Mike and I have been married 10 months now!!! Where has the time gone? It seriously was THE BEST DAY EVER! Today I’m sharing our Great Gatsby wedding plus 10 wedding planning must dos so that you too can have the best day ever.
I want to share our gorgeous wedding photos with you but I also want to talk about what made it so absolutely perfect. Recently our wedding was published on Richmond Weddings Blog and one of the questions they asked was “what we loved most about our wedding” but also “what advice do you have for other brides planning their wedding”. So I’ve come up with my 10 Wedding Planning Must-Dos in order to have THE BEST DAY EVER!
To start here they are and I’m gonna break them down as I talk about our day.
- Make it YOUR wedding. Not your mom’s, dad’s, sister’s, best friend’s, or the lady’s on Pinterest.
- Stop worrying so much about what anyone else will think about your decisions. This again goes with #1 but also don’t worry about what your guests will think about your decisions. It’s YOUR wedding. You’re inviting people to celebrate with you at YOUR wedding.
- Pick your vendors very, very carefully and thoughtfully. Your wedding vendors can really make or break your wedding day.
- Don’t let your vendors steamroll you with the way weddings are normally done. Yes listen to them and their advice. After all they’re professionals and do this all the time but…keep in mind that this is YOUR wedding & you’re paying them so you can get what you want.
- Ignore all the wedding traditions that you don’t want to participate in. Add new ones that you love.
- Have a First Look with your photographer and get all those photos out of the way before the ceremony.
- Decide what you will splurge on and where you want the money to go ahead of time.
- Brides!!!! Hire a professional hair and makeup artist for you and your wedding party.
- Pick a theme & style of wedding day you want. This makes it so much easier when planning out the whole day.
- Hire a wedding planner/coordinator!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Maybe it’s because this was our second go around with the whole wedding/ being married process? Maybe it’s because we’re older and wiser? Maybe it’s because we know ourselves better at this stage in our lives? Maybe it’s because I’ve been in the wedding industry for so many years? I mean how did we end up planning and executing our perfect wedding day? First it’s those 10 Wedding Planning Must-Dos in order to have THE BEST DAY EVER above. Let’s also add in the fact that I don’t give a fuck what other people think of my choices. Ok now that’s a bit harsh sounding and my sweet husband wouldn’t put it quite that way but I’m keeping it real here and that’s my truth.
Honestly when Mike proposed I thought that we would probably elope. I wasn’t thinking the full wedding kit and kaboodle. The last 12 years I was primarily a wedding photographer and although I had daydreamed of getting married again I wasn’t really thinking about a full out wedding. Having a wedding day with friends and family present was very important to Mike though! And I do LOVE a good party! And I wanted Mike to get the wedding of his dreams too! So I went into full force wedding planning like a boss.
Since I have been to so many wedding venues it was easy to narrow down what we didn’t want. I took Mike to three venues and told him to choose. Luckily we both had the same #1 choice which was The Mill at Fine Creek. We both wanted a wedding venue where we could do everything in one place – get ready, ceremony, party. Bonus was that we and many friends could also stay right onsite by renting their really cute glammed up cabins.
Here’s a little bonus tip for cutting down your venue cost – have a non -Saturday wedding! I knew we didn’t want a Sunday wedding (they suck because all your guests leave early because they have to work Monday) …so we went with a Friday wedding! It cut our costs drastically. Second cost savings tip – choose a non-high season wedding date. Again easy for us because I knew I wanted more of a winter”esque” wedding. We for sure didn’t want to sweat to near death in late spring, summer, or fall. (I have photographed so many weddings where the bride, groom, and guests were absolutely miserable. And the vendors too!!) So we set a March date. Choosing an off season wedding date and non-traditional day of the week for our wedding really helped to bring down the venue price and it was our wedding so we got to choose the date! Check number 1 & 2 above!
Straight away it was an easy choice for a theme/feeling for our day. I wanted more of a glam cocktail party/gala feeling and less of a wedding feeling. Great Gatsby”esque” it was!!! Black and gold and glam all the way baby! I wanted Mike and I to walk into the reception and be “WOW this is a gorgeous party!!” and less “wow this is a gorgeous wedding”. We carried the theme from our wedding stationary, to my dresses & accessories, through to the reception. It was kind of just sprinkled throughout the day and not too overboard! Tips #9 & #2
Early on we knew that we would do things a bit non-traditionally. I honestly wasn’t the least bit worried about traditional the only thing I was thinking about was what would make Mike and I happy on our day. Here are a few non-traditional things we did. Tips #1 #2 #5
- We walked ourselves down the aisle with our French bulldog Francois
- We wrote our own vows
- We had a very non-traditional reading during the ceremony. (No bible verses here)
- My wedding party didn’t carry bouquets – instead they carried lanterns & no bouts for the guys
- No wedding favors
- We opted for Gumbo to be served as the first course instead of a salad that nobody tends to eat. It was amazing!!!
- We had croquembouches in lieu of a wedding cake for dessert. We also had mini tarts & chocolate covered strawberries. So no cake cutting.
- No bouquet toss, no parent dances, no giving away of anybody, no awkward wedding reception games, no till death do you parts
- We also wrote our whole ceremony & had one of our very good friends marry us!
- I had TWO different dresses both of which were evening gowns not wedding dresses
- We gave a welcome speech together at our reception
- We had all 5 of our kids + our best friends + our dog in our wedding party
Being in the wedding industry did help when picking out our vendors. I knew a lot of them already so I also knew their work ahead of time. I cannot stress enough how important it is to hire people that you like, are easy to work with, listen to you, know what they’re doing, and add joy to your day. The wrong vendors can really take your day from a 10 to a 5. I’d say the top vendors to make sure you’re in love with (in no order) – photographer, hair & makeup artist, wedding planner/coordinator, dj/band.
Friends you’re with both your wedding planner/coordinator & photographer all damn day!! You need to love them and trust them. You want to look Ahhhh-mazing on your wedding day so you’d better hire someone you love and trust to put on your face and do that hair. And seriously your dj/band runs the whole reception and keeps the good vibes flowing for the whole evening. A bad dj can ruin a wedding reception. Tips #3 #4 #8 #10
As a bride, photographer, and wedding guest I say that a First Look is a must. Hands down. No doubts. Get all those photos out of the way so that you can actually enjoy and be a part of your wedding day. Having a first look insures that you get the photos you want without being interrupted by all the guests you want to talk to or all the wedding things that are happening on a timeline. It also insures that you can get some good lighting for those images and that you have time to enjoy the process. On top of all that do you really think it’s fair to keep your guests waiting for 2 hours to start a reception while you’re out taking photos? Nope. The biggest part though is that you get quiet time with you and your beloved before the whole wedding craziness kicks into full gear. You get to talk to each other, hug, kiss, laugh, cry, really look at each other. It helps to calm all those wedding jitters when you have your person there by your side and you’re chatting about what you’ve been doing all morning and how excited you are to marry them! Tip #6
NO matter how Type A you are and how much planning you’ve done you really need a wedding planner/coordinator. You can opt for many different types but I went with a Day of Coordinator. Which really is more a month of Coordinator if I’m being honest. Also don’t fully believe what your wedding venue tells you. They often claim that you get a day of coordinator with the venue. Yes they have a day of coordinator on site but he/she is there for the venue not for your every want/need/wish/desire and they’re not going to deal with all the possible problems of the day and make sure that you get your dream wedding. So hire a planner!!!!! For instance our wedding planner Chelsea of Illumination Event Studio (who is the most awesome ever) dealt with so many coordination things before the wedding in reaching out to all our vendors and on the day in making sure they were all there and doing their jobs on time. She did most of this without ever even having to come to me to discuss. This is because we had talked in length before the wedding and she knew what I wanted and how I wanted it all to go. Chelsea was a life saver and one of the main reasons our wedding day was empty of any disasters. She calmly told me about the weather forecast of rain and more rain and then continued rain for the day. She calmly told me that I had to make a rain call for the ceremony (it was supposed to be outside) and then she handled all the coordination for moving it inside. She asked me about the inside layout and then dealt with “flipping of the room”. I didn’t have to do anything because I knew she was handling it and I knew she would make sure it was beautiful. Tip #10
I had a very specific vision for our wedding day and for our reception. I wanted things done a certain way and those were very important to me. I stuck to my guns and my vendors made it all come together. This is where the This is YOUR wedding part also comes in. You know what you want so make sure you get it (if it’s possible). My florist and wedding decorator Casey of Cultivate Events Co. was awesome!!! She listened to my vision and suggested all sorts of great ideas to make it happen & she did an amazing job. From my non-traditional bouquet to our sweetheart table alcove. She made my wedding vision come together.
I had four things about the venue that I decided to do differently than they usually do. Some they were happier about than others but they did help to make them happen for me. This is why knowing your vision and sticking to your guns is soooooo important. Tip #4
- I didn’t use the bridal suite at all and opted for getting ready in the area that’s usually used for the guys. Honestly I hated the venue’s bridal suite. I think it’s too small and I also didn’t like the way it photographs. That’s the photographer in me for sure! Mike and the guys rented one of the cabins on site for them to get ready in while I took over The Miller’s Cottage with my girls.
- I wanted the reception room flipped. The area in the reception space that is usually used for the cake I instead wanted used for our sweetheart table and then the desserts went where the sweetheart table usually is. I wanted this for several reasons. From a photography stand point I didn’t want a wall of glass behind our sweetheart table and I really wanted the intimacy of a little alcove for our table. Our florist hooked us up and hung little twinkly lights and vines from the landing above and it was gorgeous.
- The reception area consists of two rooms at the venue. The main part has a really high ceiling (two stories) and the second room has a rather low ceiling. The second room is where the dance floor is and the two rooms are located right next to each other. The first dance always happens in the 2nd room because that’s where the dance floor is. I said NOPE, I’m having our first dance in the main room! So our floor plan for the room had the tables moved out a bit to create a little dance floor right in front of our sweetheart table for us. I wanted it in the main room mostly for photography purposes and because the majority of the guests were seated in this room. It was gorgeous and photographed so much better!!
- Lastly because of the height differences between the rooms I wanted to visually bring down the height of the main room and have it be eye catching. In comes my lighting guys Leap AV who said they could string bistro lights across the ceiling of the main room without doing any harm to any part of the building. What???? They were hired!!! They also put in all kinds of uplighting around both rooms to help them to flow together and bring in that glam feeling.
We definitely had a few splurges for the wedding! These were the parts that were so important to us that it made sense to splurge. As far as splurges go – that lighting was a splurge & 100% worth it!!!! Those croquembouche and desserts were a little extra but so worth it! I also opted last minute for a paper flower wall by Sweet Pear Paper and that I must say was one of the best decisions I made for the day! I opted for letterpress wedding stationary – splurge! And I opted to have the envelopes hand lettered and our seating chart was hand-lettered as well. More splurges but soooo pretty.
I’m also am a bit of a thrifty girl when I need to be so I did my part in keeping the budget down as much as possible. For instance I knew I wanted two wedding dresses! I also didn’t want to spend $20k. It helped that I wanted non-traditional and more evening gown”ish” dresses. I searched and found the perfect store where I fell in love with both dresses and spent less money on 2 than most brides spend on 1. To keep the budget down and have my splurges I also DIY’d a bunch of the wedding decor. I made the signs, provided the lanterns and candles and gold chargers. I bought the sequin runners and had some donated from a friend. I put together the lanterns the girls walked with, including spray painting them, and painted the mirror for the seating chart. It was a balance of splurge and DIY/budget for sure. Tip #7
I cannot stress enough how having YOUR wedding day is the most important part of making sure you have THE BEST DAY EVER! Be true to you and your partner and it will surely be a dream. A funny little side note. When writing my vows I included an f-bomb. That’s right I wrote into my vows the word fuck. Anyone who knows me knows that that’s a very Amber thing so it seemed natural to me. Well it was funny when during my vows I dropped this well placed “fuck” and I could hear all the laughs, some inhales of disbelief, and Mike was laughing. I didn’t care what anyone else would think. These were my vows to my husband what did it matter what people thought of them? Now I’m not saying that you should say fuck in your wedding vows but I am here to tell you that you need to be true to yourself and not care what anyone thinks about your choices for your wedding day!!! And that my friends is how you have the BEST DAY EVER!
Wedding Photography: Rebecca Keeling Studio | Rehearsal Dinner + Catering: The Mill at Fine Creek – Miller’s Cottage | Wedding Videography: Double Take | Wedding Day-of-Coordinator: Chelsea with Illumination Events Studio | Ceremony + Reception Site: The Mill at Fine Creek (moved inside due to rain) | Officiant: Family Friend | Gown: Glitter and Lace Formals | Shoes: Kate Spade + Gianni Bini | Hair: Lara with LGB Hair Designs | Makeup: Kara with Kara Waggoner Beauty | Groom’s Bands: Manly Bands | Formalwear: Men’s Wearhouse | Bride’s Accessories: Stella and Dot + Kendra Scott | Invitations + Stationery: Monday Morning Press | Flowers: Cultivate Event Co. (Formerly known as Stems and Sweets) | Flower Wall: Sweet Pear Paper | Calligraphy: The Lettering Lady | Lighting: Leap AV | Cake/Sweets: Liberty Baking, Edible Arrangements, + Family Friend
A Great Gatsby Affair to Remember plus 10 Wedding Planning Must Dos