Even though I got married in September, summer still reminds me of blushing brides. Last week I explained ten of the things I would change if I had to do it all over again, and your tips in the comments were so useful to those recently engaged. Today I want to gloat about ten of the things that I knocked out of the park on my Big Day. Originally posted in 2008.
This list is just as important as my list of mistakes, because the things that you do right are ultimately what make it the day of your dreams. Assuming you’ve chosen the right groom and all that. If you can’t make it that far by yourself, this list probably won’t help you much. What follows are ten things I pat myself on the back over:
1. Hiring a coordinator. When we chose to have our wedding 3,000 miles away from our home, I knew that I would need a local coordinator. I went in to that search thinking I needed a full-service, Jennifer-Lopez-in-The-Wedding-Planner type of gal, but I underestimated my control issues. Very quickly I realized that I didn’t need someone to help me pick the flowers or tie little ribbons on the programs. I needed someone to show me interesting venue options and have relationships with both the good and bad vendors in town. And I really needed someone to handle the logistics of 200 rowdy out-of-towners.
Several of the coordinators I interviewed charged a percentage of the wedding budget, which left me aghast. The coordinator I finally went with was highly recommended and had been planning weddings in Savannah for decades. She charged a flat fee for her services on the wedding weekend and a reasonable hourly fee for anything I needed beyond that. It was a perfect arrangement for me. She pointed me to all of my essential vendors, including our fabulous caterer, and suggested our reception site during our first phone call.
But the absolute most important thing she did was run my wedding weekend like a general in the army. She kept everyone on time and on their best behavior. I literally had nothing to worry about once Tricia took the reins.
I understand that a wedding coordinator is not a luxury everyone can afford. But I think that any bride should strongly consider having someone fill this role, even if it is just an assertive friend or cousin. It shouldn’t be the bride’s mother, and it certainly shouldn’t be the bride. They should be enjoying their day, not worried about whether or not the cake has arrived or not! A big part of my calm state of mind on my wedding day can be attributed to my wedding coordinator.
2. Preparing Myself for the Worst: Having Healthy Expectations. Let’s face it, there is so much pressure on having the “perfect” wedding. You’re (hopefully) only going to get one shot at this fairy tale, and you can drive yourself crazy with worry over it. My husband recognized that I have a tendency to become, shall we say, derailed by surprises. So as soon as the wedding magazines started piling up, The Gorilla began to chip away at my great big wedding balloon. He was constantly telling me that I needed to prepare myself for the fact that something was probably going to go wrong. And when it happened, I just couldn’t fall apart.
We spoke over and over about how we would be setting the tone for this big party, so the only tears needed to be happy ones. So when a few unexpected bumps appeared in the road, such as running a bit late with the makeup artist and then my cake not looking as expected, I was truly able to shrug my shoulders and remember what was important about the day. I would like to think the little things rolled off my back because I was so full of joy and love – and I was – but I also know that mentally preparing myself for the inevitable played a large roll in my zen attitude.
3. Honoring Those Important to Us. A wedding isn’t only about the bride and groom. It is a merging of two families and countless friends. It was so important to me and to The Gorilla to honor our parents, both couples married for over 40 years. We are so blessed to have such strong marriages as our example. We mentioned them in our program and had their pictures at the sign-in table.
It was also particularly important to me to honor our dear family friends. I asked them to sit in the rows behind my mother, the rows reserved for family. Weddings are such a good opportunity to recognize and express love for the influential people in your life.
4. Securing a Late-Night Spot. We rented a bar as the gathering spot after the rehearsal dinner on Friday and after the reception on Saturday. Some of the best memories of the weekend were made there. There isn’t usually a need for a private venue, but having a clear plan for the rambunctious party-goers paves the way for a memorable evening.
Since we had specific size and security concerns, the late night spot was very important to The Gorilla. And we had so much fun there with everyone after the rehearsal on Friday night that we met them all again on Saturday night after we had formally departed the reception. No regrets on that tacky decision, it was a blast! (We had a Guitar Hero contest on the stage at the bar, pictured above.)
5. I Ate Dinner. I had been warned by other brides that if you don’t take a specific break to eat dinner, you’ll end up going through the whole night without a bite. My wedding coordinator made sure that I had a plate in my hand filled with the most delicious crab cakes known to man as soon as they were being served. At my friend Alyson’s wedding, she had the caterers set up a private table for two and she and her new husband enjoyed 15 minutes to themselves to eat and catch their breath before they were announced into the reception.
You don’t want to be so starving by the end of the night that you can’t think straight. Especially if you’re partaking in the wine and such. I was a cheerier bride with a little food in my belly.
6. Made Classic Traditions Fit Me. There were several classic wedding traditions that I balked at. A few I dropped altogether, but others I was able to modify to fit my style. For example, my dad really does not like to dance. And I personally dreaded the first dance with my husband because 4 minutes of everyone staring at you rock back and forth can seem sooo long. So we made a compromise and danced as a bride and groom for about a minute, then my dad cut in and we danced for a minute, then my brother cut in on him, then my father-in-law, and finally my groom again. This way, we got all the photo-ops, but no one had to feel like they were animals in a zoo. Except for me, I guess. But with all the cutting in going on, it wasn’t bad.
In 2011, the social wedding rules just aren’t what they used to be, and for the most part it’s a good thing. You can really take these long-standing traditions and make them your own.
7. Relying on Locals. This one probably isn’t applicable unless you’re having a destination wedding, but some of the best tips and ideas we got came from the locals. They told us about our rehearsal dinner site - an old fort from the Revolutionary War that turned out to be a highlight of the weekend - and tipped us off to the hotel we ended up using as the main accommodations for the guests.
Wherever your event is held, it will be greatly enhanced by taking advantage of the local flavor. We were constantly charmed by the folks of Savannah.
8. Going with Our Gut on the Wedding Party. When my husband rattled off his groomsman list and it numbered eleven, I almost fell out of my chair. But I couldn’t really argue with any of them, they were all truly a big part of his life. So, even though it felt totally crazy at the time, I went with it.
Instead of trying to match him, I chose the same four women I had known would be my bridesmaids for ten years, and of course both of our sisters. To make his exactly twice mine, we threw my oldest friend Drew in with the boys. I have always wanted him in my wedding, and this worked perfectly.
It was my wedding coordinator’s idea to line them up non-traditionally, with six men on either side of us and three women in front of them on either side. It made for great pictures, especially since our siblings held the spots closest to us. Our wedding party was so large it was mildly embarrassing, but I was so grateful to be literally surrounded by such love during our vows.
9. My Dress, Feeling Beautiful. It’s a cliché to say that we start dreaming of our wedding gown when we’re little girls, but clichés are steeped in truth. My wedding dress was one of the things that was most important to me about the whole day.
My mother always taught me that if you feel like you look pretty, you’ll carry yourself best. And on my wedding day I felt like a princess. I absolutely loved my dress and I still sigh when I see it in the pictures. I chose a look that I thought I would still sigh over thirty years down the road.
No matter your budget or style, there are so many things you can do to feel your most beautiful on your wedding day. You can have the most plain jane dress, but instantly make it memorable with a sash, brooches, a fancy headpiece or fabulous shoes. Don’t be too cool to go all out on your wedding attire. When else can you get away with such brazen drama?
10. Hounding Everyone for Their Pictures. In the digital age, there will literally be thousands of pics shot by your guests, and the odds are high they are catching little moments your photographer would never be near. I was a complete hound about getting pictures from everyone and some of my very favorites came from that batch! I guarantee you there will be jewels among those little memory cards.
I was so pleased with my wedding, but while it has been fun looking back from three years perspective, I know that it was just a big party to kickoff the rest of our lives.
It’s always important to remind yourself that the wedding is not in any way a symbol or representation of the marriage. They’re such two distinctive things, with the latter infinitely more important than the former. Would I elope if I could do it all again? No, because I really enjoyed the engagement and wedding weekend process. But if that was my only option? Sure, in a heartbeat I would follow my love down to city hall. Because at the end of that September weekend, the only thing that mattered was us. Forever.
**photos by rob garland photography