The Chic Ways to Defy Every Wedding Tradition

Carrie Goldberg

From Harper's BAZAAR

When wedding planning, it's no easy feat to subvert long-ingrained conventions dictated by the wedding industry and the generations of brides before you. It doesn't take more than 24 hours with your engagement ring staring back at you for the floodgates of expectations to crack wide open. All of a sudden, what you're "supposed to do" becomes infinitely more important than what you thought you always wanted. Your dreams and desires shift slowly with the barrage of questions, comments and warnings from friends and family, and you may notice yourself starting to sacrifice, give up or give in before you've even had a chance to enjoy your engagement or make a single decision on your own-everyone seems to know better, or know the person who knows better. From the venue to the event's timeline, your photos, your wedding dress, and the décor, here are all the things you're expected to do–and the chic ways to dare to be different.

The Venue

The immediate assumption about where you'll wed, is that it will likely be a place that someone has hosted a wedding before. Your mother or future mother-in-law will recall weddings of their friends' children; so-and-so's daughter got married at such-and-such country club and it was lovely, or this friend's daughter did a wedding on the beach and the wind was just unbearable. Tune out all the noise and establish what is important to you and to your partner. Are there key guests who can't travel long distances? Is there a location, city or type of property that is meaningful to you both or played a strong role in your relationship (i.e. summer trips to the beach, winters spent upstate, dates at your favorite speakeasy, etc.)? Let those emotional connections be your guide to sorting out the place you'll eventually say your vows. Challenge conventional event manager thinking and ask hotels you love if renting out spaces not conventionally used for weddings (like their chic bar, outdoor spaces or rooftops) is a possibility for you. Avoid the carpeted ballrooms that will slowly become the bane of your existence (if they haven't already). Gravitate towards spaces that already have elements of décor that you love and use them rather than renting a space and changing everything about it. Consistently asking yourself if something is the best example of what it stylistically intends to be is a fantastic creed to live by as you plan every aspect of your wedding, which should always start with the location, venue and setting.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Messina

The Event(s)

A ceremony starting promptly at 3 p.m. with guests clearing out of your reception venue by 10 p.m. is…well, ordinary. Most couples ages 22-40 don't party that way on an average weekend, let alone at what is intended to be the best party they've ever attended or hosted. This was where the more recent invention of after parties, wedding weekends and destination bachelor and bachelorette parties came from–the desire to make an incredibly formulaic evening slightly less predictable. Some aspects of the formula are tough to alter. You'll likely need to have a ceremony, and at some point your guests (and you) will expect to be wined and dined. Some will expect a rehearsal dinner, and potentially a day-after brunch. There are indeed expectations of how the event will transpire, but nobody will question you if you choose to reorganize them. Create a destination experience your friends won't mind investing in or splurging on–i.e. one that comes complete with leisure time, fantastic food and stellar accommodations. Have your ceremony and a more formal dinner party one evening and then save your dance-all-night reception for the following night so that you can spend the day enjoying your friends and family's company as a married couple. Make your actual ceremony an exclusively family affair abroad and then head home for a party with a much larger guest list that, thanks to your private vow exchange, feels as though you've spared no expense. Think outside the box of what your guests expect when they arrive at your wedding and instead, create an event you would actually like to attend yourself.

Photo credit: Patrick Demarchelier

The Photography

Your wedding day shot list likely consists of one, if not all, of the following: bride and groom getting ready, bride and bridesmaids in matching robes, wedding dress hanging, mom helping bride zip up her wedding gown, bride putting on her shoes (or pretending to), bride and bridal party portraits, family portraits, first look shots…the list goes on. Which of these are you most likely to frame and have in your home? Which of them will make it into an album for you to share with generations to come? Odds are a solid amount of these expected shots could be cut and replaced with a more editorial portrait session of you with and without your fiancé. Or, giving your photographer more candid reign of your cocktail hour or reception to capture truly intimate moments you may miss out on. Most highly recommended photographers have editorial work in their repertoire, but don't be afraid to pull images that speak to you to share with your photographer prior to the wedding. Enlist your planner's help in keeping posed family portraits organized so that they don't take up too much time. Spend more time focusing on the elements that you'll truly want to remember and consider cutting photos that really only make cameos on niche wedding blogs.

Photo credit: Alyssa Greenberg

The Dress

You do not need to wear strapless, and not all wedding gowns are strapless (contrary to what popular TV series, magazine spreads and your friends' wedding gowns would have you believe). Being daring does not necessarily mean challenging each and every tradition, but finding where your personal style fits into them. Do not create a wedding gown in your head before trying things on; you'll risk creating impossible ideals you will never be able to live up to. If you would never wear white regularly, shop in color. Do not get your heart set on a gown you cannot afford, or demand yards of lace, hand beading, Couture construction and a designer label without being prepared to pay the price tag that comes with it. Do not settle–especially when you know the look you're after exists on the market but a bridal consultant (understandably looking to make a sale) is telling you otherwise. Do not sacrifice on fit; consider your setting, venue and ceremony's time of day as you shop–a dramatic ball gown makes little sense on the beach, but lots of sense at the Ritz. Shop outside of a bridal salon; the eveningwear selection of a top-tier department store, the flagship boutique of your favorite designer or a trusted vintage dealer could potentially have the dress you've been envisioning. This purchase will not only get you excited for your wedding and make the entire experience feel that much more real to you, but will also control your emotions throughout the process if it in any way is not right. When it comes to being daring in wedding dress shopping–go with your gut and enlist the help of those you truly trust. It's okay if that person is a stylist or a coworker and not your mother, sister or best friend.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Putnam & Putnam

The Décor & Details

Being daring with your wedding décor does not mean being a bohemian. Brides of all styles can challenge the norms of what's expected of their style. But, whether it be over-the-top centerpieces, quaint bud vases or the ever-so-common calligraphed table numbers you've pinned to a secret Pinterest board, the details won't matter if they do not suit the style of your venue. Avoid thinking about your wedding as a theme party and focus on a color palette and motifs that feel unique to you as a couple and as individuals. Do not serve specialty cocktails you would never order, carry a bouquet that feels too contained or weighs more than you can carry and remember that your guests will remember their experience at the event, first and foremost. At a city wedding at a boutique hotel or loft space, walking up to a handsome, dark wood bar (without a long queue) serving craft cocktails that arrive with a small bowl of delicious snacking nuts to nibble on will remind your guests of that speakeasy feel you and your spouse fell in love experiencing. Communal tables are inclusive, and bond your guests during dinner so that dancing is that much more fun. Don't feel confined to whites, metallics or blush–rich hues like mustard, raspberry and sage are just as formal and brights may speak to your personality far more than muted tones. Let your flowers bring your color palette and event design together–without feeling too overwrought. The goal is to always be effortless in feel, but thoughtful in execution.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Temperley London


If you want to have a friend conduct your ceremony rather than a religious officiant, do so. If you want to forgo a first look and get ready together as a couple, nobody should be stopping you. Bridesmaids (regardless of what your best friends may say) are not required. Serving a coursed meal is also not required–although it is the most elegant. Speeches aren't necessary, but sentimental toasts make the day feel that much more intimate and special. In short, do not embrace any tradition simply because you feel a wedding requires it. If you don't want to wear something old, borrowed or blue, skip it. Your guests might also appreciate things like a prolonged cocktail hour, personalized vows, editorial photographs of them rather than posed "guest shots," and a wedding favor they can actually use. Believe it or not, nobody incorporates items with someone else's name and anniversary date printed on them into their day to day life.

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