Working in the world of weddings certainly put me in good stead for organising my own big day back in May, but what I came to realise along the way is that you don’t really know all that’s involved until you’ve been there, done that and got the ring to prove it.
A newlywed myself, home safe and dry from the challenge that is planning a wedding, I thought it would be helpful to share what I learned along the somewhat turbulent path with you soon to be brides – including advice for the just-engaged, the up-to-the-armpits-in-spreadsheets and the bring-it-on-already among you!
What I will say initially is that upon getting engaged I put a pressure on myself that I must not let the planning stress me out – disclaimer: I’m a natural-born worrier, I worry about worrying! I should therefore try to avoid the anxiety and make the process lovely, romantic and fun. But the reality is that while it will be the most amazing day of your life, the build-up can easily send you into meltdown, and that’s OK. One ‘planning meeting’ I had with Andy was supposed to be a relaxed breakfast in the garden with Mimosas, though ended up with us bickering about tie colours (#tiegate was real!) and me storming off into the house. I also had a couple of full-on blowout cries in the couple of months beforehand – a mix of being tired and overwhelmed.
So, I’d say to approach things with an open mind, prepare for highs and lows and be sure to give yourself some ‘me time’ to escape from the to-do list. And just remember, no matter what centrepieces you choose, how many bottles of wine are on the tables and if the sun shines or not, the most important thing is that you are marrying the one you love, and as long as that bit comes off, everything else is a bonus!
OK, notepads at the ready…
With images by S6 Photography
An early hurdle to jump. If you have a huge family that you are close to or more friends than Taylor Swift, then I get it can be difficult to narrow down the invites. What made the day for us though above all else was the people we had there to celebrate with us. Trust me, the day whips by and so your time is precious, so think about who you want to spend it with and actually talk to. Not only that, who is going to help create the right atmosphere and burn up the dancefloor into the small hours? We carved up families, just inviting relatives we are closest to making way for more friends that we see on a much more regular basis and didn’t invite children (apart from the few little ones within the family) and we were mindful that we needed to keep to around the 80 mark to make the budget work. BE BRAVE.
Budget and priorities
Talking of the budget we didn’t want debt on the other side of the wedding that we would be chipping away at long after the confetti had fallen at our feet and so we drew up a spreadsheet of spends and remarkably stuck to it pretty damn well. We initially listed all the elements we knew we would need to pay for – venue, flowers, dress etc – estimating what our spend would be on each, allocating more to what we felt were priorities – entertainment, food, drink, photography – and doing away with anything we didn’t feel was necessary – farewell favours! Then as we went along the process, we updated our spreadsheet with our actual costs, as and when these came in, and also the dates that deposits and full balances were due so we could stay on top of the admin. I’m not so handy with a spreadsheet myself but this is an area were my software developer other half excelled himself (pun totally intended).
As mentioned, photography was a key priority of ours – I look at a lot of wedding images week in week out and it’s those with the amazing talent to capture the emotions and action as it all unfolds in an relaxed and organic way that have me tearing up at couples that I’ve never even met. As well as documenting the important bits, it’s also about the images of the ‘in-between bits’ you can miss as the bride and groom, and the detail shots to remind you of the flowers, colours and handmade touches that contributed to the overall look and feel of your day. As such, research photographers’ work carefully before booking, don’t just look at the ‘hero’ shots on their Instagram but see if they have a blog section on their site where you can see how they photograph a day in full and if their couple portrait shots make the hairs on your arms stand on end. Furthermore, apart from your significant other, the photographer will be the person you spend most of your day with and so it’s imperative that you click with them and feel at ease. Visiting wedding fairs can be a good way to meet photographers face-to-face though you may just get an instant connection from an email response and some may suggest a get together or Skype call so you can strike up more of a rapport and discuss your requirements.
Consider a videographer
While images of the day provide the most amazing memories of the proceedings, I can’t stress enough how much I would recommend stretching the budget to include a videographer too. This was a last-minute add-on for me and Andy, but we both agree that we would have hugely regretted not committing to this. There is nothing capable of transporting you back to the day like moving footage that projects your guests’ expressions and voices, plus emotive music from the proceedings. Not only is it something you can look back on, but it’s also a great way to give anybody who couldn’t make your wedding a full insight of the celebrations. Again, I’d stress to do your research, as just like photographers, videographers have varying styles and packages.
Make it personal
Not to go all “do you babe” on you, but in my opinion your wedding is an event that should fully be about you and your partner; a reflection of your relationship, personalities and passions. I have to say that we were exceptionally fortunate in that our parents fully supported us in doing our day, our way, but it is these individual touches that will set your wedding apart from others and make it all the more memorable and special. Taking this tact, Andy and I chose to marry at an urban style ex-mill building (much more glamourous than it sounds initially to parents!) and opted for a celebrant ceremony – an independent individual who is trained to write and deliver a custom ceremony with very little limitations. So instead of run-of the-mill or traditional wording, the ‘marriage bit’ was all about our story; how we met and our journey so far, with one religious reading and two alternative readings by our close relatives. Another personal touch included our music choices for the day; from walking down the aisle and our wedding breakfast playlist to the first dance, with all choices either meaning something to us or our loved ones. Just go with your heart and if relatives have an issue, listen to their opinion but also put forward your own, explaining why you’ve made such decisions and how important these are to you.
To reduce the wedding planning pressure, it’s crucial to work with trustworthy suppliers who understand your vision; from florists, stylists and caterers through to makeup artists, dress boutiques and entertainers. And while the internet can put us in contact with numerous industry professionals it can also be overwhelming, and so research is required once again. When you do find a supplier you think fits with your desires and requirements, look at examples of their work online and read reviews and testimonials, or better still visit a few wedding shows to meet suppliers in your local area or that are connected to your venue. Bear in mind that apart from catering limitations, you rarely have to go with recommended suppliers, though it can help if they have worked at the venue previously, it’s not essential – what’s important is that you click with them and believe they will achieve your requests. Working in the industry did make this easier for me as I was already well aware of the amazing wealth of industry talents and could narrow down those that I knew would best suit mine and Andy’s day. Each of our suppliers was a true joy to work with, we felt safe in their hands and they all more than delivered! For extra peace of mind, we did also take out wedding insurance, which I’d highly advise – it doesn’t cost much and can cover you for cancellation or rearrangement due to extreme weather conditions, illness or injury as well as failure of suppliers, such as a company going out of business.
Possibly one of the most lovely and exciting parts of the planning, and my main advice here would be to go to professional boutiques where you can expect quality gowns, expert advice and either exceptional in-house alterations and fittings or the recommendation of a highly-skilled independent seamstress to take care of this. In my experience, such boutiques can not only help you find your dream dress but they can be a real pillar of support too, whether you’ve got body hang ups or just need someone ‘not involved’ to talk other elements of the wedding over with. In terms of finding the right boutique, look for dress designers online and in magazines that you like and then track down the boutiques that stock them. When making an appointment be sure to mention any particular designs you are keen to try, as if they don’t stock that particular one, they can often call it in specially for you. Some boutiques will also state the price range of the gowns they stock on their website so you know if its within your budget but be sure to keep an eye out for designer day and trunk show events which can include discounts, as well as sample sales where you bag a designer gown at a fraction of its original price.
Keep some surprises
Though in the run-up the wedding is inevitably all you talk and get asked about, try to keep some elements of the day a surprise, even from your parents and bridesmaids. Again, it’s a way of making things feel more special, rather than everyone having the full itinerary of the day in their head. For us, it was just little things such as designing a ‘who’s who’ handout instead of an order of service, introducing our relatives to our guests; I had a denim jacket with ‘Mrs Hirst’ on (bought as a lovely gift by Brides Up North chief Julia) that I put on for our entrance into the wedding breakfast; Andy and I did a joint speech rather than just the groom speaking; and we had an outdoor VW campervan photobooth with our joint couple name ‘Randy’ up in lights above it. Other friends of ours have had surprise entertainment, such as a brass band bursting into the church at the end of the ceremony or a Mr & Mrs quiz during the meal. So, whether you have a secretly choreographed first dance or a firework finale, try to resist the urge to spill all the beans beforehand for some extra special guest reactions.
Come rain or shine
This advice comes with hindsight as I fell victim of the incessant BBC Weather app checks leading up to our big day, monitoring the forecast at what seemed like 15-minute intervals. But in the words of every 2019 Love Island contestant “it is what it is” and while nothing can change it, it’s unlikely to affect the enjoyment of your day – no, really! Part of the reason Andy and I chose our venue was that it wouldn’t matter what the weather did as there was so much space indoors, however I still worried though on the day I was in such a euphoric bubble of happiness that I barely noticed what the weather was doing. As it turned out we got a full mixed bag, both rain and shine resulting in the most amazing ‘golden hour’ images and even a rainbow!
Stretch out the celebrations
Many venues are latching onto the fact that couples want to spread their wedding out across more than one day, and as such are offering full-weekend hire with both pre- and post-celebrations planned in. As someone who celebrates their birthday for at least a week, there was no way 24 hours was going to cut it for the wedding! As we opted for a celebrant ceremony, which isn’t legal in England (just yet!) we had to do the official bit in advance which we did with just immediate family at Sheffield Town Hall the day before our ‘main’ wedding, which we followed up with a meal at one of our favourite local restaurants before the groom and bridal parties split for separate night-before celebrations. Following the big day itself we then had a couple of days back at home, opening presents, drinking more prosecco and spending time reflecting with family and friends before heading off on a five-day minimoon to Sorrento. To span the excitement out even further (and to give us time to save again!) we delayed our main honeymoon until the autumn when we will be jetting off on a three-week adventure to Singapore and Australia – something we both can’t wait for and that will be an incredible way to round everything off.
People seemed pretty convinced that I would have a severe case of post-wedding blues as I’d return to work to be faced with other people’s weddings, making me miss my own and envy those soon to be skipping down the aisle – but what I’ve actually experienced is quite the opposite. I can wholeheartedly say that everything went as we wished for our wedding and we had the most incredible day with not one regret – so nothing to feel sad about, right? Yes, it’s over but I’m fine with that (if not a little relieved!). I got a large capacity of head space back directly after the wedding which I can now put towards our endless home improvement list and count down the days until we get a dog! I can also have a normal conversation with my mum that doesn’t include the height of her wedding shoes, I don’t have to argue with Andy about tie colours every night or make yet another trip to Tesco to buy even more booze for fear of not having enough alcohol to intoxicate all our guests. As for looking at other people’s wedding images, I love it even more! For now I’m part of the newlywed clique and so I can relate to how they were feeling at each part of the proceedings and I’m still totally captivated by each bride’s choice of dress, besotted by the blooms and intrigued as to how the couple have planned a wedding that’s true to them. So, I say don’t bear the blues but embrace the next chapter, just as I’m now doing as Mrs Hirst.
See Rachel and Andy’s wedding and check out that supplier A-team in full here.