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How Your Small Wedding Could Exceed Your Big Wedding Dreams

Make your special day about family, friends and the authentic you.
Sherri Hildebrandt
Trish Allison Photography


When the global pandemic forced couples to change their wedding plans, it didn’t stop them from getting married. Instead, it made many rethink how they would go about it. Though some brides (and some of their mothers) have dreamed since they were little girls about a big, beautiful wedding with all the bells and whistles, many couples saw this as the perfect opportunity to cut back, pare down and simplify, to create exactly what they want: an intimate gathering that doesn’t skimp on style but is steeped in meaning.


“I had started to see smaller weddings, or at least interest in them, but COVID-19 definitely has pushed this trend to the forefront,” says Keesha Jones-Sutton, owner of Hello, Divine in Milwaukee. “My couples were having a lot of anxiety about downsizing their weddings to the point of wanting to cancel. I assured them that not only would their wedding be perfect, but it would be much more meaningful because only those closest to you would be in attendance and it would be less stressful not having to worry about so many guests.” While the big blowout didn’t happen, wedding bells still rang. They kept the wedding, just not the crowd. “Couples have been planning their big day for a year or more, and they just want to be married,” says Amy Murphy of Relax Event Planning in Madison. “They have been looking forward to this monumental life event for a long time and some have their heart set on that specific date.” “With social media and the pressures of family, friends and living up to the hype, couples do feel like they have to go big or go home,” JonesSutton says. “The pandemic gave a lot of couples permission to step back and re-evaluate what was important to them and take back their power to do what would make them happy in the end. My couples all have said they couldn’t have seen their day any other way. It has been much more memorable and meaningful for them.” A small wedding offers the opportunity to put your own stamp on it and share it with your nearest and dearest. Unlike a wedding with hundreds of guests, you’ll have time to actually sit down and talk with your friends and family members, as well as give them a chance to get to know each other. With a small guest list, your options are almost unlimited as far as a venue goes. The site itself can be an expression of you as a couple. “What I’ve noticed with our clients is that many [couples] have chosen to hold their wedding at either their own home or backyard or at their family’s cabin or lake house, which makes the location more meaningful to them and their families,” says Krista Dentice, owner of Weddings With a Twist in New Berlin.


Since your guest list is smaller, you also might splurge on a few special touches. Be aware, though, that a small wedding doesn’t necessarily mean it will be small in expense.If good food, good wine and gathering with good friends are important, consider a gourmet meal in a family-style setting. Each place setting can be personalized with a special note or favor for the guest. Consider serving that deliciously decadent cake that’s a work of art in itself. If casual is more your style, end the evening around a fireplace or by a fire pit, making s’mores as a late-night snack or go nostalgic with milk and extra-special cookies. And planners agree you should not scrimp in certain areas. “I think number one is food,” says Oscar Sanchez of Milwaukee-based Ambrosia Events. “No matter how small or big your event, the food definitely will be a factor to enjoy the day. I mean, who doesn’t love good food?” Murphy concurs. “Couples should not skimp on quality food and a well-stocked bar. This is a huge part in making an enjoyable total guest experience.” You can also go all-out for elements you might otherwise feel were too indulgent, suggests Cheri Davis of Cheri Denise Events in Milwaukee: Opt for fantastic florals, exceptional décor, luxe attire.


No matter the size of your wedding—even if you decide to elope—have a good photographer (and, if possible, a videographer) on hand to capture the moment. “Don’t skimp on photography,” Murphy says. “These are photos you will look back on for years to come, and memories you will cherish for a lifetime. Find a photographer who reflects your style and will perfectly capture your happily ever after.” “The photographer and cinematographer capture your love story and moments that the couples are totally oblivious to,” Davis points out. When the wedding is over, you can relive it all. VIRTUAL WEDDINGS Another trend, particularly at the height of the pandemic: a virtual wedding, with the ceremony held online and guests “attending” from the comfort of their homes. Virtual weddings also allow guests to attend who couldn’t make it otherwise because of travel restrictions, health or comfort level, given the status of health precautions. Sanchez recently worked on a very small ceremony in which the groom’s family couldn’t come from Peru because there were no flights, and the bride’s family was supposed to travel from Russia [but couldn’t], “so both families were watching the ceremony on livestream, and the only ones who were able to attend were eight friends from Milwaukee.” Make sure the person who’s in charge of Zooming knows what they’re doing. Sanchez suggests having your event planner discuss the logistics with whoever will do the livestreaming. “It’s like planning a live TV show, where all the pieces have to play at the same time.” Further, says Jones-Sutton, “The key is to practice, make sure you have the right equipment, and record.” Another important factor, she says, is to have a person in charge of Zoom to make sure everyone is muted and unmuted at the right times, make sure angles are right, and other details that ensure a smooth event. If you don’t have a techsavvy friend, she suggests hiring a professional.


If ever there’s been a time when a planner has been helpful, it’s been during the coronavirus crisis. Some couples rescheduled a spring 2020 wedding for fall 2020, only to find that large gatherings were still not safe. “A planner can assist significantly with last-minute changes, whether that be the date, location, size, or any new COVID restrictions,” Dentice says. “We also have great knowledge of what is going on in the industry, how other couples have handled COVID-related issues, and have many local vendor connections to provide services in a pinch.” In addition, she adds, a wedding at home or in a backyard requires a lot more work and logistical issues than most couples realize—but a planner does, and can make sure no details are missed. WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS Planners have mixed views on future trends. “By 2022, I believe we will see the return of large weddings,” Murphy says. “Couples want to celebrate with all of their family and friends, and this is the one time in their life they have the opportunity to bring everyone together.” Others believe that even when the coronavirus threat has declined, the pandemic has changed the essential nature of how people will gather in groups. Couples are placing more value on the ceremony itself, their vows, and having friends and family close by to share in the moment, says Davis. Still others predict a trend of “marry now, party later,” with an elopement or very small ceremony as soon as possible, and a big celebration on the couple’s first or second anniversary. The trend to having more small weddings is “definitely here to stay,” Jones-Sutton believes. “I am even looking forward to doing more intimate affairs. I can really hone in on what my couples want and give them a day that is unique and more personal to them.” Whether you’ve always dreamt of an intimate, personal event or circumstances dictated your small wedding, one thing holds true. “You should be focused on the love of your life and be present in the moment,” Jones-Sutton says. “Focus on the good. Some of the most beautiful moments are created from changed plans or mistakes.”?

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