superhero," Tobin said. "People think of their wedding as the perfect fairy tale. If it's not, someone's going to get the blame. It's probably going to be you."

It wasn't easy to convince college administrators that this was a legitimate course of study, Daniels said. "I fought for this tooth and nail." She produced the event-planning and cultural research to back it up. Once approved, she needed 10 students to enroll. Seventy signed up.

This semester, 100 students are taking it. They're a mix of dreamy fiancees, people looking for a fun elective, tourism-and-events-management majors rounding out their degree and hard-core future wedding consultants.

"What happens very frequently is students come into class doe-eyed," Daniels said. "Part of my objective is to make them understand it can be enjoyable, but the bottom line is, if you want to make a living at this, it is a hard job, a very, very hard job. Your weekends are taken away from you. You're dealing with a lot of different emotions," and it's difficult to launch a lucrative business.

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