6 Wedding Exits That Are Absolutely worth It

Let's bring back traveling clothes!

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Q: How do I coordinate the wedding exit? It seems these are going out of style. In the dozen or so weddings I’ve been to over the past few years, no couple has done the big exit. But that’s the one thing that I was always fascinated by as a child (hello, movies!), and I would love to do one. My partner is fine with it, though not really sure what it is, and neither of us wants to be the last ones at the party (though that is part of normal hosting duties). I have no idea how to do it. Do you announce, “Hey, we’re leaving now! Come line up!”? That seems odd. I could use some advice for how to do it without being pushy since I’ve never seen it done before in person.

A:When I read your question, I was pretty sure that you must have misunderstood the trends. Obviously wedding exits aren’t going out of style! They are one of the best moments weddings have to offer! You’re fascinated by them for good reason! So I trotted off to Maddie, erstwhile wedding photographer, to tell me about the best wedding exits she’d seen, and what the logistics behind them were. She then informed me that in all of the weddings she’s been to (well over a hundred), she’d never seen a single wedding exit, where the couple was cheered on as they ran to their car/ bicycle/ horse-drawn carriage into married life. Instead, she’d just seen a lot of lingering and hugging, and packing up.

WHUT?

Maybe it’s my progressive-traditionalism, or maybe it’s just that I used to be a theatre producer, but there is nothing that I love more than a good wedding exit. I loved my own, and I’ve sobbed over other peoples. In fact, if you want romance, here is how I described our wedding exit on our third anniversary:

I recently came across a polaroid from our wedding. It was taken on expired film, so it has the hazy glow of the memory of a warm summer’s day. It was one of the last shots taken of the party, and David and I are walking through the crowd of onlookers, being sent off into married life. My dress swirling around my ankles, my bouquet is tightly clutched in my hand, and I’m smiling. David is holding my hand, and doing a little half wave. What struck me about that polaroid when I picked it up last week is the fact that, at that second, we were walking into our marriage.

So there are the obvious reasons to do a grand exit: it’s theatrical, it’s fun, it leads to good pictures. But the more salient reasons are the emotional ones. A good exit means you’re leaving the party on a high note, that you’re cheered into married life, and then you have a moment of quiet, for the two of you to process what just happened. It also gives the guests a focus for the emotions of the day (and permission to leave). Plus, if you do a grand exit, your risk of having to pack up the party on your wedding night is zero.

None of this is to say I’m not a fan of the hug it out and linger. In fact, the best wedding exit I ever experienced was followed up by an after party at a bar, with lots of hugging. We cheered them out of the party, the newlyweds took a little time for themselves (which I hope they used well, achem), and then the bride changed into a short flirty white number, and they met us to drink into the wee hours of the morning.

So without further ado, how to do a wedding exit, and six wedding exits that should really be done all the time.

How To Organize Your Wedding Exit:

First, a word about being the last one at a party. As a host, you traditionally are the last one at a party. However, this is one of the many reasons that the wedding couple is not traditionally the hosts of the wedding. In the (not so) old days, parents were the host of the wedding. (Fun fact: traditionally anyone listed above the couple on the wedding invitation is the host.) These days your parents might not be officially hosting, but the party is FOR you, not hosted BY you. It’s one of the few times in your life where a huge party is held in your honor, so please, enjoy all the etiquette perks.

To enjoy these perks, you need to get the logistics ironed out. Firstly, please make sure you’ve arranged for helpers (hired or otherwise) to clean up your wedding. (More on that here.) As you suspect, a wedding exit does need to be announced. As you also have figured out, it would be extremely awkward if it was announced by you. So here is the deal:

  • Plan on a last song, or another final moment in the party for everyone to enjoy together. Before that happens, have your wedding stage manager (or another helper) come tap you both on the shoulder and warn you that you’re two songs, or five minutes away. Use that time to hug it out. Say goodbye to the people you want to say goodbye to, and thank you to the people you want to thank.
  • While you’re hugging, have a helper pull the car you’re going to use around to the exit and leave the keys in it. (Or: call a cab, round up the bicycle, call in the horses.)
  • Have your wedding stage manager, or DJ, or other helper announce your last song (or last wedding moment). Have them say something along the lines of, “Please join us on the floor for the last dance of Meg and David’s wedding. After the music is over, please head to the front steps, grab a sparkler (or whatever) and line up on either side, so we can cheer them into their married life.”
  • At this point, chances are good everyone will circle around you for one last, massive, hug it out dance. We’ve come up with this songs to honor your friends playlist, to help you take it out on a high note.
  • After the dance, feel free to have your helper make one more “now let’s head out” announcement, and have a few helpers ready to usher people out the doors. This will leave the two of you alone in an empty venue for a moment, until your helper comes to tell you everyone is ready, and it’s time to make a run for it. Enjoy that moment of quiet, look around, soak it in.
  • Then, on your cue, RUN.
  • Please ignore the temptation to stand by your car hugging everyone one last time for five minutes. Once you’ve made the dash, the guests want to cheer you leaving, not wonder if you’re ever going to leave.
  • Enjoy being married. Possibly even get laid. Consider meeting people at a bar afterwards. Or not.

Clockwise from top left: Sarah and Dawn, via APW, photo by Leah & Mark; Kara and John’s Simple Sassy Wedding, via APW, photo by A Bryan Photo; All That Mattered Was Love, via APW, photo by Rich Copley; Intimate Portland Warehouse Wedding: Julie and Nate, via Green Wedding Shoes, photo by Phil Chester; Santa Barbara Wedding: Megan and Carver, via 100 Layer Cake, photo by One Love Photography; Historic Pharmacy Museum Wedding: Crystal and Will, via Green Wedding Shoes, photo by Ariel Renae Photography

Bring back the rice exit

Thanks to our smart commenters, we now know throwing rice is not harmful for our feathered friends! So let’s make with the time honored traditions, and bring this one back around.

However, Girl Scout fun fact : A grain of rice thrown at the wedding of Juliette Gordon Low became lodged in her ear. When it was removed, her ear drum was punctured and became infected, causing her to become mostly deaf in that ear. Thankfully medicine has… advanced. So you’re probably about as likely to be strangled by a streamer as go deaf from wedding rice though, so DO IT. (Possibly with a note in the program for your guests explaining you don’t have it out for birds.)

The New Orleans Style Exit

Have you ever had a chance to second line in NOLA, waving that white handkerchief round? The first time I got to do this was at a wedding. This is one of the best exits ever, with very minimal logistics. A few minutes before the end, family members picked up their white napkins and started twirling them over their heads to the music. The groom came over to us, and some other non-locals and said, “Grab your napkins. You’ll see why.” Then the band switched to “The Saints,” the family formed a second line, the guests fell in, and we all were lead out to the front steps, stomping and cheering. A moment later the couple rushed out through our singing and white napkins and ducked into a car. I realized afterwards that I was crying. Here is what I said at the time:

Every wedding should end with a New Orleans jazz band playing “As The Saints Go Marching In.” Because standing on that sidewalk outside an old southern mansion, the whole crowd waving white napkins over our heads like flags, stomping our feet, singing that familiar spiritual at the top of our lungs, our voices rubbed raw from joy, throwing handfuls of lavender at the newlyweds as they rushed to the car? That was it. 

Modify as necessary to fit your cultural heritage.

Changing Into Traveling Clothes

When I was little, I was singularly obsessed with the final page in my parents wedding album. It showed them standing in front of an elevator in the hotel where they had their reception, grinning. My dad was wearing a light blue suit, and mom was wearing a brown floral velvet jacket and skirt. I remember asking why they were not wearing their wedding clothes, and being told that at the end of the wedding you changed into your traveling clothes, for people to see you off for your honeymoon (or in my parents case, to dinner first). I’m sad this tradition has gone out of fashion, because it’s clearly awesome, and an excuse for an extra costume change. For this exit, you slip away, change into your traveling clothes, have your bags already packed, and then everyone comes off to wish you well as you travel into your marriage.

The Confetti Toss

Perhaps you want to throw something more fun (ahem, or more sparkly) than rice. There are still plenty of things you can toss: birdseed, confetti, glitter, streamers, you name it. Make sure you have a plan for clean up after you’re gone. And no matter what Pinterest says, colored sprinkles are a bad idea. Because yes, once wet they stain everything (including you).

Sparklers

Look. Some exits are so good, they can’t be improved on. Exiting at night through sparklers is one of those. If you can do it, do it. (Unless you are afraid of fire. Then please don’t do it.)

By Canoe or Carriage

If you have access to some sort of awesome transportation, this is the time to use it. Please don’t waste time wondering, “Is it cheesy to leave our reception in a horse drawn carriage?” Because a better question is, “Who cares?” When else in your life are you going to have a reason to leave by canoe, carriage, or bicycle built for two, with everyone cheering as you go? This is the minute of your life where you are fully justified to embrace every romantic comedy montage you’ve ever seen, and make it yours. (Also, a surprising number of APW readers have left their wedding by canoe over the years.)

The Colored Smoke Bomb Exit

Best if you have a more affordable reception dress, or traveling clothes that you’re changing into, because you’re pretty sure to have a dry cleaning bill. But holy moly, the pictures. You can get colored smoke bombs on Amazon, done.

The decorated car, but no fuss

Perfect if you and your partner are driving off to your honeymoon (or your hotel) in your own vehicle. So consider “letting” your friends or family decorate your car before hand, then see you off in all your tinseled/ painted/ ballooned glory. Tip: if one of your friends is a mechanic… don’t let them near the car. They may wire your horn to your brake pedal (true story).

And Remember…

If you have no plans to leave your wedding in grand style (Because, damn it Meg, we’re going to hug it out), you can do variations of many of these exits as you head back up the aisle, or on the church steps (should you have them). I’m pretty sure that’s what church steps are for.

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