Congratulations, you're engaged! Or you're thinking about getting engaged, or you are so far removed from marriage but enjoy reading wedding articles. No matter what has brought you here today, welcome. When you're planning your wedding, there are so many big decisions and small details to consider, but what I think is most important - more important the flowers, cake, and music -- is that you DO NOT stress. That you enjoy your engagement, and with that, comes wedding planning. I know you've heard horror stories from your friends, and chick flicks and Bridezillas may tell you otherwise, but truly, wedding planning does not have to be stressful.
As you throw yourself into Pinterest, wedding magazines, and advice from family and friends, here are some additional things to consider when planning your special day. I'll share some things that worked for me, and if you are already married, I would love you to share some of your own tips when it comes to considering alternatives to wedding traditions.
Addressing invitations: Traditional etiquette says to formally address social invitations to married couples as Mr. and Mrs. John Doe. I urge you to consider an alternative to this tradition and either write Mr. and Mrs. Doe or Mr. John and Mrs. Mary Doe. Women have their own names; please don't devalue them in the name of tradition.
Traditional head table: Talk to your venue and see if there are other options available besides a traditional head table (the long horizontal tables where the wedding party only sits in a line). It can be incredibly uncomfortable to sit on display with only two people next to you. It also makes conversation a bit awkward to have only two options of people to talk to. And what about the poor guys and gals at the end of the head table? Or the dates of the wedding party who maybe don't know anyone?
My husband and I did a sweetheart-esque table, where we sat in the middle of two adjoining rectangular tables where our wedding party sat with their dates. It allowed us to be close to one another yet celebrate and be social with our friends.
Garter: You do not have to have a garter. I repeat, you do not have to have a garter. Or, if you do want to have a garter because they're cute and pretty, keep it to yourself or your spouse. Getting the garter has become a pretty unnecessary, cheesy, or even vulgar part of the wedding -- I mean really, do you want your grandma and dad to see your husband going under your dress and pulling a garter off with his teeth? Mmmm, no thanks.
Bridesmaid dresses: No longer are brides bound to choosing all matching bridesmaid dresses. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but you do have options. In fact, many dress brands make the same general dress in various styles, or you can go with completely different dresses. I went with the latter. I helped my friends choose their dresses that fit in my color scheme and that suited their styles, body type, and budget. Look how pretty my bridesmaids were! And these are actually dresses that can be (and have been) worn after the wedding.
Bachelorette party: An alternative to the trending bachelorette parties is to actually go back to the tradition. A bachelorette party was originally a social gathering with the bride-to-be and her friends before the wedding, usually in the form of a dinner at someone's house. Through the years, this has changed, especially taking a risque turn in the 60s during the sexual revolution. Now bachelorette parties are commonly filled with distasteful decor and less than ladylike behavior.
Additionally trending is the bachelorette weekend getaway, which is extremely expensive. In lieu of an extravagant vacation, why not have a girls weekend at a nearby city or rural destination in driving distance? Bonus points if you can stay at someone's house instead of a hotel!
I had a very different type of bachelorette party; you can consider alternative parties to fit your interests. I had a ladies afternoon high tea downtown Chicago at The Russian Tea Room followed by a chick flick movie night, complete with jammies, homemade pizza, cupcakes, and pink popcorn. This way I included not only my friends, but I got to celebrate with my mom and gram, too.
Bouquets: Generally at weddings, you see the bride and bridesmaids' beautiful bouquets tossed aside on the table or chairs because what are you supposed to do? Walk and dance around with it all night? When you're eating dinner, there's no room on the table, so they often end up on the floor. You can re-purpose those beautiful flowers as centerpieces. On our version of a head table, we had empty vases waiting for our arrival, so our bouquets became our centerpieces. (You can see this on the "head table" picture above.)
Pictures: Don't miss out on any part of your special day because you're taking pictures. I know many brides who skipped their cocktail hour or missed about half of their wedding because they were off taking pictures. This is crazy to me!! Enjoy every second of your wedding; a good photographer will make sure she captures all of your moments discreetly so you can celebrate with your spouse, family, and friends. That's not to say you shouldn't have your photo list of shots you have to have, because it is your wedding after all, and you want to document your magical moments and details, but don't miss the celebration because you're taking pictures away from the celebration for too long. I actually rushed my photographer out of taking our extra outside pictures to ensure this, and guess what? I still have all the pictures I could ever want.
Receiving line: My advice -- just say no to the traditional receiving line! I have seen my poor friends miss out on their cocktail hour, carefully chosen appetizers, and signature drinks because they were standing in their receiving line greeting their guests.
Instead, make the cocktail hour your moving receiving line, where you and your spouse make your way to socialize and greet your guests as you move about the party. Our cocktail hour was on boat, and as we made our way through the double-decker cruiser, we ate, talked, toasted, and took pictures with all of our guests. This was a much more fun and authentic way to greet guests instead of a forced and awkward repeated "Hiiiii, so nice to see youuuu, thanks so much for coming!" Bonus: have the groomsmen be on appetizer patrol and make sure the waiters bring all of the selections to the bride and groom throughout the cocktail hour.
First dance: Instead of a middle-school style slow dance for your first dance, why not try a choreographed dance? In older times, people knew how to dance, so watching a first dance was much more interesting than watching a couple slowly sway in the middle of the dance floor. There is nothing wrong with that, and your first dance is an intimate moment for you and your spouse anyway, but why not kick it up a few notches, have fun, and entertain your guests at the same time? My husband and I took a few dance lessons before the wedding, and it was so much fun! I am not coordinated at all, but this was just a fun bonding experience leading up the big day, and our guests told us how all the twists, twirls, and spins were fun to watch.
Chairs: Chiavari chairs. I get it. They look nice. But have you ever left a wedding or years later reminisced about a wedding because the chairs were so nice? Likely not. I know every detail is important to you, but I can assure you that you can spend your money in so many better ways than on chiavari chairs. What stands out to you at weddings? The flowers, food, music, cake. If you're on a budget, skip the up-charge on chairs, and if not, put that money into something that really matters. Instead of upgrading my venue's chairs, we added a specialty drink station with various kinds of fresh lemonade and a make your own sundae station for dessert.
Bridal party: Traditionally, you needed an equal number of groomsmen and bridesmaids, but I'm here to tell you that you do not need to follow this. Instead of me trying to add a girl to my side arbitrarily or my husband trying to cut someone he really cared about, we had an uneven bridal party. All that meant was my brothers walked down the aisle and into the reception with my cousin instead of everyone paired up evenly. A word about bridal parties: You don't have to include everyone. Your friends should understand that their status in or out of your bridal party does not have any bearing on your friendship.
Walking down the aisle: Like many of our romanticized Western wedding traditions, a father walking his daughter down the aisle is rooted in the tradition of transferring the property (aka the bride) from father to husband. Depending on your situation and personal relationship with your parents, why not honor them the way you see fit, not the way tradition outlines it for you? I had both of my parents walk me down the aisle -- this was always a no brainer for me, but certainly there are other options to meet your desires.
Asking the father for permission to marry: This goes along the same lines as the previous point, but I am so thrilled my husband knew to ask my dad and mom for their permission and blessing to ask me to marry him. Because... well... duh? Again, a no brainer to me, but of course, this depends on your family situation.
Your last name: I never really knew that the bride and groom had options when it came to the last name after marriage. I'm very happy I realized this before I got married and didn't fall into a tradition that I did not agree with. Like with any of these traditions, there are so many options. While I chose to keep my last name, other options include the man taking the woman's name, combining the two last names in a fun way, choosing an entirely new name, or both spouses hyphenating their names.