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When you're planning a wedding, you really don't know how things are going to actually go the day of. You hope that you do, and you plan for months and months and months, but while planning well typically ensures a smoother day, you have no way of foreseeing what can go wrong, OR what could be more impossibly perfect than you dreamed.
I'm one of those worst-case-scenario people - I kept my expectations managed - but gratefully, my wedding fell into the latter category. So for the brides who are currently in planning/worrying/dreaming mode, I wanted to share some things I did while planning that contributed to the beauty and joy of the day!
(Note - every bride is so different. What I like may not be what you like, but when I was planning I found that inspiration from other brides turned out to be helpful to me, either in the sense that it helped me get good ideas or helped me understand what I didn't want. Also, you should know that I'm a wedding photographer and a wedding blogger, so I might chime in with that perspective sometimes as well!)
Here are 10 things I did that made my wedding really special!
Gosh, I can't say enough how much our venue influenced our day. The day is inseparable from the venue, it really is (and I'm saying that both from previous wedding industry experience and personal). If you don't have a beautiful place to say I do, and you don't really love your venue, that makes a difference. There are other things that I think are okay to make compromises on, but this is one that you should fight to not settle for.
We had the hardest time finding a venue because we were looking for something really specific - we wanted secluded, which is hard to find in the area of Florida we lived in. We wanted a little corner of the world that didn't feel like it was close to anything. That was something that was just really important to us from the beginning. We looked for a good four months before we got engaged, and then intensely for about three weeks after...everything was either too expensive or not inclusive enough or too barn-y or not secluded enough or just plain out not pretty. We decided not to settle and keep looking, and we stumbled upon this absolute GEM of a property called Legacy Lane. Their website interested us, but it wasn't until actually going for a visit that our jaws dropped and we knew it was the one for us within five minutes of being there. (Highly recommend checking it out no matter where you are at, it's a great destination venue as well!)
But our venue was the place where all of our pictures were taken, where we got ready, where we actually spent the whole weekend (told you it was a special place), where we pledged our lives to each other in front of our families and friends...and even weeks after the wedding, that's the number 1 thing people are talking about when we reminisce about the wedding, "That venue!". It mattered!
This was partially on accident (divine accident) but we somehow found the most amazing team of people to help our wedding day vision come to life. I can't stress enough how much the vendors made a difference in how smooth and peaceful and beautiful our day went. I had almost zero worries (I say "almost" because there was a seating chart issue that had to do with a couple guests, but that was on me) the day of, which is something that just set the tone of the day. I didn't have to be on top of everything and I didn't even know half of the logistics that were going on...I was just focused on having a good time with my bridesmaids getting ready! Had we not had people in charge who knew what they were doing, it would have been much more stressful. Here's a quick note on some people we'll be grateful for our whole lives (and some people I HIGHLY recommend you check out)...
First, the coordinators at Legacy Lane. WOW. They took care of all of my decorations, the reception seating, the ceremony set up, getting the guests where they needed to go, making sure our outdoor day had these incredibly nice portable restrooms...they provided a bartender, everything was clean and moved quickly, they coordinated with my other vendors to receive deliveries and tell them where to go. It was truly perfect and they arranged it all! Had the venue not provided it, we may not have hired a coordinator, but Marianne was invaluable and I'm really glad we had her help (and all of the venue staff's).
Our videographer, Allen Johnson from ASO Creative LLC.....I had put my foot down about getting a videographer because it really wasn't in the budget, but then my husband found Allen. He was affordable, so I said yes, but then he showed up on our big day and he was one of my favorite people there. He somehow managed to be everywhere at once. He was so fun, so invested in his work, so willing to help with whatever we needed (tying the groomsmen's ties, for example, directing the ring bearers) and truly so kind. Then we got the videos back and I think I did nothing else for two days straight but watch them....it was priceless to have those moments captured that way. PRICELESS. My friends said it should be in theaters. He gave us this insanely beautiful highlight film and then we also got all of the raw footage from the ceremony, dancing, dinner speeches, and getting ready (best gift ever). We would have lost all of that if Allen hadn't been there. My parents cried all over again.
Our photographer, Jenna Nicole Photography, also did such a beautiful, amazing job. As a wedding photographer myself it was hard for me to entrust it to someone else, but I did not have any worries with her. She was AWESOME. Just so capable, and also super fun and kind....it meant a lot to me that I somehow ended up with these terrific vendors that were people I genuinely liked. She kept us on schedule without making us feel rushed, got such creative shots, and was in the right place at the right time. She gave us a ton of preview photos like, three days later, which is unheard of, and they were all so beautiful - deep in color, clear - they captured the emotions of the day perfectly, which is just what I'd always wanted. I can't wait to blow them up all over our home.
The food, y'all. The food matters. The kind of food we picked (barbecue) doesn't work for every wedding, but our wedding was rustic, so it was perfect. While it wasn't your typical country shindig - it was very elegant in its way - it still was one of the best decisions we made. We picked 4 Rivers, which is the yummiest barbecue in Florida, and not only were they the most amazing catering staff (they really were also so kind and so on top of things), this FOOD. Was just out of this world. Everyone was raving about it (still dreaming about the brisket, my dad says) and several people said it was the best wedding food they'd ever had. It can be really tempting to do a traditional catering place with "just okay" food, but having GOOD food, no matter what it is, means happy guests and a happier you, honestly. I didn't realize while I was planning just how long the eating portion of the reception takes and I can't imagine how disappointing it would have been to have bad or just okay food.
Joe at The Garden Shed Florist made me this ethereal, lovely bouquet that was a masterpiece. More on this in a minute, but my flower situation was nearly a crisis and Joe was my knight in shining armor. My mom found him, and I'm so glad she did - I took a major chance with him, having never heard of his shop or seen his work, and he did NOT disappoint. I loved my flowers and was so proud to have them in every photo.
Our DJ, Doug Decker from Grant Hemond & Associates, was kind of my example of what a perfect DJ should do. I had very specific dreams for what the music of every part of the day was to sound like. He made sure every part of the ceremony was smooth, and likewise with the reception. He wasn't overbearing, at all - he was so tasteful with when and how he chose to speak. (I've been to some weddings where the DJs talk way too much, can't transition music, or worse - try to jump in the dancing. Doug did none of that.) He was also an exceptionally kind person.
All the people involved in serving us really did their jobs so well. And I'm really glad I chose them!
Weddings are freaking expensive. And while yes, we did go over wedding budget (I so champion not doing that, but I also wouldn't change anything about our day....it's a tricky balance!), I do think we did a good job allocating funds to the parts of the day that really mattered to us. For example, we only purchased my bridal bouquet. All other flowers were fake. Our venue came with decorations for the tables, and my parents made the bridesmaids' bouquet by hand (thank you, Hobby Lobby), Not only was that a special touch of love from them that's memorialized in photos, but we also didn't want to spend hundreds of dollars on flowers that die in a day. That's just our personal preference (I have some friends who have dreamed about their wedding flowers their whole life, and like, it's up to you!).
We didn't spend the money on a guest photobooth, either, or have a creative guestbook. We sent out digital save the dates rather than pay more for fancy invites or postage. Those are just things that didn't matter to us. But we DID spend a lot on the venue, and I spent a lot on my dress (though I didn't get a going away dress and saved there). We paid for a great photographer. We paid (a lot) for a killer honeymoon making memories we'll never forget (worth every penny). It was those things that we determined were really going to matter ten years from now, and I think we were right. I think there are a lot of little costs that make a wedding so expensive, but you can definitely tailor it to fit your wedding vision and wedding budget, and save.
I cannot tell you the amount of blogs I've read that say something along the lines of "Forget everybody else's opinions and just focus on what YOU want!" I get the mentality of "too many cooks in the kitchen ruins the sauce", and if your family is difficult, by all means be selective with the opinions you take into consideration and the people you allow to speak into your day. I didn't take everyone'sopinion or all of the opinions I got and run with them blindly. BUT had I not taken advice from my mom, my mom-in-love, my sis-in-love, and my groom (even when I wasn't sure I fully agreed) the day would have been noticeably less than what it was. They had so many good ideas and were so helpful!
I feel like no one ever focuses on this part, or talks about it much, but they should. Our rehearsal dinner was one of my very favorite parts of the weekend, and I would highly recommend every bride put serious thought into making a memorable evening before the big day. We invited our out of town family and just a few out of town friends, as well as our immediate family and wedding party. Keeping it small and intimate and very family-focused was important to us, although we ended up having about 40 people because we just have huge families. We catered Italian food, since our wedding food was BBQ - wouldn't recommend having a similar meal or anything - and got desserts from Costco (soooo yummy, although I didn't actually get to have any the night of. My one regret.)
We asked our parents to give speeches...my dad cried the entire time giving his and everybody was cheering him on. My groom's parents said some words I never want to forget. Then my groom and I gave speeches and personalized gifts to our families, thanking them for getting us to this point in our lives. (My dad was pretty much only made of tears by the end of that.) I think everyone in the room actually teared up at one point or another, but the biggest surprise was my groom (who NEVER cries) getting so choked up he had to pause during his speech. That's how much emotion was in the room....it was just truly special. The best way to end our single lives. I had one of my maids of honor videotape the speeches, so I have those moments forever. And then we laughed and ate and had music and socialized for a while before clearing out. It wasn't like it was anything super formal, but it was just sweet and so precious to us.
My best friend and maid of honor did my makeup (and hers, and her hair, and another maid of honor's - she's kind of a superhero). She's been doing my makeup for every special occasion since a while before I met my groom, so it was perfect that she did it for the biggest day of my life. And my makeup was the BEST. Moreover, I wasn't stressed that it would look bad because she's done it so many times and she knows my face.
One of my groom's great friends, who had been involved in our engagement surprise as well (by driving the boat and building us a small cross), has a woodworking business, so we asked him to build us a cross for our wedding backdrop. It was absolutely a work of art, and it was meaningful to us that he made it with his hands.
I asked two of my great friends, who used to be the worship pastors at my church and who got me the connection for my first wedding photography gig, to sing the song as we walked down the aisle. They did that as a wedding gift to us, and it was the prettiest rendition of the song I'd ever heard, and just made it extra special that they were singing it rather than just having a DJ play it or someone I didn't know playing it.
Our cousin, who is a professional chef and baker, made our TWO wedding cakes (a bride's and a groom's) as her wedding gifts to us. She put so much more love into it than a traditional cake baker would have.... the details of the cakes were incredible. Everything was even better than the Pinterest models I'd sent her, and it all tasted incredible, too. We really loved that we'll look back on pictures and know she made it for us.
It just means so much, even looking back at the videos and photos of our wedding knowing that we had people we love pour into creating the day. Some things you don't have to hire vendors for.
Okay, so this is a big one - so many bridesmaids gifts are something that say "bridesmaid", or are some sort of box with wedding day essentials they can use, but it's so much money to spend on gifts that they can't really use again. I wanted to give my girls something more personal, more practical, but also something that was beautiful. I also didn't have a ton to spend on that, which made it harder - they deserved the world but definitely couldn't afford some of the gifts I saw online.
Kadlee robes were the PERFECT compromise. Seriously. They're bridal robes- soft, silky, cool to the touch, and just the right length to cover you up. I knew I wanted us all to match for the getting ready photos, and because I was gifted a Kadlee robe once, I knew just how awesome this gift was. (I wear mine all the time when I'm getting ready in the morning or getting ready for bed). They're really comfy! They come in a variety of colors - I picked the floral ones just because I liked those best - and I didn't personalize mine (but Kadlee does have an option for putting the names on the back of the robes). And I didn't break the bank - the floral ones were like, $16 each, or close, which is super reasonable. The girls really liked them, and we got some really cute photos from it! The best part for me is that they can take those now and do whatever they want with them. It's not like they can't wear it for other occasions or around the house without being constantly reminded of my wedding day or getting funny looks from family members.
Because the robes were so well-priced, I also got my bridesmaids personalized necklaces off Etsy with the coordinates of our most special place (for my two sisters-in-law, it was the wedding venue, for my best friend, the place where met, etc.) They were gold, like our wedding colors, and so some of them choose to wear them on that same day, others just treated it like a normal necklace and can now wear it whenever they want! I liked the gifts I chose because they were really pretty, but they can still use them in everyday life.
Every wedding is similar, but the beauty of weddings is that you get to make them your own. I would highly recommend not letting tradition dictate all of your decisions. If you want to do something, or don't want to do something, it is your wedding! (Not all about only what you want, like I mentioned earlier, but it is your wedding.)
Our wedding was traditional, but we there were some things we did, or didn't do, or did differently, that made it uniquely ours.
I didn't get a wedding band. My engagement ring was perfectly perfect, with a twisted band I'd always dreamed about, and adding anything else to it just didn't feel right at the time (not to mention it was hard to find one that fit and wedding bands are expensive. But our reasoning was mostly because my engagement ring was so beautiful and special it didn't need adorning). So right before the ceremony, I took my ring off and sent it to the best man via bridesmaid, and then my groom put it back on my finger when they asked for the rings. Definitely have not regretted that decision, though it's not for everyone.
I had two maids of honor, which is not really a thing, but the three of us have been a trio for a while and it had to be that way for the wedding. It was great.
We wrote our own vows, which is becoming more and more popular, but in lieu of a unity symbol during our ceremony, we had our church pastor read a passage of Scripture and talk about it to our guests.
We didn't do a first look. And we wouldn't if we had to do it over...just our personal preference but the moment locking eyes down the aisle was so special. We did write each other letters to read the morning of, though, which was sweet.
Typically, during the reception, either the bride and groom sit alone or they sit at a head table with their wedding party. Well, we did neither - we sat ourselves at a table with our families, and we really loved getting to be so close to them all night long. We also did our mom & dad dances after dinner, not before.
Would HIGHLY recommend doing this during engagement! Statistics show that couples who do premarital counseling have a lower divorce rate. Personally, I liked it because it gave us the space to have some hard, important conversations guided by someone who's worked with countless other couples. We did the SYMBIS counseling (Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts) with Heather Widmer at CCST (Tampa) and definitely loved getting the resources we did through that program. While I it's too early to tell all the good it's done for our marriage, it definitely has helped in some specific areas, even just as individuals.
If there's any advice I would give to brides-to-be, even just a month after our big day, it would be to plan more for the marriage than you do for the wedding, because at the end of it all, the wedding's just one day (albeit one perfect, blissful day). And to pick great people who are going to be a major help to you (vendors, friends, wedding party, etc.).
Want more Kadlee approved advice? Check out our weekly bridal blog! What recommendations would you take to heart? What did you do on your wedding day that made it perfect? Share with us in the comments!
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