The Ultimate Guide to Wedding PlanningBy HOPP Team
Transforming a pile of well-loved magazines, a carefully organised Pinterest page, and an infinite store of daydreams and ideas into a definitive action plan for a real wedding can be more than a little challenging. What might have seemed like fully formed ideas can quickly become an abstract mosaic of florals, silk, lace, and champagne when you try to put pen to paper. And no wonder when a single thought can quickly unfurl into an endless chain — if the bouquets are cascading, then what will that mean for the bridal hairstyles? And if we choose loose waves to match, does that affect the dresses? Does this mean we should rethink the stationary too?
It’s a well known fact of life: wedding planning is disorienting and, at times, seemingly impossible to perfect. But, fortunately, there is another all-important truth: with the right outlook and approach, your wedding can, and will, be everything you want it to be.
Yes, there is a good deal to think about before you reach that moment, but with the right wedding suppliers, plenty of honest self-reflection, and a little help for our ultimate guide to wedding planning, you can untangle those crossed wires and focus on the excitement of being engaged, and of planning a beautiful celebration together.
So let’s get start with the fundamentals...
1. Be Honest About Your Budget
Sadly, our daydreams don’t come with a price tag. It is almost inevitable that, at some time or another, you will allow your imagination to run away from you, only to find that, yes, those seventy-five personalised handkerchiefs really do add up.
Thankfully, the mark of sensational wedding planning is not the size of the budget — it’s the love, care, and creativity that goes into each detail. Your guests will not be making deprecatory calculations in their head, and neither should you.
Establish your budget early on, and stay true to it as best you can as you start talks with wedding suppliers. Be honest with the bank account — perhaps a five tier wedding cake is superfluous — but, most importantly, be kind to yourself.
- Begin by finding out who would like to contribute. Parents, future in-laws, and grandparents may already have strong ideas about how much they are able to give, and which wedding supplies they would like to fund.
- Next, look at your savings, and work out how much you can comfortably put towards the big day. It’s important to feel like you have enough to create the day you want — and work with the wedding suppliers you really trust — but going over budget can put a blemish on your engagement, as well as the start of your married life. It’s easy to justify a little extra spending in advance, but you may regret it after the honeymoon.
- Next, make a rough guest list. It needn’t be perfect yet but, in general, the cost of a wedding with fifty guests will be much lower than a wedding graced by two-hundred.
- Prioritise. There will be sacrifices, but you will not remember those on the day. There will also be imperatives; make a list of the wedding suppliers you cannot go without, and start with negotiating between the necessities, and your bank account.
2. Find the Venue
You may already have the perfect scene in mind; a rolling, wildflower meadow in the summer, a sophisticated, modern art gallery, or perhaps an intimate and elegant country hotel. Whether you are planning a wedding in another country, or a cosier affair within your own hometown, it is so important that you browse and compare plenty of potential wedding venues, and that the location you choose is able to accommodate the wedding you want — and, most importantly, that it inspires you.
If you are viewing locations where weddings are held regularly, the representatives will be able to provide you with a great deal of insight into the space. You should remember to ask about seating plans, scheduling for the ceremony and reception, wedding decorations, and whether they require you to use wedding suppliers from their own directory.
After the ceremony, the wedding photographer will be keen to step-in and get plenty of intimate shots of you as newlyweds. Professionals are adept at finding the most picturesque locations at any venue, but it’s certainly worth checking that there are plenty of photogenic backdrops for the two of you to pose in front of.
And remember: different venues place significantly different limits on capacity, and the last thing you want is to commit to a venue with a limit on no more than fifty guests, only to be forced into re-thinking and un-inviting extended family and friends. Wedding planning involves a lot of scrupulous consideration, so talk it through with the venue, and be prepared to walk away from a lovely space if it can’t give you the wedding you really want.
3. Set the Theme
A theme can be as prescriptive as you want it to be. A ‘winter wonderland’ can be strewn with artificial snow, faux fur trims, frozen glasses and silver birch trees; it can also be a few subtle touches of crystal, flickering string lights, and snowdrop bouquets. A vintage wedding be taken very literally, with tea dresses and antique decor, or you can accent your space with lace doilies and mismatched teacups.
One of the most important considerations is the venue — first and foremost, will it support your theme? Are you able to really personalise it with wedding decor, or will you need to focus more of your attention on the smaller details?
Talk to your fiancé about favourite colours, locations, and shared interests. Perhaps you met on your morning dog walks, and finding a way to include your pets in the ceremony would mean the perfect start to your life as a family. It may be the case that you and your partner are more introverted, and want to establish a relaxed, informal atmosphere for you and your guests.
Predicting the weather is, lamentably, impossible, which is why it is important for you to have a worst-case-scenario in mind so that you are always able to make the most of the weather. Discuss back-up plans for shelter and warmth with your venue and, when the time comes, your wedding suppliers. Make sure that you have chosen a wedding photographer who has a few tricks up their sleeve for the misbehaving elements.
As soon as you have pinned down the theme, you can start to focus on the practicalities. There is no limit to how closely the flowers, wardrobe, wedding stationary and catering need to follow the theme, but it will certainly help you to narrow your options, and begin committing to wedding suppliers.
The venue — and, accordingly, the date — has been fixed. You dining table is a collage of note paper, colour swatches, appointment cards for your wedding suppliers, and brochures; the dog-eared pages of those bridal magazines have now been marked more confidently with scraps of paper and ribbon, and have taken up permanent residence on the dining room table. At the time, the ‘when’ and ‘where’ seemed like the biggest decisions, but now, faced with the prospect of finding the wedding supplies, the dress, invitations, flowers and food — not to mention the cake, music, licence, and wedding transport — it feels as though you might as well be back at the starting line.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed. But, just as Cinderella got her hands on a fairy godmother, brides and grooms have their own champion to turn to. Find yourself a wedding planner.
An experienced wedding planner will bring insider knowledge, passion, and creativity. Think of your relationship with them as a collaboration; a wedding planner who truly understands your distinctive tastes will be able to take much of the guesswork and emotional upheaval out of your wedding planning experience, and organise your unique vision into a viable experience.
With your date secured, you will also be ready to begin asking any bridesmaids, flower girls, ring bearers, and groomsmen to join you as you plan your wedding. If you would like to adhere to tradition and gift your bridesmaids something special, you could consider giving them a piece of wedding jewellery to match your own.
Need we mention the fact that it is time to start looking for the dress? Yes, that dress. While love at first sight is most definitely real when it comes to gowns, alterations take a little more time — about two to three months, generally speaking.
5. The Guest List
Many couples underestimate the difficulty of compiling a fair and thorough guest list, but very few sail through this process without a couple of complications. It can take multiple revisions to manage the endless inventory of cousins, old school friends and their partners, colleagues, and — just when you think you have it sorted — everyone in your fiance’s circle, too.
A good guest list is not dissimilar to a good budget: there is no ‘ideal’ number — what matters most is careful, realistic planning. Yes, there should be a little margin of manoeuvre but, ultimately, you need to ensure that you are always working with the final goal in mind. If you add names, ensure you have the budget for the additional wedding supplies.
You should be making two separate lists — one for the ceremony, another for the reception. When thinking about numbers, ensure that you are ever mindful of the venue; a small, intimate wedding is just as romantic as a room filled with three hundred guests, but a large room can make a cosier ceremony seem rather lost in space.
Be confident with your decisions. Wedding planning has difficult moments, and making a guest list can be one of the greatest sources of anxiety over the opinions of family and friends. Begin with the people in your immediate circles — the ones without whom your wedding might seem incomplete — and work outwards from there.
6. Save the Dates and Wedding Invitations
The big day may still be months away, but your wedding stationery is the first glimpse many of your guests will have of what’s in store. In the past, the mother and father of the bride were responsible for issuing invitations, but these days it is far more common for brides and grooms to request their guests’ company themselves.
Save the Date cards can be sent out well in advance of the wedding day; they needn’t include any important details, which makes it much easier for you to ensure that your guests will be available on the big day before many of the decisions have been made. As soon as you have confirmed an exact date with your venue, send your Save the Dates out to everyone on your guest list — this will deter guests from booking holidays and trips, and give them ample time to make arrangements for work, travel, and childcare.
The invitations, which may be sent closer to the date of the wedding, will need to provide all the information your guests will need to know before the big day. Make separate invitations for those who will be joining you all day, and for those who are only invited to the reception. Include an RSVP, directions, timings, information about your gift list, and, if necessary, menu options.
Consider the theme and formality you want for your wedding. If you are aiming for a more relaxed day, then you should aim for the wording on the invitation to reflect just that; guests are eager to understand what is expected of them, and a little strategic wording can save you a lot of last-minute texts and emails inquiring after dress-codes and so forth.
7. Finding Wedding Suppliers
Like the day itself, finding the right wedding suppliers is an exciting, though daunting, experience, and it can be difficult to predict precisely how everything will transpire. Talk to your wedding planner, look at the reviews and portfolios, and test everything in-person before making any decisions.
Your wedding suppliers will carry a great deal of responsibility on the big day. Avoid rushing into big, financial commitments and deposits before you are confident that they understand your vision, and that they can be relied upon on the day.
A talented wedding florist will be able to capture the unique essence of your ceremony within your wedding bouquets. Show your wedding planning ideas to your prospective florist, and take the time to discuss concepts for bridal bouquets, wedding centrepieces, and bridesmaid bouquets.
Many venues prefer or require you to use their own catering team but, if not, be sure to secure a wedding catering as soon as the date is finalised. There are caterers who provide for every palate, diet, and cuisine — but make sure you try it for yourself before committing.
Three tiered, naked, chocolate, buttercream, fondant, cupcake, fruit — whatever you decide, the wedding cake is going to be admired, photographed, and hopefully enjoyed by everyone in attendance. We don’t need to tell you to go out and get tasting, do we?
Hair and Beauty Team
The hours before you walk down the aisle are, of course, wonderful — but they are also busy. Having a trusted makeup and hair team can bring an extra touch of luxury to your morning, and take away the dizzying responsibility of perfecting everything on your own. Meet in-person and try out ideas together before you commit yourself.
Whether it’s greeting your guests with a wedding singer, walking down the aisle to a string quartet rendition of the wedding march, or keeping the party going long after the ceremony with a seasoned rock band, the right wedding entertainment will create a more vibrant and immersive ambience within your space.
8. Your Wedding Photographer and Videographer
Choosing the right wedding photographer is, arguably, one of the most important parts of wedding planning. The beauty and emotion of a wedding can neutralise a few slip-ups on the day, but careless photography is very difficult to fix. Putting your faith in a wedding photographer who will truly capture your day in the best light takes a fair amount of trust, but with thorough research and an in-person meeting, you can relax, enjoy yourself, and allow the professionals to take over.
Similarly, an experienced wedding videographer will be able to capture those fleeting moments with cinematic finesse, without treading on your toes.
The best wedding photographers and videographers will have their diaries filled long in advance; to avoid disappointment, find and book your team early-on in your wedding planning process.
9. The Legalities
Of all your wedding supplies, the legal documents are, arguably, the most important.
Procuring your marriage license is relatively straightforward, but it will take some time for you and your fiance to receive approval. It is advisable for you to apply for your marriage license at a minimum of ten weeks before the date of your ceremony but, for your own peace of mind, gather and send off all the necessary paperwork as early on in the wedding planning process as possible.
Religious ceremonies bring their own prerequisites for couples. For instance, Church of England marriages require banns to be read over three Sundays, for the final three months before the wedding. This is a legal requirement, but the excitement of marking the approach of the big day will certainly override the obligatory nature.
If you are planning a wedding in a location not yet approved for legalised ceremonies, you will need to apply for a wedding venue licence ahead of time.
Weddings demand a great deal of time and attention, not to mention the massive financial and emotional investment into your venue, and wedding supplies. Even the most careful and painstaking wedding planning can result in plenty of stressful moments; the phrase “enjoy your engagement” can seem to fall out the window when there is so much to think, re-think, and worry over.
Amongst all the excitement and joy of wedding planning, nobody wants to believe that wedding suppliers can fall through, or that the venue could cancel, at the very last moment. Wedding planning entails making many large, financial commitments within a relatively short space of time, and purchasing an insurance policy against cancellation, rearrangement, and failed wedding suppliers can a practical level of reassurance as you look forward to your day.
11. Your Gift List
Your guests will all have very different ideas about what they are willing to spend on a gift, and it is important that your gift list is designed to reflect different budgets, so as not to make anyone feel obliged to lavish beyond their means. An expensive kettle is just as useful as a new set of mugs, so be sure to include plenty of variety; your guests will certainly appreciate the choice.
When it comes to compiling your gift list, it’s better to have too much than too little. A wide variety of items will give guests the opportunity to choose something they would really like to give the two of you, and there are no rules stating that everything must be bought.
Gift lists can be compiled through a particular shop, online retailer, or using a dedicated website. Putting a list together can feel a touch impersonal, but your guests will appreciate the guidance, and you can always counterbalance this with a thoughtful favour, and personalised thank you cards after the honeymoon.
12. The Table Plan
While some couples take a more spontaneous approach to seating, creating a table plan is an excellent way of simplifying the day, and ensuring that you and your guests are able to concentrate on what’s important.
Find the Right Shape
Before you begin assigning names to seats, the first step is to decide how you are going to utilise the space your venue offers. An experienced wedding venue will have a wealth of experience in catering to groups of all sizes, and will be able to provide the best examples of seating arrangements that work for the space.
Start at the Top
Filling a head table with your parents and wedding party is the most traditional approach — it means that you are able to keep your nearest and dearest close throughout the reception, and capture some beautiful moments with your photographer.
Of course, there are always alternatives to tradition. Some couples choose instead to create a ‘sweetheart table’ just for the newlyweds. This creates a more romantic, intimate space for you and your partner, which will give you some peace from the celebrants.
Start your table plan with the most central members of any wedding party: the happy couple.
Don’t Overthink It
Your guests will be happiest when they are seated with people they know. Of course, this means keeping couples together, but spare a thought for your single guests, too. Co-workers will make the most organic conversation with other co-workers, just as your side of the family will be most comfortable with other relations. A wedding is a time for everyone to come together and share something special, but that does not mean you need to play the role of matchmaker.
A Few Insider Tips
Wedding planning calls upon all of your ability to be patient, persistent, creative, and confident. Perhaps the greatest tip to impart to any bride or groom is to enjoy the process, take time to revel in the love you have found, and to look forward to everything that is still in store for you and your fiance.
That said, when you are juggling multiple emails at once, while worrying over the ETA of the personalised cake topper, while negotiating with your friend over why she was never promised plus one, while mentally re-drafting your wedding speech — all while getting your wedding nails done — a few, more practical tips can’t hurt, can they?
Use Your Colours as a Guide
Cohesion makes for beautiful photography; whether it’s soft, pastels or summery yellows and creams, the more unity you can establish between your wedding supplies, the better it will look as a whole. Sticking to your palette will also make decision-making easier. There are endless beautiful wedding decorations and ideas but, if they clash with your colours, you have an easy excuse to walk away.
You Opinions Above all Others
Family and friends may try to live vicariously through your wedding planning, and demote your own ideas in favour of what they would choose. Of course, this is a lovely sign that they are excited for you, but don’t allow input to cross the line into stipulation. If you and your fiance really want that savoury crepe buffet, then hold fast, and don’t give into the need to justify your choices.
Your wedding planner, bridal party, fiance and one or two willing parents can take on the jobs you don’t have the time — or brain capacity — to complete yourself. Don’t overwhelm yourself; every bride and groom needs some time to relax, and look forward to the day. Whether you need help liaising with wedding suppliers, or just stamping a pile of envelopes, ask for help before you get overwhelmed.
Avoid Repeating Yourself
Guests tend to send their RSVPs, then follow-up with a number of questions about the venue, timings, potential plus-ones, and dress-code. Include as much as you can in your invitations, to save yourself the trouble of responding to hundreds of emails, texts, and last-minute phone calls.
Be Realistic with DIY
Many couples will decide to take on the task of making some of their own wedding supplies and favours. Your guests will adore the personal touches you have added, but no bride or groom wishes to be up until the early hours of the wedding morning, frantically hot-glueing silk flowers. If you know you would like to add some DIY to your list of tasks, start early, and enlist the help of your bridal party several weeks before the day.