What I Learned Planning My Big Fat (Cuban-Italian-Peruvian-Venezuelan-Jewish-Catholic) American Wedding
But why? Literally the internet is full of awesome-wedding-planning-resources: It is! But hear me out! At work, teams have the opportunity to conduct a post mortem on projects. Colleagues identify what went great and would could have been done differently. In my personal life, after our wedding, I felt happy and floaty. It was so much freaking fun and I had a good time planning it with the help of my mom (and some class act vendors). However, no one stood to benefit from anything I learned or didn’t learn during the process.
Background: Before the hardcore planning started, I asked several girlfriends from business school about their wedding planning experiences. My friends came through hard. A few sent formal, consulting style, post-mortem emails. One pointed out that all of the knowledge one acquires in the process essentially evaporates after the wedding. So in the interest of preventing knowledge evaporation, please read on:
Disclaimer: My husband and I are fortunate enough to having involved supportive families who get along well. I do not work in event planning or the wedding industry. Most of my girlfriends got married before I did. Learning how they planned their weddings was helpful. I want to pass my experience on and hopefully others will find it helpful. This is by no means comprehensive.
Prioritize Immediately: Decide with your partner on 3–4 things you both care about a lot. Put time, effort, and financial resources here. Everything else? Just sort of roll with a pretty damn good version otherwise things will turn nuts. Also set your budget.
We picked the following priorities:
Music — kick ass funk soul band (holler York Street Hustle) and plus surprise late night DJ (I wanted to hear Britney Spears and Kendrick Lamar at some point during the party)
Venue — stay open late, like 2am, and could accommodate a large number of guests (shoutout to Jessica and Daniel as our boots on the ground)
Photographer — someone who could call the shots directing us and our families while churning out amazing photos (wooo Natalie)
Non-Priorities: Aka don’t sweat this stuff. Just don’t. Did any guests notice that we had plain white chairs? If they did no one said anything. Don’t rent gilded chairs unless FURNITURE is of your priorities. Same goes for super fancy tablecloths. By all means, if it’s in budget, do select nice ones and don’t have gross chairs but, really, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good on this one. Cake? We figured a white wedding cake would be lovely. We asked our amazing venue florist to set aside some smaller flowers to go on top of it for decoration. Boom! Cake decor! Special hotel gift-bags? I stamped plain paper ones with our website stamp and a cheery stamp that looked like our dog. Gift bag contents? Everyone likes snacks so we ordered snacks from Amazon. Shoutout to our month-of-coordinator, Brittney, for assembly and delivery to the hotels here.
Family: If you or your partner have family involved in planning/financing re-remind yourself of this — weddings are about families coming together. Show up to every conversation as your most patient and enthusiastic self. Now, get onboard and get your family involved in very specific ways. How you might ask? Vendor appointments, tracking down decor pieces, tasting foods, listening to bands, offering decor opinions on specific items, catch my drift? Real talk though, don’t ask for opinions you don’t want (but you’re an adult and knew that already). If you don’t understand something or someone’s being weird, gently ask questions. Be prepared for some light compromises (duh). If applicable, ask each set of parents to arrange tables for their guests whom you do not know well (ex. their colleagues or old friends). In short, if your family is interested, involve them…then more folks are psyched to be part of the day!
Florals: Flowers can be the undoing of your sanity and bank account if you let them. So don’t let them! I knew we would have a lot of tables (hi big family) and also love greenery — so greens with accents (and as many hydrangeas as the greenhouses would reasonably send) were a natural choice for me. Pick items that are in season, local-ish, and easy to get. Our fabulous florist was able to make suggestions and help my abstract ideas come to life. Pick special stuff for the wedding party flowers and get their less pricey cousins for the table arrangements and venue decor. I did this well mostly. I also asked for these goshforsaken-tricky-to-get-to-upstate-new-york golden ranunculus and had multiple conversations where I reassured the florists that I would not lose my sh*t if the golden ranunculus did not make it in from Ecuador on time (hint: they almost didn’t). In short, out of season items can be subject to price jumps and sourcing issues. Don’t blow all your cash on flowers unless they are an identified priority, in which case, import those peonies!
Hire a Day of Coordinator: Seriously, this was the best money ever spent. Technically, Brittney was a month-of-coordinator. She kept track of vendors, offered guidance via the phone and text, and created our timelines. She also managed timing for the wedding day and worked with our venue coordinator (hey Jess) to keep everything running smoothly. Brittney and Jessica also tackled vendor deliveries, dealt with the million little wedding accoutrements that cropped up (programs, framed signs, escort card holders), and sorted out decor for the rehearsal dinner. Plus she answered my bajillion ongoing questions (how many programs do we need? how many yarmulkes? where did grandpa go? can we take that bottle of bubbles to the afterparty?) AND on the day of she made sure we had food and drinks all day long. A coordinator tackles the heavy lifting so you can enjoy the celebration.
Dresses: They are expensive. They are also gorgeous. They will also be filthy at the end of the day. I opted not to spend a crazy amount on my dress (repeat advice from three other girlfriends) and purchased my dress consignment. I didn’t want to spend all day worrying about ruining a piece of couture that I’d never wear again or feel guilty about changing out of my VERY-SPECIAL-DRESS so I could dance. The trick is, you will look amazing no matter what because you should spend money and time on the tailoring. Make sure you can move a little and breath in the dress after you’ve eaten something. Your photographer will coach you and your partner to pose so even if you’ve just eaten french fries no one will be able to tell.
Paper / Stationary: I had so much fun with this and wanted sorta of schmancy invites but also wanted other things so I got a little DIY with the help of the internet:
Minted has letterpress designs AND will print your guests names on the envelopes (free) AND they include complimentary vellum paper (the little tissue sheets)
I cut out envelope liners our of custom printed paper because I couldn’t find a pattern I liked (would have I don’t this if i was in my old job? eh maybe not — but Lenny and my friend Genevieve helped a lot here)
I loved our wax seal and highly encourage this (you can order a custom seal and wax on Etsy, then use low temp glue gun instead of a candle)
Printing on both sides of letterpress is nearly impossible so I ordered a regular self-inking stamp with our wedding website information on it and stamped that on the back of everything…
Ditto for a return address stamp rather than printing on envelopes…
I found a lovely paper vendor on Etsy who did the menus, placecards, programs, and our thank you notecards — Etsy is full of people willing to make you things and all sorts of gadgets to get wedding stuff done…
Registry: We only registered for a few things we needed and could start using immediately. We used Blueprint but in the end I think Zola’s experience would have been smoother as they’re a more mature company. Blueprint, however, has a really neat home layout feature which is great if you are registering for a lot of household items.
Website: Password protect that shizz. Your future employers/employees/randos-who-google you do not need to know the inner details of your wedding party. Password protect your registry too.
Camera Ban (Processional / Recessional): Personal choice but I highly recommend this. I straight up stole this idea from another couple! We asked people to refrain from taking photos during the processional and recessional. Seeing everyone’s actual faces, rather than the backs of their smartphones, smiling back at us was one of my favorite parts of the day.
Videographer: Another recommendation from multiple friends. Everyone had the same idea: the video isn’t for right now it’s for decades later and to share with family who can’t attend. At first, paying someone to follow us around with a video camera felt really silly at but I’m glad we did it because the day was a happy blur. We did a basic package that covered the ceremony, speeches, key moments, and some getting ready. Not in budget or something you thought about? Designate friends in advance to tape very specific parts of the day (speeches, vows, etc).
Vendors: Hire people who are good at what they do and whom you like. Ask everyone for recommendations. Jessica at our venue recommended Natalie our photographer who recommended Brittney our coordinator and Brad our videographer…all of whom had worked with Jessica at our venue before. Our family friend Renee is a kick ass florist who does strictly decor so she recommended Benn who did our wedding party flowers who knew literally everyone. Renee also acted as our design consultant and when I showed her a photo birch chuppah she arranged to have her husband build it because wouldn’t you know it they had plenty of birch on their property and Peter is super handy? Yeah, we were lucky.
Okay! That’s what I’ve got. Good luck!