Recently Engaged? Let’s Get Started Planning!

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When you first get engaged, the world of weddings is full of infinite possibilities… and so is your Pinterest board. Maybe you’ll have a tiny quirky wedding in a forest. Maybe you’ll have an all-night disco party in a giant hall. Maybe you’ll wear a ballgown… or maybe one of those newfangled wedding jumpsuits. Who knows! The world is your wedding oyster.

Then you sit down to actually start planning. And suddenly all that infinite possibility becomes infinite decision making. Where do you start? Guest list? Budget? Decor? (Hint: It’s not the last one.) How are you going to afford all this? And also, why is your mom fighting you on all your ideas? Bottom line: the first few weeks of wedding planning can be the hardest. So how do you get from “OMG how do we do this?!” to “Okay, I got this!” when you’re getting started wedding planning?

Well, luckily for you, we’ve spent the last decade solving all of these wedding problems… and providing a place of zero wedding judgment. Want to have a $1,000 wedding for fifty people? Let’s do it. Want to spend $300,000 on five hundred of your nearest and dearest? You do you. And before you start to panic, we’ve partnered with Zola, the free(!) wedding-planning app and registry company. Together we’re going to walk through everything you need to know—from gathering wedding planning tools, to talking to your family, to picking your decor style. You name the problem, and between Zola and APW, we’ve probably got a solution. Hopefully a lower-stress, judgment-free solution. So let’s get down to brass tacks and figure out where you’re going to start… and how you’re going to slay this thing. (And pro-tip: Bookmark this page, so you can come back to it as you go.)

Happy engagement, and please don’t forget to toast your existing commitment several times before you make a single decision. (And then, look at these tips and tricks our readers have come up with for making wedding planning a little chiller.)

Organize Your wedding-planning tools

This wedding (sadly) isn’t going to plan itself. And that means that if you don’t want to lose your mind, you’re going to need some tools to help organize this thing, as well as some places to get sage advice. Let’s talk about where you should start.

checklists galore: Before you even get started, do yourself a favor and download our free, downloadable wedding planning checklist. This is not your average three-hundred-line-item wedding checklist where useful things are peppered in with nonsense like, “Shine crystal chandeliers at least one week before the wedding.” Our goal is to make your wedding a stress-free experience that will keep you motivated and focused on crossing off your wedding goals, one by one. You can start by figuring out your wedding priorities (yup, there is a worksheet for that too), and then you can cross off all those things you don’t care about, because yes, that’s totally allowed. Encouraged, even.

And if you want to plan on the go, our printable checklist integrates perfectly with the free, customizable checklist on the Zola Weddings app, so you can access and update your list anytime and anywhere. Add the tasks you want, delete ones you don’t need, then Zola will help remind you to get it done. (They can even personalize your checklist to your religion or culture and then autofill your to-do list accordingly.) Combine that with our checklist (keep it bookmarked, save your sanity) so you have all the information you need to cross those tasks off your list in style.

the APW books that will help: You’re going to spend a lot of wedding planning Googling. And while we can’t tell you which caterer is the best in your particular city, the APW books can save you from having to Google the wedding basics, and it will walk you through what you need to know in a logical order. The first will help you save time, money, and sanity, and the #APWPlanner can basically plan your wedding for you.

Spreadsheets: You won’t need them quite yet, but get these spreadsheets saved somewhere. We’ve got you covered on everything from your wedding guest list template to your vendor contact list to your day-of wedding timeline. You’ll thank yourself later.

An app to keep you organized: Speaking of thanking yourself later. We’re excited to partner with Zola because they have one of the only actually useful planning apps out there, not to mention it’s gender neutral, in that it doesn’t assume you’re a bride. (Can we get a 🎉 for the new businesses in the wedding industry finally putting the old guard on notice?) Zola lets you choose whether you want a little or a lot of guidance from the app, and then tailors your to-do list accordingly. Plus you can integrate your checklist, guest list, and registry all in one place. So sign up now, and then they’ll ping you when it’s time to actually get sh*t done.

set a budget: Setting your budget can feel like you’re just making up numbers… but it doesn’t have to. First, you need to decide how much you can spend on your guests. Then, you need to discuss how much you want to spend on your guests. We have sample budgets for $2,000 to $30,000 weddings, with advice on figuring out your own wedding budget. Plus, we have a guide on how to stick with your wedding budget when Pinterest is right there taunting you.

do your homework

Once you’ve gathered some basic tools, it’s time for you and your partner to sit down and discuss what kind of wedding you want to have. (Psst: The #APWPlanner provides a handy priorities worksheet for you and your partner to follow.)

talk to your families: Okay, you know how you want the wedding to look, feel, and move. Now it’s time to sit down and have a chat with your families. Are you asking for financial contributions? Have you thought about what kind of input you want them to have? Are there traditions you want to include—or traditions you want to eschew?

MAKE YOUR GUEST LIST: You’ll notice that we’ve put the guest list before venue search. That’s because your first step in planning the logistics of your wedding (after budget) should be figuring out who you want there. Then make the rest of your plans around that. (Doing it the other way around is how you accidentally realize you don’t have enough space in your venue for your grandma. Whoops.) We’ve got tons of guidance on putting that list together. Plus, Our guest list spreadsheet can help keep you organized. And if you’ve signed up with Zola above, you can gather addresses multiple ways (including by uploading our spreadsheet directly) and manage your list from your desktop or straight from your phone. Zola’s guest list manager even allows you to track RSVPs in real-time and communicate directly with your guests (which will come in handy later when it’s time to send out thank you cards).

begin the venue search: Now? Now you’re really getting started, friends. We’ve got a comprehensive guide to choosing a venue right here. But here’s a tip to get you started: when you’re doing your initial search, try Googling phrases like “Northern California beach wedding” or “Brooklyn diner wedding” and see what comes up. Many venue and photographer websites are optimized to come up in searches like this, so use that to your advantage.

Pick Your Wedding Date: Sure, you’re going to need to find a venue and figure out what dates they have free. But here is our guide on the other things you should think through before you put a date on it.

THINK ABOUT VENDORS: First things first: we have a guide full of folks who are committed to honoring your diverse and awesome commitment. They are awesome people and awesome vendors, and you should start your search right there. Then, here’s how you hire a wedding photographer, for one. (Psst: If photography is a top priority, this is a vendor you probably want to lock down ASAP.) We also have advice on hiring a florist, hiring a caterer, and hiring a videographer. Speaking of vendors, make sure you get contracts for everyone you work with (yes, even the ones you’re friends with). We’ve got the useful advice on that right here, plus what to do about tipping your vendors.

EVENT RENTALS 101: If your reception venue isn’t inclusive, you’re probably going to need rentals. The good news is that they’re often more affordable than you’d think (and cleanup is way easier too). Here’s what you need to know about event rentals.

Finally, Some really fun stuff!

Next, it’s time to set up the framework of your wedding. What will it look like? Feel like? How will your guests experience it? How will you? Since you have your date and maybe a vendor or two, you’re ready to methodically (or not) hash out the next phase of planning.

Figure Out Your Wedding Style: Planning a wedding can be a lot easier if you’ve figured out what your general style and vibe is. You can start by picking a color palette (gone are the days of blush and bashful… thank God). When it comes to figuring out how to decorate without breaking the bank, you can check out our guide on cheap-but-totally-hip decoration ideas, along with the secret tools we use to create cool wedding designs. We’ve even rounded up our secret shopping sources. So hit our DIY section, and get your styling on… #LazyGirl style.

Find a Killer dress (or suit): If shopping for a wedding dress makes you feel queasy, we’ve got your back. Our wedding dress shopping guide has all the details you need on fabric, sizing, and prices. Plus, we’ve got tips for plus size wedding dress shopping, queer wedding style, and even fair trade wedding dresses. This year we even tested out a way for those of us with lots of boob to go braless.

Registering: Why did we put registering under the fun stuff? Because it should be fun, and we just wanted to remind you of that. So ignore all the must-have lists, and register for stuff you actually like and want. And that means giving yourself options. With newer registries like Zola, you can register for experiences and subscriptions (hello cheese of the month box, we see you there) in addition to the standard home goods. Zola has fifty thousand gifts, including experiences and cash funds, and they offer more brands than you could ever hope to find in a store. So whether you’re looking for old standbys or one-of-a-kind goodies, you actually have all the flexibility to personalize your registry and make sure it reflects you and your partner. Also, this just in: ZOLA LET’S YOU REGISTER FOR A BLOWOUT WITH DRYBAR. 😍💁‍♀️ Just me, with the frizzy hair, or nah?

INVITING GUESTS: Are you getting ready to tell everyone about your fabulous upcoming shindig? COOL. We’ve rounded up our favorite invites that won’t break the bank. Let’s talk about wedding invitation wording and suggestions for ways to make the invite wording more feminist. If you want to DIY your wedding invites, we cover that in detail too. (And, oh yeah, here’s how you get them to RSVP in the first place. Pro-tip: You can track RSVPs in real time if you’ve got your guests loaded up in the Zola Weddings app.)

Digging into the nitty-gritty

ALCOHOL: If you’re hooking up your own wedding booze, you’re going to need to do a little pre-planning. You’ll want to read up on how to buy it and how to calculate how much alcohol your wedding will need in the first place. (And yes, if you can provide your own booze, it really will save you a lot of money.)

WEDDING TIMELINE: At some point, you will need to figure out when and how you’re getting from point A to point B of your wedding day (and your vendors might ask for it too). So here’s how to figure out your wedding timeline.

what can you DIY: The number one rule of DIY is that you should only invest your time (aka blood, sweat, and tears) into the things you really care about. Spend money (or just ditch) the stuff that matters less. Because your time is precious, you hear me? Anyway, planning on DIYing your wedding flowers (or a floral crown)? Mulling over the idea of DJing your own wedding? You can do to those things, and you can do them well. In fact, I did those things for my own wedding (plus hair and makeup).

wedding playlists: You know what Google is often not awesome for? Helping you pick out wedding songs. (Unless you had your heart set on “Lonestar,” in which case, do you.) Luckily, we’ve done all the heavy lifting for you. Our playlists have a little country, a lot of soul, and basically everything in between (and we’ve covered everything from first dance songs to mother-son dance songs to non-cheesy father-daughter dance songs, and blowout jams to end the night by). But you might want to start with our master list, that covers pretty much… everything.

get real wedding inspiration: One of the best things to do when you’re planning a wedding is to find some real-world inspiration. Thinking of catering your own wedding? That’s super cool, and we actually have featured a lot of couples who did just that. Considering an elopement? They’re lovely. Is your community helping make your wedding happen? I bet it’ll be gorgeous. If you just want to get lost for a few hours (or days), every single wedding we’ve ever featured can be found right here.

IT’S TIME FOR SOME PARTIES

Want An Engagement Party?: Engagement parties are just flat out fun, but they can be particularly nice if you know you’re in for a reasonably long engagement. Here are some ideas for putting together an engagement party that isn’t a second wedding (unless, you know, that’s your jam, in which case #GoBigOrGoReallyBig).

Bridal shower ideas: Here is everything you need to know to plan a bridal shower… so you can pass that right on to someone who’s not you. Plus, here are bridal shower games that are actually fun. Once you’ve handed off planning that shower, you’re going to need a good outfit… so we did a little research for you.

wedding rehearsals: Before we get to the rehearsal dinner, let’s talk about what really should precede it… the wedding rehearsal. Because unless you’re having a teeny tiny wedding, practice will really help the whole thing go more smoothly… even if we can’t promise perfection.

The Rehearsal dinner: Maybe your mom wants one, or maybe you just want a more laid-back chance to see all those people coming into town just for you. Either way, here are our best rehearsal dinner ideas.

Last-Minute Goodness

What’s your hashtag?: You’re planning your wedding on the Internet right now, so I’m gonna guess you’re the kind of person who wants a wedding hashtag. If that’s you, here are our tips for coming up with the perfect one.

Makeup And Skincare: Maybe you’re getting professional makeup done, maybe you’re not. But either way, taking care of your skin before your wedding makes you look all glowy (and is good for you too). We’ve rounded up the products we personally use to make our skin a hundred percent. We’ve also rounded makeup products we’re really loving right now. And if you want to go sans makeup for your wedding, let’s get to it.

Hair Stylin’: Time to research wedding hair ideas? We’ve gotchu, with hair ideas for every length and texture of hair, along with a special guide just for curly girls. Oh and maybe you want tips from Beyoncé’s stylist about wedding hairstyles for black women? And if you’re trying how to make your pixie cut wedding worthy, we’ve got plenty of ideas (plus maybe you should gild that lily?) If you know you want an updo, we’ve rounded up ones that don’t look like a prom in 1994. If, like me, you’re going to do your own hair for your wedding, here is what you need to know. And finally, your bridesmaids need hairstyling ideas too.

And finally, thank you notes: Yes, you need to write them. But lucky for you we’ve come up with the perfect template to make it easy peasy. And bonus #lazygirl tip: If you registered with Zola, you can easily export a list of who got you what and when, so then all you have to do is put pen to paper.

This post was sponsored by Zola. With Zola, you can build the registry you actually want; add items from a selection of over 50,000 gifts (plus add from any store) or if physical objects aren’t your style, register for experiences and subscriptions—heck, with Zola you can even register for your blowout. (They just partnered up with Drybar. I’m not mad about it.) And with Zola Weddings, now you can manage your wedding checklist and your guest list too. Other perks include group gifting, shipping control (aka you tell your registry when you want to receive stuff), and the lowest credit card processing fee in the industry for cash gifts, if you choose to add a cash registry option. Click here for a full list of Zola’s features and sign up for Zola today!

4 Things I Tell All My Newly Engaged Friends

Last year, four of my very best friends (three of the bridesmaids in my wedding plus my younger sister) got engaged within a few short weeks of each other. Since I have very much drunk the wedding Kool-Aid (how could you not, with my job?), at first I was like this:

But once the planning was underway, I quickly transitioned to this:

Because I forgot how horrible wedding planning is. Whoops! Over the last year, I’ve fielded every question under the sun from “Can we tell our dads we don’t want anyone giving us away at our modern feminist queer wedding?” to “How do you make a custom Snapchat filter?” to “Why is my mom ruining my life right now?” And even though I definitely sent all of them copies of both APW books (the one that’s basically a personal wedding therapist and the one that’s a $15 wedding professional in your pocket), I still ended up spending the better part of my commute home this year on the phone, reassuring everyone that their choices were okay, their families would love the wedding, and one time, explaining how to forward a URL when you’ve accidentally sent out invitations with the wrong wedding website on them. But of all the advice I doled out, these four tips are the best nuggets of wisdom I have in my arsenal. And officially what I will tell any newly engaged friends henceforth.

1. Everything is expensive, because everything is expensive

The first thing that happens when you start planning a wedding is sticker shock: Why is everything so expensive? Which is why there are a thousand think pieces online about the cost of modern weddings and the wedding tax. But the reality? Most of the wedding tax stuff is made up. Weddings are expensive because it costs a crap ton of money to feed and entertain one to two hundred people for four hours. The best way I’ve heard this explained is in the APW planner, courtesy of Liz Coopersmith of Silver Charm Events. She has dubbed “The Olive Garden Rule,” and it goes like this: Unlimited soup, salad, and bread sticks notwithstanding, at the Olive Garden, an appetizer, a salad, and a few glasses of wine will cost about $50 per person. Translate that to a hundred guests, and it would cost $5,000 to serve Olive Garden at your wedding. And that’s not including other luxuries like tables and chairs and waitstaff.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have an affordable wedding. It just means you might need to reimagine what pops up in your head when you think the word “wedding.” Maybe it means you serve cake and punch at two in the afternoon. Maybe it means getting married on a Friday night. Maybe it means a limited bar. Whatever your budget, there is a way to have a wedding that fits within it. Case in point: here are twenty fabulous weddings under $15,000 and thirteen awesome budget weddings under $8,000, plus creative ideas for dealing with wedding sticker shock.

2. Guests first, things second

When you get engaged, the first thing people typically ask you is, “Have you made any plans yet?” And at first you’re like, “Oh we’re just basking in the glow of being engaged, la la la!” But after the tenth time, your brain starts to turn on you and you start thinking, “Maybe I’m so behind! Maybe I need to plan All The Things RIGHTNOWYESTERDAY!” And this is you hunched over your computer at 3 a.m.:

This pressure can mount especially fast if you’re planning a short engagement or getting married in an area where limited availability of venues can make a year feel short. But don’t rush to book a venue before you’ve set your guest list. Because despite what the wedding industry will tell you, the people make the wedding. And that goes for big weddings and small weddings alike. So don’t trap yourself into a 75-person venue if you know your combined guest list is going to be 150 people. I promise you, no amount of skylights and unique landscaping will make up for having to tell someone you love there just isn’t enough space.

P.S. If you’re trying to do the “but our dream venue is 100 people and we’re inviting 120 and we can’t imagine everyone will come but WHAT IF THEY DO?!” math, then click here to download a page directly from the #APWPlanner with estimates for some of the most common wedding scenarios and guest types.

3. Master the smile and shrug

Okay, so remember those people who asked if you had anything planned yet? They are not innocents! They have opinions. And they will share their opinions with you, whether you like it or not. And your brain will absorb those opinions, whether you like it or not. And it will get you twisted. But I have a secret to tell you: People will not actually care about ninety-nine percent of your choices when the wedding rolls around (I’m talking small stuff, like whether you wear a white dress or are having your parents walk you down the aisle, not big stuff like the fact that you’re not planning on inviting your Nana). So here’s my advice on what to share:

Share with everyone: Basic logistics that will impact their ability to attend your wedding, such as where the wedding will take place, when it will take place, if they’re on the guest list. Or anything you’re confident enough to field opinions about. #SorryNotSorry

Put on your wedding website: Stuff that people need to know to show up prepared, that they will inevitably have opinions about, but their opinions don’t matter and you don’t want to hear them. Examples include if you’re having an open bar and what the dress code will be.

Tell your parents (or grandparents, or anyone whose feelings you really care about): Anything that might hurt them but you’re doing anyway. This might include not inviting an estranged family member, doing away with a tradition that they might be expecting to partake in or parts of the wedding that they’ve helped pay for. These conversations can be emotionally exhausting for both parties, so try to approach them with empathy. Chances are, your family has been thinking of your wedding for longer than you can remember, so even if you don’t plan on changing your plans, maybe pretend like you’ll at least consider it?

Smile and shrug: If you’re excited about it, and it won’t affect a single other person, and you don’t want to invite their opinion, then girl, play dumb and do the Kanye shrug:

Translation? “Gosh, we haven’t even gotten that far yet! But you’ll love whatever we choose, because there will literally be no other option once we get you in the door.”

4. You Really, Really Don’t Need a Theme

One of the aforementioned friends famously texted me about ten seconds after she got engaged, with a scroller text of wedding questions. Among them was, “How do you create and execute a wedding narrative?” To which I responded, “Tha fuck is a wedding narrative?” And she explained, “Your story that determines music, food, decor, vibe everything!” And was like, “Oooooh, a theme?” And she was like, “Yes.” And that’s when I realized that the biggest myth of the wedding industry, which I thought was good and dead, had actually split itself up into seven horcruxes and refuses to die. What myth, you ask? That you need a theme for your wedding.

Allow me stab this idea with a basilisk fang. Your. Wedding. Does. Not. Need. A. Theme. No one in the history of time walked into a wedding and said, “Oh, yes, they really pulled off that urban rustic postmodern glitter vibe soooo well!” Most likely the thought process of your guests goes: 1. Sniffle, that was such a sweet ceremony. 2. Where’s the bar. 3. OMG I am starving, did I just see an appetizer plate walk by? 4. Do I know anyone here? They are not thinking, “That place setting doesn’t go with the drink menu at all.” So don’t worry about making everything cohesive. And don’t spend too much time on tiny tabletop details. Just pick things you like. Wear what you want. Choose colors that make you happy. Have fun with it. And make sure your guests are fed on time. Otherwise? Try to think about some of the kick-ass parties you’ve been to in your life and what made them awesome. Then channel that. And if you need more pep talks on this subject, here’s why there’s no such thing as a timeless wedding, and why you don’t actually want that Pinterest wedding.

Pink Line

The thing I most wish I’d known when wedding planning is that the hard stuff is what you can’t control. Family is family. Money doesn’t grow on trees. But nothing good comes from stressing over centerpieces. And the rest? It can be fun if you let it.

Champagne also helps a lot.

BUY THE #APWPlanner:

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APW Happy Hour

Dear APW,

As awful as this year has generally felt, the end of it seemed to come all at once. And as always, this is where we leave you. And we’ll see you again on January 4, 2018.

Ending this year at APW feels a little bittersweet. As I talked about earlier this week, it was a hard year professionally, and it didn’t feel like my most creatively fulfilling year either. (I doubt any of us do our best work when we’re struggling through what was often daily political terror.) So in many ways I leave this year with so much more that I wish I’d done. And also… I’m glad to be done with it. But while our publishing year ends now (though we’ll be back this weekend with a roundup of where to start for all the newly engaged that always join us just after Christmas), our professional year doesn’t.

What I didn’t mention in my huge gut wrenching essay on 2017 is that we’re nearing the end of a massive relaunch project that, frankly, we’ve been struggling to get done for a year and a half. Working with designers and web developers, we’ve been through just about everything at this point—from teams that were not good fits to people who tried to take money and run to good humans just in over their heads. That said, I learned a ton, and I am a much stronger businesswoman than I was before I had to threaten legal action for the first time. 😬 The constant in this whole project has been a tireless staff who is constantly trying to figure out the solution to the problem of being a big-in-our-industry-but-not-funded company (particularly, an extra thank you to our Brand Director Najva Sol for her work on this). But through sheer doggedness, in the middle of this slog of a year, we found an amazing team, and we are at this point just days away from the site that we’ve been dreaming of for years now.

On one hand, I don’t want to oversell the relaunch to y’all. The least sexy but most important part of this project is that we built the code from scratch, getting rid of piles and piles of outdated and broken code that date back to 2010. So site speeds will drastically improve, and this whole place should just work better. Flashy? No. Necessary? Absolutely yes. But on the other hand, I am happier with it than any work we’ve done in a long time. I finally put the time (and money) in with our amazing designer on this project to get the logo that I want to keep forever and ever amen. And the new site gives us a huge number of tools that make accessing all of our content easier. Plus, it’s pretty.

However, like any relaunch of a nearly ten-year-old website, it means practically endless grueling hours tweaking and fixing, and finding problems, and prioritizing fixes, and generally trying to make it all ready for prime time. And we signed up to do it right before the holidays, God help us all. But if this means we end the hardest year in our company’s history with a little bit of fireworks and champagne and a much clearer path ahead, well, I’m here for it.

So here is to 2018, and much more light to guide the way. Till then, everything calm, everything bright.

We’ll see you in the future.

xo,

Meg

Best of APW 2017

Normally, when I sit down to round up our best posts of the year, I get to spend a few hours really delightfully romping down memory lane, remembering what we were up to at work over the last year. To be totally honest, nothing about 2017 feels anything like that.

It starts, of course, with politics. Looking back at our work this year, it’s clear that our staff spent the first months of the year in a kind of deep emotional trauma that I’m still not sure I have words for. The awfulness that has enveloped our country is just the same as it was back in January, of course. But these days, we seem to have developed of emotional resilience—which is both necessary and terrifying. Beyond that, I’ve written about how the first few months of the year we were in the middle of a business crisis. Looking back, when you stack everything up, it feels like a wonder we published at all.

All of which is to say, a huge heartfelt thank you for sticking with us this year. A commenter recently said:

I just wanted to say thank you to all the folks at APW for providing what I’ve found to be one of the safest spaces on the Internet, which as been a big source of help, hope, and comfort to me just getting on day to day in the Trump era. When I go to this site, I find thoughtful, engaged, and kind people, which has become an increasingly rare quality to find online these days. As I continue to do what I can to stay informed, take political action, be involved in my community, and write more books (because that’s what I do), it’s really wonderful to have this community too. It makes me feel less alone in a lot of the feelings I’ve been having. So thank you <3

That meant the world to me. Not just because it was so goddamn nice, but also because so much of this year felt like we were professionally floundering, desperately trying to get our feet under us, even as the world seemed sometimes unrecognizable.

All that said, we published a lot this year that I’m really proud of. We were lucky enough to get Amy March (a pen name by any other name is still a pen name) to join our staff as an advice columnist this year. And editing her cutting advice, along with continuing my many delightful years of editing Liz’s tough love, was a professional highlight. We also published some amazing weddings, that have caught in my heart forever, some great essays… and oh yeah, we got to dress up (and wayyy down) sometimes too.

So from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I’ve learned so much from 2017, and I can’t wait to put it all to use in 2018, making the best kind of magic we know how. (That is, the confetti and gaff tape kind, of course.)

And now, without further ado, here is some of the work we published on APW this year that I’m the most proud of:

Advice

No, you can’t quit as MOH eight weeks before the wedding without making it all about you.

I still do not know where to file in my brain the fact that a bridesmaid was asked to pay for a catered bridal shower for a hundred people. Someone file that request in the trash.

This year is the year I learned that if you have someone kinda racist in your family (and who doesn’t), you can’t just let it slide because it’s a wedding.

Then, there was the time that someone suggested that after a terrible divorce, her friend should just sell her house to be able to afford to be a bridesmaid in her wedding.

And at long last, we got an update on the woman asked to buy a $15K bridesmaid dress. (Yes, that question was real. They all are.)

But ending the year on a high note, remember that couple who we told to live it up at their drag wedding and tell their hateful family to go jump in a lake? GUYS THEY INVITED US TO THEIR WEDDING NEXT AUGUST, AND WE ARE GOING.

Style

This was the year that I taped my boobs up with gaffer tape and showed the Internet how to make your boobs defy gravity. It ranks as one of the best things I’ve learned in a decade in this job.

After five years straight of nursing (RIP nursing, SOB), I take my job of providing hot nursing party dresses to the Internet very seriously. This year’s batch did not disappoint.

For the first time ever we went to Bridal Fashion Week, and OMG THE FEATHERS. And the capes. And the sparkles. And the feathers.

While I might be lame all day, I love that some of you just want a good suit. And our masculine of center attire roundup was on point this year.

And it may be shallow, but the day we got to dress up in BHLDN wedding dresses like it was our job (it is our job) was one of my favorites of the whole year.

Real Weddings

I might never get over this black queer (drop-dead gorgeous) $90,000 wedding at the Bently Reserve. It was the cure to all that ailed me this year.

But this $1,500 wedding under a waterfall in Georgia with a pregnant bride? It is somehow also everything in this world.

If you add together everything I love, you get this Jewish Brooklyn wedding, with a Reformation dress (with sleeves!), where they spent just $15,000 for 110 people.

Take me to Hawai’i, give me a boozy shave ice, a bride with a cape, and saber some champagne… and then let’s ride off into the sunset.

This tiny blended family wedding, on white sands, under a supermoon? It’s like a shower of magic from the skies.

Jumping the broom, and a vibrant celebration of black heritage? Everything 2017 needs.

Marriage

We asked, you answered. How often are y’all having sex?

The three things Maddie did to totally change her marriage, before having a baby.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen to me.” After 103 days of marriage, realizing you’re married to an alcoholic and compulsive spender who drained your bank account and racked up $20,000 in debt.

What it was like to divorce a man, come out at twenty-eight, and marry a woman.

Learning to talk about money after eight whole years together.

Remember how we asked you how often you had sex? Then we asked some sexperts how to have sex more.

Wedding Planning

For years, I’ve wanted to publish a Bridesmaid’s Bill of Rights. And 2017 was the year. Treat it as gospel.

When your family makes up issues: I’ve got 99 wedding problems, but yours is not one.

You know how you should feel about your wedding budget? Not guilty, that is for damn sure.

Why it’s perfect that your crop-top wedding dress is going to be dated in five minutes.

We polled you for your best wedding planning hacks, and as always, you delivered.

Picking out a wedding dress the day after Trump was elected, as an immigrant and a feminist.

And while not technically published on APW, the most viral thing I’ve ever written (and a piece I’m damn proud of): What my parents’ 1974 wedding would cost in 2017.

What about you? Let us know what your favorite posts were from this year, and what you want more of in 2018. Let’s do this thing!

Is My Boyfriend Cheap, or Is He Controlling Me with Money?

Q: My boyfriend of two years and I have been talking of marriage, kids, life, etc. He’s amazing, and we always have fun together. There’s just one little thing that is making me question our future, and it seems really stupid. He’s oddly cheap.

He makes a lot (A LOT) of money—over four times what I make. He takes me out to nice dinners and dates. He drives a very nice car and never hesitates to spend money on his motor toys. Neither one of us is super into “stuff” and big gifts, but I secretly want him to get me jewelry one day.

The thing is that he will comment and complain about money he spends on me or us. At dinner he sometimes points out the cheapest meal and the cheapest wine even if it’s something I don’t like, and snorts if I might want a second glass or dessert or an appetizer. He’s all about happy hour or getting a great deal. Who isn’t, but it’s all the time. He rarely ever lets me pay for anything, but he reminds me of the nice dinner he took me to or how much he spent on our date night. I paid the bill last weekend, because I didn’t want any comments about my second glass of wine; he forgot I had paid, and the next day asked me if I liked the dinner he took me to. We went to the market together to get stuff to make dinner. I wanted to add nuts to the salad (I’m vegetarian so it’s my protein), but he told me it was getting too expensive as is, so I put them back. I made and cleaned up the entire meal, and he still had the nerve to remind me what a nice dinner he’d gotten for us to make. If we go out for lunch during the week, he always wants to split something, even salad, but then he will get a side for himself, and I’m still slightly hungry.

He’s never really gotten me a “nice” or romantic gift. I know it’s petty, and I don’t need a lot of stuff, but I feel like when it comes to getting me a gift, he just looks for the best deal and doesn’t think about what I might really want. But he will spend a fortune on his own things. It’s just weird, and I don’t even know if I should try and talk to him about it? I feel like I’ll probably end up saying something extremely snarky and sarcastic, and I want to avoid that. Is this a major red flag that I’m ignoring?

—Anonymous

A:

Dear Anonymous,

Yep, it’s a red flag. But let’s be clear about what’s so astounding here.

It’s not the frugality, no. That’s a good thing, no matter how much he has.

It’s not the difference of opinion regarding how the money should be spent. That’s all too normal. Loads of couple work through that one just fine, and it might be easily solved by saying, “Yo, I want a second glass of wine, live with it.”

It’s not even the fact that he spends more on himself than he does on you. That’s thoughtlessness, sure, but your average sort of oblivious selfishness that you can work through in couples counseling.

What really startles me here is how he uses money as a weapon. He’s not only withholding, but then also lords his “generosity” (which is in no way real) over you. In any relationship you have to assess the unspoken power dynamic involved in finances. In this relationship, the power dynamic isn’t unspoken. It’s purposely, intentionally being exploited to create unequal footing.

If this was just about being cheap, about finding common ground in how money should be spent, about the handling of money at all, I’d suggest talking it through. But don’t be distracted by the money angle, here. This is about much more than that, and whoa, it’s a red flag.

—Liz Moorhead

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTION, PLEASE DON’T BE SHY!

Our Favorite Weddings of 2017

At most wedding publications, they end the year by rounding up their favorite wedding details. Which is not really our style. There is nothing wrong with the twenty best bouquets of 2017 (and if you want to see that, there are plenty of places to find it), but that’s not really our jam. So instead, we like to end the year with some of most amazing reader weddings of the year. And our trick to finding these amazing reader weddings is to reach out to our ultra-talented pool of vendors and ask them to send in their favorite APW weddings.

And as always, y’alls weddings are amazing AF. As Nadiya Nacorda at Imani Fine Art Photography put it:

APW readers are unafraid to do what has never been done before. To be original, honest, and maybe a little crazy. I love that magic and that passion to just be true to oneself. It’s not only incredibly wonderful as a photographer and storyteller, but as a person as well. It’s literally the best.

Remember how girls were doing whatever the fuck they wanted in 2017? Well, come hell or high water (and tragically, 2017 contained way too much of both of those), y’all did just that. So while we’re all pretty ready to be done with the dumpster fire that was 2017 in politics, these weddings remind us of all the good that happened this year, and how y’all know how to tie the knot in style.

1. Who: JENN AND CLARENCE / Where: palm springs, CA / Photographer: Rad in love

Jenn and Clarence had a once in a lifetime mid-century modern tiki dinner party with a ceremony before appetizers. To see more of this wedding check out the wedding here.

The half case of Veuve Cliquot for the toast was a generous gift from our friend and officiant. That arch? Totally a garden fixture from Lowe’s assembled the day before (and put up for free on Craigslist the next morning while we ate leftover cake). The macramé was DIYed the month before on the floor while healing up from a back injury, and it was surprisingly therapeutic to complete! We borrowed a friend’s Costco speaker with a mic, connected a phone with a Spotify account, and called it a day. We’re not winning any awards with our playlists, but we’re also not not winning. Clarence’s wedding band was bought on Amazon, and Jenn’s was bought vintage from the same jeweler who refurbished a vintage setting for the engagement ring.

2. Who: gloria and jason / Where: SOnoma, CA / Photographer: LUCILLE LAWRENCE

A dash of whimsy, a splash of color, a little DIY, and a whole lot of love made Gloria and Jason’s day simply sweet. To see more of this wedding click here.

Working with Gloria and Jason was one of the year’s highlights because they were both loose and carefree but totally thoughtful and intentional about their wedding. They put together a dynamite team to work alongside, including Mack Floral, Gold & Gumption, and Heart of Gold DJs, and we all just bounced off one another throughout the day. From the hand-painted golden animal place settings to the simple elegance of the venue, complemented by the fresh springtime Sonoma air, it all came together so effortlessly. We’d had a wonderful engagement session around San Francisco and that also helped with the magic of the day; we all felt comfortable and goofy around each other, and it made for lots of spontaneity and trust. I just love these kids.

3. Who: CASEY AND ALEX / Where: Lynchburg, VA / Photographer: A lovely photo

By trusting their vision and instinct, Casey and Alex had a beautiful bohemian wedding filled unexpected splurges and fun details. To see more of this DIY Virginia wedding click here.

Casey and Alex put so much personal flair into their celebration, and I couldn’t stop smiling the entire day. Casey’s dress was incredible (she made it partly from vintage curtains—WHAT IS THIS SORCERY?!), and Alex’s burgundy suit was so perfectly Alex. There was even a break in the middle of the day to take a quick nap and prepare for the evening, because these two seriously know how to throw a kick-ass party.

4. Who: MERAV AND ADAM / Where: New York, NY / Photographer: Studio A Images

Merav and Adam’s wedding was good vibes central. Forget all those “timeless,” “meaningful,” and “serious” words that bog you down during wedding planning. They went with “FUN.” And Adena of Studio A Images captured all the laughter and smiles beautifully. See the rest on Studio A Images’ blog.

Merav and Adam don’t take themselves too seriously. At all. This is a couple who enjoys having a good time and randomly breaks into dance. There was a basketball game before formal portraits were taken, and their friends played with an inflatable unicorn. They also traded traditional floral centerpieces on their tables for board games, complete with a hidden winning golden envelope per table. The winner got to take home the table’s game.

5.  Who: Brooke and Colton / Where: Washington, D.C. / Photographer: Pop! Wed Co.

Nature, dogs, and the cutest couple. Need we say more? And the dinosaurs as cake toppers deserve their special mention.

Brooke and Colton’s elopement was basically magic. They were married in D.C., in the middle of what looks like a gorgeous forest (D.C. parks for the win!) with their three dogs. Our photographer, Barbara, took them on an epic adventure to find the perfect spot for the ceremony, which made their wedding even more special—the hunt for the perfect place to say vows is an important part of an adventure elopement!

6. Who: Zoe and Sam / Where: San Francisco, CA / Photographer: Manali Anne Photography

Zoe and Sam evoked some serious magic in the redwood forest. And let’s be real, that dress is epic. Says Manali:

Zoe and Sam are my dancing darlings! They looove to dance, ballroom dancing in particular. Zoe chose a fabulous green dress that swished all around as she and Sam danced. I loved this moment when they broke out dancing in the middle of our portrait session in the redwoods.

7. Who: DEBBIE AND KENNY / Where: newport beach, CA / Photographer: Evangeline lane

When choosing her wedding dress, Debbie had a thought in mind: “White dresses are nice, but a red gown makes you feel like the flamenco dancer emoji!” Continuing the line of “our wedding, our tradition” thinking, also even enlisted their adorable pup Riley as the maid of honor! Click here for more images from this intimate brunch wedding, red dress included.

If there was the term “APW couple” in the dictionary, then I imagine a photo of Debbie and Kenny (with their rescue pup Riley) would be right next to it. I mean, they did things THEIR way with a killer brunch wedding with stuffed French toast and a Bloody Mary bar. Debbie wore a badass red dress, and best of all they recognized that while it wasn’t the most perfect day, it was the BEST day.

couple in wedding attire stand on small paved path in a wooded park

8. Who: AMY and BEN / Where: Cape Cod, MA / Photographer: Kelly Benvenuto Photography

The thought of Cape Cod conjures images of beaches with rolling dunes, lighthouses, and overall summer goodness. It’s also known as “the perfect location for Amy’s and Ben’s wedding.” (Spoiler alert: There were lobster rolls. We are jealous.) See more images from Amy and Ben’s backyard wedding here.

Amy, a West Coast girl, and Ben, an East Coast boy, met in college and discovered a shared zest for international adventure. But for their wedding, they chose someplace close to their hearts and closer to home—Ben’s family’s summer place on Cape Cod. After nine years together, they planned their intimate wedding in just two months. They welcomed their thirty-something friends and family as they arrived for the ceremony. Guests sipped French 75s and Sidecars in the open air of a not-quite-sunny June day, and enjoyed lobster rolls, tacos, and falafel from a food truck. They rounded out the night with dancing, fireworks, and a fire on the beach. The whole day felt true to them, and Amy and Ben’s openness, warmth, and the genuine delight they took in each other, made their wedding a delight to photograph.

A woman embraces her husband and kisses his cheek

9. Who: LYVONNE AND BRANDON / Where: OAKLAND, CA / Photographer: ANDRIA LO

Lyvonne and Brandon jumped the broom at their cool and intimate wedding at the Oakland winery. Glam, personal, and thoughtful traditions peppered their celebration with close family and friends. Check out the rest of images from Lyvonne and Brandon’s winery celebration here.

We were enamored with the farm family-style table. Seeing our friends and family become friends and family during dinner was exciting and oh-so satisfying.

My parents are from the West Indies and Brandon’s parents are African-American, so we wanted to honor our heritage by engaging in a ritual that many of our ancestors did. Enslaved Africans were not allowed to legally marry, but enamored couples found a way to signify their eternal bond by, quite literally, jumping over a broom. A dear friend decorated a broom in our wedding colors (merlot and gold) and we jumped the broom in honor of this tradition!

Lastly, friends showered us with love during a money dance (also known as a “money spray”). This Nigerian tradition is commonly performed by those from the Yoruba and Igbo tribes and is a way for the family and friends to dance and celebrate the new couple while wishing them financial wealth and prosperity. We had to dance for those dollars!

10.  Who: ARIELLE and DAVID / Where: Seattle, WA / Photographer: Jonas Seaman Photography

Now here’s a wedding with a plot twist made for the movies. We’ll let Jonas tell the story of Arielle and David’s “wedding in the dark.” Click here for more magical images from Arielle and David’s wedding.

It was five minutes before the ceremony when a loud sound was heard outside the venue. A truck driving by had crashed into an electric pole. The wedding venue named “secret gardens” was a lush landscape of trees and fairy lights. All of the lights went out. The sound system went down. The power was gone. No music for the entrance? No working microphones for the vows? No power? How would the caterer prepare dinner? How would people see in the dark? Yes, this was my favorite wedding of the year. Watching Arielle and David roll with the punches on their wedding day was an inspiration. They didn’t sweat the small stuff. In the end, all that mattered was making their commitments to each other and sharing the day with their closest friends and family. Every hurdle was somehow overcome. An iPhone provided processional music. They spoke up so everyone could hear during the ceremony. Most of the lights would remain off, but a generator was found for the caterer. There were candles, and guests used their phones to see in the dark. No one complained. In fact, everyone was clearly having the time of their lives. There was so much laughter and love. From a photographer’s perspective, it was a gold mine of images. At the end of the night, I watched Arielle and David drive off from the venue. The minute they disappeared around the corner, the streetlights turned back on. The power had returned to the city block. Arielle messaged me later on Facebook, “Who knew magical things could happen even in the dark?”

11. Who: Jaime and Will / Where: Big Sur, CA / Photographer: Hayley Anne Photography

The Santa Lucia Mountains and a rugged coastline set the scene for Jaime and Will’s commitment ceremony. Hayley was on-hand to document their union amongst the stunning wilderness that is Big Sur.

Jaime and Will came up from Los Angeles to Big Sur. Jaime, a self-described “dirty hippie,” had an intimate commitment ceremony with Will while standing in the Big Sur River. With sunlight streaming through the trees and water drifting around their feet, it was gorgeous and a perfect representation of new beginnings. Together we adventured through the wild and wind to document their true souls, which I think was quite fitting.

12.  Who: Lisa and Ben / Where: Richmond, VA / Photographer: Ash Carr Photo

Toasting with family and friends in a picturesque home were the main ingredients for the stylish duo’s wedding. Says their photographer, Ash:

Lisa and Ben wanted a low-key fabulous wedding with a focus on their family. They rented a gorgeous Airbnb and got married in the backyard with just a handful of their nearest and dearest and their sweet dogs. Also, Lisa’s cape veil and crown combo was straight killer.

13.  Who: A AND O / Where: Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park, CA / Photographer: Vivian Chen Photography

Yes we do appreciate a couple who will hike through the desert brush in their formalwear (and those metallic pumps slay). More images from this intimate desert wedding on Vivian Chen’s blog.

A and O are just one of those easy going couples where spending the day with them felt like hanging out with friends rather than work. After multiple wedding plans fell through, they decided to keep it simple and elope with their moms and four close friends to their favorite place in the world, Joshua Tree National Park. While the ceremony and reception was held at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, we spent the afternoon road tripping through Joshua Tree, stopping for photos along the way. Having a couple who is just as up for the adventure and flexible with whatever planning glitches come their way reinforces what’s truly important about weddings: spending time with loved ones and celebrating what makes their relationship unique. (Also, I love a bride who isn’t afraid to get their dress dirty on their wedding day!)

couple in wedding attire holding hands on a country road

14.  Who: Katie and Jeremiah / Where: California / Photographer: Evangeline Lane

People talk about the small details, but why not focus on big ones… like a steam train. Katie and Jeremiah did just that.

Major APW magic happens when a gal who works in the coffee business meets a boy who brews beer and they get married on a California farm with a steam engine train. From the moment Katie first contacted me, we just clicked. She emphasized how they wanted their wedding to be super chill with really great home-brewed beer. It couldn’t have ended up any sweeter. I loved all the personal details that made their wedding extra special. Katie’s father is a steam train lover so having the train there was an homage to him and Jeremiah was surprised with his grandfather’s wedding band during the ceremony—that moment was so special! The chemistry between these two is electric, and the love from their community was invigorating.

15.  Who: KRISTIN AND DELILAH / Where: Wimberley, TX / Photographer: Diana Ascarrunz

Sorry what? We got distracted by the dog in a bow tie. But also, the beauty and love of Kristin and Delilah’s union are so evident in Diana’s photos. Full gallery of this sweet Texas wedding here.

One of my favorite couples of the year is Kristin and Delilah. Almost as soon as met them I was #TeamKristinandDelilah, which is probably what most people feel when they meet these two awesome ladies. They are both social workers and really care about the people in their lives. Their wedding took place at Delilah’s old professor’s live oak–filled property out in Wimberley, Texas. One of my favorite things is that they included their dog, Noodle, in the ceremony.

16. Who: LAURA AND KEVIN / Where: key west, fl / Photographer: Imani Fine Art Photography

Halfway through their wedding planning, Laura and Kevin decided to elope. The dynamic couple opted to say their “I dos” on a sailboat in the Keys. How’s that for excitement? View the full gallery, sailboat images included, over on the Imani Fine Art Photography blog.

Laura and Kevin are incredible. They are, in my mind the epitome of what makes APW couples so dope. They are an interracial couple in Boston that met in college. They reached out to me, and we totally hit it off, even just as people. I am in an interracial relationship as well, and Laura and I ended up being from the same hometown outside of Detroit. They booked me for an engagement session and a small wedding in Newport, Rhode Island. But after a few months, they decided to elope! They were totally overwhelmed with the prices in an expensive area like Newport. They felt that as they kept moving forward into the logistics, the further they got away from the core of what they wanted and what they were about. The next thing I knew,  I was spending the day with them in the Keys, and they were getting married in the middle of the ocean. It was so incredible and beautiful. Ultimately, it was SO them.

Woman in purple top and long skirt with silver belt and silver and turquoise accessories in a desert under an empty tree branch

17. Who: FARRAH and raimond / Where: northern arizona / Photographer: LEAHANDMARK & CO.

Last year, Mark shot a gorgeous Navajo wedding, and this year he got to go back to the reservation for another family celebration:

Farrah and Raimond’s wedding was especially amazing because it brought me back to the Navajo Indian reservation in Northern Arizona. I photographed Farrah’s sister’s wedding two years earlier, so they all treated me like family, and it was great to spend time with them again. Raimond and his groomsmen rode in from over a mile away on horseback.

couple in wedding attire (one in a floral dress) stand with officiant under twig and branch arches

18. Who: LILLIE AND DAN / Where: Chickamauga, ga / APW Sponsor: sarah gormley

How is this for romance? When photographer Sarah Gormley met the couple for the first time, Dan described Lillie as “a bright spot on this earth.” Obviously, we can say the same about their wedding. More on this romantic Georgia wedding here.

In the weeks since Lillie and Dan’s nuptials, I’ve been trying to put into words what was so very special about this backyard wedding in the mountains of North Georgia, just outside the small town of Chattanooga, Tennessee. It might have been the quaint and quirky family home where Lillie and Dan greeted guests and held their “reception.” It might have been that their reception looked much more like a joy-filled family and friend reunion than a traditional wedding celebration. It might be the vintage floral dress that Lillie wore, or the fact that they were wed on a lake in the spot where Dan’s father’s ashes had been scattered years before.

But really, all of you who got married this year had the best weddings of the year. So it’s that time. Share your pictures in the comments!