How We Built Our Elegant Black Same-Sex $90K Wedding

I’m not crying, you’re crying...

Aisha, Policy Researcher and Analyst & Nic, Deputy Sheriff
Sum-up of the wedding vibe: Like living out a love song.
Planned Budget: None
Actual Budget: $90,000
Number of Guests: 130

Where we allocated the most funds:

Food, alcohol, and the location! We were pretty adamant about having an open bar the entire night and wanted to make sure there was enough food to go along with it.

Where we allocated the least funds:

We saved some money in a few ways. One was lighting and draping. We were fortunate to have a vendor donate our uplighting, floor and ceiling washes, curtains, and chandeliers. Also, Aisha’s father is a jazz drummer, so he and a few other hired musicians provided jazz for the first half of the wedding and was generous enough to pay for their time directly. Aisha and Nic designed the menus themselves which cut down on some costs. Lastly, Aisha found a pair of $80 shoes she loved and did her own hair for the wedding.

What was totally worth it:

Everything! We only went with things we couldn’t live without and when we look back on the night, we notice every detail and our guests did too! We wanted our guests to feel the grandness and elegance of a big city, including through jazz music and dark lighting and dark liquor, with the elegance of the South, which we captured by romantic flowers and an intimate seating chart. One detail that stands out is our caterer let us choose our menu. San Francisco is a foody haven, with different neighborhoods boasting different cultural cuisines. Our chef was kind enough to let us choose food stations that represented each neighborhood—so no boring chicken or fish options only!

What was totally not worth it:

Again, because we only chose things we couldn’t live without, there was nothing that wasn’t worth it.

A few things that helped us along the way:

The best wedding planner and vendors. We had a couple bumps in the road. It’s okay to not vibe with vendors even after you’ve hired them. It’s about business at the end of the day; don’t be afraid to let people go if your gut says it’s not working. Our vendors offered more than expertise on flowers, catering, etc. They really are artists and helped pull our vision together (even when it seemed scattered in my head) and offered a lot of emotional reassurance when needed. Our florist even sketched out the scene of our wedding!

Having an affirming wedding would not have gone so smoothly if we hadn’t chosen vendors that were LGBTQ or allies. Our wedding planner and the company that made Nic’s suit are part of the LGBTQ community and our officiant. We worked together to create the ceremony. For many of the other vendors we used, they were either well-versed in working with same-sex couples or were excited at the opportunity to do so.

Our advice is to do your research. Yelp will save you a lot of time but so will asking upfront if and how many same-sex or “queer” weddings the vendors have provided services for. Listen carefully to the language they use when describing those weddings:

  • Do they ask you what pronouns you like to be referred to as?
  • For women, particularly if one of you is gender nonconforming and has expressed preferring not to be referred to hyperfeminine ways, do they continue to call you “ladies” when they greet you?
  • Are they open to having a discussion around language and how to incorporate your roles and how you relate to one another?
  • Do they use decor that imposes gender expression and gender roles onto you?

These questions are a really great guide to assessing how affirming a vendor might be, but really, trusting your gut is the best way to go. If you feel uncomfortable with a vendor and like you’re hiding parts of yourself, discuss with your significant other and agree that you won’t move forward with those services. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with your vendors for the most important day of your life and you want to make sure your whole self is celebrated.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Sleep on all of your decisions and attend other weddings. Sometimes we thought we “needed” something, but when we slept on it and the emotional excitement of it all faded, we actually found that we didn’t need them and that they wouldn’t make a difference for the feel of the wedding we were going for. For example, Aisha came down a marble staircase that met the aisle. We debated if the staircase needed extra flowers and candles. We opted not to have that and we are so happy we did. The staircase itself is incredibly elegant and the focus (particularly in the photos) is just on Aisha and her father. Also, we attended other weddings and noted things that really stood out and others that didn’t feel necessary for our own wedding.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

It was sophisticated and moody but also intimate and filled with a tremendous amount of love. We totally captured the big city feel with the Southern elegance and sweetness. From the music we chose to the unique cuisine, every detail gave our guests an experience of San Francisco and our very different backgrounds.

Other notes to share:

Nic and I wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to plan our wedding and have as many of the details covered as possible, so we had a year and a half engagement, and we are both so glad we did. We did this for a few of reasons:

  • To be flexible on dates so we could get our dream venue (The Bently Reserve books up at least a year in advance)
  • To save money to cover costs
  • To give ourselves time to think about what we really wanted versus what was impulsive
  • To give family time to save to travel
  • For premarital counseling.

The last point was by far the most important. We used our engagement as a boot camp to really address as many little bumps in our relationship as possible. The pressure of what it means to be in a healthy relationship/marriage is full of sometimes very unhealthy expectations. We spent every week in pre-marital counseling during our engagement, which actually made the wedding day much more beautiful. Our vows had more meaning and depth than I could’ve ever imagined, and we both knew where we stood in ourselves and our marriage before we said “I do.”

Another thing to note: weddings are very heteronormative, especially in the language used. Nic and I have strong gender roles and wanted those to be honored by our vendors but also wanted to expand those norms to be inclusive of all of our friends’ and family members’ identities, all while maintaining all of the traditions we wanted. For example, we expressed to vendors that Nic was not to be called the “bride” and that we did not want to be introduced as “Mrs and Mrs”, but rather as “The Allens”. We were pronounced “spouses for life” at the end of our ceremony by our officiant. Emphasizing language was especially important for our DJ who would be making most of the announcements throughout the evening. For the garter and bouquet toss, he invited all single folks of all gender identities and gender expressions to the dance floor.

Planning your actual wedding day is an exercise in visualizing and dreaming. When we visualized our wedding day-in and day-out, there were things that would appear some days but there were things that were constant. Those constants became our priorities. Our venue was a constant (long aisle) as was my father and a quartet playing during our first dance (jazz music). We always pictured golden dimmed lights (moody uplighting and floor washes) and flowers with simple contrasting colors (dark purples to match the black tables and with white to match my dress). We also spent a lot of time on the invitations because those would be the first introduction to feel of our wedding. With our priorities visualized and agreed upon, we were able to turn down things that were nice but didn’t fit into that vision. This also required that we clear out Pinterest pages, throw away magazine clippings and anything else that didn’t fit within those visuals. With so many creative weddings these days, it’s easy to get caught up in drawing inspiration from too many sources and spending a lot of time and money trying to make it all flow. Our advice is to follow that feeling that you have when you picture your big day.


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