Sunday, July 12, 2009

How To Have A Wedding And Not Become A Mobile Episode of Bridezillas

I got a lot of comments about my sustained sanity during the wedding planning process, particularly as we got close to the date. I am not really sure why - in an era where one has access to both Excel and the internet - crippling stress should be mandatory. That being said, the perception remains that Weddings Are Stressful And Somewhat Horrible To Plan. I watched a LOT of Bridezillas while I was getting ready for the wedding (mostly to gloat about how unlike those women's lives my own was) and though most of those brides clearly have some kind of personality disorder that predates the wedding, it seems particularly sad that they have bought into this marketed mindset that surrounds weddings. You all know what this mindset is - it's your day, and you are a princess, so you should get what the Bridal Industry says you want no matter what it costs. I'd like to throw a few things I learned out into the Internetosphere in the hopes that they'll be useful for someone.

First of all, here are some one-off items:

  1. A wedding is about formally joining your lives because you love each other. If it stops being about that, you need to at the very least stop and reappraise the situation.

  2. If you have become the primary planner of the wedding, your other half likely does not care about the details. It's not a bad thing - it's just that they don't care about the zillion decisions that go into fine tuning a large event. Not everyone does.

  3. Figure out what you actually care about, and let the experts help with the other stuff.

  4. Keep things as simple as possible, and keep good records of those things.

  5. Men do not have the same frame of reference for weddings that women do. Prepare to explain stuff that might seem obvious to you - it might not be to your significant other.

  6. Constantly question the Wedding Industrial Complex's rules about when things MUST BE DONE. If scary rednecks in the woods can hustle up a wedding dress before that baby arrives, so can you.

Now, here's an overview of my wedding, with commentary.
  • We held it at the Harding Allen Estate in Barre, MA. Not only is the Estate beautiful, but their services are comprehensive and accessible. We wrote them about four checks and in return they handled: set up and take down of both ceremony and reception areas, food, drinks, wedding cake, space to get dressed (AND spy on our guests! Huge bonus), all staff including Leslie and Chris the awesome wedding coordinator folks, reception table set up, our family pictures displayed around the Estate, tables, chairs, linens, silverware, flatware, glassware, set up of all our favors and whickety-whack, cake knife, card cage, and the run of the Estate all damn day. We paid an extra fee to have the day to ourselves (they often do two weddings a day on Saturday), and found it well worth it. My recommendation, re: preservation of sanity is simply to research venues and to book a venue that provides as many resources through a minimum of people as possible. Having Chris to communicate with and Leslie on the ground to manage all the details was absolutely essential to the success of the day. I also encourage you not to discount the importance of LIKING the people you're working with. I felt at every turn that Leslie understood what I was going for and where she didn't understand the specifics, she was open and willing to learn.

  • I used Martha Stewart's Wedding Planning Tools to track all the wedding stuff. I know many may be Martha-averse, but her planning tools are excellent, and let's have it said...the woman is a creative mastermind. I got some great ideas from her site. The planning tools themselves let you track guests for any event, including bridal shower, etc. and get reports on them in any number of formats (print seating charts, by gift, etc.). There's also a great budgeting tool and easy to use seating chart design. They really have you covered from top to bottom and I highly recommend them.

  • We did a lot of do-it-yourselfing. If you can do this - or you have crafty friends and relatives - it's a great way to add your own personal touch to the wedding. It CAN be a cost-saver, though I think it's presented as a guarantee too often. Remember that your time has a value as well. If you are losing sleep and getting stressed because you have to finish a half dozen projects, it probably isn't worth it. My Mom put together all of our flowers. Now, my mother is an artistic mutant and can do these kinds of things in her sleep (she was planning to whip up 16 table arrangements on the morning of the wedding), but even if you're not a big flower arranger, Martha has lots of tutorials on how to do so. I also assembled the invitations using materials from Envelopments, ordered from CC Lowell. That was time consuming but not hard. I used one of Martha's ideas to bring some of our colors onto the table with napkin bands, and I wrapped handmade, all-natural soaps from Stella Marie Soap Company as placecards (which ensured that people TOOK their favors). I also printed my own programs on cardstock. I'd recommend providing programs for half your guest list - we had a TON left over.

  • I had a dress custom made. I went on a great trip to Kleinfeld's in New York to look at dresses and found a stunning one that looked great on me...for $2700. No matter how beautiful it was - and it was - I didn't feel comfortable spending that much on a dress, and I knew Rich would probably have a heart attack. It was also a relatively simple design. If it had been more complex, the price tag might not have been so startling but as it was, I thought I could do better. I had a copy made by Bargain Bride for $525 and because it was made to my measurements, my alterations only cost $75; it just had to be pressed, and the shoulders fitted to my own because it was a tip-of-the-shoulder dress.

  • The girls' dresses came from J. Crew, on sale, and they picked their own shoes. This didn't really save ME personally tons of money, but it made it easier for my bridesmaids. We found some beautiful cotton dresses with pockets on J. Crew, and everyone was able to get them on sale for $100 or less. I think they will all wear them again and they all looked FANTASTIC. I wanted to be my own bridesmaid. I originally planned to have strong pink and orange as my colors, but with a little flexibility we added in the plum color, and it all worked out beautifully. The bridesmaid dresses were the second thing I picked out after the venue and that gave Mom and I a game plan for flowers. In order to pick the dresses, I first thought about the body types I had in my wedding party - I had one tall, skinny girl, one slightly-shorter-but-average-height and skinny girl, one woman with swimmer shoulders and narrow hips, one woman with hips all over the joint, and one woman with ninja butt - and identified the hip/rear region as our collective Dressing Challenge. The dresses were fitted in the top and then had a graceful pouf-out at the natural waist. Everyone looked completely tailored and chic. I just told the girls to find orange shoes they liked, and I was thrilled with the result, since you could see each woman's personality in the shoes she picked.

  • I used Etsy a lot. Etsy and The She Space have restored my faith in customer service. I was able to get exactly what I wanted for a variety of things, including hair accessories, bridesmaid gifts, and my hairpiece. It's a great artists' community, and I have found everyone - EVERYONE - on it to be completely helpful and willing to work with me to achieve whatever I wanted.

  • I spent a lot of time harassing my bridesmaids and vendors via email. I checked in with everyone to make sure they knew what was going on, what was required and had more information than they might have needed. That way, everyone knew what everyone else would be up to, and I had to do much less last minute planning. It worked out well and we had an absolute minimum of chaos, which made room for more fun and laughter!

  • I let the experts be experts. I have never been married before, so there's lots of stuff that I either didn't know or didn't care about. The various people who I hired to help were hired because I trusted their abilities. Our cellist, Virginia Berry, probably still thinks I'm crazy, because I contacted her and told her I wanted the Prelude from Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 playing when we signed our Marriage Certificate and that beyond that, I was pretty ambivalent. She put together a beautiful arrangement of music for people to enjoy before and after the ceremony (there is no music in a Quaker wedding), and more importantly, she was playing music she was comfortable with, which will always be the best. Leslie and Chris do nothing but run weddings all the damn time at the Estate, so where I had gaps in knowledge or concern, they were able to suggest ideas based on common choices. Vet your vendors well and then rely on their expertise.

  • I recommend choosing a location as naturally beautiful as possible. This means you have less decorating to do and thus pay for. Really, how do you beat this?More scenery that was included in the package price of the Estate. See what I mean about not needing to do a damn thing to it?
    Here's our whole invitation. The center part is comprised of the pink outer envelope with the Kalideoscope paper, orange paper and white paper with text layered over it. In the pocket, we included an orange RSVP card and a Kalideoscope vellum direction sheet. I recommend providing a separate, easy to carry direction sheet so people can bring it with them.
    Here is the center of the invitation so you can see how it's put together - click for closeup.
    My dress was a copy made for me by Bargain Bride and I think it came out beautifully. This is The Lucy and I goofing around while we got ready.
    The men were dressed by Mr. Tux Men's Wearhouse Tuxedo Extravaganza or whatever the hell they're calling themselves now. The women are wearing dresses from J. Crew and shoes from various places. We did our own hair and makeup, and hairpieces came from an Alchemy listing with Pick Me Flowers on Etsy.
    Rich and I are saying our vows to each other here. You can see my Mom's beautiful flowers, as well as my veil from Something Bold and a hairpiece from Liason on Etsy (more on her in a moment).
It's tough to beat my Mom, sorry. She put these bouquets together apparently through magic and they could not be more perfect. She used roses, alstroemeria, hypericum berries in both green and red, some green delicate stuff from her garden, and tied it all together with twine and wrapped it in ribbon. If you can find someone to wholesale you the flowers (try a gardener), you can get the stems for cheap and put them together yourself. I will need to get a report from Mom on what she used in my bouquet, because there was a LOT of stuff in there and I can't identify all of it.
The centerpieces were based around hosta leaves from Mom's garden and hydrangeas from our friend Mary Ann's garden and also incorporated the hypericum berries. Again, I'll need to get more info on what's what in here, but one of the highlights was Mom's use of curly leaves in the vase itself to add interest.
Finally, here is my hairpiece (also my cute husband), which was a magnolia clip from Katherine at Liason. Many of you may know that I love magnolias. I wanted to have them at the wedding, but they're out of season by now even in the South, I didn't want to ship in hothouse flowers and they straight up do not grow up north. I'd kind of given up on the whole idea until a minor veil snafu got me looking for hairpieces and I found this one. I had to have the "it's not real?!" conversation about a zillion times, and the effect was just perfect. Katherine's work is impeccable and sturdy, but I think the picture speaks for itself. Now, I can't make you do anything, but I can tell you that if you don't go and look at her shop, you are missing out. She makes these phenomenal headpieces inspired by the work of Alphonse Mucha and never, ever, ever in my life have I wished harder that I had $1800 earmarked for pure frivolity. Head on by and check them out.

Hopefully this provides some good advice that will help someone, somewhere preserve their sanity. As long as you simplify, clarify and plan well, there's no reason to have your wedding make your life a living hell. I'm not suggesting that I was 100% calm throughout, but I also wasn't in a perpetual state of panic from start to finish. As I told Rich, at the end of a day, you're planning to feed and entertain a bunch of people (165 in our case) for five or more hours, which means you're going to have a lot of moving parts and a lot of things to plan. If you first establish the important things and lock those down early on, the rest will be a breeze.


  1. [Shrek] As good as that picture is of the girls in their dresses, they were all much more stunning than a picture can capture. That color was perfect for all of them.

  2. I love that picture of me and you because it looks like I want to eat your boobs. And I have to be the person with the ninja butt, because yeah, that thing will sneak up on you in the middle of the night and kill you.

    I cannot tell you enough how smart it is to just let other people do as much as the work for you as possible. I think the reason why so many girls get cracked out is that they try to do too much, they worry about details that no one but them will notice and probably the biggest reason is that they buy into all of the society crap. Spending a lot of money and having a huge wedding doesn't mean that you love each other more than other people do!