Wedding Wisdom: Advice From Former Brides and Grooms
Readers offer tips and tricks that they wish they knew before they married, from checking in with the caterers to keeping tissues on hand for the ceremony.
There are some lessons that can only be learned after your wedding day.
We asked our readers to share some of what they had learned from their trips down the aisle. Here is a selection of tales of lost rings, ripped gowns and sweaty nuptials from former brides and grooms.
1. Cherish Time With Those Who Matter
It’s O.K. to not invite people. We stressed over the guest list for a long time, but by keeping it to close family and friends we were able to spend quality time with all our guests. Looking back, I know that the day wasn’t just for us. It was also to celebrate the love and support of those who helped us get to this point in our lives, as a couple and as individuals. I was lucky enough to dance with my grandfather at my wedding. It was the last time we were together as a family, he passed a few months after. It will remain one of my favorite memories of that day.
2. Ring Overboard
Our wedding rings were kept in one jewelry box that our best man was holding in his pocket. My ring had a bracket with the center engagement ring inside; my husband's ring was in the pocket of the box. We repeatedly told the best man that my ring was loose, so be careful opening the spring-loaded box. Unfortunately, that advice wasn't enough. As I was coming down the aisle with my father, he opened the box to get the rings ready without looking at it closely. My ring popped out and fell to the deck of our Waterside Lake ceremony. The engagement ring popped out and fell into the lake! Our best man crashed to the deck, but couldn’t save it. My husband thought he passed out from the 90-degree weather, but soon learned that my engagement ring had fallen into the lake. I didn't know this happened until the middle of the ceremony when my husband had the ring in his hand, and I whispered “Where's the other half?” He said, “Just roll with it." So the lesson learned: Have the rings in separate boxes or have them tied to a pillow. Fortunately, we had a successful ending with a ring retrieval. We used the photographers light and a very trustworthy friend in the lake. My ring was presented to me at the reception, and all was made good again.
3. How to Wine and Dine
I wish I had stayed in close touch with the caterer the week leading up to the wedding. Because of a miscommunication, I walked into my reception to find the wrong entree on the tables. Check in all week long as you prep for the reception, and triple check the menu for any changes. My brother-in-law went out and bought a bottle of each of the wines the caterer had suggested for his daughter's upcoming wedding so he could sample them at home. This was a genius idea. You could taste them at a leisurely pace, and you can also know what they taste like an hour after they've been opened.
4. Make Your Wedding Feel Like Home
Money saved! We got married in our living room. Then, five months later, we had a cookout with a D.J., open bar and food. Everyone said they had a blast, and a couple people even thanked us for being “nontraditional.” We invited all of our friends in town, got a couple of Airbnbs and planned a Detroit-themed weekend. We spent $3,000 for everything, cash. Then saved up and spent $15,000 on our two-week honeymoon to East Africa.
5. Not For the Faint of Heart
Take location seriously because your photos show so much more than a beautiful view. I loved that we had our wedding in Mexico, but the weather wasn't for the faint of heart. We didn't even make it to pictures before our wedding party was sweaty, hot and out of their suits. Yes, aesthetics are the ultimate goal, but unhappy people aren't fun. And that's the point of weddings: fun.
6. All the Wrong Things Make All the Best Stories
Just as my then-fiancé and I stood up from this photo, he stepped on my dress and ripped part of the train. I'd been so careful to shield my dress from horses, dirt paths, unfinished wood, my own heels and grass. None of this was easy when you're getting married in a field outside of a ski lodge in Idaho. In one second, all of that work was rendered fruitless. I wish someone had told me that no wedding is perfect, that something is always going to go wrong. More likely, numerous things are going to go wrong. The hairstylist will get amnesia and forget what you agreed on (this also happened to me). The cake will fall apart. The flowers won't arrive until after the ceremony. People will give toasts regardless of your efforts to stop them from grabbing a microphone after a bottle of wine. That's just what weddings are like, and that's O.K. It's more than O.K. A perfect wedding is a boring wedding. It's the things that go wrong that become the stories you'll tell the most after the fact, especially when you're trying to comfort other brides.
7. An Old Tradition Gone Wrong
Don’t let your girlfriends have the keys to your wedding suite. They put crackers in our bed and said it was an old Swedish tradition. It ruined our sleep and we were so tired from the long day.
8. The Less the Merrier
Don’t make assumptions about how many guests will decline. Plan as if each invitee will be there. This means you need to think carefully and practically about the guest list. We started with a large list and delicately (and sometimes uncomfortably) whittled it down. This is your day. Who do you actually want to share it with?
9. If It’s Fine, It’s Good Enough
As a professional event planner, I thought I would handle my own wedding planning easily. In reality it meant that I overthought and second-guessed every decision because I thought it had to be “perfect” — in hindsight, I wish I had realized that “good” was fine! I sent my bridesmaids dozens of emails with ideas for which bracelet I should wear. I researched countless floral arrangements and color schemes. I meticulously sewed 100 napkins in vintage floral fabrics. And for what? I wish I'd just relaxed, and enjoyed the process, and stopped doing so much work to decide everything. I always joke with my brides now, “Did you keep dating after you got engaged, or did you stop looking for a partner? Were you able to meet every single available person out there, or did you stop when you found one you liked?” I wish I'd applied that lesson to my own event and looked at a floral arrangement and said, Yup, that works just fine.
10. Listen to Your Feet
Wear whatever shoes you want. I wore Toms, because they're comfortable. People will try and tell you that you should wear cute sandals or heels, but believe me you will thank yourself if you wear shoes that you enjoy. They're your feet and you have to stand a lot of the day. Be comfy.
11. Stranded at the Altar
Get a day-of-wedding coordinator! Our hired transportation for guests to the venue dropped the ball, leaving many stranded without a ride. The minutes before walking down the aisle were not spent sipping champagne but on the phone screaming at the bus company while my brother was helping great-aunts figure out Uber. We spent a lot on the wedding, and I wish we spent just a little bit more for someone to handle the hiccups in the day.
12. An Accordion Too Many
Although now 41 years ago, I still give all brides the same advice: Make sure your band is listed in the contract by musician’s name and instrument. I booked my band with a band leader who played at the Chicago Gold Coast Hotel. I verbally specified a piano, sax, drums and bass and said I hated electric guitars and accordions. But it wasn’t written in the contract. So guess what showed up! My only compensation was that my lawyer uncle got a 50 percent refund, but it was too late to change out the musicians that night!
13. Don’t Sweat the Weather
I always dreamed of the perfect fall outdoor event. I was glued to the weather reports leading up to the ceremony. It didn't rain, thank goodness, but it was very hot and humid despite it being October. My husband's glasses fogged up during the vows and his best man was sweating more than I thought humanly possible.
14. PayPal Is Not for Vendors
Make backups of everything that is important to you, both on paper and in terms of equipment. Oh, and don’t pay your wedding vendors through PayPal.
15. I Do, and a Tissue, Please.
I neglected to slide some tissues up the sleeve of my lacy top. I spent much of the ceremony sniffing and trying to unobtrusively wipe tears of joy from my face. Oh, and we also forgot to make sure our cameras had fresh batteries for their flash attachments, But that's no longer the problem it was in 1973!
16. Perfection Is Overrated
Don't stress over the small details. They almost never matter. Some brides and grooms want to plan the perfect wedding party and often get so absorbed in the planning that they think that the small things (tablecloth material, uplight color, entrance songs) will make or break the night. They forget about the important things (spending time with each other and families). As long as the two people getting married are happy (and the guests are well fed), the celebration will go down as a good one.