Today’s blog post is all about breaking wedding rules; more specifically, it’s about empowering you to incorporate everything that you want to into your wedding day, even things that are not traditionally “de rigeur”. Your wedding should be all about you, and if the traditional approach to planning a wedding does not sit comfortably with you, don’t despair. Times have changed and these days your wedding can be anything that you want it to be. It’s your wedding, so it’s your rules! If you want to dance on the tables, you can!
Historically, weddings have followed a whole series of protocols and etiquettes (ie. wedding rules) that nobody would even consider questioning; these wedding rules have centred around:
- Who plans and pays for the wedding
- Who is invited
- Type of Ceremony
- Order of events
- Who sits at the top table
- When the speeches take place
- When the first dance and cake cutting take place
- Type and style of venue
- What people wear
And so the list goes on…. and on…..
Which means that every couple would end up with a standard wedding, no different to any other that their guests have attended.
The good news is that times have changed. No longer is it considered strictly necessary to stick to traditions (apart from those wedding rules that you choose to incorporate). There is a general acceptance that a wedding day can start with a symbolic blank canvas, leaving you entirely free to design a day that suits you.
So, when a couple asks me, as their wedding planner, when do we have to do speeches, or who has to sit at the top table, I always answer them with …….. “there are no wedding rules; it’s your wedding, your rules”.
Of course, it is always helpful to know what the traditional etiquette would be, and I will always elaborate by explaining all of the options (including the ones that are deemed to be “correct”), but then we will discuss the pros and cons of each approach and agree the best way for their wedding.
Here is a list of the issues that in my experience, couples are choosing to take their own approach on:
Who plans and pays
These days, many couples are paying for their own weddings, unlike in the past when the father of the bride would traditionally pick up the bill. In such circumstances, it would be usual for the mother of the bride to take the lead in terms of planning the wedding, and this is where we would find that the couple would often be sidelined when it comes to making decisions. In my experience, it is rare for this to happen now, and even if the parents are paying, or making a contribution, the decisions will more likely be left to the couple, even if out of respect they incorporate the wishes of their parents.
Historically, all of the extended family would be invited to a wedding as these (and funerals) were often the only times when the entire family would come together. These days, when so many of us have moved from our home towns (or countries) and contact with extended family is lost, I find that couples will prefer to invite more of their own friends to their weddings, leaving distant relatives off the list, particularly if they have not seen them for some time. This can be a contentious issue amongst families, and I would always advise having a conversation with your close family about any decisions you make along these lines to explain your rationale. But at the end of your day, it is your wedding, and it should be down to you to choose exactly who you wish to include.
Similarly, if you decide that you don’t want to have any children at your wedding then make it clear on your invitations and don’t feel pressurised into doing so. All I would say here is that you need to be consistent; no exceptions as you can find that you end up offending those who can’t bring their children.
Type of Ceremony
If you go back a hundred years, all weddings will have taken place in a Church or other place of worship; more recently the option to have a non-religious, civil ceremony became available to couples. These days, it is possible to choose to have your own “symbolic” ceremony, which whilst not recognized as an “official” marriage, does allow you to create a totally bespoke service designed by the couple (often in conjunction with a celebrant). Such a ceremony can incorporate your own love story and personal vows and is often considered to be a much more romantic and emotive way in which the two of your can declare your commitment to one another. It also means you can host your ceremony anywhere you like, not somewhere that has an official marriage license. Of course, if you wish to “tie the knot” legally as well, you can book a civil (or religious) ceremony for another date so that the formalities are dealt with, but this can be in private without needing to have all of your guests in attendance.
Order of Events
Speeches have traditionally been scheduled to take place at the very end of the Wedding Breakfast, and for many this continues to be the choice. However, if the groom or best man gets particularly nervous about public speaking, I would always suggest that you consider scheduling speeches for earlier in the day, so that the speakers can relax and enjoy the rest of the wedding. There is no rule that says you can’t do this, but just make sure you have advised your caterers if speeches are going to take place before food is served.
There are generally considered to be three main speeches; Father of the Bride , the Groom and the Best Man. If you wish to include others, feel free to do so…. (“your day, your rules…”) but do remember to think about your guests’ experience; unless your speechmakers are experienced public speakers, speeches can become boring.
Long top table facing the room or round table in the middle of your guests? Your choice?
Do you sit with your parents or with your friends? Your choice?
Long tables for all guests, with the couple sat in amongst them? Yes, if this is what you prefer?
With so many of us belonging to “blended families” with step-parents and single parents to consider, deciding on who sits at the top table can prove problematic. But it needn’t be the case, because these days the traditional top table etiquette of the couple sitting between the two sets of parents, with the best man and maid of honour at the ends of the table, is quite a rare occurrence.
Personally, I have always thought that the top table is a very anti-social and uncomfortable experience for those who are expected to sit there with the bride and groom and I am delighted that more and more couples are moving towards sitting in amongst their guests.
One couple recently asked me where their 2 year old daughter should sit. They were amazed when I suggested that she sit between them at the top table. Is that normal, they asked? Well, normal in traditional wedding etiquette terms, would be that they didn’t have a child, so nothing about this is normal. Where will your child be happiest? You have already told me that you wish to include her as much as possible so surely the logical solution is to sit her between the two of you.
Type and Style of Venue
We have moved on from the village halls and these days even the local hotel. There are so many venues that don’t fit the stereotype that are now actively seeking out weddings as a source of income and many of these provide the perfect opportunity to design a totally bespoke and unique wedding day that your guests will never forget. So if you fancy getting married in a warehouse, or a photographic studio or a medieval castle you absolutely can. You will need to think carefully about the logistics and you will probably need to hire in all sorts of items that a hotel venue will include; but if you want to create something unique then my advice is to think outside of the box and look for a venue that you love, but that might not normally be top of mind for a wedding.
Wedding styling has become an industry in itself and if you are creatively inclined and would like to design a wedding day look and feel that is designed to wow, the options are endless. No longer do you need to settle for basic white linen, hotel chairs (or worse still… chair covers), standard white china and silver cutlery or plain glassware. There are so many options for your tablescape, and that’s before you start on your flowers and other props and décor items. You can make your wedding venue look stunning, incorporating touches that others might not even consider and ensuring that the look and feel are absolutely your own and not a “one size fits all”. You can also theme your wedding to something that has meaning for you.
Finally, for this feature, I want to mention dress code. Your own wedding dress and groom’s suit will very much dictate the tone that you set for your day. If you are planning to wear a pair of Dr Martens with your wedding dress, do you really want your guests to be turning up in formal high heels teemed with a traditional dress and jacket? If you have decided to go formal, with the groom in a tuxedo, perhaps let your guests know that the dress code is “black tie”. Your dress code should tie in with the overall look and feel you have in mind for the day, and it is important that your guests dress appropriately. Of course, I am not advocating that a casual approach could be appropriate; this is a very special and important day and you still want your guests to make an effort with their clothing, but if you let them know what you have in mind (by specifying the dress code on your invitations) then hopefully everything about your day will be cohesive and co-ordinated (without being too contrived).
I do hope this feature has given you the courage to think outside of the box and plan a wedding based on YOUR rules, not THE wedding rules. If you want like further advice on the DO’s and DON’Ts, or would like assistance more generally with your wedding planning, please contact me here or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 07734 976459.