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More couples seek small, practical wedding ceremonies

The word "su-du-mae" -- an acronym of studio, dress and makeup -- is the "customary way" that couples getting ready to tie the knot prepare for their big day in South Korea, which is part of the colossus domestic wedding industry, often criticized for extravagant and pretentious ceremonies.

An industry survey showed that an average wedding in South Korea costs nearly 46 million won ($40,000), excluding the price of buying or renting a home. Of the hefty total, the proportion spent on essential items like home furnishings accounted for the bulk, followed by spending on various presents and the wedding ceremony itself.

Normally, most bride-to-bes in South Korea hire a wedding planner who brokers su-du-mae packages -- composed of pre-wedding photo snaps, renting dresses and receiving makeup -- that are priced between 1 million won and 10 million won. Most couples then opt for "wedding halls" as their venue for their nuptials.


South Korean weddings also require the couples exchanging wedding gifts, such as luxury handbags, furs and jewelry. The tradition of receiving and giving cash between the families as a wedding gift is deeply entrenched with reports of actual breakups occurring due to disagreements.

An increasing number of couples, however, are turning away from such conventional and staid wedding customs and are opting for smaller, yet uniquely different, weddings that highlight their individuality and are practical to boot.

Alice Kim -- who said "I do" with her boyfriend of four years in October of last year -- said not only did she skip a studio photo session altogether but did not hire a wedding planner as she loathed the local wedding industry, which she thinks is composed of unnecessary procedures.

"I never wanted a cookie-cutter type of wedding," she said. "Most of all, I did not want to splurge on wedding items and instead wanted to invest more in something useful ... saving money for an apartment in Seoul."

As a growing number of brides are following such a trend, businesses that specialize in these self-organized photo shoots and dresses are turning into a significant sector in the local wedding industry. Hundreds of companies, ranging from those that sell semi-casual wedding dresses and even offering to take pictures on honeymoon trips, have opened and are drawing in customers.

Chang Mi-sun, a wedding planner with more than a decade of experience in the industry, recently opened a new company to meet such growing demand and avoid the conventional method of only offering su-du-mae packages.

"Most of my brides and even myself were very doubtful of the local wedding industry in which the price of renting a dress and receiving makeup at hair salons in the upscale Gangnam area in Seoul is often concealed from the consumers," she pointed out.

The recent trend has also changed where couples make their vows. Instead of conventional wedding halls, more couples are seeking public institution buildings, restaurants and even parks to not only save money but to have the wedding that is different from others.

"I just hated how half a dozen newlyweds walk down the same aisle on the same day in their allotted time slots," Kim said, adding that she rented a small restaurant in western Seoul to invite a small number of guests whom she really valued.

Such changes are taking root not only among young people but even among the older generations who are opening up to the latest unconventional wedding ideas and opting to skip unnecessary wedding related expenses and customs that could be a huge burden for their daughters and sons.

Kim Woo-mi, a 60-year-old whose daughter will tie the knot in July, thinks it is better for her daughter and son-in-law to skip traditions, such as "hahm" and "paebaek."

Traditionally, the gifts were placed in a box called a hahm to be delivered to a bride's home. Also, a bride and a groom change into the traditional Korean wedding attire so they can pay their respects to family members.

"Weddings should be a special day that focuses on the bride and a groom, not a pretentious event that eventually becomes wasteful and meaningless," Kim stressed.

She claimed that while many still want the "security" of sticking to the norm, quite a few are breaking with convention and shaking up long-held views on weddings. (Yonhap)


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