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Chelsea Clinton's Wedding in Rhinebeck Sends Bad Message

By helaineo |

My first reaction to reading reports of Chelsea Clinton’s nuptials was  ”Thank goodness I have boys,” since the estimated three to five million dollar bill for the so-called Wedding of the Century just upped the tab for parents of the bride everywhere.

My second reaction was a sense of profound disappointment.

Chelsea Clinton seems like a lovely woman, and I do wish her and her new husband well. But this is just… well, as another generation would say, it’s just unseemly.

Like all forms of conspicuous consumption, nuptials went on steroids in the aughts, with bridezillas going from rareity to common phenom. When The Great Recession began, it seemed as if the monster wedding was going to be downsized, with the average tab falling in the first years of the current downturn. Unfortunately, such restraint did not last, and a survey recently released by the WE found that the cost of a wedding has soared by 21.9% in the past year.

In a world where we need to constantly tell  our children that what matters is not what they have but who they are and what they believe because the pressure to have “the right” cellphone, clothes, vacation destination can seem overwhelming, Chelsea Clinton and family just made all our jobs harder.  Airspace over Rhinebeck might have been closed off for twelve hours, but Chelsea Clinton did not have a private wedding, unless your definition of private is simply the invite list. Someone made sure to release all the details, from the catering bill that could have sent several students to Harvard on full scholarships to the chi-chi Vera Wang bridal gown dress that must have cost at least $20,000.

And that’s just the unspoken consequence of the outrageous spending. The unstated assumption of Clinton blow-out was even more ghastly for girls, as our very own Madeline pointed out. The celebratory coverage as well as numerous statements from both Bill and Hillary Clinton saying Chelsea’s wedding day it was the most important event in their lives, implied that the most significant thing a woman can do — even in supposedly enlightened 2010 — is marry, and marry well.

The right wing is having a field day, of course, and while the hypocrisy reaks (Meg Whitman’s $100 million self-funded campaign for governor of California anyone?) I can’t say I completely disagree with their objections to this bout of mindless spending in a country where there are more than five unemployed people for every job opening. I get the counter-argument that the Clinton family has the money  and has the right to spend it as they will, that they are not some hardship case spending funds they don’t have in an effort to keep up with the Joneses. On the other hand, the same thing could have been said about Marie Antoinette.

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About helaineo



Helaine Olen's writing has been published by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal,, and, where she is an associate editor. Her first book, Office Mate: The Guide to Finding True Love on the Job will be published this fall. She lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

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28 thoughts on “Chelsea Clinton's Wedding in Rhinebeck Sends Bad Message

  1. Ria says:

    You aint seen nothing yet. The Mittals (Indian-British) spent 75 million on their wedding for their kids (one bash; double wedding).

    the ‘bitter’ reality is weddings the world over are seen as a sign of your society status, and everyone spends as much as they can. it is not just in America.. in India, people save their life savings for the one event: their kid’s wedding. and yes, sadly, the gender matters.. the pink side pays the tab.

    is it wrong? maybe.. some feel it helps the economy.
    but it is a LONG STANDING tradition, not some recent spur

  2. RT says:

    Chelsea’s wedding day it was the most important event in their lives, implied that the most significant thing a woman can do — even in supposedly enlightened 2010 — is marry, and marry well.

    -> in this case, they both married ‘well’ on equal standing.. but for both genders, usually a wedding is the most important occasion. well, let’s hope so.. it’s so life changing !

  3. MIchele says:

    It would seem that the $3-5 million number that’s being thrown around is completely overblown and not even close to accurate, based on statements from people “close to the Clintons.”

    One such statement that I read stated that a source “close to the Clintons” said the price-tag came in under $1 million. How far under? No idea, and $1 million is A LOT of money to spend on ANYTHING, much less a wedding, but the simple fact is that NO ONE knows how much the Clintons spent on this wedding besides the Clintons themselves, the wedding planner and maybe their accountant.

    That said, I’d bet dollars to donuts that while the Clintons no doubt sunk a ton of money into the nuptials themselves, they also generously picked up the tab for travel and accommodation for many (perhaps even ALL) of the guests, as wealthy, traditional people often do.

  4. Sara says:

    Chelsea’s parents are very wealthy and she works in the financial sector in NYC so she’s not poor herself. If she wanted to spend a fortune on a wedding that’s fine, there are plenty of people and local businesses that benefited greatly because of the cost of her wedding.

    As for my child, she knows we’re not millionaires and when the time comes she’ll know how much we’re willing to spend on a wedding.

  5. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    You know what? It’s their money to spend. And the pressure to have the “right” material things has more to do with the influence of how you raise your kids, not what they see a politician’s kid do.

  6. Marie-Eve says:

    I couldn’t agree with this article more. $200,000 in flowers! Why go SO overboard? It’s just a party. It’s this very thought that your wedding is the most important day of your life that creates this problem…

  7. JZ says:

    Who. Cares.

  8. alison says:

    What has bothered me is not the wedding, but all the media attention on the wedding. Really, it is none of our business how much was spent on Chelsea Clinton’s wedding and her wedding should have no more influence on children any more than any other wedding that they have not attended should–seriously, if you really are distressed by the message this wedding sends, stop spreading THAT message, especially if that message (cost of wedding) has been discredited in your own publication. Leave the woman alone.

    Furthermore, as many have noted, we don’t know how much was spent on this wedding or how it was spent (those cost estimates were estimates made by people who didn’t actually follow up with vendors). What if Chelsea bought her bridesmaids their gowns? What if they paid for the accommodations and travel expenses of all the guests? What if they paid the people who worked the wedding (the waiters, the musicians) double what they normally would have made? We don’t know what they spent or how they spent it, but it is every bit as sexist to assume that all the money was spent in an unseemly manner.

  9. Linda says:

    I don’t think it’s anyone’s business and it’s kind of nasty thing to even be talking about. It’s their money and their choice.

  10. diera says:

    I view rich people having huge party events as a way society enforces trickle-down economics. I’m sure a ton of people got paid one way or another for this wedding. If the Clintons weren’t spending on this, it’s not like it would be going to charity.

  11. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    More people bitching about how much money was spent on Chelsea Clinton’s wedding than care that Goldman Sachs got off with a wrist slap for helping plunge our economy into the toilet.

  12. Gretchen Powers says:

    They’re rich, what do you expect, a VFW hall and David’s Bridal? This doesn’t bother me, even though my wedding was only a few thousand.

  13. helaineo says:

    Hi all, I was going to write in at the end of the day, but this conversation is getting so interesting that I simply can’t resist.

    First, I want to thank everyone for the smart comments. Agree or disagree, I think this is definitely a conversation starter of a topic, where we get to address everything from parenting to the place of money in society.

    Mistress Scorpio, you are aware Chelsea Clinton’s new husband worked for GS in the past, no? I thought of making mention of the fact, but decided it was too low a blow since we don’t know if he contributed to the wedding bill or not. I am also going to guess that your children are not yet even tweens. Unfortunately, materialism is so rampant in our society, there is a limit to what a parent can do to counter it besides saying “no” over and over again. All it takes is for one parent to “cave” and suddenly you will have an entire class of fourth graders asking why they don’t have an Iphone too. Just trust me on this one.

    As for the other posts, we don’t know what this wedding cost. We do know one friend of the family came forward to say it did cost in the six figures, but we also know that numerous “experts” claim there is no way this wasn’t a seven figiure wedding, unless the family were given discounts (which would be highly inappropriate).

    As for the issue of privacy, the Clinton family is responsible for turning this into a media event. There are lots of ways celebrities ensure privacy for themselves on their big day (see the late JFK Jr. or Jenna Bush), and highly publicized extravaganza very close to a major media center is not one of them.

    Finally, you either think excessive materialism is OK or you don’t. Diera, I believe if the trickle down economy is all we have left, our country is in a very, very sad place right now.

  14. Nicky's mom says:

    Is it any of our business how much the Clintons spent on their daughter’s wedding? It’s their money!! I certainly haven’t been discussing the cost of my wedding with anyone. I’m sure many people would cringe at the cost, and many others have spent far more. Until my first child was born, my wedding day was the most important day of my life. Not because of the dress or the flowers, but because my husband and I made a significant commitment to each other, with our family and friends as witnesses. My parents and my in-laws felt pride, I’m sure, as they watched their children start their own family. I’m sure Bill and Hillary were referring to that part of Chelsea’s wedding day, as well. And not the cake.

  15. bob says:

    “If the Clintons weren’t spending on this, it’s not like it would be going to charity.”
    If more of their money went to charity by way of top-bracket taxes, it might.

  16. Gretchen Powers says:

    I don’t think excessive materialism is OK—for *me* but if I concerned myself with everything everybody else did that was so personal and private and really has no bearing on myself or society, I’d be going insane. As far as the message this gives girls, I think it’s OK to feel that your wedding is one of the most important days of your life, we need more of that! As far as the message that people all deserve or should have lavish weddings, well, it just comes down to what you can afford. These people can afford this. If you can’t afford it, you don’t do it. That’s an important lesson to learn. Where did we get to the point that people think they should have the things celebrities or kids or presidents have? Most of us are just “regular folk” and find our joy in our own ways. You only get bitterness and dissatisfaction when you want what someone else has got when you have enough.

  17. Linda says:

    What happened to my long post?

  18. Samantha says:

    So rich people are not allowed to spend their money unwisely because it makes you look/feel bad? Really? I can’t afford the numerous millions that the Clintons have spent on property either, but this doesn’t make me want to insist they live in cheaper house(s)…

    While I agree with you that an expensive wedding is a dreadful waste of money, what other people legally spend their money on is no one’s business.

  19. Linda says:

    Seriously, it was offensive enough to get a post pulled that I said everything is relative and some could perceive Helaine’s lifestyle as excessively materialistic compared to say MINE? Oh, and I said some other things as well, but apparently someone is humongous BABY. Seriously, a lame-O move. ::shaking head::

  20. MZ @ In Her Own Words/ MommyHooD says:

    great post.

  21. Laure68 says:

    I have been reading recently about how one big reason the economy is not recovering as well as it should is because people (even those who have disposable income) aren’t spending money. This wedding employed a lot of people, so I don’t see what is wrong with that. Like others have said, I am more disgusted that the media (even the NY Times, who put it on their front page) thought this was such a huge story.

  22. jenny tries too hard says:

    Meh. I got married for less than $1,000 and I don’t regret a thing…but why exactly should the Clintons feel badly about spending money they have? As other posters have pointed out, the vendors were plenty pleased to have the work and the economy needs money. Money spent = economy stimulated, people employed. For pity’s sake, it’s money going straight into the American economy to boot, unlike a certain Senator’s built-in-New-Zealand yacht.

    Yes, it’s true, to a limited extent, that all it takes for one parent to cave and then you’ve got the whole fourth-grade class begging for an iPhone…or pierced ears…or an 11:00 bedtime. This is where the handy-dandy sayings “If all your friends jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge…” and “I don’t care what Suzy’s mother bought her; I’m not Suzy’s mother” come in. Besides, that’s children, and this particular fuss about the wedding of a 30-year-old woman not a child’s electronics. Children want what their peers have and whine and wheedle for it; adults should at least try to tamp down the envy and work for what they want to have or want to give their children rather than begrudge it of others.

  23. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    @helaineo: Sorry, spent hours in a waiting room with a dead iPhone, so I am just now getting around to responding… you are right, I don’t have tweens, I have a toddler and a newborn by the end of the week. My ace in the hole? I was raised poor, as was my husband. We know what it was like to have nothing, to not have a safety net, a college fund, a car bought for us at graduation. I know what it was like to hear “no,” and you know what? Didn’t kill me. Can’t even say it was a major source of discontent as a teen, because as soon as I was old enough to work, I did. I saw what things cost, and I knew the value of a dollar. That is what I intend to teach my kids. I can’t give them every material thing they want and quite frankly, I don’t think it would be all that appropriate. The kids that get Every. Single. Thing. handed to them as long as they are willing to put in a request (or throw a tantrum)… that’s their parent’s problem.
    That the guy Chelsea married once worked at Goldman Sachs, um, I don’t get your point. I simply have not been following them that closely to know, or care. Tell me he was directly involved in the rigged to fail mutual funds, maybe that would get my attention, but that he collected a paycheck from them isn’t the dirt I care about.
    And as far as privacy… I live near and used to work in Rhinebeck. My birth center is there too, and now that this insanity is over, I can rest easy that the Secret Service won’t block my path when I come barreling down the road in full on labor! My point is, there are enclaves that are used to famous people passing through, and I used to think Rhinebeck was one of them… sadly no. They worked themselves into such an orgasmic frenzy over the very thought of this event being held in their midst that I’m actually embarrassed for them. They couldn’t keep their mouths shut about it, and that had a lot to do with the lack of privacy. Frankly, I think Chelsea could have chosen someplace with a lot more class.
    As for the trickle-down economy, that’s pretty much all we do have left. The Republicans are going to make sure that the Bush tax cuts do NOT expire, the rich will sit on their money and no jobs will be created for the middle class because the middle class who creates the majority of the demand in the economy can’t afford to buy anything… because there are no jobs. So yes, things ARE in pretty sad state.

  24. Rebecca says:

    I’m “on the right”, and I don’t care a whit about Chelsea’s wedding. If her parents want to spend ridiculous amounts of money on a wedding, they are free to do so. I think it is completely silly of anyone to spend that much on a wedding, but it’s their money.

  25. MomRhinebeck says:

    The fact that this amount of money was spent on a wedding,( all speculation of course because no one released numbers, they were all made up by the media-get the facts straight) seems to impress some, is fascinating. Maybe it is because many in this large country of ours only looks at our country. The royalty of all over the world, the hollywood starlets, the famous people and actors of other countries, they spend a lot, and even more. But it seems that not only Rhinebeck was impressed and is asking for people to please spend less so they don’t feel sad by their own status, there are those people who all over this democratic country who want others to change their lives to save their sensitivities and insecurities. The bill on your daughter’s wedding has just gone up because of Chelsea’s wedding tab? Well, are you ordering a yacht, building a Dubai styled tower, and buying an island too just because 1% of the population can afford to do so. Petty article, factually erroneous, sadly from an envious child.

  26. Rosana says:

    Kids should be taught to live within their means so they do not have to face a crisis like the one that all the spend-more-than-I-make adults got us into.

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