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Our (Pre-Pandemic) Snowy Restaurant Wedding in Virginia

This one was too good not to share 😭

Cello (they/she) + Alice (they/them) *It wasn’t until a year after the wedding that Alice started using they/them pronouns.
One sentence sum up of the wedding vibe: A snowy morning wedding with our favorite people in our a favorite restaurant.
Planned Budget: $15,000
Actual Budget: $15,350 for the day-of, and $25k when you add accommodations, transport, rings, and other wedding weekend activities.
Number of Guests: 82
Location: Alexandria, VA
Photographer: Brandon Templar

Where we allocated the most funds: We spent $9,825 on food and venue. It took us almost a year to really settle on the venue. In the pre-planning stages, when we daydreamed about our fantasy wedding, we kept saying that we’d keep the whole budget under $5000. This was partially because neither of us wanted to ask our families for support, and partially because we had no idea what the average cost of weddings were.

When we really started planning, our budget was $15k, and we hoped to spend most of that money on food and drinks. Once we identified food as a top priority, using a restaurant as the venue made the most sense to us. We were able to save a lot (like $10k) by moving the wedding to the morning and using one space for the ceremony & reception.

Some other factors that really sold us on this venue: Virtue Feed & Grain is our favorite restaurant, they have a built in stage and AV equipment, they decorate year-round, they are used to hosting events, and the event managers at other restaurants highly recommended them (yes, during our walkthroughs at other restaurants, they pointed us back to Virtue Feed & Grain).

Where we allocated the least funds:

  • Flowers: We weren’t even going to have flowers, but my mom insisted that we have them, so we suggested that she could pay for them and she did. These were around $2k.
  • Musician: We searched for coffee-house musicians, and found Crys Matthews. We decided to pop in during one of their regular gigs and fell in love. The total cost for their time was $1k, but we ended up giving them an extra $500 because they were AMAZING.
  • Wedding banners & signage: One of Alice’s coworkers had tons of wedding decorations they no longer needed, and offered to give them to us at no cost.
  • Photographer: When we found Brandon, he hadn’t worked with many lesbian couples and offered us a discount because he wanted to expand his portfolio. We also happened to connect with him just before he raised his prices. So we ended up getting a really incredible deal: engagement photos and seven hours of photography on the day-of for $2700.
  • Wedding Coordinator: The incredible Meigh from Lula Mae Events was offering a half-off off-season discount via APW, and we jumped on it. We were really lucky!

What was totally worth it:

  • The photographer! This was one of the biggest points of tension between us. We had a lot of arguments about whether or not professional photography was worth it, but in the end it has made such a huge impact. It’s been two and a half years since our wedding, and sometimes we can only remember the worst parts of the day (like how I was actually really sick the day-of, or how Alice wished they had invested in a tailored suit), but when we look at the photos, somehow the magic of the event washes over us again and we laugh-cry every time.
  • Eloping two months earlier. There is planning-the-wedding-event stress, and then there is I’m-making-a-huge-life-commitment jitters. Both moments brought huge overwhelming emotions and we were glad on both occasions that we had divided the experience across two separate days.
  • Writing our own ceremony and having Alice’s sister officiate. It was the best part of the day, everyone cried, and we felt seen for our love and our truth.
  • Our Wedding Coordinator! Hands-down, one of our best decisions. Looking back on it now, they really were the silent heroes of the day. We got to walk into a perfectly set up venue, food and drinks were brought to us before we asked, and advice was whispered to us about adjusting the timeline throughout the day. We didn’t need to think about how things were going, we could just be in it and enjoy it.
  • Having a kid-friendly wedding. I’m not so great with kids and was really hesitant about inviting them, but Alice’s family has tons of them and felt like it was a must to include them. In the end, it was a lot of fun to have the kids running around. They were great dancers, and really lifted the mood. It also made the wedding feel homey and playful, which is exactly what we wanted!

What was totally not worth it: Stressing about what to wear! This was the biggest logistical nightmare for us both. I had three dresses to choose from the morning-of (they were all short white dresses—one was something my mom selected and bought at the last minute, one was a $30 find at the local second-hand store, and the one I wore was actually a J.Crew bridesmaid’s dress we bought for Alice). Alice had hemmed and hawed about wearing a dress or a suit until two weeks before.

The stress partially came from questioning gender-expression, the irritating expectation of bride and groom (and not wanting to feel forced into those roles), and weight-gain throughout the course of wedding planning. We started off both wanting to wear dresses as a f***-you to anyone who was looking for a groom. And then also toyed with the idea of both wearing suits to which Alice would say, “what if we are both grooms! Figure that one out!” But as we researched and shopped, we felt overwhelmed and stuck. Official wedding outfits are so expensive, and it started to feel like a waste to buy something we only sorta liked. My body size was also changing a lot throughout the planning, so it didn’t make sense to buy anything too soon, which added more anxiety about what I’d eventually get.

In the end, we both wish we had trusted our intuitions about what we wanted to wear. I just wanted a cheap party dress with cute shoes; Alice wishes they would have gotten a custom three piece suit.

A few things that helped us along the way: APW was a godsend. It wasn’t just the practical advice (the books are brilliant), but also the representation of so many kinds of weddings. Even though there was a lot of pressure from our families to conform to certain traditions, whenever we turned to APW it felt like we could do whatever we wanted. And that was so important for us.

Instead of a bridal shower, we hosted a help-us with odds & ends party. A handful of friends came to our apartment and helped us make hotel welcome bags and kids’ gift bags, write out all the name cards, and prep our chalkboard signage. As it turns out one of my more artsy friends actually became inspired to do lettering for weddings not long after helping us with our chalkboard signage. Check her out here!

Saving every extra dollar we had. We were extremely nervous about how much everything would cost us. It seemed too easy to go over budget, especially when it’s so easy to get sucked into the capitalistic mind-set of more is better. Ultimately, being really thrifty with our day-to-day throughout the 16 months allowed us to cover the cost of nearly everything.

My best practical advice for my planning self: The entire wedding experience, from planning it to the day-of to writing thank-you notes, is a lot of work. Make sure you are doing what you feel is worth the time, energy, and money. And don’t be afraid to take it slow, to question everything, and to trust trust trust trust yourself and your partner throughout the process.

Favorite thing about the wedding: The ceremony, the food, the people, and the paper crowns! Looking back on the photos, it is so funny to see our friends and family in golden paper crowns.

Anything else: There were a lot of difficulties leading up to this wedding. When we first got engaged, Alice had to come out to their huge Catholic family for the first time. It was incredibly hard, and was one of the most difficult moments in the entire experience because they received a lot of rejection.

I also had many fights with my mom who was hyper-critical and mostly unhelpful up to the day of the wedding.

But during the actual wedding, all of the past pain was temporarily forgotten. We felt genuinely celebrated, loved, and held. It’s like the past hurts enhanced the beauty of that moment. That’s to say, grief can come with weddings. Real, deep, painful grief. But it doesn’t ruin it. It just makes it more complex and more real for everyone.

I used to be very ashamed of the difficulties, the arguments, the hate we faced. But now I realize that we didn’t do anything wrong—we spoke our truths, we were vulnerable with the important people in our lives, and that is worth celebrating!

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