Wedding Budget Wednesday: City Hall Is Underrated

A few of you have emailed me, with maybe the slightest edge of desperation in your voice, commenting that you don’t have a ton of money to spend on your wedding, and people are pushing you towards going into debt, because that is just what it takes to get married. This is so scary and horrible! A wedding should be a fresh start, and the idea of starting your married life saddled with a lot of debt from a one day party really sad. With that in mind I’ve decided that its time to make some old fashioned, classic, and affordable ideas hip and cool again.

What about getting married at the City Hall and having a little party afterwards?Maybe it is because San Francisco’s City Hall is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen, or maybe it’s because I’m a little in love with the fashion and simplicity of the 1940’s, but I sort of wish that we did things the European way, and had a civil ceremony in the courthouse before we had a religious ceremony. You can wear something simple and stylish, have only your closest family and loved ones with you, and then meet everyone else for a celebratory dinner at a local restaurant, or have a party at home. Its chic, affordable, super romantic and cuts out all of the expensive excess.

The thing I think is the coolest about having a ceremony at city hall, is that you will have wedding clothes that you can re-wear. One of my grandmothers got married in a civil ceremony, and a few years ago she pulled out a really worn lovely lacy blouse to show me. “This was my wedding blouse” she said, “But as you can tell, I loved it so much that I wore it until it fell apart.”

Check out this bride rocking a short yellow dress at her wedding party, after her ceremony in the Rabbi’s study. And Emily put together this set of mix and match outfits that includes some lovely ideas of what to wear for a simple courthouse ceremony. Also, look at photographer Jessamyn Harris and her husband all aglow at their ceremony at San Francisco’s City Hall.

**Update: You must read all about Jessamyn’s experience with a courthouse wedding in the comments. You’ll run out on to the street, snatch someone up and run right to the courthouse to get romantic!**

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  • Oh I so love this idea. I’ve posted a few inspiration boards for a City Hall wedding. I may have to do a new one soon…

  • Peonies and Polaroids

    I love that first photo, it’s one of my favourites.

    You are lucky to have the most beautiful city hall in the world, most of the British equivalents are completely uninspiring.

    I love the simplicity and sweetness of a city hall wedding. And the outfits!

  • I love City Hall weddings with a party afterwards. I wish that was an American tradition also.

  • I wouldn’t change anything about our wonderful SF City Hall wedding! There was something so romantic about the bureaucracy of the day… I don’t know why, but I just loved that. Something about so many births, deaths, marriages, plots of lands, etc., all tracked in the county clerk’s office. I am also technically 6th or 7th generation San Franciscan (though I never lived there, I was born there) on my mom’s side, so I loved knowing that all of my great-greats were somewhere in those records too. Plus the building is gorgeous – I highly recommend everyone at least get your marriage license there!
    We actually had just the two of us plus our best friends as witnesses. Family we met outside afterwards, and we felt like such rock stars! We had a delicious dinner at a restaurant we had never been to before (but it was SO good, Saha in SF) with immediate family and aforementioned friends. I did wear a wedding gown, but only because it was free from a friend who had gotten it for $1 from a vintage store.
    I love our wedding day, and wish we could do it again. We did have a BIG family and friends BBQ like 6 months later, but very mellow in a local park.
    I know I’m in the wedding industry, so I’m supposed to be all “you must have a big wedding!”, but I just knew that the stress and family stuff that would get in the way for us meant that it would’ve kept the focus on the beginning of our marriage, which we wanted. Then again, most of my clients really flourish with planning a big party and being in the spotlight, and I respect that. My vague dream is to have a fabulous 10th anniversary party that I can put all that sort of energy into, but I’m so happy we did it the way we did.
    I was inspired to get married at City Hall after photographing several couples who did, and most were having (at least) one big party at some point after getting married. A few couples I’ve worked with got married in a civil ceremony and didn’t tell anyone (but me), and had their “wedding” as planned with friends and family… but loved that they had this private thing between them that no one else was in on. And I think that’s really cool.

    OK, sorry for writing such a book! – it’s just so close to my heart.

  • Meg

    Jessamyn! You didn’t tell me that beautiful dress was a dollar!

    Sigh, so romantic. My parents marriage records are in the SF Courthouse too, I never thought about that.

  • Meg

    Why not the courthouse and then a party in the backyard? You can do the backyard party whenever it is most convenant, and you will have had your special courthouse moment.

    I love how all the photographers eloped ;)


  • One Love Photo

    I was just talking to my best friend about this. She is pretty much already married, two sweet babies and a wonderful man. They just need to make it official and have a party. We are torn between city hall and her backyard. I was voting for the yard because maybe that will inspire them to love and fix it up all summer long. Whatever she decides I will be there camera in hand. We eloped and had a party afterwards. I loved it, I had a black lacey dress with a color print. It was at Harbin Hot Springs in California. it was peaceful, relaxing and just so nice. I regret not having pretty flowers to hold and no photographs.

  • One Love Photo

    I also dream about a crazy off the charts party and celebration for our 10 year. We were already together for 10 when we married so our 10 year will really be our 20, I think that is reason enough to really do something special. coming up on 7 years left, better start saving.

  • My husband and I got married in a courthouse in San Diego.
    I will always remember how simple and lovely the room was decorated.

  • My husband and I got married at the San Diego Courthouse. They had remodeled the room and it looked beautiful. Silly us…we didn't take any photos.
    That was 13 years ago but I will always remember what a great day it was.