Why you should care

Because nothing is truly low-key anymore.

Emily Alt used to enjoy driving her Airstream trailer across the U.S., but these days the wedding photographer has harnessed the caravan for a growing business op: staging pop-up weddings. Alt and her husband of seven years, who acts as the officiant, offer slimmed-down wedding packages for couples who want to run away and get married in northern Michigan — $2,500 buys ’em the ceremony, a photo shoot and standing space for up to 10 guests. The whole thing takes the same amount of time as an episode of The Bachelor. Just don’t expect a cocktail hour, a reception or any awkward speeches before a 7-foot, $7,000 Kardashian-inspired wedding cake gets cut. “You should be joyful and happy and spend absolutely zero time considering anyone else’s drama,” says Alt.

Yep, the wedding industry’s latest trend seems an awful lot like the marital equivalent of the food-truck craze. And Alt’s not the only one to have whipped up a niche business opportunity. Victoria Hogan, who runs Flora Pop, began doing floral arrangements for weddings several years ago, transporting roses around Brooklyn on her bicycle. But a move to Vegas — the quickie wedding capital of the world — got her thinking about cutting out the middleman. Now she performs weddings herself in the Nevada desert, taking couples for photo shoots with nary an Elvis impersonator in sight. Meanwhile, Maggie Winters of D.C.-based Pop Wed and her husband have been offering willing couples what they call “tiny weddings,” which start at $2,900 each.

Pop-up elopements are especially popular among older folks or those celebrating a second wedding — people who may have endured the stress of a massive ceremony before.

Some of the interest has been driven by younger, student-debt-ridden couples who can’t afford celebrating love in that big, big way — a wedding in the U.S. now costs a record $31,200, on average, according to a survey of 16,000 couples by wedding site the Knot. “When you think about spending $30K on a wedding, it’s just crazy,” says Winters. “Our generation is really practical.” But while there are few figures on elopements in the U.S. — most research on weddings is conducted by wedding websites, meaning the people responding care enough about their big day to be on a site that talks about hors d’oeuvres in the first place — many couples are opting out of the brouhaha. Yet they don’t want to let the day pass without capturing any memories. For these lovebirds, a courthouse, two signatures and some rock-solid conviction isn’t necessarily sufficient.

Pop-up elopement services vary by location, but the basic premise is the same: You get professional photos, and you get to take your legal vows. If you wanted to, you could still spend $5,000 on a wedding dress for a pop-up, but the couples who want to typically don’t seek out this kind of service. Though wedding practitioners who oversee these quickie services report that couples of all ages seek them out, and that they have more demand for pop-ups than they have time, they also note that pop-ups are especially popular among older folks or those celebrating a second wedding — people who may have endured the stress of a massive ceremony before and want one that’s more private or intimate this time around.

Romantics argue that weddings aren’t supposed to be private, and that this is the biggest day of some people’s lives. One of the reasons weddings exist, they state, is to provide a space for public declaration. “You’re making this decision to dedicate your life to somebody else, and it’s the one opportunity you get to invite everyone important to you to celebrate that,” says Kristen Maxwell Cooper, deputy editor of the Knot. There are practical considerations too — in today’s shaky global economy, young couples may depend on wedding gifts or money to get their start in life together, even if the haul doesn’t offset the cost of a wedding.

There’s also the question of family. “Your wedding should be about you” is the constant refrain — but shouldn’t it also be a little bit about, say, your elderly grandparents? That’s why, Alt says, she talks through the elopement process with her clients, asking them, “Do you want to spend the next two to three years of your life explaining to people why they weren’t invited?” There may be practical reasons to elope, though. The more you spend on a wedding, says one study, the shorter the marriage is likely to be.

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