Several things were made abundantly clear at Sunday's Ultimate Bridal Event in downtown Bakersfield.
No. 1: Weddings ain't cheap.
No. 2: The number of local choices for catering, flowers, jewelry, health and beauty, photography, tuxes and venues has expanded to include photo booths, specialty travel and mini-cupcake bars.
No. 3: Lawyers haven't figured out how to infiltrate bridal events.
Weddings are a $50 billion annual industry. And with 4,400 weddings annually in Kern County at a cost of more than $123 million -- an average cost of about $28,000 per for those keeping count -- it's understandable why nearly 60 vendors and 1,000 people came to the four-hour-long event.
But even with virtually half of all marriages ending in divorce, not a single lawyer was present, forfeiting potential blockbuster marketing opportunities such as discounts for early decisions.
"Oh, no. We have never had a divorce lawyer" at a show, said event owner and producer Ann McCright. She has, however, been approached by brides wanting lawyers to help with pre-nups. "And," she said, "we do have marriage counselors sometimes."
Few people at the event, though, were thinking about therapy or dissolution. Brides-to-be were big-eyed about bling, spa options, honeymoon destinations, cakes and getting a good seat for the fashion show. They came with their moms, their friends, their babies and their men. Grooms-to-be were for the most part, well, there.
The most chagrined of them had seats in the front two rows waiting for the fashion show -- 45 minutes in advance.
The fashion show was in keeping with the bridal event's theme of the Great Gatsby, which explained the girls with bobbed hair circulating through in short black flapper skirts. The fashion show featured models in modern bridal gowns accessories with headpieces from the 1920s.
The grooms-to-be maintained brave faces, feigning interest, trying not to stare or gawk, grandmasters with their kings in check.
Joey Sharette, 25, was more independent, strolling the three floors of vendors at JC's Place at 1901 Chester St. with his fiancee, Adriana Dominguez, 25. Sharette said they found out last week about the bridal event.
"Actually, it was this week," Dominguez corrected, the first clue they were destined for marriage.
Sharette said money was the reason the couple was waiting until May 2015 to get married.
Not so, said Dominguez: "We're waiting till I'm done with school." She's getting a master's degree in social work at CSUB.
The couple did agree that they had settled on a location, a possible photographer and a budget: $10,000 to $13,000.
"I don't have any major questions" about the wedding, Sharette admitted. "We're just kind of bumbling our way through."
Kathy Robbins knows all about brides. As co-owner of Jane's Jewelers with her husband, James, weddings are their business, and their business is more than 50 years old. She waved a hand across her display shelves of wedding and engagement rings -- carats and platinum and silver worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"If you think about it," she said, "that's a lot of money to put out there."
But wait. The rings on display were all imitation or cubic zirconia.
Robbins used to bring the real rocks but had to lock and unlock cabinets all day to show them, and then worry about losing inventory. This way, she said, there's no stress on her and "we're able to let brides play."
Translation: Big rocks rock.
Alleviating stress plays a significant role in today's weddings, said Amy Paolercio, an assistant coordinator with Fairy Godmother, a Bakersfield business which helps make "all your wedding day wishes come true."
Its various bridal packages take into account such technicalities as plate placement, napkin color, catering, favors, ambience design, coordination of Big Day events like the bouquet and garter tosses, the photographer and videographer, and accommodations for the out-of-towners.
"It takes the stress of the small details away from the wedding," Paolercio said. "It lets the bride and groom narrow their vision and focus."
Another guaranteed stress reducer was the cash bar in a corner of the first floor. Bartender Whitney VanMeter said the guys were mainly drinking "Jack and gin."
"They're having a good time," she said. "The girls are bridezillas, so stressed out. I try to get them to have a drink. They say, 'Champagne!' I'm like, 'No, you need a shot.'"