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Reno-area weddings put asunder by virus

By John Seelmeyer
A COVID-era wedding.

People still are getting married in Washoe County during the COVID-19 pandemic — just not nearly as many of them.

And the pandemic is influencing everything from the fashion of bridal gowns to the popularity of elopement.

Through October, the Washoe County Clerk had issued 4,765 marriage licenses this year, a decline of more than 15% from the first 10 months of last year. In fact, this year’s figures are on track to be the lowest since the mid-1930s and the Great Depression.

The marriage license bureau, closed down entirely for six weeks during the spring, full reopened only in October, following CDC guidelines.

Those same CDC guidelines, along with state regulations, limit wedding ceremonies and celebrations.

As a result, many brides made the hard decision to move their weddings until next year when, with any luck, COVID-19 will be only a bad memory, says Michelle Depoali, owner of Swoon Bridal in Reno.

Others decided to elope this year with the hope of a big wedding party in 2021. Still others opted for micro-weddings this year.

“Overall, it’s true that ‘love cannot be canceled,’” says Depoali. “People are findings ways forward and are still getting married.”

Wedding-dress fashion reflects the pandemic as well. Brides want softer dresses. Sparkle is growing in popularity.

“It’s very much in line with fashion trends historically,” DePoali says. “When the world gets harsh, fashion goes in a softer direction.”

The Club at Rancharrah, the new events space in south Reno, is booking weddings for 2021 and 2022, including some that are being delayed because of this year’s pandemic, says Jessica Pauletto, the club’s membership director.

Some of the emotions stirred up by the pandemic are likely to influence weddings even after COVID-19 goes away, Pauletto says.

“Boutique weddings during the pandemic have become more meaningful and intentional,” she says. “‘Pandemic weddings’ have become less about the party and fanfare, and more about the union itself. To me, that’s what it’s all about!”

Washoe County Clerk Jan Galassini, meanwhile, notes the number of marriage licenses issued in Washoe County has been declining for a long time — long before the pandemic hit.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the Washoe County Clerk’s office routinely issued about 35,000 marriage licenses a year — four or five times the level of recent years — and the numbers have been on a steady decline since about 1988.

Galassini says many factors contribute to the falling numbers. More couples live together without getting married. Couples wait longer and get married later in life. California eliminated its requirement for blood tests before marriage in 1995 so fewer couples hop over to Reno. And, she says, fewer tourists these days come to Reno to get married in one of the city’s two remaining freestanding wedding chapels.

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