Planning a wedding is insanity. I totally get why some people just elope and tell the world what happened later. That way, you save a bajillion dollars some money, avoid making decisions about things that have no real meaning, and focus completely on the marriage itself. At the same time, I’m so happy that Aaron and I had a big wedding. It was truly the best day of our lives, mostly because weddings are an awesome excuse to get all of your favorite people in one room to watch you commit your life to someone you adore. How could that not be the best day of your life?? The excitement and joy that emitted from our guests was contagious, and I wouldn’t have traded the presence of those 194 people for anything.
Still, Aaron and I had to make a concerted effort to not get caught up in “how things are supposed to be” at a large, traditional wedding. From the get-go, we had two priorities: 1. Our relationship under God, and 2. Making sure our friends and family felt appreciated and had fun. We decided that having the people we wanted there was more important than significantly cutting down the guest list in order to have a bigger cake or fancier linens. (Even still, cutting down the guest list was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I want to publicly thank my 14 a cappella sisters and their husbands for graciously making it a girls weekend by forgoing their +1s!) With that in mind, we also implemented the B vs. F plan: Prioritize the Bs in the budget, and not worry as much about the Fs. Bs= Band and Booze. Fs= Food and Flowers.
I’d be a terrible person and an even worse daughter if I didn’t mention that my dad and stepmom gave us an extremely generous budget that allowed us to still have an absolutely beautiful backdrop, even while inviting tons of people. As did Aaron’s parents for our dreamy rehearsal dinner.
Getting guests on the dance floor (B for Band) and serving them yummy cocktails, beer, and wine (B for Booze) are the most sure-ways to ensure #2 on our priority list: Making sure our friends and family feel appreciated and have fun. This was a party to celebrate love, and—at least in my world—love has nothing to do with filet mignon (F for Food) and extravagant centerpieces (F for Flowers). Though, I definitely owe Isha Foss Events a shout out for creating absolutely gorgeous, understated flower arrangements that respected our budget while still looking princess-worthy, and Cuisine & Company for making scalloped potatoes that my friends and I couldn’t stop talking about hours later at the after party. Obviously, I only surround myself with people who share a deep appreciation for cheesy starches.
The point is, I can’t tell you a single meal I’ve eaten at one of the 6,000 weddings I’ve attended in the last ten years. I also can’t tell you what the flowers looked like at any of them. But I can tell you which weddings were a blast on the dance floor, and which couples unfortunately seemed distracted by the “appearance” of the wedding instead of focused on the joyous union.
So, I thought I’d share with you all a list of decisions Aaron and I made for our wedding that weren’t exactly conventional or common, but helped us stay true to ourselves and our priorities. I have to say, the greatest compliments I’ve received about our wedding—other than when people say they could see how perfect Aaron and I are for one another—are when people say that the wedding clearly reflected our personalities and ideals, and felt intimate despite the large crowd.
1. Guests of Honor
I didn’t want 14 bridesmaids, but also felt really compelled to honor all of the friends in my life who helped shape me into the woman Aaron wanted to marry. Obviously, there are way more than 14 friends who deserved such recognition, but I managed to whittle it down to that number based on not only the depth of friendship, but how each girl represented a period of time or specific area of growth in my life.
Instead of having every single one of them squish together in matching dresses to stand next to me during the ceremony, I split them into two groups. One group of 7 would be the traditional bridesmaids, and one group of 7 would be my Guests of Honor. The Guests of Honor were invited to all pre-wedding festivities and the rehearsal dinner, plus they were escorted down the aisle one by one by the groomsmen. Each groomsman dropped off his Guest of Honor at the reserved pew (saved just for the girls) before making his way to stand next to Aaron at the altar. Then the bridesmaids walked down the aisle like usual to take their spots.
My coordinator and guests said they’d never seen that done before, but Aaron and I were really happy that we could do this as a sign of gratitude towards all of those women who so greatly affected (and continue to affect) my life…without squishing a million people into bridal party portraits.
2. No flower girl
Aaron and I decided pass on the inclusion of a flower girl or ring bearer, even though both of us love kids, and many of our friends have adorable children they would’ve happily lent us for the occasion. Sadly, our first choice for flower girl was the daughter of Aaron’s best friend, who currently lives in Germany and couldn’t make it to the wedding. We didn’t want to force anything, or involve kids who weren’t the “first choice,” because that just seems wrong.
Therefore, we decided to have a miniature horse deliver the rings down the aisle, since I’m a horseback rider. KIDDING. Nothing exciting or cute happened for the ring delivery. But we were happy that we didn’t include that tradition just for the sake of doing it. We wanted every aspect to feel very heartfelt and deeply personal, and this was just one of the pieces that didn’t fit our puzzle, so we weren’t going to force it.
3. No First Look
While anyone over the age of 40 probably thinks a First Look is unconventional, everyone under the age of 40 probably thinks not having a First Look is unconventional. For those of you who don’t even know what I’m talking about, a First Look is a new tradition where the bride and groom see one another for the first time before the bride walks down the aisle. Traditionally, couples don’t see each other before the ceremony, but these days, most couples do a First Look because it’s a cute and intimate photo op. Wait, no, sorry— it’s so that you can be less nervous, and can get your portraits out of the way before the ceremony in order to get to the reception faster.
Aaron and I are both incredibly old school, so we were adamantly against following this trend just because it’s the popular thing to do and is another opportunity to take Pinteresty pictures. For some of my friends, a First Look truly helped calm their nerves so that they could more easily concentrate at the ceremony, but Aaron and I aren’t exactly new to having a room full of our friends stare at us. Plus, we both had dreamt of that grand moment when the bride appears at the end of the aisle with her father, and the groom gets to soak her in as his bride for the first time. So that’s what we did. It was amazing. Our first hug and first kiss on our wedding day were as husband and wife. That may not be important to other people—which is fine– but to us, it was magical.
4. No pew decorations
This might seem so stupid, but I was seriously concerned that we were “supposed” to have little flowers or bows or something fluffy on the end of the pews, but I personally just never liked the way pew decorations look. That’s just me. I like a clean aisle. So, in the spirit of saving money on flowers, anyway, I went with what I wanted: Nothing but our loved ones decorating the seats, and the wedding party decorating the aisle.
5. We wrote our own vows
I know it’s not exactly unconventional to write your own vows, but I’d say that the majority of weddings I’ve been to do not include personalized vows. I found that writing and reading our own words was such a fun and poignant way for Aaron and I to share our love and commitment, plus it gave our guests a better glimpse into our relationship, which I’m sure made the ceremony more intimate and entertaining. Especially when I started my vows by telling Aaron that he holds the mic like a rapper…which he does.
6. Live performances
At first, I was resistant to lots of live musical performances on our wedding day. I didn’t want things to seem like a cheesy talent show, but I came to realize that music is how my family—and many of my friends—communicate! It’s such a huge part of my life, and everyone who shared their talents made the day wildly personal and special.
My siblings and siblings-in-law-once-removed (a.k.a. my sister-in-law’s brothers) sang an original song during the ceremony that I helped write back in 2012 for their wedding. One of my bridesmaids sang our first dance song, with backup vocals by another member of my college a cappella group. My dad started his welcome speech at the reception by singing a song he’d said he would sing at my wedding since I was 8 years old.
Even I decided to sing, despite having sworn that I’d never sing at my wedding whenever people suggested it. Still, I found myself wanting to give Aaron a special gift, and writing a song for him just felt right. I was so scared it would be awkward to sing at my own wedding, but now it’s one of my favorite memories. And everyone has promised me that it wasn’t weird at all, so that’s good.
7. Secret password for the fancy scotch
We had lots of top shelf liquor, excellent wine, and craft beers at the reception (priorities!), but my dad wanted to make sure he and his Naval Academy buddies could enjoy a fancy glass of scotch…or 10. So there was a secret bottle of Macallan 18 behind the bar, which was only accessible if you knew the secret password. Those lucky insiders were just my dad’s friends, my brother, and Aaron. I’m not saying the password was “Beat Army,” but I’m not saying it wasn’t.
8. No Bouquet Toss
I think a lot of people are forgoing the Bouquet Toss these days, especially couples who are on the older end of things. Not that Aaron and I are old (well he kinda is…kidding, babe!), and we still had plenty of single friends that could’ve caught the bouquet or garter, but that tradition just didn’t feel very “us.” We decided we’d rather use that time for more dancing, rather than spend those 10 minutes watching our friends feel awkward.
9. Took an Uber instead of a limo
Our after party location was across the street from our reception, so it felt a bit ridiculous to rent a limo (which have 3 hour minimums, FYI) just to take us across the street. So instead, my friend called us an Uber as people were lining up in an arch with the exit bubbles, and voila! We made our way through the exit tunnel and straight into our $4 Uber. The driver nearly #2’d his pants out of excitement as the bride and groom climbed into the back of his tiny sedan. We took lots of selfies with him and gave him a 5 star review, of course.
We drove Aaron’s truck from the ceremony to the reception for the same reasoning– a limo just seemed superfluous. It was actually amazingly fun because everyone had their windows down on that gorgeous 75 degree day in December, so people kept waving at us at stoplights, even though we had no sign on the truck or anything. But I guess my giant dress was big enough to draw attention.
Sadly, we didn’t get a picture with our Uber driver on our own phones, but here’s a picture right after Aaron and I were dropped off in the parking lot of the after party. A carload of our friends rolled up right behind us, blaring music and eating Chick-fil-A nuggets (still unclear how they got to Chick-fil-A and back so quickly), which led to Aaron twerking to their bumping stereo as they all jumped out of the car. It was a GREAT night.
I shared this list with all of you not only because I was in the mood to reminisce, but also in hopes that it inspires any engaged couples out there to make decisions that are right for YOU during the planning process. Weddings aren’t about the pictures (though I’m obsessed with ours), impressing people, or following an arbitrary rule book. Sit down with your fiance, come up with your overarching priority (or two) for the Big Day, and let that lead the way!