Weddings today are like fingerprints or snowflakes: no two alike, and each intriguingly, uniquely styled.
There are only three rules: that it be a highly personalized event that reflects the couple, an experience that guests will remember – and that there are no rules.
“A lot of traditions are kind of out the window,” says wedding planner Roger Spinelli of RJS Event Designs in Watertown.
Where you marry, and that location’s history. Who attends, and how you invite them. Who takes part, and what you call them. What you eat, and how much trash is created. These are things couples care about.
What they don’t care for are bouquet and (especially not!) garter tosses, outdated gender roles, or anything cookie-cutter.
It looks like COVID-19 will have a lasting influence on wedding planning. “Micro-weddings,” sometimes followed by larger parties, may stick around, as couples find they enjoy having the people who mean most to them share the ceremony itself. That doesn’t mean large weddings are over. Saybrook Point Resort & Marina is again consistently seeing guests sizes up to 175, says wedding sales manager Danielle Bailey.
One COVID-19 adaptation likely to remain is live streaming. Castella Copeland and Chris Smith of Windsor are inviting 110 people to their wedding this summer at The Society Room in Hartford and expect at least an additional 100 to attend online. It’s a great option for those who live far away and those at higher risk from COVID-19. Copeland, a math teacher, says, “If I’ve learned anything from being a teacher and being remote last year, it’s how to do things online!”
Stephanie Sanzo and Kirt Paradis of West Hartford will stream their March wedding at The Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in Haddam. “You don’t want to put people in a situation where they feel unsafe coming,” says Sanzo.
Weeknight weddings are another pandemic by-product. “Before Covid, if you couldn’t book a Saturday night, it was devastating! Now, couples have learned you can have a stunning wedding on a Thursday night,” says wedding planner Lisa Antonecchia of Creative Concepts by Lisa in Hamden.
It’s All About the Couple
Every professional we spoke with had the same answer to the question, “What do couples care most about when planning their wedding?” They all said: that it’s unique and reflects the couple.
“They’re creating weddings based on who they are and how they experience life,” says wedding planner Chelsea Suddes, owner of Pearl Weddings and Events in West Hartford. “One of the most creative weddings I was able to work on was at Chatfield Hollow Inn, for a couple that travels all over the world.” There was a Turkish lounge, a lemonade stand, and alpacas, and every table represented a location the couple had visited.
Chatfield Hollow owner Ken Metz says that particular wedding was memorable, as was a camp-themed one, with picnic tables, food trucks, and a chandelier that the groom made with a canoe and stringed lights.
Spinelli recalls, “I did a Halloween wedding where the grooms dressed as a ghoul and zombie, and their guests came in costumes.”
Suddes remembers an exceptionally beautiful outdoor, May 1st wedding of a nature-loving couple. The bride was barefoot, the band played country-folk music, and the tent was clear-topped.
Priam Vineyards in Colchester had a wedding with 400 guests, plus elephants. Couples can stomp grapes for engagement or save-the-date photo shoots, but some choose to do it at their wedding.
Weddings don’t need to be elaborate to speak for the couple, though.
Merrily Connery, who with husband Michael owns Saltwater Farm Vineyard in Stonington, says “Some keep the ceremony and décor extremely simple. Others are much more elaborate. But they’re all looking for something unique.”
Couples usually start by choosing a venue with an atmosphere where they feel comfortable, a place with a character that suits their character.
Locations With Character
Most ceremonies take place at the same site as the reception. Few are held in houses of worship anymore. Combined indoor-outdoor options are sought-after. There are many options in Connecticut, and here are those planners say are most popular:
Rustic chic: more working farms also host weddings, and some offer farm-to-table catering. Family-owned barns are also popular.
Industrial chic: these include Saltwater Farm Vineyard, which combines a refurbished airplane hangar with vineyard and water views, and The Knowlton, the refurbished Armstrong Manufacturing Co. in Bridgeport, with views of the Housatonic River.
Mansions and estates: “Lord Thompson Manor – that’s my absolute favorite. It is stunn-ing!” says photographer Carla Hernández Ten Eyck.
Vineyards and breweries: “Breweries especially have taken off,” says Antonecchia.
Inns: for most inns, weddings aren’t their sole business. Chatfield Hollow Inn only hosts weddings in May, June, and September – and it is booked far ahead. A look at their gardens gives you a clue as to why.
Shoreline: coastal locations like the Saybrook Point Resort & Marina are popular, and few. Antonecchia warns. “If you’re looking for a wedding on the Long Island shoreline, you’d better book it far ahead.”
The beach: if you can find one (most likely a municipally-owned beach), it will be beautiful, but remember it will also be windy, and possibly hard to hear the ceremony.
Hartford City Hall: popular for elopements, and its architecture makes for fantastic photographs, says Hernández Ten Eyck.
Backyards: always popular, but especially so during a pandemic.
Riverside: there are serene views of the Connecticut River from venues like The Lace Factory in Deep River and the town-owned Glastonbury Boathouse.
Parks: Wickham Park in Manchester, Elizabeth Park in Hartford, and state parks like Kent Falls offer a wide range of atmospheres.
Historic ballrooms: these include Hartford’s G. Fox Ballroom and The Society Room of Hartford, Copeland and Smith’s choice for what Copeland calls its “old-fashioned romance.”
Museums: remember they aren’t just for art: Photographer Todd Fairchild of West Hartford shot a wedding in a hangar at the New England Air Museum. The groom was a pilot, and the museum houses a plane just like the one his grandfather flew in World War II.
Out are plain-old neutrals. In are:
Bohemian neutrals: think of grassy colors and textures, and organic colors.
Cottagecare: similar, but very flowery and evoking an idyllic rural style.
Bridgerton style: lush florals, mixed vintage furniture, candles, and coziness, inspired by the show of the same name.
Saturated colors: in everything that could possibly have a color, from flowers to linens to glassware.
Shiran Nicholson, owner of The Knowlton, says couples who are drawn to the venue “like the funky warehouse feel” more than the polished look of a country club.
All that said, there are no rules! Sanzo says that she and Paradis were quick at making these planning decisions: partly to keep the stress level down, and partly because they have another priority. “The flowers don’t matter, as long as we’re together after being separated for so long.”
Social Media Is Prominent
Registries and design ideas aren’t the only things the internet is handy for. Couples look for planners, vendors, and venues on sites like The Knot. They join Facebook groups specific to their locality, or to similar-minded interests like zero-waste weddings.
Increasingly, couples are organizing their event entirely online, including sending invitations electronically. Copeland and Smith are doing this on the site With Joy. “It keeps the cost down, and it’s very efficient,” says Copeland.
Planners Aren’t Just for Big Weddings
Suddes has planned weddings for as few as nine guests. “Truly, people are looking to hire planners more often than ever, because they understand the huge amount of stress it can be and are looking forward to enjoying that experience without stress.”
Antonecchia has planned elopements. There are even planners who specialize in them.
It isn’t about the size, she says. It’s about “creating an event that really speaks to them.”
Hernández Ten Eyck shot a wedding with more than twice as many vendors as wedding members. There were two brides and two friends, and: an event designer, photographer, cinematographer, florist, lighting designer, DJ/officiant, caterer, and a hair and makeup stylist.
Evolving Wedding Parties
At many weddings, bridesmaids and groomsmen aren’t a thing anymore. More are mixed-gender “wedding parties,” and couples come up with their own names for the roles they want their closest friends and family members to play. “Person of Honor” is the new Best Man or Maid of Honor.
As for what those in the wedding parties wear: tuxes have been replaced by suits, ranging from blue to pink, and not necessarily matching.
Lookalike dresses are also less common now. Instead, women are wearing shades of the same color, in different style dresses or pantsuits that suit their body type and own tastes. Sanzo did just that for the women in her wedding. “It can be stressful to be asked to wear a specific color or style,” she says.
Hard-Won Love Is Sweeter Than Ever
There are a growing number of LGBTQ-owned wedding providers in Connecticut. Word also gets around who in the business is an ally, like Nicholson, owner of The Knowlton, who when renovating the 1865 factory took extra steps to make it welcome to all, including installing gender-neutral bathrooms.
Sinéad Miller and Phoenix Hoang of Windsor chose Historic Events & Banquets (in the Hilliard Mills building in Manchester, where wool was spun for George Washington’s inaugural suit) for their upcoming wedding. “We chose it because it’s gorgeous – that’s the main thing. Plus, it’s LGBT-owned,” says Miller. Hoang adds, “We really researched the places we were looking at,” dismissing one that once held slaves. “We want a history, but a good history,” she says.
Drew Angelo, owner of Historic Events & Banquets, plans weddings for all kinds of couples, but says LGBTQ+ weddings “feel different – the intimacy is different. The couple’s chosen family is there. And they’ve been through more. There’s more of an appreciation for the ability to marry.”
When Halley Gmeiner, owner of Rose and Baldwin event planning, married her wife several years ago in New York state, she says, “I was sad we didn’t have wedding vendors who were more attuned.” So-called simple things, like forms asking for the “bride’s” and “groom’s” names, were so heteroexual-based that “I found in my wedding experience, my wife and I were not in the equation. Fluidity is missing in the wedding industry – every couple is different.”
Insistence on Sustainability
Planners say many couples are insisting on green weddings. Hiring companies to manage composting and recycling at the reception is just one part of that.
Suddes says couples ask for products that are biodegradable or recyclable. They want every item that’s used – from seating charts to welcome signs – to be rented, or able to be reused or recycled. “We’re always trying to be really creative so that every single detail has an intention, including its outcome, where it will go after use.”
Graphic designer Kendra Meany of Lebanon, owner of Whole Weddings, designs custom invitations and every type of print material a couple might want, using plantable seed paper made from recycled paper, and printed with water-based ink. And people do plant them; they send her photos of the wildflowers and herbs they have grown with the paper.
Plantable seed paper is available online as well, but couples willing to spend a little more for customization seek out Meany – like the couple who met in math class and ordered a geometric-designed invitation for their Pi Day wedding.
Rabbis and ministers still occasionally officiate, but the most common officiant is a best friend. “It’s such a lovely personal touch,” says Nicholson of The Knowlton.
The content of a ceremony is highly personal as well, with hand-written vows and readings from poems, books, or lyrics.
“Food Worth Talking About”
“Food worth talking about – that is so important now,” says Antonecchia. That includes drinks: you need a full-fledged bartender up for any request.
At Saltwater Farm Vineyard, Connery increasingly sees “roaming” weddings where guests don’t sit for dinner.
Food trucks are replacing the buffet tables at many outdoor venues. At indoor venues, food stations are the thing, and are they ever varied – from raw bars to mashed potato bars. Vegetarians and vegans can enjoy themselves like never before.
Wedding cakes are still a cherished tradition – kind of. Many couples have a small “cutting cake,” and they don’t stop the dancing to slice it. But a “cake” might consist of dozens of cookies or cupcakes.
At the Priam Vineyards wedding of vineyard tasting room manager Christopher Barone-Flemke to retired NASCAR driver Ed Lemke, Jr. last October, the cake may have looked like cake, but was really – what goes with wine? – cheese.
Dessert stations are popular – and don’t be surprised to find a wall of donuts. “Donut walls are the best!” says The Knowlton’s Nicholson.
Welcome to “Weedings”
Now that it’s legal for recreational use, marijuana is making its way into weddings. This January, Hemp Mountain CBD of Vermont was at the Connecticut Bridal Show, showcasing marijuana products for couples and their guests to enjoy.
Miller and Hoang plan to incorporate marijuana into their day, with a “unity smoke” right after the ceremony. Miller says it’s their version of smashing a glass, lighting candles, or jumping the broom. “Cannabis has been important for us for health reasons, and it’s part of our culture.”
They’re calling it both their wedding and weeding.
Entertainment is as important as good food, says Antonecchia. She has arranged for roaming magicians, aerial scarf artists, jugglers, drag queens, and strolling human champagne-and-dessert tables.
“Rarely do you see a DJ alone anymore,” as they’re usually accompanied by a sax player or singer, she adds. “And today bands that play weddings are truly magnificent musicians.”
The Knowlton offers an aerialist who hangs from a chandelier, dispensing champagne.
John Green, President and CEO of Lux Bond & Green says their designers work almost daily on custom engagement and wedding rings, using family heirloom stones or ideas that the couple provides.
“There is almost no limitation to what gemstones or metal a customer can use today,” he says. “Platinum is getting more important, yellow gold is making a comeback, and alternative metals are finding their place with wedding jewelry. Also, watches as a wedding gift is an important trend, which get worn daily like the rings.”
“One very interesting trend,” he adds, “is using shapes of stones that were not in vogue for several years. Combining shapes is a big trend, as well as using pear-shape and marquise-shape diamonds.
The Couple’s Sendoff
The car might still be spray-painted with “Just Married” – but often the getaway vehicle at Saybrook Point Resort & Marina is a boat.
There are two schools of thought on the sparkler farewell. One venue owner says he’s thrilled they’re passé; another loves them and still sees them all the time.
Mostly, couples are focusing on saying farewell to their guests by providing food (or, at outdoor events, food trucks) as guests leave, offering sliders, espressos, wings, ice cream, pizza, or cupcakes.
But those guests are increasingly likely to be leaving the reception only to go to an after-party that the couple has arranged for them.
But the Most Important Person at the Wedding…
… Is the dog. Sometimes they’re Ring Bearer or Flower Dog, but more often Best Man or Best Woman. After all, who’s your best friend?