While some tried and true wedding traditions may have lost their luster, wedding professionals are taking note of modern iterations that honor and elevate classic trends.
“Couples are looking to put their own spin on traditions and refresh them,” said Heather Balliet, an owner of Amorology Weddings, a wedding planning and event company in San Diego. “They want to update and personalize them while holding onto remnants.”
Here are a few old-school wedding traditions that have undergone inventive upgrades for the modern age. From cozy, family dining to floating cakes, industry experts share examples of how events have evolved as couples seek to make their celebrations more inclusive and memorable.
Elevated Guest Portraits
Everyone wants to capture everything — usually all at once. Polaroids were kitschy and Warholian. The huge photo booths that spit out a photo strip were cheeky. Roaming photo machines, complete with props, have had their moment. “Though these offered an interactive experience and a memento from the wedding, they were cheesy and very playful,” said Kelly McWilliams, the owner of Kelly McWilliams Celebrations, Weddings and Parties, in Cape Coral, Fla. “Couples are returning to old-school, black-and-white guest portrait photography where photographers set up mini studios at their wedding.”
Ms. McWilliams said that couples who desired more sophistication were leaning into an old money aesthetic. “Candid portrait photos tell a story in a different way,” she added. “They’re professionally positioned, more artistic and timeless. There’s a slowdown and care as opposed to an Insta, whimsical feel which couples have grown tired of.”
Some photographers offer both guest portraits and full wedding coverage services. “Your photographers are running around, capturing all of your moments that will tell the story of your wedding,” Ms. McWilliams said. “Portraits are edited, Vogue-imagery photos, usually of the guests, that are keepsakes for everyone.”
Gifting the Bouquet
Tossing the bouquet can feel outdated. As couples seek to include meaningful traditions into their celebrations, an “anniversary dance” is being substituted and embraced in place of the ritual bouquet toss, which is reserved for the single women in attendance.
“Southern weddings are steeped in tradition but also honor its elders,” said Autumn Washington, the owner of Lavender by Autumn, a wedding planning firm in Atlanta. “The purpose is to re-gift the bouquet and acknowledge another couple, usually the one married the longest.”
In this more updated version of the tradition, a D.J. will often play a love song while calling all married couples to the dance floor, Ms. Washington said. Couples married five years or less are generally asked to sit out first. The D.J. might go incrementally by decades during the next several rounds until all but one couple is left standing.
“The last couple remaining are given the bouquet and praised for their longevity and commitment to having found love,” she said, a gesture she believed was more hopeful and meaningful. “Usually that couple is asked to give words of advice or wisdom. It celebrates people who found love rather than singling out someone hoping for love.”
Others who want to keep the bouquet toss in their wedding, but agree that it can be exclusive, are finding more inclusive iterations. Ms. Balliet, from Amorology Weddings, said she was seeing brides tossing what appears to be one bouquet but releases into single or mini clusters of flowers as it drops — “enough for everyone participating to receive something,” she said, adding that couples don’t like highlighting single people anymore. “This surprises the guests and is more about sharing the love and the fortune that comes from that bouquet.”
Leave a Message at the Beep
If you’re still offering a paper guest book for attendees to scribble ‘congratulations,’ you might as well use squid ink and parchment paper, some industry experts say.
“They’re dated,” said Danielle Rothweiler, the owner of Danielle Rothweiler Events and Designs, a wedding planning and design company in Verona, N.J. “No one wants to write anything when you have a martini in your hand.”
Guest books, which went from being ubiquitous and obligatory to customized — in some modern versions, guests may scrawl sweet sentiments on a canvas with a photo of the couple on it — have been replaced with interactive digital voice recording options. Some couples, for example, may provide faux phones for guests to leave a voice message to the couple and, perhaps, authentically capture the feel and emotion of the event.
“Voice messaging on texts and Instagram have become part of daily life; it makes sense this would reflect that behavior,” said Ms. Rothweiler, who added that different styles of phones and installations can seamlessly match the couple’s personality and décor. “Audio lets couples relive the emotion and happiness of their guests. They can also hear the noise in the background, which is part of the experience.” FêteFone, for example, lets couples purchase 20 different retro or vintage phones, ranging from $199 to $449. After guests hear the couples’ prerecorded outgoing message on the phones, they are able to leave their own.
“Some couples display the phones in their homes as an audible memory you can listen to by lifting the receiver,” said Michael Radolinski, the owner of FêteFone, adding that messages can also be transferred onto a USB drive.
While After the Tone offers rentable phones or a virtual dial-in option, allowing friends and family who are unable to attend to feel included by calling from their own phones and leaving voice mail messages. Additional interactive visuals are created by designers who can build a structure and installation that mirrors the couple’s theme.
Sweets Suspended in Midair
Wedding cakes dropping from the ceiling or appearing as if they’re floating on a customized swinging structure are not signs you’ve had too much to drink. They’re the new way these sweet treats are often being displayed “because couples want a romantic, curated, ethereal dessert experience,” said Lois Caplan, an owner of Arrangements Unlimited, an event planning and design firm in King of Prussia, Penn.
A multitiered wedding cake wheeled in on a cocktail-size table was once the visual guests expected. The newlyweds would then cut the cake together, which was traditionally considered their first act as a married couple.
Ms. Caplan said swinging cakes or those rigged from the ceiling and then lowered into the event space were an unexpected surprise for guest, but a significant addition to the budget for the couple.
“It’s Cartier for cakes,” she said. Ms. Caplan added that the additional costs for a cake swing, which would be customized to fit with the décor, and includes the structure, additional florals, and 25 to 30 hours of labor, could increase a couple’s budget by as much as $10,000. The fee for the cake is separate.
“Couples want a ‘wow’ reaction from their guests when they see it,” she said. “It’s become a showcase within the wedding.”
Cozy Family Dining
Some couples are forgoing the sweetheart’s table, which typically featured an intimate setting for two positioned a few feet away from the other seated guests, in favor of a table of close family members that resembles “someone’s dining room,” said Emily Campbell, the founder and executive producer of GoBella Design & Planning, an event company in Breckenridge, Colo.
“Historically, couples wanted a little liberation and privacy,” she said. “Now they want a sentimental, nostalgic family feel. Couples are asking for a family table filled with their parents and grandparents.”
To make these experiences feel authentic, Ms. Campbell added that tables might often feature family china and other heirloom tableware lent for the occasion by the bride or by family members.
“A family recipe is sometimes given to the chef to incorporate into the planned menu, and chandeliers are hung extra low, at four feet instead of a regular 10, to create a cozy feel,” she said.