On a sunny, August day in the Berkshire Mountains, 600 guests stood waiting to witness Pamela and Lee tie the knot. But as the bride walked down the aisle, no one marveled at her wedding dress.
She wasn’t wearing one. And Lee, her husband shortly to be, wore little more than a top hat and bowtie. As for the audience, some people wore hats and others had shawls around their shoulders, but most did not dress at all that morning. Only 12 were fully clothed.
“We worked for many months to craft a ceremony that was very expressive of our thoughts and our beliefs,” Pamela said. Having a nude wedding was “so expressive of who we are,” she said. “It’s so natural, it’s so unpretentious.”
Pamela and Lee, both in their 50s, are part of a growing number of nudists opting to have nude weddings to complement their lifestyle. As nudists, they eat, sleep, exercise, and sometimes work in the raw. For them, nude weddings are simply a natural extension of their everyday life.
At the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR), where 50,000 members can now choose from over 270 clothes-free and clothing-optional clubs and resorts throughout the country, nude weddings are more popular than ever.
Staffers at the Kissimmee, Fla.,-based organization say their office had invitations to more than 25 nude weddings last year, up from just one or two a few years back.
Nude weddings have also become commonplace on nude cruises, which have soared in popularity over the last few years. Bare Necessities Tour and Travel, one of the largest clothes-optional cruise lines, regularly charters cruises with over 2,100 passengers, a far cry from the 36 that set sail in 1991. In 1992, when the first large cruise was offered, no requests were made for wedding ceremonies onboard.
On the most recent large cruise, 15 couples had ceremonies at sea. In fact, because the demand for nude weddings has become so great on the cruises, Nancy Tiemann, president and co-founder of Bare Necessities, became a minister so she could preside over the ceremonies herself.
The growth of nude weddings is part of a larger trend in nude recreation, which is fast reaching record numbers. “Nude recreation is entering the mainstream,” said Carolyn Hawkins, Public Relations Coordinator at AANR. According to AANR, nude recreation grew 75 percent during the 1990s. Today, AANR estimates that the industry has grown to $440 million, up from $120 million in 1992.
In fact, nude recreation is becoming so popular that nudists now have their own resorts, cruise lines and most recently in January, a flight chartered specifically for a nudist day trip. Throughout the country, a growing number of nudist resorts offer everything from naked volleyball to naked karaoke.
For couples like Pamela and Lee, who lead a nudist life, having a nude wedding is a way to focus on each other rather than the extravagance of a traditional wedding. Their outdoor ceremony, which they estimated cost between $2,000 and $3,000, was an added bonus against the backdrop of a booming wedding industry whose prices continue to soar.
According to a study conducted in 2005 by the Fairchild Bridal Group, the average wedding in the United States costs over $26,000. By contrast, most nude weddings take place outdoors, and the best part of all--no wedding dress to think of.
“Couples who get married in the nude are closer to God, the universe, divine energy, said Rev. Jo Ann Pessagno, a minister who has presided over 80 nude weddings, including Pamela and Lee’s. “Their emphasis is on the ceremony and the words as opposed to the flowers, the place cards, what kind of wine they’re serving, what kind entrees, desserts.”
When Bob and Judy Callene had a nude wedding aboard a Bare Necessities cruise on Valentine’s Day 2002, many of the ship’s 2,000 passengers showed up to support the couple. After the ceremony, guests enjoyed wedding cake, Champagne and dancing in the ship’s restaurant. “My husband said it was the best $40 ever spent,” said Judy, still marveling at the low cost of their special day.
Mark and Cindy, who had a nude wedding in San Antonio in November 2001, put their wedding together in just six weeks and sent out e-mails rather than formal wedding invitations. Though Mark, 36, regrets that their families did not attend because they felt uncomfortable, having a wedding that reflected their nudist lifestyle was more important.
“My mom is just too old fashioned to understand,” he said.