Getting Started Wedding Planning


Start with people, pick a venue. Then, the other stuff.

Getting Started Wedding Planning | A Practical Wedding

Right now in the Lowe House offices, we’re hearing from a lot of people who are in the very early stages of planning weddings for 2014. Where the hell do we start? is a common question these days. When you have nothing besides, “We want to get married,” (which is, I should point out, the most important thing) all of the options in front of you can feel incredibly overwhelming. Are we rustic-barn-in-the-country wedding people? Sleek-urban-loft wedding people? Something in between? What the hell is Pinterest? If we don’t have a vision for our wedding, how do we find one? People keep asking us what our colors are going to be? How do I make that stop?

Getting Started Wedding Planning | A Practical Wedding

The good news is lots of what the WIC tells you is important about your wedding is… total nonsense. Your wedding doesn’t need a “theme” or even a “color scheme.” In fact, deciding those things first is often starting at the wrong end of things. So, let’s walk through where to get started, and how to let the “style” of your wedding reveal itself to you in a way that doesn’t involve a fifteen-point questionnaire. (Also, if you’ve pictured purple bridesmaid dresses and tulip bouquets forever, go for it! That’s not wrong either.)

I constantly reassure my clients that the first decisions they make regarding their wedding are by nature the hardest—the further you go the easier things get, and in fact, towards the end you’ll notice things start to just fall into place. The WIC generally wants you to start with the pretty and work backwards—can’t afford peony bouquets on every guest’s plate? Cut your guest list! Um… no thanks. One of my driving mantras in both life and business is, “People are always the most important thing,” and I think this is especially true in weddings. Now, this may mean you want all of your people there, and end up inviting three hundred. Or this may mean that you really just want your very nearest and dearest and invite fifteen. Both are perfectly legitimate ways of making people the most important thing—you’re surrounding yourself with the people who you need there with you on the day you get married. Which is why I encourage people to start with:

The Guest List

A huge amount of your other decisions, and costs, will be based on how many people will be attending your wedding.  Book a venue with a fire code capacity of 95 and then realize you have 215 on your guest list? You may find yourself out a deposit, or in tears as you start crossing your cousins off the list. A key thing to remember: not everyone you invite is going to attend. My general rules about attendance are:

  • under 50 invited: 90%+ attendance
  • 75–100 invited: 75–90% attendance
  • 100+ invited: 70–80% attendance
  • 150+ invited: 65–75% attendance

People often don’t believe me when I tell them only seventy percent of their invited guests will show up, but through over a hundred weddings I’ve done professionally I’ve seen these numbers exceeded perhaps fewer than five times. We’ve all missed weddings we’ve deeply wanted to go to for various reasons—unavoidable work conflicts, already paid for vacations, family obligations, illness, or simply a lack of resources. The reason attendance goes down as your invites go up is that if you’re inviting fewer than fifty people we can assume they’re all fairly close friends and family—when you get into the two hundred range you’ve probably moved from the “closest friends” to “friends” category.

That said, guessing attendance is very much not a science, so please use these numbers as general guidelines, not law. I have seen over ninety percent attendance rates on very-large-guest-lists once or twice, so I generally encourage people to book a venue that will hold most of their guests if it comes down to it. (A note from editor Maddie: We had a nearly ninety percent attendance rate with about 225 guests, because we have big families and they are mostly local. So, also? Know your audience. A note from editor Meg: We had about a sixty-five percent attendance rate with about 165 invited. See: the worst of the recession and not local. I found it depressing. So there you go.)

Now. Why is all of this important?

Your Venue

It’s likely that your venue will ultimately have the biggest influence on the rest of your wedding. A hotel ballroom with red and teal carpet and drapes is probably going to call for different decor than a Craftsman house in the woods. In the same vein, a restaurant in Malibu will probably call for a different feeling wedding than a lodge in Tahoe. Once you have your guest list, start your venue search. There are two main ways to do this:

  1. Narrow down by location (e.g., must be within the city limits of where you live)
  2. Narrow down by type of venue (e.g., you want somewhere that the majority of your guests can stay onsite, or you can host multiple events over a weekend, but it must be within three hours of where you live)

Let the internet bet your friend here. There are the obvious venue locators—Here Comes the Guide and the APW Venue Directory are my personal favorites—but Google (or your search engine of choice) is also in your corner. Try phrases like “Northern California summer camp wedding” or “Los Angeles industrial loft wedding” and key in on wedding photographers’ blog posts—many are optimized to come up specifically in searches like this, and may feature wedding venues that are otherwise difficult to find because they have very little web presence. Save yourself some time and find out as much as you can about a venue before you go visit—you should hopefully be able to narrow things down based on price, noise restrictions, food and beverage restrictions (Do they let you bring your own booze? Do they have a mandatory caterer? Can you afford those restrictions/do you care?), availability, and other factors so that you only need to visit three or so venues in person.

It’s also important to point out you don’t have to fall in love with your wedding venue. You’re not moving in there; you’re having your wedding there. So while it should be somewhere you like, and can picture getting married in, it’s okay if you think the bathroom tile is hideous, or the landscaping isn’t your absolute favorite style ever. Look at the big picture: can it fit your guests, what are their catering restrictions, will they allow the music you want, do the aesthetic qualities you like outweigh the ones you don’t? If your pro-column exceeds your con-column, it’s probably a good venue for you. (That said, if you walk into a space and immediately know that’s it’s right, your decision is even easier!)

And Now, The Other Stuff

Okay! You have your guest list, and your venue—where do you go from here? You’ve never in your life imagined wedding colors, you don’t have a Pinterest account, and the thought of centerpieces makes your head hurt. First, take a deep breath. You don’t have to have wedding colors. In fact, I often tell clients that the truth is? Two distinct wedding colors (i.e., chocolate brown and baby blue! purple and green! blush and bashful!) can look a little dated these days. Even more than that—the truth is that the only person at your wedding who’s going to notice that your bridesmaid’s shoes, napkins, envelope liners, and aisle arrangements perfectly pantone match each other is the one guest at your wedding who is actively in the middle of wedding planning.

Liz just talked about this yesterday, and it’s worth quoting her: “Nary a single guest is coming to your wedding with the expectation of being dazzled by a successive unfolding of your relationship as told in party form.” The things that the vast, vast majority of weddings guests notice are:

  1. A happy couple, in love, and getting married.
  2. That they are fed, that they are fed enough food, and that they are fed at a reasonable time. (Basically before they get hangry. There is no one in the world grumpier than a hungry wedding guest.)
    3. & 4 are actually optional:
  3. That there is enough alcohol, and the music playlist is something they can dance to, whether that be iPod, DJ, or live band.
  4. They may also notice a generally lovely space, but I often joke that if you polled wedding guests three days after any wedding and asked them to describe the centerpieces, ninety percent of them would answer you with, “… They were pretty? And had flowers in them?” (Exception: if you have particularly stunning centerpieces, your aesthetically driven guests will probably notice. I have been known to call friends years after their weddings to get the name of their florists because their centerpieces were so incredible. These instances are very rare though. Most of the time even I couldn’t describe a centerpiece from a wedding a few weeks later, and I likely helped set them up and had one sitting in my house for a week after the wedding.) (Meg’s note: I remember the centerpieces that caught on fire, all at about the same time, when the candles melted. Memorable!)

All that said, things at weddings do need color (dresses, ties, flowers, linens, etc.) so you’re going to have to decide on some. Look around your house, and at your wardrobe, and see what colors you’re generally attracted to. Or think about the weddings you’ve been to that you actually remember and loved the colors of, and take note of what they were. Or look at photos of previous weddings at your venue and figure out which ones look the best to you. The colors of your wedding don’t have to represent you as a couple (although, if they somehow do? Rad). They’re totally allowed to just be colors that you like. They’re also totally allowed to just be “colorful” or “all white” or “shades of neutrals” or anything else you want. There are no rules, and be suspicious of anyone who tells you there are. Have no strong feelings about flowers? Look through some florist galleries and pick out some pictures that you think look pretty. Pick out a color that you think complements your bridesmaids, or that matches your bedding. What colors make you happy? Pick those. And then don’t worry if things that don’t normally “go” in the real world (like clothing and table linens) don’t end up matching (because yes, your bridesmaid dresses can totally clash with your tablecloths and no one will care).

And remember: the theme of your wedding can totally be “a wedding” (or better yet, marriage). It can also totally be “Harry Potter” or “Glam Urban Winter” or “Victorian Sleeping Beauty.” It’s definitely possible to start off with a specific vision that has everything to do with the pretty and go from there. Have a dress you love, or a centerpiece idea, or a specific type of food you absolutely can’t do without? Great, build your wedding out from there. Just realize that it may give you limits. (A ball gown with a cathedral length train might not look exactly right on a beach…which may be a problem when the only venue that fits your budget and fits your whole guest list is on the beach. Or maybe you don’t give a f*ck because you just want to wear a ball gown dammit and who cares if it’s “beachy” enough. That’s okay too.)

In the end, we come back to where we started: people are the most important thing (which very much includes the two of you). Your people, however many there are, care much more about seeing you happily married than they do about personally liking the color of your bridesmaid dresses. If aesthetics are your thing, go ahead and throw yourself in headfirst. But if they’re not? Remember that it’s pretty hard to go wrong with candles on white tablecloths—because everyone looks amazing in soft light.

Getting Started Wedding Planning | A Practical Wedding

Setting Up and Breaking Down Your Wedding

(Almost) Everything You Need To Know About Buying Alcohol For Your Wedding

(Almost) Everything You Wanted To Know About Timelines, Part I

(Almost) Everything You Wanted To Know About Timelines, Part II

(Almost) Everything You Wanted To Know About Timelines, Part III

Photo by: Gabriel Harber (APW Sponsor)

Elizabeth Clayton

Elizabeth has been planning weddings since 2006, and has done so full time under the Lowe House Events banner since 2011. She considers herself incredibly lucky to get to work on events full time—it just doesn’t get much better than going to a party most weekends because it’s your job.

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  • Emily

    This is so practical/straightforward/well-written I just created a new bookmarks folder so I would never have to hunt for it. (Folder is oh-so-cryptically entitled “someday” ’cause I’m pretty sure *someday* will be sometime in 2014.)

    Thanks (as always) for the practical wisdom, ladies!

    • http://thevanillabride@blogspot.com Sonarisa

      Lol. All of my pinterest boards/Google docs/Spreadsheets are titled Someday, or Someday Pretty (for the dresses and flowers and decor I like) or Someday Plans (mostly for APW and other articles that I find helpful for navigating the planning process). Now that I’m actually planning, they are still labeled that way. It makes me fairly happy :D

    • mimi

      My Pinterest board was called “Ideas for the Future”. My now-fiance’s co-worker follows me on Pinterest, and clued him in to what I was up to, which made him a little uncomfortable. We got engaged a few months later, but until that time, I made sure not to publicly pin anything too wedding-y. I was really glad when Pinterest came out with secret boards (which is now where my “Future Babies” board lives).

    • Cleo

      Someday is a nice way to say it.

      mine all say “crazy” because that’s how I feel when I bookmark things for my future wedding. lol

      just a little nutty

      • CeeBeeUK

        Ahh, reported as well. They are so counterintuitive. Mine are called ‘cart before horse’ although we discussed a month and a venue this weekend so the cart isn’t too far advanced.

    • Amanda

      I tried to comment and accidentally reported you!!! Sorry!

      My comment was: my pinterest board was called “one of these days”, although I tried really hard to refrain from going overboard.

      • Emily

        Wow, you guys are all way more tactful/secretive on pinterest than I am. I restrained myself for awhile, then finally gave in – and titled it Wedding…
        It’s mostly engagement rings, and I actually showed it to my long-time boyfriend after he made it clear he wanted to do the selection on his own. I’d always planned on choosing together, and when it comes to jewelry, I’m CHOOSY… but now I’ve warmed up to the idea and feel like it’s quite sweet and sentimental of him. So, here’s hoping he paid attention to the pinterest preview….

        Mimi – SO GLAD you mentioned the secret board thing, because I’m still in the Restraining Myself stage of making a Babies board – hadn’t even thought of that solution! duh.

  • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.nl/ Amanda

    What color is bashful?
    (And all of this advice is spot on, as per usual :) )

    • Brenda

      Truvy: What are your colors, Shelby?
      Shelby: My colors are “blush” and “bashful.”
      M’Lynn: Her colors are “pink” and pink.”
      Shelby: My colors are “blush” and “bashful” Mama!
      M’Lynn: How precious is this weddin’ gonna get, I ask you?

      - Steel Magnolias

      • http://www.meanestlook.com Sara

        Oh Brenda and Amanda – I totally needed that this morning!

        • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.nl/ Amanda

          Gonna have to see that movie (not sure how I got to this point in my life without having seen it :) )

          • Brenda

            You know, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen the whole thing. It’s just one of those quotes that everyone seems to know!

          • One More Sara

            I hadn’t seen it until it came on tv a few weeks ago!!! It was awesome.

          • http://andshelovesyou.com youlovelucy

            People haven’t seen Steel Magnolias?!?

            You’re all heathens and I’m disowning the lot of you. In a loving way. :)

  • Copper

    In the how-to-handle-the-choices category of life: if you decide that the theme of you wedding is “wedding” (I may or may not have gone around saying, “It’s not a prom, it doesn’t need a theme!”) do not be surprised if your guests assign a theme for you. I have no clue why they feel the need to do this, but I look like bridezilla when I try to correct them, so I’m trying to squash that impulse.

    • http://thevanillabride@blogspot.com Sonarisa

      They assigned you a theme? What theme? How creative did they get? Are they sad when you don’t embrace said theme?

      Oh, wedding guests…

      • Copper

        People keep calling it a “beer-themed wedding” because Mr Copperbeard is brewing all the beer for it himself. This annoys me to no end because I have specifically had the conversation with him that I love that he’s bringing his creativity to it and making things for us, I don’t want a beer-themed wedding. After all, I don’t want my marriage to be about beer, so why would I want my wedding to be about beer? It seems like a distraction from the actual point of a wedding.

        • http://livinglnf.blogspot.com Jo

          Another way to approach theme is – how do you want to feel/how do you feel about getting married? We went with: fun, classic, and natural.

        • http://livinglnf.blogspot.com Jo

          Another way to approach theme is – how do you want the wedding to feel/how do you feel about getting married? We went with: fun, classic, and natural.

    • http://spaceysteph.blogspot.com Stephanie

      Yeah my wedding didn’t really have a theme either, we just picked stuff we liked. (Well mostly the theme was we’re gonna get interfaith married here today and I don’t have enough time to worry about the other crap because this is seriously frustrating enough).
      People expected a space wedding since we work for NASA and got engaged in mission control and ok, I may have accidentally played into this by sending adorable save the dates with space robots on them. (these: http://www.minted.com/product/wedding-invitations/MIN-31P-INV/infinity-beyond)
      But I didn’t have the energy to carry a theme. We homemade spice rub for the favors, we had Mexican food for dinner, and basically everything else was just plain old wedding.

      • H

        Those are too adorable.

      • Laura S

        I have a similar problem. I have several designer friends and one of their critiques of my “Thanks for being here” cards that I am pulling together is “I don’t like it, it should be blue, green and cream, like the invitation.” The invitation which has nothing to do with my orange, pink and red sorbet colored wedding, or the really cool, but not crazily typographic table tents or program or escort cards. The art direction had shifted between when we chose the invite and when we chose all of the other stationary. Now I’m trying to pull things together in a “cohesive” manner.

        I hope that no one tried to shame you for not wanting to stick to your invite “theme” or “brand” your wedding.
        One of them started to talk about how guests were coming a long way and “they” are spending a lot of money to come and “they” want a nice keepsake.

        No one will notice the difference between the invitation and the actual wedding stationary. I keep telling myself that. In one week, that day will fly by and I’ll be married. No one will even remember if the fonts match.

        • C

          Sigh, thank you for writing this. I’m having a spring wedding and my fiance picked out beautiful invitations with cherry blossoms on them (so springy! and we live in DC, perfect!), but then I thought that our wedding HAD to have pink as a color or that people would EXPECT to see cherry blossoms decorating the tables.

          But no, this article – and Laura’s comment – are now giving me permission to say that no one will remember what the damn invitation looks like, and we can pick it just ’cause it’s pretty, and I can have whatever flowers I want, dammit.

          So from one bride to another, thank you. What would I do without this site??

    • Lauren

      My wedding does not have an official theme (though I do have a color – it is green). But, when people ask, I tell them it is a hippie-druidic-garden party-pig pickin’. And then I watch their heads spin.

  • Claire

    “People are always the most important thing,” – Great advice! I also agree its good advice to start with the guest list and venue selection.

    I have some alternative opinions, though, about these two nuggets:

    1) “All that said, things at weddings do need color (dresses, ties, flowers, linens, etc.) so you’re going to have to decide on some.” It should go without saying that weddings actually need any of those things listed above. My wedding didn’t have a single one of those things, and it was still a beautiful, real wedding. And I don’t think you actually have to decide on colors at all. I didn’t. If you don’t care and don’t pick colors, guess what? Your wedding will still have colors! They just won’t necessarily be matching or coordinated colors. (Then again, they might be – all of my people ended up wearing black to my wedding because I told them to wear whatever they liked. In my photos, it looks like my “wedding color” is black.)

    2) “Have no strong feelings about flowers? Look through some florist galleries and pick out some pictures that you think look pretty.” Or, you know, maybe skip flowers altogether if you don’t care about them. That’s okay too.

    Overall, I do like the practical advice offered in the Get Shit Done series. Thanks.

    • meg

      Obviously, Elizabeth agrees with these points, and she clarifies that in the piece all over the place.

      What she’s saying is true, however. The objects at your wedding, whatever those objects are, will have a color. Whatever your objects are, whatever color they end up, those are the colors in your wedding. Done. (If there are no objects at your wedding, because it exists on a metaphysical level, please send pictures, but would there be pictures? I don’t know… hum.)

      And as ever, she’s using flowers as an EXAMPLE. Of course you don’t need flowers if you don’t want them. Or dresses or ties or linens. However. There will still be objects, and they will still have color, and that is good enough.

      • Catherine

        ahahhaaha i want a metaphysical wedding!

      • http://lowehousecreative.com Elizabeth @ Lowe House

        yep, precisely!

    • CII

      I offer a slightly alternative way to think about the advice that “things at weddings do need color (dresses, ties, flowers, linens, etc.) so you’re going to have to decide on some.” I read that as saying: if you have flowers, they are going to be a color, so here’s a way to think about what color you might want them to be, and if you don’t know, draw from the colors you like in life normally. I didn’t read it as saying that the colors of the ties, flowers, linens, etc. are going to have to all be the same, such that you must have COLORS.

      I’ve been loudly proclaiming for a while now that my wedding will not have COLORS, but it turns out that we tend to pick the same colors that we also like in life (neutrals, dark greens, blues). Doesn’t mean we have COLORS, but does mean I ought to think twice before picking a bright fuschia clutch (at least to consider how that would become a “focal point” in any photo, and deciding whether I care about that, or not).

  • Annie

    These posts are THE BEST.

    • Emmers

      Agreed! Elizabeth, you should totally think about sometime writing a wedding book with these kinds of details. I’d buy that book!

      • meg

        Ha! You know most of these concepts are in the APW book as well, right? Snap that up, this part is covered.

        Though I totally agree, Elizabeth’s logistics are always BRILLANT.

        • Cleo

          obv this is APW, and obv promote, especially if there are any newbies here!

          But…if you ask 10 people to write a story about a boat, you’ll get 10 different stories.

          And Elizabeth’s perspective as a wedding planner would be different (even in small ways) from yours as a wedding blogger who researched the bejeezus out of how things were done and are done and could be done.

          And given we’ve discussed the paradigm of plenty this week, I would like to second the suggestion that Elizabeth write a book.

          Let’s saturate the market with sane, practical, feminist wedding planning advice!

          • Liz

            I second this – I’d love to read Elizabeth’s book.

      • http://lowehousecreative.com Elizabeth @ Lowe House

        ha, thanks all! But while I really enjoy writing these posts (and plan on continuing to do so), and do plan on one day writing a book, I can pretty much promise you that it won’t be a wedding planning book, sorry!

  • http://thevanillabride@blogspot.com Sonarisa

    Great advice and I agree with all of it, so thanks for the post! However, don’t be surprised if it isn’t as easy as it sounds. (Seriously Elizabeth, awesome post! I’m not trying to contradict you!) It can just seem a bit more chaotic when you’re in the midst doing it.

    Currently the bane of my existence is the venue. Like Elizabeth says, try to figure out what you want/need before you start looking (and getting the guest list mostly finalized helps too!). But seriously, sit down and figure it out.

    The fiance and I fell in love with a venue, before we realized it was not handicap friendly (sorry, Grandma?) and refused to cover their wall of mirrors, which we felt would detract from the joy of some of our friends who are overcoming eating disorders (hard to enjoy a wedding while you’re being confronted with self image issues.) Both of these things didn’t come up until we went over the guest list again- so try to remember your guests and what will make them comfortable before looking at venues if possible.

    Also, be ready for strange responses when you email potential vendors to ask if they have walls of mirrors. Apparently its a weird thing to do.

    • Lib

      The handicap thing is hard to get around, definitely. As far as the mirrors go, do you know for sure that your friends don’t want to be around mirrors or are you assuming?

      My sister has suffered from anorexia and bulimia over that past 13 years but I have never known mirrors to be an issue for her. I know its a delicate situation, and maybe not a question you want to ask, but I just wanted to throw that out there. Your friends might not have any more problem with mirrors than anyone else (btw, wall of mirrors = weird decor choice).

      • Class of 1980

        I think a lot of mirrors make people self-conscious. They start looking at themselves instead of being in the moment. Not an effect I’d want for any celebration ever.

        • http://thevanillabride@blogspot.com Sonarisa

          Ik! Also, I love dancing, but I look ridiculous when I dance. If there’s a wall of mirrors there while I’m dancing- I’m probably not going to dance for long. Not to mention camera flashes! We were hoping to cover the wall with some drapery or screens, but apparently that’s not allowed. I’ve been told it’s not the “look we’re going for…”

      • http://thevanillabride@blogspot.com Sonarisa

        Hey, LIB. Thanks for the tip, but we’ve already had one request for no mirrors (and yeah… it looks pretty dated. but everything else was perfect! Outdoor patio with gazebo and indoor built in dance floor high windowed elegance. The wall of mirrors looks really out of place…) and we want to honor that request.

    • meg

      Haaaaaaaa. Does Elizabeth make it sound easy? Yeah, she’s just trying to write it in a simple clear way that makes sense.

      If it were always (usually?) easy, neither she nor I would have a job.

      • http://thevanillabride@blogspot.com Sonarisa

        Oh, I know. It just always looks so simple in list format. It’s one of the things that really freaked me out in the beginning of wedding planning- I thought I was so unorganized, indecisive, and awful at everything! I just wanted to reach out to people with similar feelings and let them know they aren’t alone! And it gets better!

  • Aly

    Haha so funny — whenever people ask what our “theme” is I always tell them marriage…do we need something better than that?

  • Hintzy

    Excellent! Thank you for this post! I needed that little bit of backup to tell me I’m not crazy for thinking it’s silly of my friends to be asking me about hairstyles, centerpieces, and other sundry details when I don’t even have a venue booked yet…. food and shelter are much more important details.

  • Laura C

    Where was this post three + months ago when *I* was starting to plan? Happily, there’s nothing in it that made me facepalm in a “oh, gawd, why didn’t I realize this” fashion, but I wish I’d had it in front of me the whole time.

    The percentages of people we can expect to show are super helpful — thanks so much for that. Our venue fits 250, and I think A and his mother would be happy with a 400-person guest list, so we really do need to figure out how many invitations to send. (250 was my “compromise” limit, since I’d have liked something small.)

    • Copper

      One thing to keep in mind when the guest count swings so loudly in conversations is food & drink budget. Yes the venue can fit it, but can you afford to feed them? At least that’s been a limiting factor for us.

      • Laura C

        Yeah, it’s almost unfortunate that money is not a big limiting factor for us. Like, my visceral discomfort with the idea of having a wedding where the venue alone cost more than a full year of minimum wage work pays was what took one particular venue off the table.

  • Christina

    Your attendance guidelines are spot on, and I wish I had seen them before our wedding! I was using the 80% number I’ve seen on many other sites. We invited 270 total, and had 195 attend our wedding a few weeks ago. I was planning around 220. Granted, of the 270 invited, 25 were children (we ended up with 10 attending) and about 25 were possible +1s. Still. There are a lot of people we didn’t invite because I was so scared to exceed our numbers in our max 260 room. It worked out in the end, but I’m still a little sad about not being able to invite some people. On a happy note, the lower numbers did help my dad’s checkbook, as he very graciously paid for the reception.

  • Allison

    Here is how I picked the color scheme for my recent wedding: I like hot pink. I found a pair of hot pink kitten heel shoes, and couldn’t imagine not wearing them to get married. I also bought a pair of coordinating hot pink custom Chuck Taylors for later in the evening. Having invested in hot pink shoes, I decided that the rest of the wedding had to be hot pink. So I proceeded to order everything (bridesmaid dress, men’s ties, bouquet, personalized napkins, etc.) in hot pink. Our default other colors were white (because that was the cheapest tablecloth rental available) and green (because we got married in a garden full of lush greenery, so it just kind of worked out). But basically everything was hot pink. Because I really liked that pair of shoes and had to have them.

    As far as theme, this was a no-brainer mish mash. We were getting married in a garden, in Kentucky. So we told everyone it was an afternoon garden party. In Kentucky in May people know that this means to dress roughly as if you were going for a day at the races, so I told people to wear their Derby hats if they wanted (large sunhats) and many did. This had the side effect of making my mother and grandmother look like the Queen and Queen Mum in their suits and hats, so we told people it was a little bit British too. Anglophile Meets Kentucky Derby worked out to be the loose theming. We also had Disney touches, like displaying our bride and groom mouse ears, and tons of family heirlooms. So British-Kentucky Derby-Disney-Vintage? Whatever it was, it worked.

    Oh, and the venue was easy too. It was the historic home where we met during an art showing. The price was right, it would hold our guests, it was local, and it was available when we wanted it, so it was the only venue we seriously looked at.

    • LMN

      Oh good, I feel a little less crazy about making decisions based on shoes! I want to find shoes that I stand a chance of wearing again and I’d like something colorful. I’m planing on navy bridesmaid dress (it’s a good color for most people and should be easy enough to find if I use the “go forth and find a dress” approach). I just found a really cute pair of coral shoes so it looks like the color scheme may be navy blue and coral but with other things mixed in because I agree that 2 color color schemes can look dated or forced.

      • Jaimichelle

        My colors were navy blue, coral & white. It was all simple and pretty. The only hangup was when I was considering coral for the bridesmaid’s dresses and the groomsmen threatened to mutiny if I put them in coral….so navy blue ended up being the male and female friendly choice. :)

  • Emilie

    Choosing a venue was so stinkin’ hard for us because we’re the type of people who can simultaneously imagine holding a reception at a summer camp, in a country club, a trendy loft, a barn, blah blah blah. We’re very easy going and at the end of the day like all those places. What it came down to for us was what we could afford and made out families happy and comfortable. I think NOT having an aesthetic vision has allowed us to put people first. My point: sometimes you feel wrong for not having every detail figured out from the beginning, but you’re right to take Elizabeth’s stellar advice and start with the guest list.

  • http://spaceysteph.blogspot.com Stephanie

    I read those percentages and thought, no way that’s accurate we had more people than that attend. Then I went back and looked at our invite list (thanks Google Drive!): 249 invited, 159 accepted, 156 attended… 63%.
    So, you know,

  • Lib

    I just got engaged on Sunday so this is very apt. (I have been reading APW for a few months now though).

    My mom called me on Tuesday asking me to put together a guest list and I was all like: “Leave me alone, WOMAN!”

    Apparently she called my fiance’s mom shortly after we called them to start talking venues. I really, really don’t want to start talking about wedding planning yet, I am much more interested in marriage planning. But I do want to get married in early 2014 so I guess I have to. Mom wins again. Once I tie down a venue can I stop planning for a while and just enjoy being engaged? I feel like I haven’t slept all week.

    • Jessica

      Maybe you could declare two weeks of no wedding planning talk from everyone in your life? But unfortunately, I think once you start, it won’t stop (at least from the moms)…if you nail down the venue, they’ll just want to talk about what’s next.

      • Lib

        This is why I wanted to wait, like at least a week, to start any planning at all. Nope, mamma dukes was on it so fast my head is spinning. She also admitted to me that she actually started checking venues out a month ago when I told her we were going to get engaged.

    • Laura C

      Does that phone call to your fiance’s mother make you nervous? I sent out an email establishing some guiding principles very early on (basically, we love you and we will of course be consulting you on certain things, but we are the deciders here), but A still ended up having to have a talk with his mother after she called one of the venues we were considering.

      But while I can see Jessica’s point that once you have a venue your mom may just want to move to what’s next, I will say that for me, nailing down the venue did let me relax. At that point, I was like “we have a date and a place and the place comes with a caterer. This thing is going to happen. Now we can relax.” And we have, though the guest list continues to loom. (I am totally a believer that you should have the guest list in place before you book the venue in most cases, since you’ll want to know the size to book a venue, but in my particular case there was a compromise between me and my parents who wanted 50-100 tops and A and his mother who could have gone happily to 400. So the size was set by me being like “this is the largest I can contemplate without losing my mind.”)

      • http://spaceysteph.blogspot.com Stephanie

        This was big for me too. We had a fairly inclusive venue (ceremony and reception site, DJ, caterer, cake baker… they even had a minister if you wanted) so by the time we signed the contract I basically felt like even if I did nothing else to plan, the wedding would still happen.
        (Of course I still went and did a lot of other things, but they didn’t feel as urgent).

        • Caroline

          I felt a little that way after booking the rabbi. I had the place (mom’s house), the man, and someone to marry us, on a specific date. All the rest is extra. I mean, we want to feed people, and have a photographer and stuff but now we will be getting married on our date, and if all that happens is we send an email/call people to show up, we’ll still get married.

          We did do the guest list very first but we actually did a preliminary guest list about 6 months before getting engaged. We basically each said, okay, here’s the people I want, then a few weeks after getting engaged, said to our parents “we want a small wedding but want to make sure there aren’t any people who are really important to you missing”. Tey each sent us 1-3 people who should be included, and the guest list was basically done. (There’s a semi-B list/maybe list which we haven’t decided on and we may invite a few newer friends also, but for us, it wasn’t too hard because it was obvious. We wanted a small wedding, but my family is close and large, so all of them, a few of
          my and our closest friends, and his band of friends who are like his brothers. If you didn’t fit the family or almost family category, you pretty much weren’t invited. Having a rule like that was very helpful. Also being on the same page about wanting a small, intimate wedding with our nearest dearest. For us, small is 65 people, but they are all people who know us well. 85% of the guest list has seen one of us in diapers or we’ve seen them in diapers.)

    • H

      I had this problem. Moms are notoriously angsty over getting a venue and date planned. Get those two things, and they will be happy for a little while. Better yet, give them something to worry about. An engagement party? A shower? Research for your wedding so you don’t have to do it? The little things that your parents will care about but you won’t? Put your moms on those things, while you begin to figure out the other stuff. Also, I really would start looking for venues. They tend to book up faster than is logical.

      • Lib

        I am fortunate that both my mother and my FMIL seem to be embracing my (vague) ideas and not pushing their opinions. I am also lucky that all parents involved, my fiance and myself have a sort of no-fuss/non WIC attitude about weddings: the ceremony and marriage is most important, the rest is just a party.

    • Jen

      I waited a month before real wedding planning commenced. However, I knew our engagement would be about 15 months so we had time.

      But, yes, once you find the venue and line up the caterer, if it is not included with the venue, then you can relax. After we found our venue, I don’t think I did anything for 3-4 months (again, 15 mos engagement). You can really can take a break after that step.

    • http://thevanillabride@blogspot.com Sonarisa

      Congratulations! I waited a month to officially start planning (i.e. talk to the relatives about things). My mom took that time to put together a guest list and at the end of the month, she emailed me. My fiance’s family did the same thing. It was nice because then we had a rough number to start with when looking at venues.

      During that month, the fiance and I started talking about what we wanted in a wedding, but didn’t do any hard planning. This meant discussing what kind of venue we wanted, what we wanted the wedding to feel like, and what our most important things are. When we started actually planning after the month was over, it gave us a unified front, which was kind of nice.

      Good luck!

  • Emilie

    Also, I totally agree with Elizabeth’s point, “It’s likely that your venue will ultimately have the biggest influence on the rest of your wedding.”

    However, we found a venue that was absolutely lovely, but kind of formal for what we wanted. So we decided to mix it up do a brunch reception, which hopefully relaxes the place a bit. Yes, venue dictates A LOT, but remember things like time of day can help compensate for whatever you don’t like about your venue.

  • Emily

    This is all very true. The one thing I feel like might be missing from the early decision-making stages is date – For me, the decision order went date, est. guest numbers, venue. My brother is in med school and only has a week off every 8 weeks, so that was a very helpful limiting factor. We picked the week he had off in July, saw what venues were available that date in my home town and would hold our huge families, and picked one. Presto! Date may be less of a factor for folks planning more than 4 months out, but I actually found it very helpful to have nice limiting factors and choose from the 2 available options.

  • Kess

    I’m also finding venue hunting to be a really rough process, although not from the need to narrow it down so much as the need to resign myself to our limited options. The fiance and I really want to have it in this one area that we love, and there are precisely 2 venues within a half hour drive of that spot that can fit our guest list. One of them is a big generic banquet hall, which we had already decided we didn’t want, so we’re left with one option. And that one is small enough that we can only barely fit our guests with no room for fun stuff like a dance floor, photo booth, etc.

    So the advice to accept that no venue will be perfect is very on point! What I find hard is deciding on what point the compromise should be made – should we accept the smaller sized space so we can have the feel and location we want? Or throw everything out the window and have it in another area so we can have all the space we need?

    Picking a venue is the hardest part! Or at least I hope it is!

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Picking the venue was our hardest part, definitely. Hope that helps. What made it worse was that it was the first step, and I didn’t know it would be the hardest, so our planning got off to a rough start. In a way, it was good, because we gained skills in that process that made the rest easier, but it really was a rough time. But it got better!

    • http://teastrumpets.wordpress.com/ kyley

      I found picking the venue to be the most stressful part, too. In my experience, it was stressful because nothing felt right. As you said, nothing is perfect, but the drawbacks to our options each seemed like deal breakers (we have to do ALL the set up and breakdown in this giant warehouse ourselves, in a very limited amount of time? or, the only food options are very bland and overpriced? you charge *what* just to rent this empty space? This carpet is really that ugly? (Carpeting was a bizarrely big deal to me.)).

      Conversely, sometimes the early deal breakers end up being not that big a deal. I had originally been really adamant about a Saturday evening wedding, because I assumed that would result in the best party. But when we found the perfect venue that ticked all our other important boxes, that was only available on Sundays? I found that I was totally, totally fine with that. So maybe try looking a bit outside that geographic area! You might be surprised by how you feel about those options, or you might feel much more peace about one of these two venues that you’re currently considering. But either way you might feel more settled about the decision.

      Good luck!!!

      • Michelle

        Totally hear you on the ugly carpet thing. We chose our venue largely because it was the one place we could afford with hardwood floors (and it was a converted 19th century train depot, which was pretty cool). It was about 30 minutes farther away from our house than we wanted it to be, but we decided it was worth the trade-off. Seriously, ugly carpet, what is the deal?

  • http://lgcmachine.wordpress.com/ elle

    Man, I appear to be in the vast minority here, but I don’t think a single person – wedding elves aside – has asked what my theme is! To the wedding elves I tend to respond “rustic chic with glitter” and that seems to be enough for them. But even then, that, to me, is more of a particular aesthetic, not so much a “theme” :)

    This was fun to read in a sort of Advice-I’d-Give-My-Past-Self way. Being 13 months into wedding planning (and 3 months away!!) all of this is stuff I’ve already figured out on my own, but man would it have been nice to have had it all laid out for me at the beginning (although, let’s face it, would I have believed it at the time? Probably not. I’m stubborn like that…)

    And I’ll EXACTLY a thousand times the encouragement to write a book! I’d get it just to have it. Also, does anyone else want Elizabeth to be their BFF? Or am I just super-creepy like that :D

    • Brenda

      Yeah, no one’s asked me about my theme or my colors either. I get normal questions – when, where, who, do you have a dress, etc. I almost want someone to ask me about my theme so I can make up something crazy!

      I did tell some people the other day that our first dance was going to be a choreographed interpretative dance to the Circle of Life. The faces before they figured out I was joking were hysterical.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I got very few wedding questions generally. I got asked about my dress a lot. That was it. No one ever asked about a theme, not even wedding elves. (By the time we had a venue, I had my no-nonsense-bride persona down so thoroughly, I think they all knew the question would get them nowhere.) One elf did ask what our colors were. I told her navy. She asked what the other one was. We didn’t hire her.

      I was asked about colors by the friend who planned my shower; she wanted the shower colors to match. I think my mother-in-law asked. That was it.

      • Emilie

        Can you tell me more about how to establish this no nonsense bride persona? I need your wisdom.

    • http://snippetsof.blogspot.com SarahE

      If you’re super-creepy, then I am, too. Elizabeth writes really well, and throws the best parties! :-)

      • http://lgcmachine.wordpress.com/ elle

        RIGHT?!

  • Melise

    Our planning has generally gone something like this: Is it awesome (and affordable and managable)? Yes? Cool, let’s do it. So when people ask me our theme, I usually just tell them that it will be awesome.

    The guest list was probably the most stressful part of planning for me. We started out by asking both sets of parents to just give us a list, which in retrospect was a bad idea. His mom’s list was really, really long, and when we asked her to try to cut it down, she barely cut anything. We ended up finding a venue, figuring out our friends list, and then giving both sets of parents a number. Once we said, “You have to cut your list down to x number of people or we won’t fit in the venue,” we managed to get a reasonable list together.

    • Caroline

      We assembled our list together and then sent it to the parents saying “we want a small intimate weddig with people we know really well. Here’s our guest list. Please tell us if there are any people who are very important who should be on here.” They each sent us 1-3 people, who we were happy to accommodate: my mom’s goddaughter who taught me to French braid my hair as a child, my father-in-law’s best friend and his wife who my partner has know his whole life, my great aunt and uncle who my father said are like surrogate parents to him as an adult and whom he and I visited in NY every six months as a teenager. All people we were happy to accommodate.

      I think that approach, make your own list first, then ask parents for input while expressing the rubric you are using to invite people works well.

  • Rachelle

    Yes! This is what I searched to the ends of the internet for when I got engaged. I have to say that while I love the bring-you-back-down-to-earth parts of APW that tell you that if you don’t care about chairs and favors, you don’t have to care, the parts I really cherish are the how-tos and this may be the best one yet… maybe a tie with the how to buy alcohol post.

    One note I would add is that if budget is going to be a big factor for you, it may be best to have a serious talk with any parties that may be contributing and nail down a solid number before you get too far into venue searching.

    We were told “we’ll contribute what we can” and basically had to work with the number we had decided to contribute. Our venue options were limited to zero (no, really, even city hall and a 20 person dinner was more than we could afford in the Bay Area) and if I had pushed a little bit harder early on to find out what our real budget was going to be before I looked at venues, I would have saved about four months of stress, heartache and crying.

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for writing this, Elizabeth!

  • http://teastrumpets.wordpress.com/ kyley

    This is really brilliant.

    We’re having a Sunday evening wedding 2-5 hours from all of our 225 invited guests, so we were expecting no more than 60% to attend. But we’re on track for a 85-90% attendance. Yikes. People will surprise you. It’s a lovely, if very expensive, surprise.

    I think there’s one other kind of centerpiece people notice: really tall ones that block conversational flow. They look glamours and impressive, and they also annoy the crap out of your guests, who want to enjoy each other’s company.

    • http://irvingplace.net Kayjayoh

      Another problem with those tall floral arrangements is that they can tip over accidentally and cause problems at the table.

      Related Hint 1: If red wine gets spilled on a tux shirt, take it off immediately (if possible) and keep it in cold water until you can get it cleaned.

      Related Hint 2: (mainly relevant to a small group of people) The Soap Box on Moody St. in Providence, RI is amazing at removing stains. Seriously. Not a trace of red wine stain.

      http://www.soapbox-laundry.com/

      • Erin Rafferty

        Or dab some white wine on it! That seriously saved me from looking like a sloppy mess at a friend’s bachelorette party recently…

  • KateM

    Great post!!! Two and half years too late for me, but happy to say we came to the same conclusion. We started with a guest list and a budget and found the venue to fit within those perimeters. While we had a large wedding on a small budget, we were far less stressed that may couples we know because we had exactly 0 fights and compromises over the guest list. I have been a bridesmaid 9 times, and the guest list cuts seems to be the worst part for most people.
    Also once you have the venue and the guest list, I agree, a lot of the other decisions either make themselves, or are so much easier.

  • Cleo

    Hi Elizabeth…

    Even though I’m not a ball gown sort of girl, I think you encapsulated my life philosophy in this sentence:

    “Or maybe you don’t give a f*ck because you just want to wear a ball gown dammit and who cares if it’s “beachy” enough. That’s okay too.”

    • Jen

      I agree. I wanted a relaxed tent wedding by the beach I went to every summer growing up. Everyone hated the idea except for me (for many reasons) so the wedding will be at a nearby country club. But I am definitely bringing some of the elements of my shabby-chic beach wedding to the country club. Ballroom-shmallroom!

    • SJ

      Another ball gown lady in a place that doesn’t suit! YEAH! My backyard BBQ wedding has a loose theme of “fun, laidback and spring-ish”…Everything is rather mellow about it really….

      Except me. In all my italian satin ballgown veil-wearing GLORIOUSNESS.

      Because when I put it on I got that sharp stinging sensation that meant tears were evident…and said “great glorioski that is FAB! ….Dad’s gonna lose it…”

  • Chalk

    I agree completely with your advice. I also appreciate that your advice is concrete and easy to read. I wish I had this post when I was planning my wedding – I had to come to these conclusions in round about ways which involved a lot of rework and frustration. Nice road map.

  • april

    I cannot thank you enough for the attendance guidelines! My fiance’s family is huge (his dad has nine siblings, so there are a ridiculous number of aunts and uncles and cousins in his family), so we’re inviting about 150 people. It’s made planning difficult. Most are from out of town, so I’m just not sure how many we can expect to attend …

  • http://acceptorchange.blogspot.com YetAnotherMegan

    It’s so nice to hear that I’m doing something right. Not that there’s inherently a wrong way, but it’s nice to know that what you’re figuring out makes sense. We came up with a rough guest list that’s still being adjusted a bit to get a ballpark figure (currently 149), set a date, and then began our venue search. I really wanted to go back to our hometown to get married so booking the church was a no-brainer, but the reception venue was hard. It came down to the one place within a reasonable distance that could hold everyone with still a little wiggle room to spare that didn’t have terrible overpriced catering. I hadn’t been there in about 10 years, but I had my mom go ahead and book it. When I was able to go visit, I loved it. One wall is all exposed brick, it overlooks a golf course, overall, it’s just really pretty and their food is delicious.

    As far as a theme, I tell people it’s “wedding”, but it seems to be going with the flow and planning this shindig without many options. Seriously. There are two florists in the area, one of which went to high school with my mom. Done. There is one cake shop that apparently everyone uses unless they have a friend or someone bake it. I honestly couldn’t find anyone else to even check into. Done and delicious. Granted, I knew there wouldn’t be a ton of options when we decided to get married in the middle of nowhere, but I was able to get a ton done in one weekend trip up because after meeting with vendors my decision process was “You’re pretty cool. You’re reasonable. I haven’t found anyone else to look at/compare you to. Done deal”. It’s so surreal.

  • Caroline

    We’re just past this point and that is where I’m having trouble. We have a guest list, date, venue, and officiant. Oh, and we’ve picked a photographer. I have no idea what next. Probably finding a caterer? How do you know a caterer is good without trying the food? Do they do tastings for people who haven’t signed a contract yet? How do you find a good caterer? We’ve talked to two caterers, both of whom were slightly out of our budget, but came recommended. I have no idea where else to go from here. What else needs to happen now?

    • Helen

      In my experience (by which I mean exactly one experience working with a caterer), yes, they do the tasting after they’ve worked up the contract proposal, but before you actually sign the contract and put down the deposit. We got to taste 6 dishes for our 4 item buffet, and picked from there. If we hadn’t liked the food, we would have tried again with another caterer.

  • http://irvingplace.net Kayjayoh

    Count me in as another person who is appreciative of the attendance estimates. We have almost 200 people on the guest list, but about half of them are a flight’s distance away, so I am expecting that to have an effect on the numbers.

    I am working my planning and budget around what we can accommodate and afford if every single person (and maybe some unexpected +1s) were to show up, but it is good to know that we may be looking at 130-150 instead, which is even more manageable.

  • http://suzyrichardtlettering.virb.com Suzy

    This is the sanest thing I have ever heard. We all wish we had wise mothers/aunts/friends/grandmas to give us this advice, but instead, out of excitement and goodwill they generally all get bedazzled in the cloud of fairy sparkle that is “weddingzzzz!” with us, and then everyone ends up in the Hummer party limo wondering what happened.

    Our venue was the Detroit Yacht Club, on Belle Isle between Detroit and Windsor, CA, and it basically set the tone for everything – with a beautiful historic building and plenty of natural light, not much was needed! I’d highly recommend them if you’re throwing a 150-300 person wedding. (We had a lot of family.)

    • http://snippetsof.blogspot.com SarahE

      “and then everyone ends up in the Hummer party limo wondering what happened.”

      HA!!

  • Christy

    My acceptance rate was around 50%. We had our wedding in place where neither of us are from and which required 80% of our guests to fly. Around 5% were in easy driving distance (no hotel room needed) and the other 15% could drive but had to stay in a hotel. My husband and I are older than average and found that not a single person who was invited with a plus-one actually brought one, which accounted for a good percentage reduction in our guest count. Although when I look at the number I feel a little unloved, I was thrilled to be able to use our venue’s in-house china (about a third the price of rented but only available for parties under 100). And really, when I’m being more rational: Does the random person who would have been a +1 matter to me? And did I really expect some of the people I invited to be able to travel as far as would have been required?

  • Hannah

    Been reading APW for about 6 months now, posting for the first time because of this line:

    “Or maybe you don’t give a f*ck because you just want to wear a ball gown dammit and who cares if it’s “beachy” enough. That’s okay too.”

    Thank you so much Elizabeth. Although I am not planning on a ballgown, this is exactly what I needed to hear right now in my beginning planning stage. I need to go with what makes me and my fiancé happy, not what people “think” it should be. Also, I’m going to stop freaking out about trying to pick colors and just shoot for “colorful”. I feel so free!

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  • the bull

    Thankgoodness i found you guys! I was getting swamped in the pintrest wastelands of ombre cakes and designer dresses as pricey as my whole budget! Finally some sensible advice!

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  • http://beelitenotfab.wordpress.com/ Heather

    Just wanted to add that my fiance and I have a friend planning their wedding now. They were discussing the venue and explained that they were fighting with grandma about location. My grandma is abusive so I have a tendency to side with the friend here but then they explained what the fight was about. They want to do it in a “magical elf forrest” and grandma is in a wheel-chair, and also would like to do the wedding closer to home. All of the weddings that satisfy that are far away (also….we don’t live in forests) or out of price range. I told my friend that he should think about satisfying grandma’s needs and he was like: “no we will not back down on this!”

    I feel like if you aren’t old enough to know you need to accommodate grandma’s need for accessibility (especially because she is graciously paying for most of it!) you aren’t old enough to get married.

  • Manny

    Thanks for pointing out the details for the wedding preparations and clearing many misconceptions. Overall great article and clear tips on where and how to start wedding planning.

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  • Caiti_D

    Okay, I love this advice, BUT, I cannot be the only one wanting to hear more about the centerpieces that caught on fire, right?!

    • Erin Rafferty

      I don’t know Meg’s story, but I have a similar one! My mom was at a fundraising event a year or so ago where the centerpieces were leafy flowery things in the middle, with tall candles arranged around the perimeter. (Picture one of those very Kn*t-y candelabra centerpieces with the flowers in the middle–that kind.) At the beginning of the night, the candles were all taller than the flowers, but as the night wore on and the candles burned down, the fire got closer and closer until, at one of the tables near her, the flowers just caught on fire. The people at that table freaked out and dumped their water on it until it was out, and they went on with the event–but pretty soon several more tables had caught, including my mom’s. They ended up blowing out all the candles and spending the rest of the event in near-darkness.

      Moral of the story: if you’re mixing candles with other stuff in your centerpieces, be sure to consider whether the fire will spread and cause chaos halfway through the night.

      • Caitlin_DD

        Oh my gosh, I want to laugh, but that’s also so sad. Poor people…

  • Dee

    This makes that overwhemling feeling disappear. Thank you so much. Ii’m in school and plan to have the wedding very shortly after I graduate. Being in school, working, and planning a wedding is a lot on my plate and you just made my day so much better. I might actuallly sleep tonight. Thanks..