When it comes to getting married, the wedding day, despite being the apogee of an engagement, is really just one part of an elaborate series of potential festivities that can go on over the course of a year (in some cases, longer): the lead-up to the big event can include engagement drinks, a bridal shower, a bridesmaid luncheon, a hen and stag do and a rehearsal dinner.
Who to blame? The Americans, of course (I write that with love since I am one). But there's no denying that the past several years has seen an influx of US wedding traditions filter into the UK and slot themselves nicely next to the iced fruitcake. Which is lovely for some, but frankly, a huge pain (and expense) for others, brides included.
Not every bride is comfortable with Kardashian levels of attention, even on her wedding day, and many of these pre-wedding get-togethers are precisely that: an opportunity to ogle the bride. In some cases, though designed with the bride's enjoyment in mind - in theory - this becomes another event for the bride to feel stressed about (feuding friends or family members? Another outfit to buy?).
I'm thinking of the bridal shower in particular, usually a more formal affair hosted by the mother-of-the-bride, future mother-in-law, maid of honour or bridesmaids.
Sure, they're fun: think beautiful blooming flower displays, classy cocktails and a new hashtag for the occasion. They're also a chance to get a Vera Wang china collection in your home (if you're into that sort of thing), a great excuse to surf Pinterest all day for inspiration beforehand and they provide an opportunity for family (and older wedding guests) to enjoy some time with the bride that wouldn't be achievable on an abseiling hen do.
Do we really need them, though? Is it greedy and extravagant to host too many pre-wedding parties?
Maybe I'm bitter because I never had a bridal shower (with my UK-based wedding, I decided to forgo most of the pre-wedding celebrations because of budget, stress, cultural norms and the small matter of having a newborn baby to contend with), but I'm a fan of the idea of streamlining the wedding machine - for the peace of mind (and pocket) of couples, guests and everyone else involved.
With the expense and time commitment that weddings require, it's a lot to ask of guests (and parents, if they're footing the bill) to shell out for another celebration and give up another weekend or part of one.
Couples paying for their own big day shouldn't feel pressured to throw any other extravaganzas, and guests shouldn't feel like they owe more presents (do you need a separate gift for an engagement party, bridal shower and wedding day? Eek).
A recent US Brides magazine survey of engaged American couples has found that many brides are opting out of these extra events, with only 32 holding a bridesmaid luncheon.
The survey also found that more couples are paying for their own big day and trying to integrate tradition while doing something different (like penning their own vows or getting married by a friend or family member).
Some ways that couples are keeping tradition without going overboard (and appeasing parents and friends)? "Jack and Jill" showers - coed parties for the bride and groom - are taking off in America and combine the stag/hen dos with the bridal shower, while some couples are solving the issue of exorbitant wedding expense by keeping the wedding itself intimate and inviting a larger group of friends to celebrate their engagement at the local pub or restaurant.
Other couples are turning their stag and hen dos into fun and sophisticated adventure weekends, with weekend company Maximise seeing a 130% increase in women looking to book healthy hen activities in 2014, instead of the more traditional concept of the debauched party weekend. Brides are using their hen parties as ways to explore new places, learn new skills and try out new experiences.
I have to admit, my one pre-wedding party was a hen do with my closest friends in London. Roller disco. 80s outfits. Pub dinner. Perfection. And not at vast expense, either...