Preparation is the key to cruising down the aisle in style
By Kerri S. Smith
Despite what the cheery little song says, getting to the church on time is the last thing you need to worry about.
How about keeping your groom's stepmother away from his mom once liquor flows freely at the reception? Finding shoes that won't blister your feet? Or deciding which of your girlfriends will walk down the aisle as bridesmaids?
This is supposed to be the happiest day of your life - but planning a wedding can be one of the most stressful tasks ever, says Martha Cook, a San Diego bridal consultant. And she should know: Cook has made a career out of doing it for other people. She plans and coordinates the whole shebang, from helping the future bride pick theme colors to making sure the caterers clean up after the reception.
"My clients are very busy people - my average bride is 32 years old - who are excited but have no time to do the research or work," Cook says with a laugh. "As for the groom, he thinks it's like putting on a big dinner party, but one with lots of family invited. Nothing to it!"
She says modern-day brides share two characteristics. Most are unsure of what they want in terms of a wedding and reception, and almost all wildly underestimate how much it will cost. So if wedding bells are in your future, sit down right now and start figuring out what you want. At the same time, you need to find out how much you and your families can afford to spend on the festivities.
Let's say you can't afford to hire Cook. The next best thing is benefiting from her experience. And the biggest complaint Cook hears is that most wedding celebrations include too much waiting. For the ceremony to begin, the formal pictures to be taken, for food to be served, for the bar to open, for the first dance so the party can start, for the cake to be cut.... Waiting, waiting, waiting!
So Cook encourages couples to keep the action going. One of the easiest time savers is to shoot the formal photographs before the ceremony, prior to guests' arrivals. This sounds unromantic to some of Cook's brides, who don't want the groom to see them until they walk down the aisle. But she says the timesaving payoff is worth it.
"Believe me, the groom is far too nervous and keyed up to really notice her appearance when she walks down the aisle. And if you're anxious and stressed, then getting to see your loved one at a picture shoot before the wedding starts, exchanging a smile and holding hands for a minute, is very reassuring," Cook says. "It makes most people much happier this way."
Even if you save time by not scheduling five scripture readings, two solo songs and four hymns in the ceremony, you should still consider the comfort of your guests. For example, make sure the chairs are something you'd want to sit on for a long time. Most of us have been to weddings where guests sit on tiny, fragile chairs or spend three hours on uncomfortable metal folding chairs.
While on the topic of guest comfort, remember that guests can become overheated even on crisp fall or chilly winter days. Make sure the reception area has air conditioning or at least overhead fans - the temperature rises when people are packed into a room together, and there's nothing graceful about sweating your makeup off.
The first time around, Leanne Locklin got married in a sunlit Mormon Church. She wore the requisite long, lacey white dress, a blue garter and achingly painful high heels. The bridesmaids wore expensive, custom-made dresses and hats, and wedding gifts were in the china-crystal-silver category. Family members took waltz lessons so they could do the required dances. Her five-year-old flower girl fell apart midway down the aisle, wailing loudly and refusing to throw rose petals.
The second time Locklin tied the knot - 15 years later - she and the groom wore blue jeans and cowboy hats. The reception was a barbecue potluck hosted in the couple's backyard. Nobody wore high heels, there were no flower girls or waltzes, and everyone had a "real fine, low-stress good time," she reports.
Looking back, she calls the first wedding a disaster, and not just because the marriage crumbled within three years. "I was so horribly nervous. Everything had to be perfect, down to the pastel mints that matched the bridesmaid's dresses. We spent so much money doing this big, traditional pageant, and it had nothing to do with what really suited me," Locklin says.
Too many brides go with the flow instead of really thinking about what type of ceremony will please them, says Cook. "You need to focus on the marriage and avoid getting caught up in the party planning so much. Make the ceremony special and then pay attention to what is being said."
The ceremony is the crux of the whole day, says Reverend Mary Benedict of Grace United Methodist Church in Mesa, Ariz.
"Ask yourself why you want to get married in a church. Would a park or hotel be better for you and your groom? Do you want clergy officiating, or a non-religious person, and why?" suggests Benedict. "Think deeply about these questions, not just logistically. For instance, a religious ceremony will include references to God and invoking God's presence. Does this mean something to you?"
Benedict offers two sorts of marriage ceremonies, featuring traditional and non-traditional vows, and also is open to creative suggestions from couples. But she's noticed that most couples taking their first stroll down the aisle tend towards traditional vows, while those on a second marriage usually choose non-traditional vows. The non-traditional vows are less formal, use less Bible lingo and include words like "risk-taking," "vulnerability" and "openness."
Many clergy will actually give couples written versions of the ceremonies they perform, so they can compare the tone of each. Some couples write their own vows, but Benedict said only about 2% of her couples go that route.
"Nowadays we don't ask 'who gives this woman to be married,'" Benedict explains. "Instead, we call it a blessing of family - 'the marriage of Craig and Cindy today unites two families. Will you support and nourish this union?'"
One of Benedict's favorite modern-day changes is asking the congregation to participate. She does it at the end of the family blessing, by asking, "will all of you gathered here today, by the grace of God, do all in your power to uphold and care for Craig and Cindy and their marriage? If so, say, 'we do.'"
"People like it, and I like it, because it brings the guests in as participants, they're no longer just watching a nice show. It's special," Benedict adds.
Most ceremonies average a half-hour or less. Allow more time if you will have lots of music or will take communion. And if the usual ceremonies sound all wet, be creative. You can have a Celtic wedding, a Renaissance wedding, a rodeo wedding, a beachfront nuptial. There are dozens of books on how to personalize the day. Whether you do it poolside at a resort or in a church, be sure the ceremony is a meaningful, deeply personal consecration for you and your groom.
Is there anything more fulfilling than finding the perfect dress to get married in? Not according to Peggy Lutz, a plus-size clothing designer recently asked to make a bridal gown for The Roseanne Show.
A Roseanne producer called Lutz after a plus-size bride-to-be wrote to the show, saying she couldn't find a gorgeous dress to fit her generous body in any of the bridal shops or department stores.
Within days Lutz whipped out an ivory satin dress, in a contemporary, off-the-shoulder style, handpainted with Calla lilies. She added a small train and a tulle ivory headpiece attached to a pearl-seeded comb. If she'd sold it in her Windsor, Calif., store, it would have cost around $500.
Roseanne was the matron of honor and Lutz watched from the wings while the bride, wearing her creation, got married on the show. Later, Lutz narrated a bridal fashion show showcasing plus-size styles. While Lutz specializes in contemporary gowns for everyone from the bride to the mother-in-law, other designers offer more traditional, elaborate dresses. In general, the more elaborate the dress, the higher the price, and the longer it takes to make it.
Allow at least a month for a contemporary dress to be made and two months or more for a traditional dress, although sometimes designers can cobble a dress together in less time, depending on their workload.
An increasing number of stores carries plus sizes, and some stores even rent bridal gowns (see this special section's bridal fashion layout and resource guide for designers that create plus-size gowns). Shop extra early if you plan on buying a dress from a store, as your size may have to be ordered, shipped to the store and fitted before the ceremony. Most stores have particular deadlines for ordering dresses.
Dress patterns for larger-size brides are more common now, too, so check the local sewing shop's pattern books before buying off-the-rack. A good dressmaker can take a pattern and enlarge it based on your measurements, too.
Lutz has five tips for brides:
- Allow at least two months for the dress, just to be sure that you get what you want.
- Before you start shopping, decide how much you can spend.
- Select a style that is flattering AND comfortable. You'll be wearing the dress for hours and will want to be able to dance, laugh, eat, drink and sit comfortably in it.
- Simpler dresses need less last-minute ironing to hang nicely.
- Choose a fabric with some stretch or give, as larger bodies "also have some give to them!"
Music, Music, Music!
There's an art to selecting the best music for a wedding, says Steve Roberts, owner of MixMasters DJ's of Fredericksburg, Va., a company that provides disc jockeys, stereo equipment and CDs for formal events.
Start by reviewing the guest list. Of every hundred people invited, how many are in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond? Write down the number of people you estimate is in every age category. A pattern will likely emerge - a bulge of people in their 30s, for instance, with a mini-bulge of 50-ish folks and a contingent of elderly relatives and family friends pushing 70. You'll want to include music at the reception that will appeal to each group - some '80s rock and roll for the thirtysomethings, '60s-era tunes for their parents and some jazz and show tunes for the older crowd.
While a good band or DJ service knows to cater to different age groups with appropriate music, be sure you discuss the age breakdown at your party with them ahead of time. Unless you speak up, they likely will average two slow songs for every five fast songs. Usually the more slow songs played, the more people will get up and dance.
If there's an extra-special song you've got to dance to - or something with hideous associations you do not want to hear - again, be sure to speak up ahead of time. The band may want to run through it first, and the DJ will need to bring the CD (or keep it at home, if it's banned).
If you've been to many weddings in recent years, you know the standard "get everybody moving" songs include "Celebration," "YMCA," "The Macarena," "Electric Slide" and the "Chicken Dance." Roberts refuses to play any of them, calling them dated.
"The '80s dance stuff is back, so people want to hear 'That's The Way I Like It' by K.C. and the Sunshine Band, 'Play That Funky Music' by Wild Cherry, 'Brick House' by the Commodores - and I always do a twist medley," he adds. First dance favorites of the moment are "From This Moment" and "Still The One" by Shania Twain, "Truly Madly Deeply" by Savage Garden and "Love of My Life" by Sammy Kershaw.
Roberts says the right volume is crucial to everyone having a good time, so ask a trusted friend to stand by the speakers when the music starts, and cue the band or DJ if it's too loud or too low.
"I also tell the bride and groom, 'do not put old people up next to the DJ, put them at the back of the room.' Otherwise, when it comes time for the dancing, the music will have to be too low. Your goal is to have music that allows people at the table to speak clearly and audibly to each other," he explains.
Costs vary, but in Virginia, Roberts said a DJ company starts at about $225 for a reception, while bands start at around $500. Don't be surprised if you're asked to pay a wedding service provider up front: so many brides and grooms have stiffed the band or caterer by taking off without paying that the rules have changed.
The money is well worth it. An experienced band or DJ won't just play music: they know exactly how to pace a reception. They know when to pause the music and introduce the newlyweds, announce the first dance the toasts, call for toasts, cut the cake, and throw the bouquet, Roberts says. "There's nothing worse than a confused, disorganized reception. A good DJ will handle it all for you."
Most wedding receptions include food and drink of some sort, but far fewer couples today do the whole sit-down dinner for 200 scene, says Peggy Beck, owner of Three Tomatoes Catering in Denver, Colo.
The meal is tied to the event's formality. Weddings today are less formal, and reception parties reflect that trend. For instance, most of Beck's bridal couples ask for a buffet line or "food stations" that encourage guests to mill about and sample the goodies while laughing, talking and visiting.
It's easiest to pick a reception site that already has necessary elements, such as seating. An example is an outdoor "nature" reception. The best place might be a city park with lots of parking nearby, covered picnic tables and benches that can be reserved ahead of time, grills, trashcans, and clean bathrooms. The same party will be more costly and less convenient held in a meadow with dirt-road parking.
A typical lavish wedding spread runs $40 to $60 per person in Denver, Beck says. The low end includes turkey and beef tenderloin, pastas and salads. On the high end, extras include a seafood station with shrimp, crab claws and lobster salad. For that price, Three Tomatoes supplies the linens, glasses and plates, cutlery and serving dishes, a table for the bar, and handles set-up and clean-up. Three Tomatoes also furnishes mixers, juices and other beverages, and will coordinate liquor service, but requires the client to pay the liquor store directly.
Match your food choices to the action. For instance, if you're having a sit-down dinner, a thick, juicy steak is fine. But if you're planning "grazing stations," encouraging people to eat while standing and walking, order steak skewers instead.
One of Beck's recent afternoon receptions featured orange-smoked salmon, new potatoes with roasted cheese and pesto, chicken and artichoke skewers, turkey, pork loin, herb-seared tenderloin, smoked duck breast and imported salami served with breads, chutney, homemade mayonnaise and coarse mustard, goat cheese spread with tortilla chips, assorted olives and raw veggie platters.
A lighter luncheon she catered recently included crunchy mixed salad, cucumber salad, lemon cous-cous, sesame-crusted salmon, cumin-coconut chicken skewers and fresh fruit trays. Other clients have ordered make-your-own ice cream sundae stations or margarita bars. Speaking of alcohol, if you plan an open bar, keep the bar open for a limited time - say two hours. Then switch to wine and mixers if you don't want to shut off the alcohol completely. Nobody needs to get really drunk at your wedding, do they?
Book a caterer at least six months in advance. And keep in mind that some of the more popular wedding sites - churches, meeting halls, picturesque outdoor settings - are booked a year in advance.
Surviving the Process
By the time some couples arrive at the altar, they're feeling more wigged out than loving, says Dr. Jamie Turndorf, author of Till Death Do Us Part, Unless I Kill You First (Henry Holt Publishing, $22). Turndorf is a psychologist best known for her radio persona, "Dr. Love." She has several suggestions to keep the wear and tear minimal in the weeks before the wedding.
In-Law Grumbles: You hear through the grapevine that your future mother-in-law is riled that neither of her daughters is a bridesmaid, and besides, "who serves lamb at a wedding reception?" Turndorf says, "Go directly to the person instigating the static and say, 'I hear that you're not happy with some of my plans. Let's talk about it.' Whenever you have leakage like that, you want to go straight to the horse's mouth."
Dueling Relatives: If your stepmother and your mom don't speak, and both will be at the wedding, that's OK. If they speak only to start raucous arguments, that may be a problem. Turndorf suggests scheduling a get-together a month or so before the wedding to declare a cease-fire. This works only if both parties listen carefully and take responsibility for hurtful things said or done in the past.
The Black Sheep: Uncle Bob is an alcoholic and has caused trouble at family events in the past. One time it's a fistfight with the bartender, another time he stumbles into the pool, fully dressed, and cuts his head on the diving board. What to do? Turndorf says there are three options. Option one, realize that if he makes a fool of himself at your wedding, well, he makes a fool of himself. It doesn't necessarily reflect on you. Option two, talk to him ahead of time and say, "I don't want you to get drunk and cause problems at my wedding reception. So I'm asking you to either abstain or drink lightly, and steer free of conflict." Option three, don't invite him.
Couple Meltdown: You made it through the engagement, invitations, planning, tuxedo fitting, and rehearsal dinner and now it's show time. But you can't muster up a friendly feeling for the man that you're about to marry. You feel resentful and exhausted. This is turning into the least romantic day of your life. Turndorf says, first, remember that when you're tired or not feeling good, you are short tempered. So take a deep breath and get some perspective. What is he doing that is so bad? "Don't major in the minor things," she exhorts. "Remember why you are marrying each other. Cool yourself down by asking, 'why do I love him?' Arouse good feelings. It will spark positive body chemistry and you'll be ready to roll."
All the experts ended with the same advice: go out there and enjoy your special day!
Wedding Day Pointers
- Do eat something before the ceremony, and do not drink alcohol, wedding planner Martha Cook advises. "I've had a bride who went down at the altar because she ate nothing, then had champagne in the limo on the way to the church," she says. "There's this massive adrenaline pump at the altar and it can send you right over."
- Do take an emergency makeup bag with you, so you can powder your face, reapply lipstick and comb and spray your hair as needed.
- Bring a backup dress to the reception in case your wedding dress becomes a liability. One bride spilled a full glass of red wine down the front of her dress early on, and had to wear the stained dress all afternoon.
- Wear comfortable shoes, preferably non-skid flats, especially to the reception. Your feet will thank you.
- Arrange ahead of time to have a responsible relative ready to write checks to take care of fees that usually are paid on site, such as the organist, clergy, etc.
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