WHEN PUNNING THEIR AUGUST 1989 wedding, college sweethearts Alan Fields and Denise Coop-wood went looking for a consumer guidebook that would help them save money on a photographer, a florist, a cake and a bridal gown. “When we couldn’t find one,” says Alan, “we thought, ‘Well, why don’t we write one?’ If we needed it, someone else probably needed it too.”
The marriage spawned Bridal Bargains: Secrets to Throwing a Fantastic Wedding on a Realistic Budget, which the Fieldses rattled off on a home computer and published and distributed themselves. The how-to book has sold 50,000 copies nationwide in 16 months, but not everybody is throwing rice. The bridal industry—which does $30 billion in business annually—claims the Fieldses have unjustly accused it of shady practices.
In researching the book, which began as a series of regional guides, Alan, now 26, and Denise, 27, checked out more than 1,000 bridal merchandisers in three slates. They intended only to sniff out the bargains, but they say they found price-gouging to be commonplace. “We’ve come across bridal salons that remove price tags to prevent comparison shopping, businesses that sell ‘lucky pennies’ for $5 and a florist who admitted that he regularly changed the price of flowers—depending on the kind of car that drove up,” says Alan.
What most angers the industry, though, is the Fieldses’ assertion that the bridal magazines—veritable bibles to the about-to-wed—are loyal to their advertisers and not to their readers. For instance, the couple obtained and reprinted part of a 1991 letter to retailers from Bride’s Magazine publisher Elliot Marion assuring merchants that “While other bridal publications carry discount bridal retailer ads, as well as bridesmaids’ [dresses] rental ads, Bride’s has NEVER accepted these ads, [and we] believe that these can only hurt your business.”
Naturally, Marion discounts the Fieldses’ assertions, though he doesn’t deny sending the letter. “Because this young couple had problems planning their wedding, as all couples do,” he says, “they decided to attack the bridal industry.”
“I don’t remember inviting Elliot to my wedding, so how does he know?” counters Denise, who met Alan in 1984 at the University of Colorado, where both were students. Because some guests were unable to travel, the couple set two wedding dates: a brunch for 40 in Denise’s hometown of Loveland, Colo., and a dinner dance for 100 for Alan’s clan in Dallas. Both receptions cost the couple’s parents $11,000—about 68 percent of the national average for one wedding. To save money, Denise wore her mother’s gown to the first wedding and had a seamstress make her dress for the second for $300, about half the cost of a comparable off-the-rack dress. At both events, the couple served champagne instead of having an open bar, and they supplied their own caterers rather than booking a hotel.
Though they originally intended to pursue careers in the corporate world, Denise and Alan are now happy to be troubleshooters. They get 30 to 40 calls a day on their toll-free number (1-800-888-0385) and scrupulously record the horror stories (such as bridal shops that went bankrupt on the eve of the wedding) for future editions.
Working in the cozy office of their 3,500-square-foot house in Monument, Colo., 45 miles south of Denver, the Fieldses are also planning a book about the pitfalls of building your own home, which—you guessed it—they have just experienced. Are they living happily ever after? Only when they’re not writing. “Most couples argue about money,” explains Alan. “We argue about commas.”
VICKIE BANE in Denver