Let me begin with the disclaimer that I am by no means a wedding expert. The only thing that qualifies me to write this (ridiculously long) post is that I got married a few months ago and I learned a few things along the way. A wedding is an intensely personal experience – and in my opinion, the best weddings reflect the personalities of the bride and groom.
That said, there are many factors involved and there can be conflicting or competing ideas, which can make the process more complex. Planning a wedding can be overwhelming and exhausting and political at worst – but at best, it’s planning an awesome party with all your friends and family involved.
I absolutely loved our wedding day – it was the happiest, most fun, and overall best day of my life so far. Every ounce of stress was worth it and I loved every moment.
So here it is: the 13 things I learned while planning a wedding:
1. Accept advice
…but you don’t have to act on it. EVERYONE who’s ever been married will want to offer you advice on how to do your big day. Whether it’s about guest lists, or flowers, or the type of venue you should go for, expect advice to fly in from all sides. The same goes for this blog post – you don’t have to listen to a word I say, because it’s YOUR wedding. The important thing, in my opinion, is to be gracious about the advice that’s flying your way.
People like to reminisce on their weddings – they’re special and the advice being offered is likely to come from a good place. Besides, you might get some really great advice that’s worth listening to. But if your grandma suggests the bridesmaids wear pink and orange taffeta, it might be best to nod and smile. Be kind and patient – it will help reduce any inflammation between friends and/or family. Nothing is worse than upsetting a family member or a friend by rejecting their wisdom, however tenuous.
Another point, made by the divine Amy of She Cooks, She Eats: ““Don’t forget that you can lie your socks off and blame other people. Explain to your nan that you can’t have orange taffeta for the bridesmaids because one of them was very worried about being the centre of attention so you promised a nice flattering plum coloured dress for her. Tell the bridesmaids you have to have that particular shade of purple dress because you promised your nan you’d do it as a tribute to her wedding day. They aren’t going to check with each other, and they’ll probably never see each other after the wedding day so it’s fine if they secretly resent each other. Anything that makes it easier for you.”
2. Invest in the right photographer
There are literally hundreds of photographers out there – and there are a range of prices that will suit a variety of budgets. Good photographers don’t have to cost the earth, but I would definitely make sure you get one you’re happy with. The most important thing is working out the style you want – so make sure you look at the weddings they’ve shot so you get a sense for the photos you might get.
The photos are what you have left once the
dust confetti settles so pick something that suits you. We chose Mister Phill because I’d fallen in love with his work after seeing his photos of a friend’s wedding. I would also recommend Joanna Nicole Photography, who shot Amy’s wedding last spring.
3. Try on a wide range of wedding dresses
Most people don’t wear all white on a regular basis, so you might not know what shapes suit you. Don’t write off something because it doesn’t look right on the hanger – some of the loveliest dresses I tried on looked all wrong before I actually tried them on. Wedding dresses are a whole different animal – they’re not really like normal dresses. There’s structuring and layers and all sorts going on (with some of them). Go with an open mind and try lots of different things – so many people I know have ended up buying dresses they didn’t expect to love!
4. Pick the right team
For dress shopping, you need people who will be honest with you – don’t take anyone who’s not brave enough to tell you when something doesn’t look quite right. Ultimately it’s your decision and your dress, but other people’s perspectives can really help sort the wheat from the chaff. Take your most trusted couple of people along. Don’t buy anything that you’re not 100% sure of. I cried when I found my dress but don’t worry if you don’t – I’m basically just a big emotional pansy.
For your bridal party – your ushers, best men, bridesmaids, maids of honour – pick the people that you want to share the experience with but make sure they will offer what you need. Being part of the bridal party can be quite hard work at times, so don’t pick anyone flakey.
I had four adult bridesmaids including my maid of honour and they were all different and brilliant. Each of them helped me through both the planning and the wedding in different ways. Beccy was relentlessly enthusiastic and cheery, Amy was there when I felt stressed or overwhelmed, Jemma (my sister) was the most amazing source of wisdom and support, and Esmee (Jack’s sister) brought a lot of fun to the table. I especially loved getting to know my now sister-in-law! Jack chose his best men and ushers and they were all fantastic. Both bridesmaids and ushers were great at shepherding guests, offering help, making sure people were in the right place at the right time – and we definitely wouldn’t have had such a successful, smooth, and stress-free wedding without their support.
5. Take wedding shows with a handful of salt
Wedding shows can be a lot of fun but they can also be an overwhelming nightmare orgy of organza, overenthusiastic DJs, and cake fondant. I have met some really lovely people at wedding shows (generally the smaller ones like A Most Curious Wedding Fair) but I haven’t actually used any suppliers from one. They are great for doing a bit of a reccy and gathering ideas, but don’t expect to attend one and come home with your wedding all sorted. I prefer to use local companies, so almost all our suppliers were in the South West. The big national shows like the ones that take place at the NEC or the big London venues won’t offer that local, personal touch.
These shows can be a bit overwhelming – at one, a man tried to convince me to do a bootcamp to shape up for my big day (he was told to sod off) and at another, a woman tried to convince me to buy my bridesmaids teeth whitening as a wedding gift. By all means go to a wedding show, but don’t get sucked in by the madness of the industry.
6. Don’t worry about what other people are doing
This one is a bit obvious really but it’s easy to end up comparing your nuptials to other people’s, or worrying that your wedding won’t look as spectacular as those you see on blogs such as Rock My Wedding or Love My Dress. We never set a particular theme for our wedding and our colour scheme was definitely on the flexible side – and it all worked out really well anyway. Try not to worry about what everyone else is doing. Your wedding will be YOURS. In all its perfections and imperfections, your wedding will be amazing. No one who attends your wedding is going to poke holes in it or ask where the fancy diamond favours are – everyone who’s there is there because they love you.
7. Build a wedding website
You can easily build a website on WordPress or Blogger or a similar platform and a website with all the info your guests might need can be a real lifesaver. In this digital age, paper invitations can be mislaid and important info (e.g. hotels near your venue, time of your ceremony etc) is useful if it’s accessible from anywhere.
8. Spreadsheets are your friend
I’m still proud of our wedding spreadsheet – a glorious 15+ sheet baby with columns and columns of wedding data. From budget planning and forecasting, to tracking payments to suppliers, to lists of guests (along with their home addresses, emails, dietary requirements), RSVP tracking… it was a thing of beauty. We couldn’t have planned our wedding without it. I recommend using a web-based spreadsheet like a Google Sheet, that you can access from anywhere. You never know when inspiration might strike, plus you can tweak it on the go with important updates.
9. It’s ok to spend money on the things that matter to you
It was really important to me that we had an amazing cake. I made my sister’s wedding cake the year before – a glorious four-tiered buttercream covered number, decorated with fresh flowers. When we decided that I wouldn’t make our own cake, I knew I wanted something that would be far far beyond what I was capable of. I wanted it to be really spectacular and beautiful, as well as delicious, so I went to Clare at Little Bear Cakery and she created something amazing.
Similarly, I adore flowers, so I really wanted to make the most of the opportunity to decorate our wedding with lots and lots of them. There are few chances in life to fill a whole room with beautiful blooms and I’m so thrilled we got to! I love our florist, who also did my sister’s beautiful flowers, so it was a joy to have all the flowers I’d dreamed of.
My point is, it’s ok to spend money on the things you really want. There are no rules. If you want flowers, have flowers. Or the right ring, or the band you like, or the dress you love, etc. If that means you can’t afford something else, compromise elsewhere. For instance, we ultimately decided not to do favours. Make sure you don’t regret not doing something that’s just within reach.
10. Something will go wrong and that’s ok
Not everything will go to plan and that’s fine. Your wedding day will probably still be perfect. It’s ok if your dress is simply too voluminous to take part in your own ceilidh. It’s fine if your groom didn’t put the guest book where you’d stipulated in the aforementioned spreadsheet. It’s not the end of the world if you accidentally forget the table names and have to get them printed by the venue staff at the very last minute. None of this will matter on the day itself.
11. Take a moment to take in your wedding day
This is a piece of advice I was given over and over again and I’m so glad I listened. Your wedding day goes by in a flash. It’s worth taking a moment alone just to stop and take it all in. Look at all the faces, the flowers, the cake, the venue, and feel it. It’s yours. Soak it all in for a moment.
On a similar note, make sure you find a moment or two to be with your new spouse. After our wedding, while our groomsmen were organising the confetti tunnel, Jack and I stole a few moments hiding in a little tiny corridor outside the disabled bathroom! We had maybe 7 minutes alone but it was so perfect.
12. Beg, borrow, steal
Your friends and family will probably offer to help you. LET THEM! If there is something you can borrow, borrow it. If someone’s offering to make something you want, take them up on it. Let people help you – they want to. We borrowed an instax camera from our pals Lucy and Dale. Our friends Tom and Dan DJ’d for us. My mum and my sister did loads of extra, stunning flower arrangements. Jack’s mum made all our groomsmen bespoke tartan waistcoats. The daughter of a friend of my parents lent us wicker hearts, candle holders, and the light up ‘LOVE’ sign. Let people help you.
13. Do it your way
Don’t feel trapped by tradition – do your wedding day however you want to. Whether you have a cathedral wedding or you get married in a field or you say I do at the top of a ferris wheel, your wedding is your own.
We got married in a barn. I did a speech. I arrived in my dad’s car without any ribbons or fanfare. My 2 week old niece was a tiny bridesmaid. Do your wedding however you want to. It’s your day.
I loved what each and every one of our suppliers did for us, so here’s a list in the order in which we booked/ordered them.
- Venue – Tythe Barn, Priston Mill, near Bath
- Photographer – Mister Phill, based in the south west but travels
- Florist – Sabine Darrall, based in the south west but travels
- Cake – Little Bear Cakery, based in London
- Wedding dress – Suzanne Neville (bespoke), bought at Carina Baverstock Couture in Bradford on Avon
- Hair and make up – Victoria’s Hair Design, Somerton
- Shoes – Charlotte Mills
- Stationery – Connie and Joan on Etsy
- Entertainment – The Jeffersons ceilidh band, based in the south west
- DJs – Dan Alani and Tom Bradley, based in London
- Cake topper – Etsy
- Bridesmaid Dresses – Biba at House of Fraser