Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Unsolicited Advice for Your Engagement: Part II

(Or How to Actually Pull This Thing Off)

{fingerprint wedding bands by Fabuluster via Etsy; engagement ring passed down from Brian's grandmother and mother}

Today I've got Part II of my wedding manifesto for you (here's Part I)!  This is where I will bestow on you any and all lessons I learned about the actual planning of a wedding -- the technical getting stuff done and budgeting parts that really suck.  For the most part, these are simple thoughts that might be obvious or totally irrelevant to many of you, but they are the things that I wish I had known from the beginning.  So just in case any of you out there are as clueless as I was, here's what I've got.

How to Get it Done (with a limited budget, limited time, and limited patience)
Forget about the colors.  You absolutely do not have to have wedding "colors" or a wedding "theme."  This is not a sorority semi.  A wedding is supposed to be a celebration of your relationship and your beginning a new life together, and what in the world does that have to do with colors and themes?  If you are the party-planning type, then go for it.  If you're not, then chill.  It will be fine if your invitations don't match your shoes or whatever.  If you like fried chicken but you're having an art gallery wedding, have fried chicken (we did).  If you like more than two colors in the world and they just don't all match, welcome to the club.  The pieces don't have to fit together like a puzzle -- that would be quite boring, wouldn't it?

{"Visions of Love" holographic glasses clearly don't match with anything}

Look for a venue that doesn't need much decorating, or a place that has no decorations at all.  If you find a place like an art gallery, or a shnazzy restaurant, there's only so much that you need to add to it.  On the other hand, you could also find a big industrial space that is super cheap and then spend the money to rent cool furniture and set up a lot of decorations to transform the place into your own personalized vision.  This will obviously take more time (but maybe not more money if the space is a great deal because it's empty!), but if you've got it, use it!  

One thing to ask about for an indoor space is candle usage -- the venue we used didn't allow us to use real candles because of the fire risk.  I'm not that into candles, so I was OK with it, but if you're planning a candle-lit ceremony, you'd better ask first!

Also, I think we need to talk about outdoor spaces.  The problem is that they can be deceptively expensive.  I assumed that gardens and parks would be way cheaper alternatives to the indoor spaces I toured, but it turns out, you almost always have to put up a tent, and bathrooms, and provide kitchen equipment, and possibly heaters, and it all just snowballs.  So if you want to have an outdoor wedding, make sure you ask about all the add-ons before getting too attached.

{our ceremony at Terra}

Other things to ask about at any venue:
- Alcohol.  Can you buy and bring your own?  If not, it's going to cost you an arm and a leg (trust me, it did).
- Parking.  Some places don't even have spots for your vendors to park in!  Maybe that's just in SF?  Anyway, it was insanity.
Insurance.  Do you have to get this?  How?  How much will it cost?
- Does the facility rental price include an "event manager" and if so, what exactly does that mean.  This was a source of a lot of confusion for me.  The venue we rented included an "event manager" in the price, and I thought that meant like a wedding planner.  But apparently, your caterer is supposed to do all the set up and take down and all that stuff, so an event manager is kind of useless, frankly.  If you don't have to pay for one, then don't.
- Are there weird laws that require you to hire a security guard?  These laws exists in San Francisco for events >150 guests.  It costs $30/hour.
- Children.  Is there like a playroom or something?  I'm not sure what children require, but I think you should ask the venue people about them.

Find a venue with a max capacity that matches your ideal-sized wedding.  You will thank me for this when you never have to fight about inviting so-and-so at the last minute because the guest list has already reached the max capacity of the venue.

A wedding is made up of two distinct parts (obvi).  As obvious as this may seem, it helped me a lot when I started treating the ceremony and reception as two different events to plan, the first for me and for Brian, and the second for our guests.  The ceremony is yours – hold on to that as tightly as you can (graciously, of course) and do not give in to other people’s unsolicited advice and opinions about what ought to be said or not said during that time (except for mine because I'm telling you to do what you want).  It may be a little different if you are having a religious ceremony, but within the boundaries of whatever religion you celebrate, do only what you want and everything you want.  The very point of having a wedding is to feel the simultaneous weight and lightness of vowing your love and life to another person.  So do it in whatever way makes you feel that in all of its hugeness.  It will knock you off your feet more than you ever imagined (and that's the point).  

The reception (if you're having a medium or large wedding) is your gift to your guests.  It is probably going to be fun, but it's probably not going to be romantic (and that's OK because you'll probably need an emotional break after the whirlwind of your ceremony).  It is about celebrating you, but what will make people think you had an awesome wedding has nothing to do with you at that reception.  It's about the food, the drinks, the music.  That's what people love about a good wedding, and hate about a bad one.  And that leads me to my next point....

Spend money on your reception, not on your ceremony.  There is no reason to spend $200 on a gilded, custom-imprinted ring dish.  There will be a picture of it that you will look at once and never print out, and then you won’t know where to put the stupid thing after the wedding.  Just say no.  You will be so consumed by your own emotions and thoughts by the time you get to the ceremony that you won’t notice a thing around you.

{Easy peasy DIY ceremony decor.  On the right: CB2 hanging whirly candle holders with orchids}

Don't serve people food or alcohol that you wouldn't order at a nice restaurant, even if it means you can't afford fancy napkins.  This is like etiquette 101, but just like you wouldn't invite people to your house and serve them frozen TV dinners (if you would, I think you need to re-evaluate your lifestyle), don't invite people to your wedding and serve them a sub-par meal.  The reception is a gift to your guests, remember?  (Plus, do you really want to eat a sub-par meal at your own wedding?)  But you should know that this usually means that the food and alcohol is going to be EXPENSIVE.  Especially if you're like me, and you generally order things that are organic/all natural, and you hate cheap tequila.  The result for us was that we spent half of our budget on food and alcohol alone, and that is maybe the only decision that I feel 100% comfortable with.  (If you're looking for an absolutely fabulous caterer in the Bay Area that does organic food of any type - even organic Southern food! - and will really try to stick to your budget, check out Back to Earth Catering - the people who do Gather restaurant in Berkeley).  So feed your guests as you would want to be fed, even if it means you can't afford fancy napkins (new Golden Rule?).

Don’t rent fancy napkins (or tablecloths).  You are not hosting a party for royalty (unless you are Will or Kate - and if you are, *internet curtsy*).  No one will know except you that your tablecloths are polyester and not Egyptian cotton.  Although I will say that a nice table runner will go a long way.  (I was convinced that I would sew some of these for my own wedding...DIY delusion).

Fancy chairs are optional.  See above.

{un-fancy linens, un-fancy chairs, and DIY centerpieces made by me + family + bridesmaids}

Paper is EXPENSIVE.  I am convinced that once a woman is bestowed with the title "bride to be," some hormonal shift occurs that makes all paper goods and pretty fonts seem absolutely irresistible.  Yes, the sight of an "invitation suite" with cut-outs and fold-outs and letter-press and ties and textured fibrous paper will suddenly have an unnatural ability to pull at your heart strings.  Even if you've never sent a letter via snail mail before, the mailbox will unexpectedly seem swoonfully romantic.  This is a symptom of the wedding crazies.  You must remember that paper goods are ephemeral and inconsequential to all but maybe 5 of the people who will attend your wedding.

I know the paper spell is hard to break, so let's try logic.  A normal price for a cute invitation is anywhere between $4-7/person.  For a wedding of 150 people, that’s AT LEAST $600 + envelopes and postage, so like $850-1300 for JUST the invitations (no RSVP cards for the fancily-inclined were included in that calculation).  Seriously.  And let's not even talk about the trees (who am I?).  I would recommend doing the print-it-yourself option via Etsy, and/or only sending real paper invitations to the people you know will keep it, and then doing paperless post for the rest.  Here are the wedding invitations I "bought" on Etsy (I paid $50 for the personalized pdf) and then printed myself:

{it's this invitation and monogram design at Kim's Custom Gifts via Etsy and printed by me; save-the-date designed by me}

Other paper things that will eat up your budget: place card holders, signs, thank you cards.  These are all so easy to DIY!  For place card holders and signs, you can download pretty fonts on your computer and print them at home (or at Kinko's) on pretty paper (that you hopefully find on discount).  For thank you cards, do as I did: get a wedding picture printed as a postcard via an online site that will give you a "100 free postcards" promotion (and then unsubscribe before the deadline).  There were two pictures I picked out for the postcards, both from our day after session:

{taken by my mom}

Now do you feel better about foregoing the letterpress?  (P.S. you can easily make a blackboard from a piece of wood/old mirror/old IKEA furniture piece in my case - I'm not even kidding you - and some blackboard paint from the craft store.)

Throw money at technicality-type problems like transportation.  No one wants to figure out how to transport a whole bunch of people without paying a lot of money for it.  It's not worth your time - just pay it forward.

{scoff all you want at my cliche white limo, but riddle me this: how the heck else do you transport 10 people 20 miles without having to worry about parking or where to put the champagne glasses?}

Flowers are a good DIY project, in theory.  I decided to DIY all the flowers for our wedding, and it ended up costing me around $400, which I considered to be a great deal.  I ordered all the flowers at the SF Flower Mart in advance and then went to pick them up the day before the wedding.  All of this story ends well, but part of it is something you should avoid.

This is the good part.  The afternoon before the wedding, my bridesmaids and my family and I went over to the venue and put together all the flowers for the centerpieces, and the big birch logs and orchid stems for the ceremony.  It was quite a chaotic scene, all of us splashing water everywhere and frantically shoving stems into spray-painted wine bottles, but it is also one of my favorite wedding memories.  I know nothing about flowers or flower arranging (nor did I have time to become a flower expert in the 9 months of my engagement), but the whole experience made me care a whole lot less about how the flowers came out than about having my friends there with me, making things for my wedding.  And it was affordable and awesome.

{photo taken by my friend/bridesmaid, Sogol; note that the six sqaure flower arrangements were put together in the bridal room seconds before the ceremony with flowers that arrived as a surprise delivery from my family in Turkey who couldn't make it to the wedding -- thanks to Sogol for being an on-the-spot DIY queen!}

{imperfect DIY flowers; photo taken by my friend Aditi}

What a lovely DIY success story, right?  Well.  Let me tell you, the bouquet-making on the day of the wedding was a different story my friends.  This time, when I woke up, none of the purple flowers I had ordered for the bridesmaids bouquets had opened up like the merchant said they would.  (Note to self: never again believe a flower seller when he tells you that the flowers are supposed to look like that.)  So I had no bridesmaids flowers.  What would they do with their hands when they walked down the aisle?  You are probably staring at your screen thinking I am a crazy person for caring what my friends did with their hands when they walked twenty feet down an aisle, but these kinds of things matter to you on your wedding day.  So it was time to turn to Plan B.  What's Plan B, you ask?  The rehearsal dinner flowers!  Yes, I frantically pulled apart the centerpieces I had taken home from the rehearsal dinner, searching for multiples of flowers that would go with the mustard-yellow bridesmaid dresses.  Stems flying everywhere.  But it worked.  There were plenty of second-hand flowers to go around, and we all got together and made some pretty OK bouquets.

So the lesson is: ALWAYS take home the rehearsal dinner centerpieces just in case your bouquet-making aspirations are dashed by the lies of your flower merchant.  This one's important people.

{unexpected DIY; Tasha, making her bouquet from the rehearsal dinner remnants}

{good enough, eh?}

{they look pretty legit from far away}
{my bouquet - also DIY-ed for under $25, luckily without any flower mishaps}

Go broke before you go big (in terms of dress shopping strategy, that is).  Even if you've got the budget for a designer gown (I'm jealous), check out a discount designer place first (like the Glamour Closet, where I found my dress!), just like you would check out T.J. Maxx before going to Bloomingdale's (or is that just me...).  You never know what you'll find, and plus, it's always more of a rush when you find something you love without expecting to.  (And don't forget to invite me to go dress shopping with you.  I LOVE wedding dresses, and I'm good luck.  OK that might be a lie, or at least not based on any substantial facts, but still, invite me please.  K thanks.)

{my dear dress that now sits in a box}

Friends don't make friends buy dresses from a bridesmaid dress shop.  I love the different-but-coordinated bridemaid dresses trend, but it's pretty hard to pull off when your bridesmaids live all over the country and are very busy people.  Having all your girls wear the same thing is simpler, and less stressful, and thus (unsurprisingly), it's the route that I opted for.  However, that does not mean that you have to go the traditional bridesmaid store route.  There are a bazillion pretty dresses out there in the world, and a lot of them cost less than $150 (which is basically the low-end at a bridesmaid store).  Plus, who in the world has time to go to like 5 fittings for a dress she didn't even necessarily want in the first place?  I found my bridesmaid dresses for $40 (including shipping) on Lulus.com, a site that I order from for myself all the time.  That way, those who needed to get alterations could still afford them, and those who fit well enough in a S-M-L sizing scheme weren't forced into the rigid bridesmaid dress fitting routine.  Just because it's a wedding doesn't mean you have to use wedding vendors, especially for something so easy to find at retail, like a dress.

{pockets and bows}

No one else reads wedding blogs.  Just because you’ve seen it a million times doesn’t mean it’s over-done when your guests have probably never seen it before!  Mason-jars-as-vases?  Cork place card holders?  Totally novel ideas to everyone in the room who has not recently gotten married, and I promise you won't be infringing any copyrights by stealing a centerpiece idea from Style Me Pretty (don't quote me on that, I'm not a lawyer yet).  So don’t stress too much about making your wedding the coolest hipster-indie-modern-enchanted-forest-hollywood-glam wedding that has never been done before; just make it something you like.

Ask your fiance to be in charge of the things that make him/her most uncomfortable.  Weddings make some people uncomfortable (generally).  So minimize by giving them control to make the things they dread the most more comfortable for them.  For example, Brian is not so into the whole dancing in public thing (unless the "dancing" in question involves fist pumping), so I delegated the first song choosing duties to him.  That way, he picked something he liked and felt comfortable with, and I was comfortable because he was comfortable, so we could both enjoy the dance and not feel that awkward.  Success.

Don’t base your decision of whether to see your fiance before the ceremony or not on the potential for photographs.  Whether you want to see your fiance before the ceremony or not is a very personal decision, and I don’t think it should be based on practicality.  Yes, it is easier if you see your partner before the ceremony and take portraits and family pictures.  But if you have a grandma who sternly objects to doing something that is such bad luck (in her opinion), and if you have a fiance who sometimes grasps on to tradition with tooth and nail, then don’t push it.  Pictures are nice, but that’s not the point.  I don’t know what it would have been like if we had seen each other beforehand, but I can tell you that there is no picture that could possibly capture what I felt when I walked down the aisle and saw Brian standing up there, waiting.  It wasn’t worth the risk to me that I wouldn’t have that feeling, just to get some frame-able shots.  See East Side Bride.

{THIS moment}

Day after sessions rock (especially if you choose not to do portraits before the ceremony).  Frankly, I have no idea how women out there go do a wedding portrait session after the ceremony.  They must have super human abilities to look pretty amidst emotional tumult, and ridiculous patience.  I was way too overwhelmed after the ceremony to go take portraits where I somehow would look serene and "bridal," there was a high potential for 5-year-old face (have I told you about how I do that when I'm really really happy?  It's not pretty.), and after having taken all the family portraits I just wanted a drink (or 3).  Having a day after session also meant that I didn't have to worry about finding a venue that had easy access to good picture spots, or rushing to get portraits in before sunset.  Plus, I loved the fact that I got to go to my own cocktail hour.  Once the actual reception started, I barely got to talk to anyone, so that time turned out to be really important, and it also made the whole thing feel a bit less formal for me.  Try asking your photographers to come later (you really don't need 100 pictures of yourself putting on your make-up...so over-rated), or leave early like right after the first dance (you really don't need 100 professional pictures of your guests getting down at the reception -- funny but capable of being adequately captured by amateurs), and do a short day after session instead.

Here are a few from our day after session, just because sharing is caring:

OK, I'm done playing show-and-tell now.  Thanks for indulging me.

Wait!  One last tip: don’t eat scallops the night before your wedding.  Trust me, it's a bad idea.

The end.

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