It's Just a Piece of Paper 

Why millennials across the country—and in Idaho—are giving marriage the side-eye

It started with a song. As hundreds of people—mostly young women and their moms—took their seats around the runway at the Boise Centre on the Grove Jan. 10, the Wedding Party Show fashion exhibition began with the DJ cranking "Can't Feel My Face" by pop band The Weekend, which had several songs featured on the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack.

And I know she'll be the death of me, at least we'll both be numb/ And she'll always get the best of me, the worst is yet to come/ But at least we'll both be beautiful and stay forever young, this I know/ This I know...

Gorgeous, young models strutted down the runway in stunning wedding dresses, lit by a web of white string lights overhead. An announcer described to the audience each dress and tuxedo, available at various boutique bridal shops around Boise as "Can't Feel My Face" played on.

She told me, 'Don't worry about it.' She told me, 'Don't worry no more.' We both know we can't go without it. She told me, 'You'll never be alone.'

One young woman sported a tutu-style dress that ended just below her knees, revealing a pair of brown leather boots. Her hair was jet black with swirls of blue throughout. Her bare shoulders and arms were covered in colorful tattoos.

I can't feel my face when I'm with you, but I love it/ But I love it/ I can't feel my face when I'm with you, but I love it/ But I love it.

On the woman's arm was a 20-something guy in a fitted tux, wearing his hair in a man bun. At one point, he stopped his pretend bride and dug in his jacket pocket to produce a selfie stick with iPhone attached. The couple leaned in and snapped a photo of themselves on stage.

And I know she'll be the death of me, at least we'll both be numb.

click to enlarge The runway at this year's Wedding Party Show hyped millennial fashion, complete with tattoos, selfie sticks and man buns. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • The runway at this year's Wedding Party Show hyped millennial fashion, complete with tattoos, selfie sticks and man buns.

The models in the show exemplified what it means to live in a millennial culture, fueled by BuzzFeed, selfie sticks, tattoos, top knots, beards, suspenders, upbeat club music and social media. Some of the grooms even busted a few moves on stage.

Except one thing: marriage isn't on the agenda for an increasing number of millennials.

The fashion show left out the struggles plaguing many millennials—aged 18 to 34—such as crippling student debt, unaffordable health care and a general sense of apathy toward the tradition of marriage.

"We're trying to stick with 18-year-old models all the way up to 41. They've either gotten married young and they're divorced, heading into their second marriage, or they're waiting to get married until they're 30," said Tina Tatum, who organized the fashion show. "That's the demographic right now."

Tatum has been putting on the fashion portion of the Wedding Party Show for nearly a decade. She said it has changed drastically in that time.

For example, she no longer features bridesmaids because most bridal shops are moving away from selling bridesmaid dresses. The same goes for flower girls and the mother of the bride.

Instead, she incorporates funkier gowns and a variety of models, running the gamut of millennial fashion. She even tried to bring a dog wearing a bowtie into the show, but dogs aren't allowed in the Boise Centre.

"The selfie stick, that was huge," Tatum said. "We try to do different things that are shocking and fun, like the tumbling and breakdancing the grooms did. People want to have fun with their weddings. They're not getting married in churches anymore."

That is to say, if they're getting married at all. Tatum said she married her high-school boyfriend, but that's becoming increasingly rare.

"Everyone is trying to get their college degrees first," Tatum said. "In Boise, it used to be you met your high-school sweetheart and got married. It's not like that anymore. I have two daughters myself—18 and 21—and they're not even close to wanting to be married. They don't even want boyfriends."

Tatum isn't the only one feeling the shift. Kevin Roberts has been photographing weddings since the late 1990s. This was his 16th year manning a booth at the two-day Wedding Party Show, which this year drew about 1,700 attendees.

"I used to shoot close to 40 weddings per year," Roberts said, peeling off strands of string cheese for a snack. "Now, it's down to 25. That's not my choice."

Roberts has noticed couples have gotten older over the past decade. More of them are in their 30s now.

"Now, even the people I see here [at the Wedding Show] are in their 30s," he said.

He's disappointed by the decline in business. Since he was a teenager, Roberts' life has revolved around wedding photography, starting when he worked in a lab developing prints.

"I like the couples you become friends with," he said. "It's like being invited to a party. Then, the bride comes running out to you as you're walking across the parking lot after the wedding is over, just to 'thank you.' I say, 'All your friends are in there, why are you wasting time on me?'"

Roberts was hopeful as he handed out his business cards to brides-to-be, alongside dozens of other vendors promoting photo booths, wedding cakes, gowns, limo services, ceremony venues, hotels, flower arrangements and dance floors.

Ultimately, the numbers are stacked against him.

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