First things first: when you start planning your wedding, begin building a wedding day agenda. This basic breakdown of timing will help you as you’re booking vendors and thinking through transportation and transitions. The three most important time stamps you’ll need to know are: when your ceremony will begin and end, when cocktail hour will begin and end, and when your reception will conclude.
5:00 PM ceremony begins
5:25 PM ceremony concludes
5:40 PM cocktail hour begins
6:40 PM cocktail hour concludes/dinner reception begins
11:00 PM reception concludes
Now that you have the basic building blocks of your wedding day, you can develop your timeline before the ceremony and during the reception. Looking at an agenda like this, and assuming there’s not significant traveling in between venues, I would recommend that this bride book a photographer a minimum of eight hours, a dinner band for about four hours and a half hours, then I’d start working on transportation timing so I could be smart when booking hair and makeup appointments. Happy planning!
My biggest piece of advice when you’re thinking about the design of your wedding: begin at the end. Most people do the opposite — they collect pictures on Pinterest, oftentimes imagery that is not cohesive, images that don’t complement the space they’re working with, or images that depict design ideas that are out of budget. Then, they struggle to retrofit the look with their space and budget. Obviously the fun part is thinking about the way your wedding will look. It will be nearly impossible to not daydream as you click through images on Pinterest or peruse the pages of Martha Stewart Weddings, but my one admonition is this: don’t get married to design ideas too early. Stay flexible.
First things first, establish your budget. Then, do some housekeeping: draft a guest list and secure a venue. After those major groundwork tasks are out of the way, shop for your gown. Next, and this might sound strange, look at rentals (begin with the end!). You might be surprised to see that some of the colors you had in mind don’t exist in linens at your local rental store; perhaps you will need to bring materials in from out of town to bring your color story to life, or you might find you will need to tweak your color story. Next, look at bridesmaids dresses. I love Bella Bridesmaids because you’ll be able to see many colors and styles on the floor, as well as swatch books for other colors and fabrics not in store.
Doing a little bit of research about what is available before you select a color palette will save a lot of time and heartache and it may also lead you to a group of colors you didn’t realize you loved! Once you’ve done this research, you should have a good sense of where to go next so you can turn your attention to the fun part: gathering inspiration images, developing a design board, working with a stationery designer on your invitation suite and save the dates, and working on an order with your floral designer.
You’re nearly finished! You’ve approved your invitation design, materials will soon go to print, and envelopes are on their way to your calligrapher. Next up: sending a properly formatted address list to your calligrapher.
Although the calligrapher with whom you’re working may have her own system and requirements, over the years we’ve noticed some standard requirements as it pertains to address list formatting:
1. Send a typed list in a word document, not a spreadsheet
2. The list should be in address label format, as below, max three columns
3. Use a legible font, such as Times New Roman, 12 pt
4. Alphabetize your list
5. If you have changes or updates to addresses after the initial list has been sent to your calligrapher, send changes and updates by email. Do not send a new, revised list. Updated drafts cause confusion.
This is what is meant by address label format:
Miss Sally Sue
14 Sunshine Street
Sunnyville, California 23456
Happy mailing! xoxo
No matter how you slice it, making cuts to your guest list can be an arduous (and sometimes impossible) task. As you embark on one of the very first steps of wedding planning, drafting your guest list, bear this in mind: your guest count will drive costs more than most any other decision you make. That’s because food and beverage consumption will represent about half of your total wedding spend.
To get started, identify the maximum number of guests your budget and venue will allow. To kickstart that process, ask your caterer to help you identify a high and a low cost per person for food and beverage, including tax and service charges. Keep your maximum number on the conservative side, slightly lower than your total budget will allow and slightly lower than your venue’s capacity.
Traditionally the couple invites half the guest list, while each set of parents invites a quarter. If your parents are paying for your wedding, you may want to adjust these percentages in their favor.
Begin by making your dream list, a list of every possible person you’d love to invite, then divide this list into buckets that ultimately relate to priority to invite.
-Bucket #1: close family members (siblings, grandparents)
-Bucket #2: close friends and extended family
-Bucket #3: colleagues and other friends
When you merge your parents’ lists and yours together, you may discover you need to cull the list or revisit budget. To cut or not to cut? If you’ve never spoken to the guest, consider cutting that person from your list. As it relates to unmarried couples: unless the couple is engaged or lives together, considering cutting plus ones. If you haven’t spoken to a person on your list in a year or more and are not related, you may consider cutting that guest. Consider eliminating co-workers from your list – have a close look at bucket #3 of guests.
Cutting a guest list can be a challenge, and sometimes it may be impossible, but giving your list a good scrub and knowing the commitment you’re making before you make deposits will empower you as you plan your wedding!
Without fail, in the two weeks leading up to a wedding, the question will be asked: what will happen to my flowers after my wedding? Surely they won’t all go to waste? Before you ponder the idea of asking a few friends to deconstruct those arrangements and deliver to your parent’s home tout de suite, take a breath. Often the vases are rental, meaning that arrangements will have to be deconstructed on site and loaded into buckets of water so the floral designer can collect her containers. It’s a big job and one that friends and family might not be able to easily take on at the end of the evening. As an alternative:
-You can offer “to go bags” to guests and encourage them to pluck a few blooms on their way out. I love these from For Your Party. If you’re not interested in ordering custom printed bags, you can easily find clear cellophane candy bags at most any craft store. Display those with some pretty ribbon, and you’re all set!
-You can hire a company to donate your flowers after your event. Grace in Bloom in Richmond is dedicated to just that. Conceived by two friends, Brittany Heare, who also works with Merriment, and Brittany Mantiply, Grace in Bloom delivers “gently used wedding flowers” to nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the Richmond area. Brittany will work closely with you, your planner and your floral designer to develop a schedule and plan for collection. We love Grace in Bloom because it is such a win/win!
When you draft your month-by-month wedding planning timeline, be sure to dedicate an afternoon to a hair and makeup trial. A trial is a dry run for your wedding day hair and makeup. It should be booked about six to eight weeks prior to your wedding date. This is the best time to talk about the styles you like and to collaborate with your stylist; it also gives the stylist an opportunity to learn about your hair and skin type, to discuss any concerns you might have, to try on any hair accessories you may be wearing, and for the stylist to pass along any tips and tricks she may have.
After hair and makeup are complete, get thyself to the dressing room! This is the best time to stage a dress rehearsal and your chance (sans wedding day jitters) to see how everything works (or does not work) together: how your veil looks with your hairstyle, how your undergarments are fitting with your gown, how your shoes feel when they’re worn more than a few minutes, and how your accessories look with the ensemble. Better to discover any issues prior to your wedding day while there’s still plenty of time to make adjustments! If your maid of honor and your mother can be there, practice bustling.
If you’re doing a bridal portrait with your photographer, this is the day to schedule it. It’s a great opportunity to break the ice and to get comfortable in front of the camera in your wedding gown. Be sure to order a mock up of your wedding day bouquet!
Not all things wedding are inherently glamorous: the loo for instance. If you’re having an outdoor or an at home wedding like many Merriment brides do, you’ll likely need to engage in potty talk during wedding planning, and by potty talk I mean securing a restroom trailer.
If you’re just starting your search, there are a few questions you must ask: How many stalls are in each unit? How large are the stalls? How many sinks are in each unit? Will the unit play music? Does the unit have heat and air? Running water? What type of flooring is in the unit? And now for the cliff notes:
Generally you need one stall for every 75 guests.
The unit will need to be installed on level ground near a water spigot and power. Be sure the location you identify for RR trailer installation is easily accessible by truck and that the truck can easily pull in and out. Also think strategically about the location of the trailer. How far will your guests have to walk from ceremony, cocktail and dinner to facilities? Golf carts are always nice for guests with limited mobility.
Make sure the loo is easy to find: consider signage. Lighting is a must — always light the path and always uplight the trailer! Depending on your budget, you may consider decorative elements to conceal/enhance the look of the trailer. I’ve even seen trailers draped to look like a tent!
Inside: consider embroidered hand towels, monogramed paper hand towels, candies or mints in your colors, scented oil diffusers (my favorite), hand cream for the ladies room, and liquid hand soaps in pretty containers. In my opinion a few of these little treats go much further than bathroom baskets loaded up with bandaids, mouthwash, etc.
It’s always such an honor to contribute to Martha Stewart Weddings. In the summer issue, we answered a reader’s question about discussing dress code and attire with your vendors. While most vendors follow the industry standard (black), not all do. We offered some tips on navigating that conversation. Here’s a little insta snap of the article. xoxo
One of the most important things to do once a budget has been established and blessed by everyone contributing is to map out a wedding agenda — as much of one as is possible at the beginning of planning. The agenda will give you answers to the basic questions you’ll need to answer as you enter the next phase of planning: hiring vendors. Do I need a photographer for eight hours or ten? How long should my band contract be? How much time should I allocate for photographs? Should I take photographs before the ceremony or after or both? When should hair and makeup begin? What time should the bus pick up my guests? etc.
But how do you start crafting a wedding agenda — where do you start? The ceremony time is generally a good starting point. Ideally your ceremony will begin just before “golden hour,” which is the time of day just before sunset when the light is dreamy and photographs look their best. Once you’ve determined what time your ceremony will begin and how long it will last, you can move on to thinking about how to structure photography before and after your ceremony.
In my experience, the trickiest part of crafting an agenda is in finding consensus around the photo/shot list. Since the posed photographs before and after the ceremony are driving timing to such a large extent, I would recommend tackling this first. Your photographer will most likely provide a suggested list of photographs.
Most couples schedule about an hour of photographs prior to the ceremony. This allows the photographer time to photograph the bride, bridesmaids and her family, as well as the groom, groomsmen and the groom’s family unhurried before vows are exchanged. You can decide if you’d like to do a first look then, too.
Once you’ve developed a list of pre-ceremony photographs, you’ll develop a list that will be taken after the ceremony. Then, you can easily back out time earlier in the day for hair, make-up, getting ready, transportation, and later in the day for your reception.
At the beginning of planning the most important items to work out on your agenda are: ceremony start and end time, posed photos before and after your ceremony, cocktail hour start and end time, reception start and end time. Once you’ve penciled in these significant time stamps, you’ll be in a great place to move forward hiring vendors and scheduling transportation!