The question has been posed and you’ve decided on forever. And while getting to this exciting place—be it by an extravagant and well-planned proposal or inspired moment of passion—was a huge decision in and of itself, the planning has only just begun. Whether you are getting married, having a commitment ceremony, or renewing your vows, there are any number of decisions to be made as you plan your big day, from when to where, and most intricately, how.
Wedding planner Vicki Weed of Déjà Vu Event Creations says that a wedding “celebrates who a couple are. It should express their personalities.” While some couples choose to limit the theme of their celebration to location, décor, and color scheme, other couples may want the celebration to pay homage to some element of their lives together. Theme weddings are a creative opportunity to celebrate your history, style, or shared hobbies and interests. “All weddings have a theme,” insists Judy Lewis, owner and webmistress of wedding resource HudsonValleyWeddings.com. “But is it a small t or a capital T?” If you’re going for the latter, you’re incorporating your theme into every element of the celebration, the food, music, decor, favors, wardrobe and perhaps even your vows. Dangerous for the detail lax and Type As alike, when it comes to theme weddings, the devil is in the details.
From the wacky and offbeat to utterly romantic and sweet, there is no theme which is off-limits. Though you may be the first person in your sleepy, little town to have a leather and lace soiree to celebrate your union, as long as you feel it unequivocally represents who you are as a couple, go for it! One couple, who had met at a zoo, used their black-tie wedding to pay playful tribute to a mutual love of penguins. A penguin graced their invitation, sat atop their wedding cake and the groom’s aunt made a series of large white ceramic penguins for centerpieces. The décor was kept tastefully black and white, as was the guests’ attire. As favors, the bride and groom arranged for the New York Times to be delivered to the late-night reception; each guest was given a paper, bag of coffee and a coffee scoop as they left the reception in the wee hours.
Ethnic or culturally inspired celebrations have become increasingly popular, says wedding planner Anh Sobo of Hudson Valley Events. She recalls a beautiful Hindu-Indian wedding she did where the bride and groom incorporated traditional Indian wedding customs, with a tangerine and hot pink color scheme. They wore traditional dress, were married in a Hindu ceremony beneath a mandap (wedding canopy), and served traditional Indian food at the reception.
“[Couples] seem to just keep coming up with new ideas,” Lewis marvels, recalling a couple who worked as professional clowns. The wedding took place in a pumpkin patch, and the bride and groom, along with many of their guests, dressed as clowns. Foregoing the traditional march down the aisle, the bride drove a small, circus choo choo train to her awaiting Bozo.
I recently spent an afternoon in a dressing room at a Manhattan bridal shop with a close friend as she tried on wedding gowns. The second gown was “it.” Then the fourth gown was “it.” By the end of the first hour she had it narrowed down to two completely different gowns. One was an elegant and classy lace sheath, perfect for her September garden wedding. The other was a sexy, modern, strapless satin gown with a big bustle; she had seen it in a magazine weeks earlier and had stuck the picture to the front of her planning book. While the lace sheath made everyone in the room well up with tears, it was the satin confection that made my friend giggle and glow like an excited bride. Several hours were then spent observing the two dresses alternately from every angle, discussing the pros and cons, the assembled friends and family incapable of deciding for her or helping her decide for herself. Then someone thought to ask the question, “Well, which one is more you?” To which my friend answered in distress, “They both are!” (She’s a Gemini.)
And therein lies the rub: Which face do you want to put forward on that most important day?
Though a fun celebration can be tasteful and an elegant celebration can be fun, when it comes to choosing a theme it is crucial to establish your desired tone before you begin planning. Perhaps you and your partner are fans of the Coen brothers’ cult hit The Big Lebowski. You saw it together on your first date (plus 50 times since), named your dog The Dude, and you’ve been known to recite lines from the movie in tandem. Now you’re getting hitched and you want a laid back, casual celebration with a light tone. Have it in a bowling alley, serve White Russians, and ask your friends to dress like characters from the movie.
Or perhaps you and your partner also share an appreciation for the Art Deco meets gangland style of the 1920s and ’30s. Keep the occasion black tie, with the bride and bridesmaids in drop-waist dresses and the men in black or white tuxedos, a la Fred Astaire. Hold the reception at one of the Hudson Valley’s many historic properties, like Belvedere Mansion in Staatsburg and Montgomery Place in Annandale-on-Hudson. Hire a jazz band, but forego the feather boas and tommy gun favors unless you really want a more theatrical affair. “[When it comes to theme weddings] there is a fine line between tasteful and [tacky],” Weed highlights. When going with an era-inspired theme, revive the styles of that time to evoke the theme, not props or over-the-top stereotypes.
“Planning a theme wedding is like doing a puzzle,” Lewis explains. “You have to envision the whole thing together to make all the pieces work.” The best place to start if you’re thinking of a theme wedding is to consider where and when you want the celebration to take place. Factors such as budget and the geographical location of your family and friends all help (or hinder) determining the location and date of a wedding; these decisions can be more weighted in the planning of a theme wedding, making it crucial that you work with what you got. A Winter Wonderland wedding would certainly seem odd in the dead-heat of July. Likewise, a tropical beach theme may be exorbitantly expensive to pull off somewhere up in the Catskills. Weed recalls a recent client who wanted her early-December wedding to have a snowy winter inn theme. The bride chose Mountainville Manor in Orange County as the venue; with a budget of only a few thousand dollars. it was nothing short of serendipitous that the manor’s owners, Paul and Lindy Krafft, had a serious tradition of decking the halls. By choosing a venue whose décor was so conducive, the bride’s theme could be pulled off well on such a tight budget.
Times of year and local traditions are wonderful inspiration for a themed celebration. If you and your partner have a favorite time of year, structure your celebration around the pleasant associations you have with that season. Weed says she plans four to five autumn weddings a year—the Hudson Valley’s foliage makes a spectacular backdrop for elegant and casual affairs alike. Pick a rustic outdoor venue such as Harmony Farm in Goshen or Full Moon Resort in Big Indian. For help finding a unique venue that sets the right tone for your celebration, contact a planner such as Tammy Baldwin, whose Stone Ridge-based company Charmed Places (www.charmedplaces.com) specializes in booking “off the map” Hudson Valley churches, wineries, and private estates.
Weed suggests incorporating local traditions into the festivities. Send your guests on an afternoon hayride; cover the hay with rich, orange velvet, serve champagne, and outfit the driver in a tux. Or have an outdoor cocktail hour with open fires and hot, spiced cider. Find a caterer who uses locally grown ingredients, and for favors, send your guests home with a bag of fresh apples from a local farm. By weaving your theme throughout the various planned elements of the celebration, from the ceremony to the reception, you will create a cohesive feel that is recognizable as unique, and not overwhelming.
Sobo points out that “just because it goes with the theme doesn’t mean it goes with the wedding.” Though a theme can act as a figurative trail of breadcrumbs (or rice) out of the planning woods, it is important to remain selective. If you are planning an event that celebrates your cultural or religious heritage, like perhaps a traditional Celtic wedding, the mandates of such tradition, though subtle, may be all the theme you need, no shamrocks necessary. Forego the shamrockery normally associated with St. Patrick’s Day-like and instead honor such traditions like tying a cloth horseshoe to the bride’s wrist for luck, handing out bells to the guests to ward off evil spirits, and use traditional Irish wedding vows. And for “couples who want to have traditional, elegant weddings, but still want to show their fun side,” Sobo says it is increasingly popular to throw a themed rehearsal dinner. Have a beach-style clambake, a Southern BBQ, or a New Orleans-style crawfish boil. That way, you can have your cake and eat your theme, too.
Most importantly, remember why it is you’re planning this party in the first place: You’re celebrating the union of two people. It should be about you. Poke fun at yourself. Tweak tradition. It’s your party, you can dress-up if you want to.