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How Canada’s wedding industry has shifted to welcome same-sex couples

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For their February wedding, Michael Caringi and Michael Capp leaned into the polar vortex, giving their big day a winter-wonderland meets chalet-chic theme. The venue was the Roundhouse building at the base of the CN Tower in Toronto. The grooms wore bespoke suiting by Don Lee of Trend Custom Tailors (Caringi's green velvet jacket was inspired by Matthew McConaughey's look at the 2014 Golden Globes). Socks and scarves came from Harry Rosen. Shortly before the ceremony they exchanged matching Tiffany cufflinks, monogrammed "MC2." At the reception, 200 guests enjoyed ginger lobster, Asian-spiced lamb chops, smoked gnocchi and burrata crostini passed by servers wearing trendy "Toronto neighbourhood" tuques by Tuck Shop. The cake was also on theme – a mille-feuille style that resembled layered sheets of birch bark. There were white tulips and amaryllis from Stemz flower shop as well as the now-requisite wedding photo station where guests took Instagram-ready snaps alongside a mounted deer's head and old-fashioned snowshoes. The Juno-winning crooner Sean Jones performed and everyone danced into the wee hours before departing with their own Tuck Shop tuques, fresh-baked cannoli and Advil. It was, says Caringi, the ultimate "big, fat, gay, Italian, Jewish wedding." The price tag: Well over six figures.

Caringi knows the wedding industry from both sides, having worked as an event photographer at 5ive15ifteen in Toronto for the past decade. He says that while every same-sex wedding is different, the shift toward more high-end, Martha Stewart-magazine-worthy festivities among his gay clients has been notable. "The first same-sex wedding I shot – it was back before [marriage] was even legal [in Canada] – was two lesbians from Michigan who exchanged vows in their backyard wearing slacks and vests." These days, as marriage equality moves further into the mainstream, the wedding industrial complex has been eager to meet the needs of a more diverse clientele – and, for a hulking enterprise entrenched in tradition, has shown itself to be surprisingly nimble in its ability to do so.

From a business perspective, it would be foolish not to. June's monumental Supreme Court ruling in the U.S. has industry analysts predicting that same-sex marriage in that country will trigger a $2.6-billion influx. Here in Canada (where marriage equality has been the law for 10 years this summer), the same-sex wedding industry was valued at $567-million in 2013 by a report titled The Same Sex Wedding Gift to the Economy, commissioned by the financial rate comparison website, RateSupermarket.ca. And certainly those numbers have spiked over the past two years, given the influence of American culture and retail trends on the Canadian market. A selective history of recent milestones could begin in 2012 when The New Yorker featured a gorgeous painting of two lesbian brides on their cover in the same year that J.Crew (purveyor of glossy, mainstream marital bliss) included gay grooms in their catalogue's wedding spread. In 2013, TLC's hit reality show Say Yes to the Dress helped a lesbian bride fulfill her white-wedding fantasy, while Girls star Jemima Kirke modeled in an ad for the New York bridal boutique Stone Fox Bride (in the images, Kirke and another woman in a wedding gown are kissing). Last year, professional provocateur Betsey Johnson debuted a bridal-wear collection celebrating so-called alternative lifestyles (think gender-fluid "brides" in cleavage-heavy wedding gowns and flashy bling spelling out P-R-E-N-U-P). The show was a hit, although for many same-sex couples, there is nothing particularly alt about their wedding-day fantasies. This January, Tiffany & Co. featured a gay couple in their "Will You?" ring campaign. Nothing says welcome to the wedding establishment quite like the little blue box.

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Bernadette Smith is an LGBT activist and the author of last year's The Business of Gay Weddings: A Guide For Wedding Professionals. She says that, particularly in the same-sex bridal market, there has been a recent trend toward embracing a more traditional bridal aesthetic: "[There are women today who] came out in an era where they saw other same-sex couples getting married. As a result, they have grown up thinking about their weddings the same way straight girls might have." That LGBT brides and grooms have the option to focus on the same frivolous nuptial details as a typical Kate Hudson character is a good thing, but adapting the gender-specific matrimonial traditions of yesteryear for same-sex couples does require a certain amount of consideration.

"There are still wedding planners out there who will ask a gay couple, 'Okay, which one of you is the bride and which one is the groom?'" says Smith of the many mistakes that might turn an LGBT client off a certain retailer. In her well-attended seminars across the U.S. and sometimes in Canada, she educates industry professionals – planners, venue owners, photographers, florists and even cake bakers – on the nuances of the new normal. For her it's a social cause, though she realizes that her clients are probably as motivated by dollar signs as much as do-goodery: "People take my seminar because they want to grow their business and attract a market that they may have been missing out on – while we want to go to businesses that are accepting and welcoming," she says.

Shealyn Angus is an event planner in Toronto who has organized two elaborate gay weddings this summer, one of which was featured in a recent spread of WedLuxe magazine. "Gay weddings are blowing up. They're huge! When you look at what just happened in the States, and what we're seeing in pop culture – as soon as you have that mass-market acceptance, you're going to have an influx of business." She says diversity and appealing to more than just the cookie-cutter "bride and groom" model is a hot topic among wedding-industry professionals. Often, that means making obvious tweaks to the way you do business, including examples of same-sex wedding photography on your website, or making sure that forms and other sorts of professional literature use inclusive language, though in some instances it's more complicated.

At Trend Custom Tailors, Lee has fashioned wedding-day suiting for many lesbian brides. Customers come to him because he knows how to cut for the female form (most training in the field tends to be for men's bodies), and also because he understands the needs of what is still a relatively niche market. "There are a lot of sensitivity issues that you have to be aware of," says Lee. The question of how to cut a woman's suit around the chest is just one example. "Some women want to show off a more female shape while others might plan to suppress their breasts. These are things I need to know to create the appropriate suit," Lee explains, noting that it's not just about knowing what questions to ask but also the respectful way in which to ask them.

He did custom suits for two lesbian brides who got married at Casa Loma as part of a mass LGBT wedding ceremony that took place during Pride Toronto last year. On a sunny day in June, 115 couples hailing from 20 countries were married by officiants representing 12 denominations. The event – at which brides and grooms sported wedding attire of every description – was hosted and paid for by Liberty Entertainment Group, the Toronto weddings and special-events venue that recently acquired Casa Loma. "It was a wonderful event to be a part of, and from a marketing and PR perspective it was a very valuable experience," says Stacey Hawkins, Liberty Group's marketing manager. Since the event she says they have received an influx of inquiries from same-sex couples: "Hosting an event of this kind sends a definitive message that our venues are LGBT-friendly."

So just how much money might all of this friendliness be worth? According to an annual wedding-industry survey conducted by TheKnot.com, same-sex brides and grooms spend a little less than their straight couple equivalents ($15,000 versus $29,000), though that's an average. "A lot of the gay weddings that I am seeing are incredibly glamorous," says Jen O'Brien, executive editor at Wedding Bells magazine. O'Brien notes that same-sex couples might typically be a little older (read: richer) when they decide to tie the knot, and may not be planning to have kids: "In terms of budget, some of them are really going all out." O'Brien started working at Wedding Bells in 2011, the same year it published its first same-sex wedding. Today, she says, they get a lot more submissions from gay and lesbian couples. It's still a fraction of the overall market. However, as O'Brien sees it, serving same-sex couples is a way that companies can "distinguish themselves."

On Etsy.ca – the online market that specializes in handcrafted content made by independents – there are vendors selling all sorts of specialized same-sex wedding wares such as "Mr. and Mr." cards and two-bride cake toppers. "Because so much of the merchandise is customizable, Etsy is in a really good position to serve this burgeoning market," says Erin Green, the directing manager of Etsy Canada. Burgeoning for now, but likely not for long.

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"On the day of the [Supreme Court] announcement, there was a lot of excitement in my field," says Christine Boulton, a wedding-industry analyst who recently relocated from Nashville to Chicago. Boulton says that along with transitioning into a mass market in its own right, same-sex marriage may influence the larger industry. "Look at fashion, for example – there are so many opportunities there. I predict that we're going to see a lot more in the realm of gorgeous, high-end white suits, beautiful tailoring, jumpsuits." She notes that there are a lot of people who have been waiting a long time for the opportunity to say "I do" in the U.S. "I think we're going to see a real return to glamour and I am really excited about that," she says. "I spent the last 33 years planning barn weddings in the South. If I never see another Mason jar again, it will be too soon."

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