I was chatting with one of my brides recently and she asked me, “What are the keys to having a successful wedding day?”. To which I replied, “Listen up my young Padawan, I have much to teach you…” After an outpouring of a lifetime of solid-gold wedding advice from a matrimonial guru, she, with jaw on the floor, replied that it was only fair that this veritable treasure trove of ceremonial knowledge be bestowed upon the rest of the wedding world. (I’m joking, of course..but I like to pretend it was this dramatic ;) )
At the same time that I was coming up with this list, ‘I Do Venues‘ asked asked me to write up some tips from my industry experience, paired with what I’m learning, now in my own wedding-planning-process.. so here is what I came up with–hope it’s helpful ;)
1. Determine What’s Important: There are so many traditions and timelines and faux pas that at some point, the wedding industry decided we all have to accommodate and include when planning our nuptial celebration..From cake cutting to first dances to garters and bouquets to party favors.. lets be real– none of these things are really detrimental to the real purpose of the day (for you and your babe to get married!) but they can certainly add an element of fun, but only if they mean something to you. To make this process more focused and meaningful, I tell my friends and clients to list the three things that are important to them on their wedding day. Dancing? Photography? The perfect venue? The amount of guests attending? The dress? Whatever it may be, don’t feel bad about it! It’s your day and you and your fiancé get to choose what is a priority :) Let those things get the majority of the wedding budget, time and effort, and if there’s room for the other stuff, great! But focus on the stuff you’re excited about first, and then see what else you feel like fitting in :)
2. First Look: If I were to give one piece of advice to a couple it would be to STRONGLY consider doing a First Look.
What’s a First Look? It’s when the bride and groom see each other before the ceremony, have a few moments alone, and get portraits done before-hand. There are several ways to do this, but a lot of the time, the groom will go away from the craziness and get set up in a certain location and the bride will then come to him and either tap on his shoulder or say his name for him to turn around, or they’ll close their eyes and face each other and do the big reveal together..you get the idea..Why do I recommend this? Because weddings go by SO fast, I feel like it’s the one time the couple can slow down and be alone together (photographers should be very photojournalistic during this time, and let the couple have their moment before insisting on any poses or anything like that). It’s such a special moment—I’ve seen couples pray together, say their vows or affirm each other, exchange gifts.. It’s awesome! Doing a First Look really frees you up and allows you to relax during cocktail hour or mingle with your guests. If you’re having a lot of friends and family coming in from out of state, this is definitely something you’ll want to consider. Most importantly, you want to feel like your married. You don’t want a photographer or a coordinator rushing you along in order to keep you on time. You want your day to be enjoyable and smooth and for that, getting as much done before hand is ALWAYS helpful. Most importantly, this private moment alone really sets the tone for the rest of the day, calms nerves, and gives the couple a chance to connect before the moment they are standing at the altar together. I totally get the tradition of waiting until the bride walks down the aisle..but if you’re prone to stress or anxiety especially, the First Look can be a calming and tone-setting alternative..
But I will say, you should have the wedding you’ve always envisioned and no photographer, coordinator, officiant or family member should pressure you into doing anything you don’t want. If a First Look isn’t something that interests you and your fiance, hakuna matata!
3. Hire Vendors That You Like: If you’ve been in a bridal party, you know that a bride and groom spend a majority of their wedding with their vendors. Like choosing the friends you want by your side on your wedding day, you want to choose vendors whose company you enjoy, who you trust, and who will help your day be more fun and less stressful, rather than the other way around.
4. Personalize your wedding: The beautiful thing about the wedding industry evolving is that weddings are becoming so unique and a chance for the couples to express their personal style. Think about what is special and meaningful to you and your fiancé as a couple. I had a couple who had their first date at Chipotle, so they thought it would only be fitting to have their wedding meal catered by Chipotle. One of my couples met while working at a library— they read Shakespeare during their ceremony, had books incorporated in their centerpieces and the guests found what table they were sitting by looking for their library card. Make your wedding memorable by staying authentic to who you two are as a couple :)
5. Think about the Small Things-Help your photographer out by trying your best to be mindful of the setting of your photos. A good photographer and videographer can make any space look beautiful, but help them out by removing as many obstacles as possible. Here are three really easy ways to do that:
1) When getting ready, have your bridesmaids put all their stuff in a condensed corner of the room—I call it a “crap corner” ;) This way there aren’t neon bras and Mcdonalds wrappers in the background of your beautiful photos.
2) Bring a non-plastic hanger for your dress shot.
3) When you and your bridesmaids walk down the aisle, keep the bouquet around your belly button. I know it can be nerve-wracking to have all eyes on you, but don’t block your pretty faces with your bouquet :)
6. Coordinator: A lot of venues come with on-site coordinators. Make sure you know their role and what they are doing day of. Ensure that the coordinator has met your photographer, videographer, DJ, and caterer on the day of so that everyone is on the same page regarding the timeline and who is responsible for what. If you don’t have an on-site coordinator, consider hiring a day-of coordinator to take care of all the details and to help things go smoothly. The last thing you want to be doing on your wedding day is working ;)
7. Save That Moola: If you’re planning a wedding, you know that things add up. It’s easy to hit that budget-ceiling earlier than you had planned. Like I mentioned in the first point, figure out what’s important to you both as a couple and if you have to, cut what is costly or unnecessary. For me personally, I’m saving money by having a friend DJ the wedding rather than hiring someone, by not getting a limo, and by doing a digital save-the-date announcement. If you’re on a super tight budget, consider a weekday wedding or an off-season wedding, find a venue that will allow you to bring your own caterer, do your flowers yourself and visit wedding dress sample sales.
8. Keep The Moment Sacred: As a photographer, one of the things that breaks my heart is when I am shooting the bride during her triumphant walk down the aisle with her Dad, and I see a dozen bright screens of cell phones and an iPad or two leaning into the aisle to snap that personal photo for Instagram. These screens will not only be an ugly distraction in the peripheral of the photo and will make the photo look dated in the coming years, but most importantly, it takes away from the special moment of the bride walking towards her groom. If this is something that would bother you, ask the officiant to make an announcement right before the ceremony about the use of iPhones during the procession and recession (also mentioning that the bride and groom had hired a wedding photographer for a reason, and for them to just relax, enjoy, and take the experience in with their eyes, not their iPhones)
9. Delegate Tasks: I don’t know who you are, but I guarantee you are loved by many people! A lot of us brides have trouble delegating tasks, either because we have a very specific vision and trust we will execute it best, or because we don’t want to trouble our friends and family. But people that love you want to help! Think about the close people in your life and their specific strengths and ask if they will take that task off your hands. Likewise, don’t expect every bridesmaid or family member to be as helpful as the next. Different people have different strengths! One friend may be able to single-handedly coordinate the entire event, while another may be better suited to do the penmanship on the invites, while another yet may be in charge of keeping you fed all day..whatever it is, embrace the strengths of the people closest to you, and let them be helpful in the ways that they can.
10. Don’t Forget To Eat And Drink: When we’re stressed and/or busy, we forget to eat. Am I right ladies?? Make sure your bridesmaids are bringing you water and checking in on you to make sure you are at least snacking all day, or else it’ll catch up to you. If you’re worried about missing out on special moments or not getting the chance to see everyone, keep in mind, that you’ll be fed first, and that when you’re done eating, the guests will still be sitting at their table and you and your husband can visit each table and greet all of your guests. Don’t rush! Enjoy your meal! You certainly paid enough for it :)
11. Hair & Makeup Trial: You want to look like the best version of yourself on your wedding day! It breaks my heart when my brides don’t feel drop dead gorgeous and confident. Make sure to schedule a consultation with your hair and makeup artist before your wedding and work out the kinks to make sure you look exactly how you want. Keep in mind that even if the makeup feels cakey and more dramatic than the way you usually wear it, it will photograph well.
12. Have An Emergency Kit: Make sure a bridesmaid or your coordinator has a safety kit in case you need something. Some good things for the kit to contain are stain removal (‘Tide To-Go’ pens are awesome), tampons, small scissors, mini sewing kit, hairspray, safety pins, bobby pins, energy bars, gum, q-tips, band aids, deodorant, makeup remover and Advil..to name a few.
13. Share the timeline: Send your timeline to your photographer, videographer, coordinator, bridal party and immediate family. Make sure your friends and family know when to be ready for photos and the ceremony.
14. Avoid Stress/Get Things Done In Advance: Booking “big” stuff such a coordinator and photographer right away will help you feel productive. What stresses us out is the little things—the details. We’re bound to have hiccups during the engagement process, but keeping up and working as a team with your fiancé will help the sanity ;)
15. What’s Really Important: Here’s the deal, weddings are one day…marriage is what’s forever. Can I get an Amen?? It’s not about the process of “getting married”, it’s about the fact that at the end of the day you will “be married”, and that’s what is really beautiful. Our weddings should be a reflection of our individual styles and an expression of how we feel about our partner, friends and family. Soak up the day and take a lot of mental snapshots- it goes by quickly. But if you make it truly “you”, and you put in the leg work so that on your wedding day, you know that the details will take care of themselves, it will be the most special, magical and glorious day of your life!