Something borrowed, something blue, here are some tips you never knew! How can you make a big day memorable, and not stressful? What should wedding guests stop doing? What makes for a great marriage, not just a fun party?
We talked to five professionals in the wedding industry: Collin (event designer), Mallory (wedding planner), Elyse (day-of wedding coordinator), Christina (wedding photographer), and Jessica (event manager) to get the lowdown on the big day.
What do you wish more people knew about what you do (or don’t do)?
Collin: Nothing about (good) wedding planning is glamorous. Wedding planners are Type-A therapists who double as florists, tailors, caterers, waiters, and everything in between. It’s long hours (usually on weekends) and it’s filled with emotions.
Mallory: Popular culture largely misrepresents the role of the wedding planner. As a result, most people think a wedding planner is a florist. While it is certainly our job to help you articulate to a designer (and all other vendors we recommend) the look and feel of your wedding, a planner’s job is so much more. If a wedding is like a ship, the planner is the captain! We are, first and foremost, in charge of the logistics and all the fine details. Above and beyond that, we’re there to give support to the couple (after all, they should just be able to enjoy their wedding!) and family members/VIPs, put out any fires, and make sure everything runs like a well-oiled machine. For this reason, EVERY COUPLE, at the very least, needs a Day-of-Coordinator (sometimes referred to as a Month-of-Coordinator).
Elyse: There’s an important difference between wedding planners and wedding coordinators, and coordinators are JUST as valuable!
Jessica: We work to ensure that your vision of your wedding comes to fruition while you focus on enjoying your wedding, which means being present with your new spouse and spending time with your friends & family.
Christina: [I wish people knew] how much work and heart is put into the artistic side of photography. I’m constantly learning, researching, and trying new things to push myself creatively so that my clients don’t get cookie cutter images that could have been taken by anyone who knows how to use a camera.
Weddings can be stressful. How can you tell if a couple is going to make it through?
Collin: I can tell a couple is going to make it when they go with the flow and focus on the fact that they are getting married. If a couple hires good vendors and puts their trust in them then they are setting themselves for stress-free success.
Jessica: The couples I see who seem happiest the day of are the ones who have relied on each other through the planning, been engaged in the process, listened to each other’s hopes and dreams for the day, and have continued to prioritize their relationship amidst the prep.
Elyse: Usually, if a couple comes to me with a clear set of shared values early on, I’m pretty sure they’re going to make it. Usually, one person is more adept at planning, but there’s no resentment in that distinction. It’s part of the balance.
Mallory: As a wedding planner, I feel I see the best and the worst of how relationships function (both romantic relationships and family relationships). It becomes apparent very quickly when people are more focused on the wedding (the party, specifically), and less on the marriage. If they’re really focused on the purpose of the day, being together, and enjoying themselves, they tend to have a higher level of trust in me. In addition, you can tell by the way they make decisions. Especially in our home market of Chicago, they’re looking at big budget decisions that require a lot of trust in me and our vendor partners—this can cause tension and disagreements for some. Couples who make the decisions as a team and are able to navigate those conversations with care and love show how a loving marriage can be when you communicate properly.
Christina: When a couple can laugh off whatever little things are going wrong and just enjoy being together and communicate with kindness. I once had a couple whose venue lost electricity an hour before the ceremony, and it was out in the middle of nowhere, so the consequences could have been pretty complicated, and some may have even said the wedding would be “ruined.” They rolled with it and kept smiles on their faces all day. Oh, and the power came back on just in time.
This study has linked higher divorce rates with more expensive weddings. What do you make of that?
Mallory: I would be interested in seeing a geographic breakdown of these findings, because, at face value, this seems largely misrepresentative. The average cost of weddings in major cities is significantly higher. In Chicago (our home market), which is in the top five most expensive wedding markets, the national average is nearly double. If you exclude the metropolitan area and surrounding suburbs, that average becomes even still significantly higher. I wonder if it’s more an indicator that couples in major cities have higher divorce rates than it is directly related to spending. I could see how one could naturally make the correlation between weddings that are bigger productions (i.e. higher spend levels) and less focus on the purpose of the wedding and more focus on the party—from that you could extrapolate that higher budgets equal higher divorce rates, but I’d doubt that could be actually substantiated, as there are just too many other variables that could affect it.
In my personal experience, the only couples that have gotten divorced (we’ve had two in the over four years I’ve been in business on my own), have been second marriages. In fact, I recently learned that the divorce rate of 50% in the US is actually statistically misrepresentative. In actuality, the success rate of first-time marriages is actually closer to 75% and the divorce rate for all marriages is 50%. This means that “serial divorcers” (i.e. those with multiple marriages) are overrepresented and bringing up the overall number of divorces. I would be really interested to see further studies done on this!
Elyse: I tend to work with couples who are pretty DIY and non-conventional, which leads to low-cost weddings. (It’s the primary reason they hire a coordinator—to help pull the pieces together). There’s a real strength in being able to choose your own path as a couple and resist the traditional wedding standards the industry encourages. All of my couples are still together!
Jessica: There’s likely a number of correlating factors that would be associated with spending more money on a wedding: familial money/pressure (continued expectations post-wedding), the desire to present a facade or appearance of grandeur, prioritizing getting married over who they’re getting married to, or irresponsible financial decisions (spending more than is financially feasible).
Christina: It seems pretty obvious that there are red flags when more importance is placed on making a show of how “perfect” every last detail is than on the things that really matter, like the nature of the relationship. I think there’s probably a higher chance of pressure on individuals from wealthier families to get married for other reasons outside of a desire to commit to each other out of love. But what do I know, I’m not a social psychologist.
Collin: 100% true. More money, more problems. I’ve found that the higher the budget often leads to more drama, more invitations by obligation, more outside opinions, and more of a legacy to live up to. I worked in luxury wedding design for almost five years and I see a direct correlation.
How can couples make their weddings memorable?
Christina: Focus on what kind of memories you want to make and prioritize the plan for the day around that. If you want to deeply connect with the most important people in your life, an intimate ceremony and dinner may be a better approach than inviting three hundred people. If you’re all about that dance party and going crazy with a ton of friends, prioritize a space that has room for it and make sure your band or DJ is bringing the good energy. There’s no right way to do a wedding, just talk together about the type of experience you want to have and make choices that will help that happen organically. You don’t have to do something just because other people do it. Cater the day to your own preferences and it will be memorable because it’s unique.
Collin: Make your wedding memorable by making it about you! Not a cake person? Don’t cut a cake. Not a foodie? Put your money in the bar. Don’t try to outdo anyone—just do you.
Jessica: Incorporate things that make it uniquely theirs like serving a favorite family recipe or remembering a lost loved one by placing their photo on their ceremony chair. Take time to pause during the day to take it in, take mental images and spend moments alone as a couple to cherish the day.
Elyse: LIVE MUSIC. Hands down this is the number one thing I would recommend if it’s even remotely in your budget. You can’t re-create the feeling of live music with a playlist.
Mallory: Weddings are most memorable when they are less about tradition (which, nowadays, basically doesn’t apply) and more about creating a very personal celebration that is a reflection of the couple. When it comes to certain historical “etiquette” and formalities, I always tell my couples: if you don’t have to have something, and it’s not going to bring you joy on the wedding day, don’t do it.
What’s one thing you wish you could tell wedding guests to stop doing?
Collin: Put your damn phone down during the ceremony. It ruins the very expensive photographer’s pictures.
Jessica: Please stop asking the couples to make accommodations (like adding extra guests, or asking for children to attend if they haven’t been invited) they’re likely spending a significant amount of money for each guest to attend and have fine-tuned their guest list to meet their seating chart, budget, venue capacity, etc.
Elyse: Stop taking photos and videos during the ceremony. There’s a professional for that. Put your phone away and be present.
Mallory: Honestly, guests need to stop harassing the wedding professionals at the event. We are there to execute a large scale event with many moving parts (which requires our full attention) and take care of the wedding party. My team is primarily composed of females in their mid-20s-30s. We work long days and are often onsite late into the evening. I find often that after a few hours of the bar flowing, the advances of guests are very disruptive and, frankly, inappropriate. Stopping the unwanted, repeated advances of a persistent guest can be very challenging. No, we don’t want to dance and we can’t have a drink, we have a job to do that requires our full attention.
Christina: Stop putting your phones in your face during important moments. I have so many photographs of a couple’s first dance or ceremony or speeches and rather than seeing the looks of love on their family’s faces in the background, there is a phone screen. Be in the moment! The couple has paid their photographer and videographer a lot of money to capture these things, I promise you will have a better time and our photos and videos will be better if we can see your faces.
What is one of the sweetest or wildest things you’ve ever seen at one of your weddings?
Elyse: One of my weddings was in a remote location in rural Washington. There was no cell service. We were communicating through the forest with walkie talkies. At one point, a massive tree near the ceremony site started creaking—it was about to fall over! So we had to find the caretaker of the facility using the only phone on the premises and have them chop the tree down before the ceremony began.
The sweetest: I had a couple who LOVES plants and gardening plant a tree together during their ceremony using special dirt and a special tree species. It was darling.
Jessica: The sweetest moments are the first look, the faces of the couple as they see each other down the aisle, and the moments after the ceremony when they’re alone for the first time as a married couple.
Collin: Father-daughter dances always get me.
Mallory: I had a bride who had recently lost her mom to cancer. The wedding was the week before Christmas and her mom’s favorite movie was “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The bride and groom chose to do their first dance to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and played a clip from the movie in the background. This was a surprise to the bride’s father, who joined the bride for a sweet, tearful embrace at the end of the dance. It was such a lovely family moment and so sweet to welcome the groom to their family (and support them through their grief in that way).
Christina: I had a bride who wanted to do a “first look” with her groom prior to the ceremony to calm her nerves. He was a traditionalist and really didn’t want to see her in her dress before she walked down the aisle, but wanted to help her feel more comfortable, so he agreed to do the first look. She surprised him by wearing a bright red lobster costume and he couldn’t stop laughing. I think this one counts for a little wild and a lot sweet.
What have you learned about love from working with couples?
Elyse: So much! That it is long lasting and as much about community as it is about the couple.
Mallory: Love is collaborative and unselfish. Love is give and take. Love is communicative. We learn a lot about love, and it’s not just from couples but also from parents (who we also work with directly quite frequently)!
Collin: Pick your battles. Most couples have a half that is very passionate, the other just wants to make their partner happy.
Christina: Every couple is so different in how they fit together, it’s always fun for me to see what attracts someone to someone else and how they bring out the best in each other. The most consistent thing I’ve heard from my clients about why they love each other is that the other person encourages them, makes them laugh, and makes them feel loved for who they are. I think at the end of the day everyone just wants that support and acceptance, and to have some fun.
What is one piece of advice you have for couples preparing for marriage?
Jessica: Set aside wedding planning from time to time and go on dates, listen to each other, check in and remember that while the wedding should leave wonderful memories, it is only a piece of the story of your lives together.
Collin: Live (and plan) below your means. Don’t go into debt trying to make your wedding better than everyone else’s.
Elyse: Invest in someone who can help you create a sense of presence with your cherished community, whether a planner or coordinator. It’s worth it to pay so you aren’t relying on a friend or family member to run the show—that means that they won’t be fully present, either!
Mallory: Focus on the marriage first and not the party.
Christina: Invest in couples therapy, even if you don’t think you “need it.” Trust me, everyone can benefit from it. Talk about your feelings with honesty and be truthful with yourself and your partner. So many problems arise when one assumes the other should just know what they want.
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Collin Hardy Duwe believes in creating experiences for his clients through right-brained creativity and left-brained execution. Collin began his career working for nonprofit arts organizations before transitioning into the world of luxury events. By working for some of the industry’s most illustrious design houses, Collin has cultivated his craft as well as an extensive network in a variety of national and international locations. Visit his website and follow him on Instagram.
Elyse Gordon is a day-of-coordinator living in the Seattle area. She loves supporting DIY weddings and queer couples. She has over five years of wedding coordination experience and is committed to keeping her services accessible for all couples. Visit her website.
Mallory Powell is the Owner and Certified Wedding Planner of CHI Chic Weddings & Events, a boutique, luxury wedding & event planning firm located in Chicago. Mallory specializes in weddings & celebrations of all types, budgets, & sizes; her work has been featured in Modern Luxury Weddings Chicago, Style Me Pretty, The Knot, Modwedding, and Borrowed & Blue. She has extensive experience in traditional, multicultural (including South Asian), & fusion wedding planning and has successfully planned & executed events ranging from 100 to 1,000 guests. Visit her website and follow on her Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Christina Childress is a wedding and family photographer living in Dallas, Texas. She and her husband of 11 years have 8 year old triplets, a rescue dog and two grumpy cats. They love to hike together, make art and work in their garden. Visit her website and follow her on Instagram and Facebook.
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