As Long as We Both Shall Love

The White Wedding in Postwar America

254 pages

14 halftones illustrations

August, 2013

ISBN: 9780814737811

$39

Cloth

Also available in

Author

Karen M. Dunak is Assistant Professor of History at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio.

All books by Karen M. Dunak

When Kate Middleton married Prince William in 2011, hundreds of millions of viewers watched the Alexander McQueen-clad bride and uniformed groom exchange vows before the Archbishop of Canterbury in Westminster Abbey. The wedding followed a familiar formula: ritual, vows, reception, and a white gown for the bride. Commonly known as a white wedding, the formula is firmly ensconced in popular culture, with movies like Father of the Bride or Bride Wars, shows like Say Yes to the Dress and Bridezillas, and live broadcast royal or reality-TV weddings garnering millions of viewers each year.
 
Despite being condemned by some critics as “cookie-cutter” or conformist, the wedding has in fact progressively allowed for social, cultural, and political challenges to understandings of sex, gender, marriage, and citizenship, thereby providing an ideal site for historical inquiry. As Long as We Both Shall Love establishes that the evolution of the American white wedding emerges from our nation’s proclivity towards privacy and the individual, as well as the increasingly egalitarian relationships between men and women in the decades following World War II. Blending cultural analysis of film, fiction, advertising, and prescriptive literature with personal views expressed in letters, diaries, essays, and oral histories, author Karen M. Dunak engages ways in which the modern wedding emblemizes a diverse and consumerist culture and aims to reveal an ongoing debate about the power of peer culture, media, and the marketplace in America. Rather than celebrating wedding traditions as they “used to be” and critiquing contemporary celebrations for their lavish leanings, this text provides a nuanced history of the American wedding and its celebrants.

Reviews

  • "Persuasively argues that widespread acceptance of the idea that each white wedding can—and perhaps should—have at least one element of unique self-expression has insured the continuing popularity of formal weddings. Without the option of some measure of variation, the 'cookie-cutter' white wedding would have become a stale and outmoded ritual. Instead, it remains a popular rite whose familiar general contours make it a comfortable and welcoming ceremony for Americans of diverse backgrounds but whose individualized details allow it to express the unique characteristics, interests, and perhaps politics of the couple at its center."

    —Katherine Jellison, Ohio University

  • "Dunak has written a very engaging account of the stunning cultural malleability of the wedding as it responded to the changing sensibilities and desires of American couples. She deserves great praise for addressing alternative forms like the hippie wedding. But above all, Dunak compels us as no one else has with the fascinating and very important intertwined stories of white heterosexual weddings and gay and lesbian commitment and marriage ceremonies."

    —Christina Simmons, University of Windsor

  • "It's easy to poke fun at the frou-frou, the Bridezillas, and the chocolate fountains. Karen Dunak prefers a more sophisticated undertaking, reading the desire for a lavish wedding as a personal and political statement of the American Dream. She traces the rise of coupledom and the decline in maternal authority and approval of neighbors and relatives to postwar affluence. . . .  Dunak's innovative research ranges from plumbing the personal recollections of the happy couples to the emergence of the public belief that even when a president's daughter married, it was all about them."

    —Elizabeth Pleck, Professor Emerita, University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign

  • "In this well-researched and often entertaining examination of the symbolic meaning of the wedding ceremony in the post-WWII US, historian Dunak (Muskingum Univ.) argues that the evolution of marriage ceremony mirrors national cultural changes over the past several decades."

    —K.B. Nutter, Choice

  • "For readers interested in recent developments in American wedding practices, this volume has much to offer."

    —Vicki Howard, American Historical Review

  • "Dunak’s diverse, interconnected narratives show how the American wedding offers a universal promise of love and happiness while also providing participants with an opportunity to publically perform their values and aspirations. […] Dunak’s book is historically illuminating and highly readable.  Through the author’s account, we see how the wedding’s malleability has allowed it to endure as a meaningful rite of passage and beloved site of expression and individuality, one that is deeply tied to an ever-changing American culture.”

    Journal of American Culture