In December, my niece Carrmen married her longtime boyfriend at a courthouse in Washington, D.C. It was the most heartfelt wedding I've been to in years, and as lovely as any big venue affair. I'm single, never-married and not even close to being engaged (um, I need a boyfriend first...thanks), but the experience inspired me to reconsider my would-be wedding options: Maybe a courthouse ceremony doesn't have to be the stepchild of nuptials. Maybe it's a rare opportunity to say, "Yes, we're going small and simple, but who says we're going boring?"
I combined what I saw at my niece's wedding, and asked another pro to help with his advice, too: wedding guru David Tutera. (His advice to uncompromising brides on weTV's My Fair Wedding makes me want to throw my shoe at the TV. Seriously, his "you've got to be kidding me" face is priceless.)
DON'T skip the invitations
Courthouses are great for time-crunched brides. Though you might be in a rush to get this "I do" thing over already, do the right thing and properly invite your guests. A "We're getting married! Come!" phone call won't suffice. You'll be tempted to cut corners here, since courtrooms are small and only about 10 guests will be allowed to attend. (So much easier to just send a group text message, right? No!) Take a few minutes to create and send an online invitation. E-invites are totally OK, but chose one that looks like it's suited for a wedding, not a Super Bowl party. When choosing your invitation design, says Tutera, select one that's beautiful and personal. "You want it to set the tone for the day and reflect your and your fiancé's personalities." Of course, if there's time, mailed invitations trump emailed ones any day.
DO wear a killer dress
My niece Carrmen wore a shades-of-gray BCBG stunner -- tiered and ruffled, cocktail length with a sweet ribbon belt. Best part? She scored it on sale. The day of the wedding, her best friend, who's a costume designer on Broadway, fashioned a short 'n' sassy over-the-eye veil using French hat netting and bobby pins in fewer than 10 minutes! Like Carrmen, many courthouse brides forfeit traditional gowns for cocktail dresses in anything but white. But Tutera told me he thinks wearing white is a great way of making sure you enjoy every last drop of bridal bliss on your big day: "A woman only gets to be a bride once, so I really do like the idea of white -- from a traditional bridal gown and veil to a shorter casual white dress with a great hair accessory, even a gorgeous white skirt or pants suit." Don't let the security line (it's a courthouse, remember? Expect bag checks and conveyor belts) or the staid accommodations (the room you get married in will probably look like a castoff from the set of The Office) keep you from being a jaw-droppingly fabulous bride.
DON'T nix all the flowers
No wedding is complete without them, says Tutera. Your must-haves are a bouquet (for you) and boutonniere (for him). Bonus points if you spring for corsages and boutonnieres for all your guests, whom you'll likely be able to count on two hands. With such a small number, your guests are like your wedding party. So, why not let them feel special?
DO get a good photographer
Ask a guest with a professional-level camera and the skills to match to capture the story of the day -- from the "bride getting ready" scene in your living room to your stylish departure from the scene. (Think Marilyn Monroe emerging from the courthouse arm-in-arm with husband Joe DiMaggio on her wedding day.) And why not get great pics of you looking fabulous as you wait in line at security check? A courtroom might not have all the "chuppa and glamour" of a big ceremony, says Tutera, "but the photos captured during the nuptials should be about you and your groom, and the moment, not the walls behind you!" After the quick "I do"s, head to a nearby municipal haunt for a more scenic backdrop -- a park or historic building, a favorite cafe or street. Let your guests tag along and get group shots!
DON'T forget to ask for help
Ask your most congenial friend to get there early and play hostess for the day. "Since you can't be in three places at once, a host or hostess is a great way to ensure someone is at the location to make your guests feel welcome and know they're in the right place," says Tutera. Your guests will likely be in a waiting area for a bit, so the hostess's job will be to smile and make friendly introductions, keeping the energy high and joyous.
DO have an awesome reception
It could be a sit-down dinner or a cocktail party in the private room of your favorite restaurant later that evening or a casual gathering at someone's home immediately following the ceremony. Whatever you do, allow yourself to be properly feted with "to the happy couple!" toasts and celebratory reflection.
The bottom line: Scaling back needn't mean skimping. Don't be afraid to still have all the wedding-y stuff you always wanted -- the ring pillow or petal toss, the "love is patient, love is kind" Biblical reading. Yes, there are likely more time restraints with a courthouse ceremony but you can still squeeze in one or two special touches. Also: Don't forget to send thank you cards, and slip in one of the group photos as a keepsake!
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