CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Jennie Lindstrom and Julie Bourquin don’t have a wedding date set or rings picked out, but they are already looking at dresses for their nuptials.
Lindstrom, 28, and Bourquin, 26, elementary school teachers, blushed self-consciously and giggled as they pored through a selection of strapless, pleated gowns from The Altered Bride boutique at the “Same Love, Same Rights” gay wedding expo here this month. The pair discovered they like the color called dark champagne and that they’ll probably need at least $1,500 for outfits for their big day.
Massachusetts on Monday is set to become the first state to legally permit same-sex marriages, and couples like Lindstrom and Bourquin are popping the cork on new wedding spending that might reach as much as $200 million in the Bay State during the next two years, said Randy Albelda, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
Anticipating the historic shift, retailers such as Bloomingdale’s, jewelers like Shreve, Crump & Low and Alpha Omega, and boutiques are courting the gay wedding market with advertising and marketing campaigns as well as product lines.
“This is a market now visible enough for retailers to sit up and take notice,” said Scott Seitz, president of SBI, a New York-based gay and lesbian marketing specialist.
Albelda’s revenue estimate includes the possibility of gay couples from out of state marrying in Massachusetts and is based on an average expenditure of $5,000 per wedding, although the average Massachusetts betrothal costs $22,000, according to the New England Wedding Professionals, an association of service providers.
While Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, has said a 1913 law prohibits gay weddings for nonresidents if such marriages would be void in their home states, and the city of Boston has banned them for out-of-state couples, municipalities such as Cambridge, Worcester,Northampton, Provincetown and others say they’ll allow the ceremonies. Romney opposes same-sex marriage.
“Either way, it’s a good chunk of change and it’s all new money for the state,” Albelda said.
There is a planned cake-cutting at City Hall here to commemorate the legalization. Vermont made civil unions legal in 2000 — an action subsequently taken by New Jersey, California and Hawaii — sparking a spate of commitment ceremonies.At least one Bay State retail industry official sounded a note of caution amid the high hopes. Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said the legal challenges have kept some of the group’s 2,500 members in a state of flux and he has not seen his members stocking up on wedding merchandise.
“The market has been such a moving target,” Hurst said. “Obviously, there will be some impact — maybe a positive bump in May or June — but how much we don’t know.”
Wedding professionals such as caterers, florists and event planners say the word “marriage” has already prompted gay partners to plan more traditional and lavish ceremonies.
There are 17,000 same-sex couples living together in Massachusetts, according to Census 2000 data. Nationally, the population of same-sex couples is about 650,000. Thirty-eight states have constitutions defining marriage as “one man, one woman.”
Massachusetts requires a three-day residency period before marrying out-of-state couples. That stay represents about $700 in expenses for food and lodging per couple, according to the state Office of Travel and Tourism, plus incremental spending that business retailers would gain as couples shop during the waiting period.
The prospect of same-sex marriages also has triggered interest as a pop-culture event. MTV is following several gay couples planning to marry in Massachusetts for an installment of its “True Life” documentary series. Absolut vodka will debut a gay wedding-themed ad insert in the June issue of Out magazine, which goes on sale Monday.
Retailers have pressed forward to service the new market.
Bloomingdale’s in Chestnut Hill, a Boston suburb, has doubled the space devoted to formalwear this season in anticipation of increased business, said spokeswoman Lauren Jennings. She declined to specify any gains the store has seen so far, but said Bloomingdale’s management has supported the store’s participation in gay and lesbian marketing events.
“You’d think Bloomingdale’s, as a big corporation in this political climate, would have been hesitant, but they jumped right on this,” Jennings said.
The store sponsored “The Pink Event” on April 25, a swank invitation-only same-sex wedding expo for an estimated 100 people held at Boston’s Lenox Hotel. About 30 couples signed up for Bloomingdale’s gift registry, a response that convinced the retailer to repeat the event this fall.Sales staff at the store, the only Bloomingdale’s unit in Massachusetts, have been instructed to anticipate a variety of wedding requests from gay partners this summer and to be ready to give creative advice. “Couples are looking for guidance,” Jennings said. “They know they’re writing a new book on wedding etiquette.”
One sales associate helped a woman get fit for a men’s tuxedo after she couldn’t find the padded shoulder she wanted in a woman’s style.
Yolanda Cellucci, owner of Yolanda’s, a designer bridal emporium in Waltham, Mass., anticipates gay marriages will spark a sales boost of a combined 30 percent this summer and fall compared with a year ago. Her support of “The Pink Event,” in which the store dressed three lesbian couples in designs from Jim Hjelm and Romona Keveza, provoked complaints from some customers, but Cellucci is undaunted.
“Dressing two brides is always better than dressing one,” she said.
Sleek, Forties-style gowns with column shaping and small jackets, done in shades of cream rather than traditional white, have been popular at Yolanda’s. Clean styles from Carmen Marc Valvo and Sunny Choi are also selling briskly.
“Most don’t go in for beading, tulle or lace,” Cellucci said. She’s also sold a range of bridesmaids and flower girl dresses since many of the gay couples getting married this summer are longtime partners, with children or even grandchildren from previous relationships.
Although lesbians generally spend “slightly less” than the average bride, Cellucci said she’s seen women becoming increasingly receptive to dressier, pricier options.
Mark Walsh, co-partner in Boston-based Rafanelli Events, which produces many of Boston’s seven-figure galas, said he’s also seen signs that “having the legal sanction of marriage” is making some couples plan more opulent weddings. One such event will be a Cape Cod resort wedding Rafanelli is orchestrating for two men. “It will be very traditional, with a reception, band, flowers, rings,” Walsh said.
At The Charles Hotel here, there are two gay nuptials on the books, including one for a young male couple that’s being planned — in time-honored tradition — entirely by one of their mothers. The Harvard Square hotel has had commitment ceremonies since a civil union for two doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital in 1994. It expects to start handling a younger clientele with the legalization of gay marriage. Weddings start at $20,000, hotel spokeswoman Sophie Zunz said.Jewelers are also seeing a bling-bling opportunity.
Shreve, Crump & Low, Boston’s oldest jeweler, launched an ad campaign this spring featuring the tag line “This is Love. It’s not up for a Vote” juxtaposed on a close-up of Furrer Jacot wedding bands, priced from $750 to $15,500.
Competitor Alpha Omega, with four locations in and around Boston, has had a 20 percent jump in sales compared with last year leading into spring, an increase driven by gay weddings, spokeswoman Kerry Searle said.
Male couples are opting for matching platinum bands, while women are gravitating toward diamond bands, but are not compelled to choose the same style or stone cut. The jeweler recently donated a pair of platinum wedding bands at a fund-raiser for gay health causes, but has not decided on a next step in terms of advertising or marketing to the community.
Amen Bogossian, owner of Gold Quest Jewelers, which exhibited at the “Same Love, Same Rights” expo, said he may end the summer season up 20 percent in band sales if gay weddings proceed unencumbered. With same-sex partners in mind, he’s designed several stand-alone bands, including one in a scalloped style with diamonds that costs $950 in platinum. For one gay couple, he crafted one band in black diamonds and one in white.
Jack Crowley, owner of a digital video and photography service, became so bullish on gay weddings that he registered the domain SameSexWeddings.net to showcase his services along with other gay-friendly vendors. He’s predicting an increase in demand of at least 10 to 15 percent.
Even if they don’t spring for diamond bands and videographers, gay couples are putting dollars into the details, mixing unusual choices with traditional ideas, retailers and wedding industry executives say. Lesbians and gay men may spark new wedding trends for heterosexuals.
For example, Becky Kent, 51, and her partner, Susan Yardley, 50, plan to spend a relatively modest $13,000 on their June 19 wedding, but they’re splurging on custom-made linen outfits and invitations at $8 each. The invites are nestled in hand-delivered “memory boxes” filled with photos and trinkets commemorating the couple’s relationship, as well as a frequently-asked-questions page.Like many soon-to-be newlyweds, Kent and Yardley have registered at Home Depot — they’re restoring a barn on their property — and at Crate & Barrel, where they and other gay couples attended a private breakfast and registry last month hours before the store opened. Kent said years ago she had ruled out ever needing to even think about a wedding, so the welcome from Crate & Barrel helped ease self-consciousness.
“I was nervous, but it turned out to be a great experience,” she said. “You know, marriage was always something you’d think ‘Not in my lifetime.’”
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