Wedding Graduates (and Dress, Offered): Sarah & Mike

I’m delighted by today’s post! It’s a wedding graduate and a dress giveaway all rolled into one. Did you get that? Our first dress giveaway in AGES, Hooray! Since we haven’t had a dress giveaway in what feels like a million years, so a reminder of how it goes: If you’d like Sarah to gift you her dress, leave a comment saying why. Sarah will pick who she wants her dress to go to, and the recipient pays for shipping, and then sends Sarah (and hopefully me!) a picture of them looking all wedding-joyful in there dress. As for the rest of you, you can leave whatever comments you want. Like, how cool it is to have fireworks at your wedding, or about the stress of effing wedding shoes. And with that, I give you Sarah:

So, the thing about Mike and I is that we don’t really like to make a fuss—we’re both much more comfortable if we can be, well, comfortable. Our engagement? It happened at home, with marinara for eggplant parmesan bubbling away on the stove. When he asked me to marry him, I had a glass of wine in my hand and a cookie in my mouth. I was barely able to say “yes” without spitting crumbs all over him, but it was perfect.

For our wedding, we knew we wanted to keep it equally simple. Did we succeed? Yes … And no.

In the beginning, I wasn’t the laid-back bride I had hoped to be. I surprised myself by worrying (incessantly) about things that never mattered to me before we were engaged. Like colors. And flowers. And shoes. Because almost every person I met asked me about our colors. And aren’t the flowers supposed to coordinate with our colors? And damn it, what does that mean for my shoes?

And then, four months before the wedding, I stumbled upon APW, and the community I found here made me feel like it was ok to wear grey. And it was ok not to pay a million dollars for flowers. And it was still perfectly fine to worry about my shoes, if that’s what I wanted to worry about. (Which I did, until the very end. No joke, I probably ordered and returned about ten pairs of shoes.)

In the end, though, what really mattered to us (and to our guests) was that we could be proud of our wedding. If I could give one piece of advice, it would be to make your wedding something that represents who you are as a couple and what you value.

For us, that meant supporting our local community (more about that below). And, in the same vein, it means supporting this virtual community. Aside from sharing our experience and giving our sincere thanks, we don’t really have much to offer you all … but I do have a wedding dress tucked in my closet that I hope one of you will take off my hands.* At the very least, it will give you one less thing to worry about (and, if you so desire, more time to worry about shoes!).

And now, my best advice, and the story of our wedding.

Remember: You have decided that it’s important to be together. Celebrate it with your loved ones. All other decisions are secondary, and no one can judge you for that.

Venue: Mike found the most beautiful outdoor venue. From the moment we saw it, we knew that Alpine Park and Gardens in Columbia, Mo. (about 20 minutes from our house) was just the place for us. Its slightly eccentric, tucked-in-the-woods vibe made us feel right at home, right away.

Food: We served barbecue, which was a bit of a compromise between Mike and I, as I don’t eat meat and he does. We opted for local, farm-raised, organic meats and I whipped up stuffed peppers for the vegetarians. We left the preparation and the rest of the menu in Alpine’s hands. (Except the pies-instead-of-cake and the cheese/fruit appetizer, which were made at a local bakery.)

Flowers: We didn’t have a florist and instead ordered our flowers the week before the wedding from a woman who sells at the farmer’s market. They were local, in season, and so affordable. The downside: limited options, but it turned out really well!

Ceremony: Neither of us felt comfortable hiding away until the ceremony, nor did we want to walk down the aisle. Instead, we greeted our guests as they arrived, had a couple drinks, and made our way to the front of the crowd when it was time for the ceremony to begin. We chose to include family members in our wedding party. My two sisters stood with me, and Mike’s sister and longtime friend stood with him. A reverend from the local Unitarian Universalist church was kind enough to officiate a nonreligious ceremony. He worked closely with us on the content, and we’re so happy that the ceremony truly represented our unique beliefs.

Our Team Practical: Our wedding was a product of true collaboration. We are so lucky to have been surrounded by our closest family members and friends, all of whom traveled to Columbia for the occasion and many of whom lent a hand:

  • One friend designed our invitations, welcome-to-town packet and program. We printed them (very inexpensively) at the University of Missouri press.
  • Another friend hand-drew a map of town to help guests get around.
  • Since we opted out of having a band or a DJ, another friend put together a playlist on his iPod.
  • We hired two of my coworkers as our photographers, and it was great to have people we knew behind the cameras.
  • We didn’t have a florist or a wedding coordinator, so two other friends came in town early to help decorate and arrange flowers.
  • Another stayed with us and walked our dog when we were too busy to do so.
  • My sisters did my hair and makeup.
  • Mike’s sister and brother-in-law ran every random errand we could throw their way.

From what we’ve heard, everyone had a great time—the good playlist, photo booth, yard games, koi pond, bonfire and fireworks (fireworks!!) were a hit.

*Dress details: Roman Party Dress by Siri Inc , size 4, no alterations, in the French knot embroidered shantung silk, off white. Now please, help us find the dress a wonderful happy new home. Go, go, go!

**Photos by Nic Benner and Shane Epping

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  • FIREWORKS!!! LUCKY! I need to move to MO. I don’t think I could squeeze a thigh into Sarah’s dress, but I had to comment. This post was so touching. I saw a lot of similarities between their wedding and ours – barbecue, outdoor setting, yard games, and pretty much their ENTIRE ceremony. Funny how I find this wedding on APW just 4 months before our wedding and Sarah found APW 4 months before her own wedding day. Maybe it’s a sign for good things to come? This is a beautiful wedding- honest and happy. Love it.

  • AH! It’s Columbia! (Or como, as we affectionately refer to it.) One of my really good friends got married at Alpine, and I can further attest to the amazingness of the venue–the pictures already do a great job! It’s just so woodsy and cute. I would have probably ended up there if I was planning a hometown wedding, but we’re going with Arkansas, as our lives are most centered down here (college friends, boy’s family, etc.) and we get to get married about 20 ft. from where we had our first kiss–sentimental fools! AND I wish I could say I would love to vie for the dress, but it’s a couple sizes too small, and my chest would never constrict that much (and I already have a dress… that I love, but have had second thoughts about, secretly). But the style is pretty much exactly what I was looking for before I found mine… *wistful sigh*

  • Kayla

    What’s that you say??? A Midwest Wedding?? In. Love. Sometimes it’s easy to start thinking how much more difficult it is planning a ‘practical’ wedding in the Midwest with the conservative and traditionalist values and then you find a lovely wedding graduate who did just that and it is hugely helpful and inspirational. As are most things here at A Practical Wedding. Lovely!

  • elyse

    yay missouri! i just so happen to be moving from boston to st louis right after our wedding next month (eek, next month!) anyway, i have a dress, which i love (and would also consider giving away afterwards, although i may donate it. . . ) but i LOVE the shrug you’re wearing! WHERE did you get it? my dress has these barely off the shoulder cap sleeves, and it’s a traditional jewish wedding, and i think our rabbi may prefer me being slightly more covered up during the ceremony. i just haven’t found anything that i like, and i can get away with leaving it as is. but if i had something like that. . .

    • Sarah

      Hi Elyse, this is Sarah, the bride. Thanks so much for your sweet comment! I found the sweater on, but it doesn’t appear to be available anymore. Also, it’s actually not a shrug. I just took a plain ol’ wrap sweater and tied the ends behind my back (you can kind of see this in the second picture). Best of luck to you in your wedding and your move!

  • What a beautiful wedding, and a beautiful dress. It’s so similar to mine. I can’t wait to see who it gets passed on to.

    On a side note – I would love to know where she got the shrug she wore with the dress. I have been looking for something similar, and I haven’t found anything I’m crazy about. Her whole ensemble is so lovely!

    • Sarah

      Hi Katie, this is Sarah, the bride. Thank you so much for the compliment! I replied to another commenter above … the sweater came from, but it sadly doesn’t appear to be available anymore.

  • Tricia Nason

    I agree with a number of the commenters above. What a beautiful wedding and it reminds me of the wedding we are planning (coming up in 4.5 months, wheee!).

  • sara

    @Angie – um, yay! ditto on the timing of this post & of upcoming wedding (August too? exciting!), and of finding this just full of lovely lovely honesty.
    @Sarah – this is beautiful and made me just grin. Especially the ceremony description–something like that is really what will keep us comfortable too. I love the thought of milling about with friends and family (with a few drinks and a cheese and fruit plate to boot!) and then a point at which we are drawn together, still among them all, and the marriage starts. wow.

  • This sounds like the ideal wedding! I’ve been engaged for three days and already I’m overwhelmed by others’ opinions and would like to elope. Our wedding date is August 22 (this year) and my fiance finally found a job after hunting for a year so simple and less expensive is our only option. Sarah’s dress is beautiful and I like the idea of using a shrug as I’ve been looking a way to be more modest during the church ceremony and would like to draw attention away from my long skinny arms. I usually wear size 4 so if no one else jumps at the opportunity, I’d love to be considered. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  • Mary

    Your shoes are precious! Hey – I totally understand the obsession and concern…they SHOW! You are a lovely bride and your wedding looks unique and fun. I believe you and your husband express yourselves in an amazing way through your wedding. Congratulations for doing what you wanted so successfully and for sharing your great wisdom and amazing pictures.

    The dress would never fit me (and because I am much older, I don’t think the style would work for me, although it is a classic beauty). However, the sentiment of giving it away is something that touches my heart. Congratulations, Sarah and Mike. May the good karma that you sent out here come back to you, times 10.

  • Sarah Beth

    Beautiful, authentic, and sweet. I love it! And I envy your fireworks; we live in Georgia, so fireworks aren’t legal without a permit and insurance. :(

    It’s funny that family and friends always jump on wedding colors in everyone’s stories. I mentioned wedding colors to my mother and she looked at me like I’d grown three heads. It seemed that the idea was preposterous and had never occurred to her. This was very early in our engagement, and she has since revealed very strong opinions about a lot of things, so it seems even more strange.

  • Beautiful fun wedding. I completely get the obsessing about things that don’t really matter. But hey, they matter at that moment right?

  • Maureen

    Wonderful and beautiful! I have a dress for my Mid-Western wedding in Nebraska next month, but I think it is super rad that you are giving yours to a good home. Well done, you!

  • cheryl

    Sarah and Mike, what a beautiful, personal, and FUN wedding! So…I was really excited to read that you guys were there to greet your guests and have a couple of drinks before the wedding. We’re planning to do that too (YAY!), but we’ve been ruminating a bit on how to signal to the guests that the ceremony is about to begin–especially since we’re leaning away from a processional kind of thing. How did y’all let people know the ceremony was starting?

    • Sarah

      Hey Cheryl, thanks! Talking/eating/drinking with our guests before the ceremony worked out really well for us. We didn’t have a large wedding (about 75 people, including Mike and I), so we just spread the word about fifteen minutes before we wanted to start, and Mike hopped on the microphone about ten minutes before. Everyone refreshed their drinks and took a seat, and we got on with gettin’ married.

      • cheryl

        Sarah, that sounds perfect. We were considering a pretty fun, informal start like that…and hearing your experience has tipped the scales! It feels the most like us, and it’s the kind of vibe we want to set from right from the start. We’re gonna go for it. Thank you so much.

  • SweetAdeline

    This post actually made me a little misty! Looks like such a lovely wedding that really succeeded in featuring all of the reasons people get married (or *should* get married) in the first place – love, family and (for good measure) a good old fashioned fun party.

    And fireworks!! I turn into a 5 years old every time I see them.

    P.S. – good job with the shoes. :-)

  • Judith L

    You’re wedding was very sweet. I think this may be my first time reading a practical bride, and I come across such a thoughtful gesture! My fiance and I are not religious, so it’s always nice to hear about people who don’t do a religious ceremony, especially in this neck of the woods. I’m from OK. I loved some of your ideas and may use them, and if you want to throw you dress in too, that would be cool.

  • Rachel

    I’d love to be considered for the dress–it should fit me, and it’s got the casual, “not gown” look that I’m going for. And my fiance’s name is Mike, too. :)

    What a gorgeous wedding overall–thank you for sharing it!

  • Michelle

    I love the details of your wedding. I love that you and your husband focused on what was important to the both of you. I am recently engaged and I terrified by the idea of planning a wedding for your family and friends. It comforts me when I see weddings like yours on this site. I love your dress. It shows that you don’t always have to have a huge puffy princess dress. I would be honored to receive such a lovely dress from what I’m sure is a lovely woman.

  • This wedding gave me the good kind of tummy rumblin’s. It wasn’t just one thing, the whole event felt good, and so welcoming. Congrats, Sarah and Mike!

  • TrailTart

    Such a lovely wedding! And such a great dress for you to generously pass on! If I didn’t already have mine, I would totally be clamoring my way to the center of the scuffle over it.

  • ddayporter

    ahhh beautiful wedding! I love that you skipped the processional, sounds like a really warm-and-fuzzy atmosphere. anyway would be sort of difficult to hide out there in the woods right? ..also those fireworks pictures look magical. best of luck in passing on that awesome dress! reminds me I need to go get mine cleaned so I can offer mine up too..

    • meg

      Yesss…. and since they go with grad posts, then I’ll get to see your wedding (hooray!)

  • themoaner

    What a beautiful CoMo wedding. And a bonfire and fireworks–what fantastic ideas! I’ll be tucking those away for a day not too far off; after all, we’re in mid-Mo. What else are we going to do but play yard games and set things on fire?

  • Nini

    Yay for fireworks and bonfires! We’ve decided to go this route too – very excited to hear that it was a hit. I love how down to earth and relaxed your reception looks… everything is so genuine :)

    As for the dress.. I would love to be considered for it. It should fit definitely fit and it was exactly what I was hoping to find when I went dress shopping – classic and comfortable.. instead I ended up being told that I was “too petite” for a dress like that and was told to get a longer dress so I wouldn’t look so short. So I went home and cried (I’m a sensitive gal) and haven’t worked up the nerve to go dress shopping again.

    What really gets my goat though is.. I AM short.. 5 feet flat.. and I will be staying short for the rest of my why should I hide it? I really wish I told that girl off that day and stuck to my guns and maybe I would have ended up with a gown a lovely as yours!

    Best wishes to you newlyweds!

    • ddayporter

      yeah! rock being short. I was told I shouldn’t wear a mermaid style dress because I have a big butt. uhhh sooo?? I like my butt. you are right to want a dress you Love and not just one that covers every single “flaw” you are perceived to have.

      • Nini

        Thank you. A bride to be can never hear (read) those words enough. I should write that on my mirror so I see it every morning, ‘You are right to want what you want!’

  • yeah UU ministers!
    And fireworks and a bonfire? Awesome.

  • This is exactly why I read APW. I’ve been joking from the very beginning that I wanted us to hand drinks to our guests out of an ice cream cooler (the kind in mini marts with the sliding top) when they arrived but I hadn’t heard anyone say that they’d greeted their guests beforehand. Thank you thank you thank you!

  • Angela

    What a fun and beautiful wedding! Thanks for sharing. I found APW when I was planning my wedding and I’m still an avid reader 6 mos after the wedding. It’s posts like these that keep me coming back. I’m so moved by the generosity of the community on this blog, and I love seeing pictures and reading wonderfully honest tales of authentic weddings. btw – I can relate to the shoe obsession. I can’t even count how many pairs I bought and returned. And in the end I wore flip flops (for about an hour before I ditched them and went barefoot. What can I say? It just worked with the dress, the grass I was walking on, and my style, I suppose.

  • me

    this wedding is so chill… love it. i also love the first photo, oooooh la la.

  • Kate

    Hi Sarah,

    I would love to be considered for your dress (tea length! french-knot embroidered silk!).

    From one vegetarian sister to another, thanks for sharing your beautiful and low-key, surrounded-by-family-and-friends wedding (outdoors! stuffed peppers! farmer’s market flowers! fireworks!). It was inspirational to read about. Best wishes to you and Mike!

    And Meg, keep writing, I don’t know what I’d do without you.

  • Jessica

    I love everything about your wedding. It seems just perfect. My fiance and I are getting married on August 7th this year… almost three months to go! EEP! I searched and searched for a dress with swiss dots, and not wanting to stress my mother out with the task of sewing my wedding dress on top of everything else we are doing I settled for a lovely little dress. I LOVE yours though. I’m a size 4 too! I’ve also already bought and returned a handful of wedding shoes. A girls perpetual journey for the perfect shoe…. We’re like Cinderella that way though!

    Here’s a little about our plans: We are getting married in my father’s backyard, sadly no fireworks because we live in Maine… but we will be firing off my great great grandfathers rifle at the end of the ceremony! We also are striving for simplicity, and including our families in our planning is also very important to us. We just want to have a fun party to celebrate love! I’m an art teacher so Jon and I have been crafting our little brains out creating small touches that will make the day special. It will be fun.

    I am just so excited to marry Jon, and to celebrate our love with both of our families. Our house is covered in seedlings right now because we are growing our flowers in our garden instead of vegetables this year… and also giving them to my aunts to have them grow some of them too. Right now I am focused on trying to get our invites in the mail in early May. Which is daunting because I have been procrastinating! EEP again! I made a line drawing of things that we love for the invite: fireworks, flowers, our skiff, and Jonathan Livingston-esque seagulls.

    I love that you greeted the guests beforehand, I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out where we would hide because my dad’s backyard has such an odd layout… but why not just greet them! We’re all going to be there to be together. What fun! I can’t wait. Thanks for the greats ideas and inspiration!

  • Sarah Beth

    I already commented, but I just read this again, and I have to say that the proposal gives me warm fuzzies. My fiance proposed with the same sort of nonchalance, and I thought it was perfect too. On the couch in the living room, on a random summer afternoon. We aren’t really the type to make grand plans, so it seems silly that our wedding should be some over-the-top production like you see in wedding magazines. And it would be equally silly to have a wedding that screams “Aren’t we so awesomely un-mainstream!” You know the type: The “indie” weddings that seem like “being different” has totally swamped “being yourselves”.

    It’s so nice to see a wedding that’s so authentic to who the couple is.


  • Oh, man, the shoes.

    I’m getting married in September. Because I think they’re cute, I decided all my bridesmaids will wear peep toe shoes; I, by default, will also be wearing peep toe shoes (hey, if I’m demanding something of my poor friends, then I’m gonna do it, too). I purchased cute black peep toes AGES ago; they’re Easy Spirit (comfy!!), satin, and adorable. I have recently learned from The Fiance that he would prefer it if I weren’t wearing black on my wedding day. And so, the Epic Shoe Search begins. Zappos has been my friend, and also enemy. So far the count is three pairs of shoes purchased; two to be flat-out returned and one pair I adore that is SLIGHTLY too big for me. Aaaaand Zappos is out of stock in the half size smaller. OF COURSE. So I’ve got a “Notify Me” in for the correct color/size, and the Epic Shoe Search Continues. My DRESS was easier to find.

    ….isn’t it ridiculous, the things we choose to care about??

    • Kim

      I’m jumping in here, not for the dress giveaway, but for the SHOES, that I’ve just started to think about. A lot. I have a pair of shoes that I bought last August that I was planning on wearing for the wedding, which is this August. They’re cute – and peep toe! . . . and they’re also quite high. The height is fine for a normal evening affair or whatever, I’m just not sure that spending the entire day in them is the best idea. I don’t want to buy a new pair of shoes (I mean, I do, but I don’t!), but I also don’t want to have to cut off my feet at the end of the night. I might just wear them since I enjoy them, and end up kicking them aside when they get to be too much? Perhaps? Maybe?

      • The Shoe Thing can be a Big Freaking Deal. Personally, it matters because a: I don’t want my feet to kill me, b: I’d rather not buy shoes for ONE DAY (i.e., white ones), and c: I can’t afford Stuart Weitzman. It’s an Epic Hunt, really.

        I’m getting cute peep toe heels for the ceremony and pictures, but then I’ll be changing into Converse All Stars for the reception; I’ve been wearing Cons since I was in high school, they are some of my favorite shoes (I have at least four pairs in active rotation), and they’re COMFORTABLE. My dress goes to the floor, so no one is going to see them, anyway– unless I show them off, of course.

        Good luck with the Shoe Hunt; maybe cute ballet flats will help for you?

  • Ruth

    Hi Sarah (and Meg)

    Thank you for sharing your wedding experience! I have been engaged for just over a year now, with the count down looming for our August wedding this year.

    When I first became engaged I excitedly began reading a heap of wedding blogs… then slowly became overwhelmed and lost in the picture perfect weddings. One day I made the decision to delete all of these blogs that where beginning to make me feel inadequate. I continue to read just one (APW of course!).

    I too have struggled with questions about “the” wedding colour, the bridesmaids dresses, the flowers etc. I don’t see myself as a traditional bride in that sense – there is no colour for our wedding, my two bridesmaids will wear whatever dress they want to (whatever colour they want!), my sister will go to the flower market a few days before the wedding and buy whatever is available.

    More recently however I have found myself bumping hard into tradition. My fiancé is Vietnamese and I am Australian. His parents have very set views on how things should occur, how many guests need to be invited (200!!), and what we should eat (it looks like we are heading for an 8 course asian banquet!). My fiancé and I look at these negotiations as practice for the rest of our lives together. It also makes us consider what is really important to us on the wedding day (answer: getting married!).

    As for me – I don’t have a dress yet (although I have been dreaming of either sapphire blue or emerald green shoes… what is it with the shoes?). I have known from the start that I wanted a tea length wedding dress so that I can swing around the dance floor on (we meet swing dancing), but have yet to find one. If you were to offer me your wedding dress it would be with great honour that I wear it in August.

  • Christina


    I don’t know if you’ve already given away your dress, but thought I’d try anyway. I haven’t been engaged too long, just over a month. Even before my engagement, I loved reading about weddings. Not for all the beautiful details (though of course those are great too!), but because I loved reading people talk with such happiness about their day. You are no exception and had an obviously wonderful day full of love!

    My fiance and I (hehe, that’s the first time I’ve typed that!) are both college students currently and I will be graduating right before we get married and he will have a bit more to finish. As you can imagine, we’re trying to be frugal. The thing is our family has been very generous in terms of both money and opinions. The money is of course nice and though they’re not offering the $20000+ some weddings cost, they are offering more than we really want to spend. With that being said, we’re trying to plan a wedding that is nice, but that means staying true to who we are… which means not spending that much…

    The latest point of contention is my dress. I want to be comfy and feel light and happy. For me, this means a light and happy dress. My mom came up to visit me where my school is a week ago so we decided to go look at dresses. I really did not like any of the ones they brought. I asked if I could try on one of the short ones since they were lovely. The moment my mom saw it, she was upset and insisted that I wear a long gown. Long gowns are great, but I’ve just not been able to find many that fit what I want. Your dress is exactly what I’m looking for and if I didn’t have to spend much money on it, then how could my parents complain? It would relieve such stress (just like finding this APW site the other day did!) and it would give me a much needed boost of positive energy for the planning. Sorry this is so long! I’m probably closer to a size 6 because of “child-bearing hips” as my mom puts it, but I’m much smaller up where the dress size matters. I think it would be a wonderful addition to my day and I would definitely continue to pass on the dress once I’m done with it!

    You had a wonderful wedding and I wish you all the best!

  • K

    I love the black shoes with the white dress! I was trying to figure out if I could do that and it works so well here. I suppose the style of dress really makes it work or not. I just don’t know if I can do white shoes because a) I’ll never wear them again and b) white shoes just scream dye-to-order satin numbers (IMO, ick).