DIY, 1930s style wedding...
January 2, 2010 9:32 AM   Subscribe

DIY wedding? Ever done it? Was it a success? Did you wish you'd saved up and gone all out?

So I'm slowly coming around to the idea of getting married. At least for the party and the ceremony. I've never imagined a big, expensive wedding but more like fun, friends, music, drinks, and maybe a big slumber/camp out later (we live in a place people could do that). My parents may help out, but for personal and financial reasons, I don't expect them to pay for all of it (I'm sure they would throw in for a part of it, like catered food or something).

This thread has some good ideas. We pretty much have a venue for free if we want it, so that helps, but the potluck idea seems a bit hippied out for me, though under the right circumstances I could be down with that, too.

Did you have a DIY wedding you felt good about? Also, I kind of want an Old-Timey, 1930s style wedding. with fedoras and furs and big bands... well, you know- even if that means just the S/O and myself are in costume. So thoughts on that, or what food/music could go with it would be fun, too.
posted by Rocket26 to Society & Culture (37 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not married, but have witnessed a lot of wedding planning among friends and family and the people who had the DIY/smaller, more personal wedding always seem to be a lot happier with it than the people who had the expensive wedding. Even if you save up, everything ends up costing more than you expect when you decide to go all out. Call in as many favors as you can to get better rates for things like photography, DJ, cakes, etc. Remember that however much your dress costs, if it needs any alterations, those will be a significant cost as well.
posted by ishotjr at 9:36 AM on January 2, 2010

My husband and I were just saying this morning how everything we did ourselves turned out perfectly while each of our vendors dissapointed us! Go for it!
posted by rglass at 9:37 AM on January 2, 2010

DIY, vintage-inspired "old-timey" weddings are very big right now. Look at blogs like Once Wed and 100 Layer Cake for inspiration.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:38 AM on January 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

I "officiated" a DIY wedding a couple of years ago (the actual legal bit was a self-uniting marriage license; the bride at one point referred to me as the MC and that sounds about right) and it went off wonderfully. The bride had some connections to a good outdoor venue; a tent was rented; we set up some tables that had a huge buffet spread of sandwiches and stuff-with-dip from Whole Foods. A good set of speakers and an iPod for music; the wedding party did most of the gruntwork for setup and teardown; I drove the bride and groom in and we picked up a flat of lemonade along the way. Drinks amounted to several bottles of carefully-chosen good-but-inexpensive wine; dessert was, IIRC, a cupcake spread. There were a couple dozen people present, and it all went off perfectly, a good time was had by all, and while I wasn't privy to all of the planning and financial aspects, it definitely wasn't much at all by modern wedding standards.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:41 AM on January 2, 2010

Our wedding was super inexpensive, on the beach, just a few close friends and family... ultra minimal in some ways. This might not be for everyone but one piece of advice: don't skimp on the photography. If it wasn't for one good friend with a good eye, we would only have our fading memories to go by. You don't NEED a pro, but at least one friend with good equipment and a good eye for this sort of thing. The appliance gifts will break, you might never fit into your wedding clothes again, but you will cherish that one perfect framed shot from the ceremony.
posted by Redhush at 10:12 AM on January 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

Rocket26, I had a DIY wedding in 2005 I feel great about. My husband and I paid for it ourselves, and didn't have to borrow anything. Here's a link to my long-ish description from a similar question about a year ago.

Something I don't think I mentioned there is that we had tons of help from friends and family (fetching the drinks and ice, setting up lights, and so on). That made the experience even more special and cozy, rather than having a bunch of unknown vendor people trooping around.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:16 AM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can totally do this. Everyone in my "graduating class" at IndieBride had awesome DIY weddings on the cheap - as a guide, we did three days (evening cocktail party, wedding with dinner and dancing, Sunday brunch) for something like 5K. I would also suggest this book (caveat: our wedding is in it) and if you want DIY wedding porn, the blog that goes with it.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:25 AM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

the best food I've ever had at a wedding was a potluck, the best weddings were ones that my friends planned themselves to their own tastes. Ordinary catered weddings in a hall wearing penguin suits and frilly dresses? boring. Dancing all night under the stars in the mountains to a techno Dj around a bonfire? amazing. do it!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 10:32 AM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

We had a DIY wedding, and talking about it later the only thing we regret is having a friend take the pictures. Hire a professional for the photography. Everything else can be done frugally, but the pictures are going to be the one thing you want to last. Even your great-great grandkids will be able to appreciate wedding pictures.

Do what you want and have fun, but I think it is tacky to expect your guests to bring anything to your wedding. Potluck is very uncool etiquette wise. Instead, just invite the people you can afford to feed or serve less expensive food.

Etiquette Hell is a fun website for Wedding Faux Pas.
posted by TooFewShoes at 10:37 AM on January 2, 2010

We did a DIY wedding, and it was wonderful. We found that it was not really much a cost savings to do a wedding at your own house (Don't know if your free venue is at a house or what); you have to do a LOT of work and spend a LOT of money to get your home ready for a wedding. However, you get quite a bit out of that work.

When the big days comes, you, and everyone who helped you (which will end up being a large group of people, by necessity), will feel a much greater investment and connection to the day. So in the end, we'd highly recommend DIY weddings, but not for cost savings. You're very likely going to spend much more than you ever thought possible. It's what we heard from everyone who was already married, and it turned out to be true, despite our best efforts, so just save where you can and cut what you can and roll with everything else.
posted by sdis at 10:42 AM on January 2, 2010

If you really want to keep it authentically 1930s, you might stick to very simple menu: tea sandwiches, cake, champagne, and juice. It would be perfectly in keeping with the era, and pretty simple to accomplish.

This is a fleshing-out of an email I sent to someone seeking similar info.

We had a DIY wedding, and I'm so glad we did. It was a big undertaking, but for us it was the most authentic, heartfelt way to celebrate. By and large, it went very well. Some things went ker-flooey, but I've never been to any big party where that didn't happen.

My (now) sister-in-law married us, and I cannot express how much this meant to me. If you know someone who is organized, comfortable speaking in from of crowds, and important to you and your partner, I recommend this highly. (She was already ordained the the Universal Life Church; your licensing office can tell you whether that's legally binding where you are.)

My partner and I self-catered, and we hired two servers to bake and serve the hot stuff. Family took care of the cold dishes. I actually never set eyes on the buffet, but we raked in compliments all day.

The most recent compliment is also perhaps the most remarkable. One friend in particular was quite skeptical of our plan to self-cater, and about a month after she attended the wedding, I bumped into her. She remarked how delicious everything was. She said, "It was so smart of you to hire a caterer after all. Who did you use, anyway? We might want to use them for our wedding." That was a flattering moment.

What I can recall of our menu, in case it's useful for you:
- savory pastries (frozen unbaked, baked according to my printed instructions by hired helpers on-site): spinach and parmesan in puff pastry, sherried mushrooms with cream wrapped in phyllo, mini roasted squash galettes. I don't really have recipes; I just winged it. Since these are bite-sized (two or three bites, really), I made three of each flavor for each expected guest (for a total of ~9 per guest) and we had a great many left over, still frozen for future use.
- hummus: made in advance, frozen, thawed in fridge the night before and warmed in the on-site microwave, then tarted up with lemon and salt to taste. Served with crackers and crudites, arranged on a platter by a family member.
- cheese plate: the local cheeseshop chose the assortment for us, based on our budget and numbers of people. Served with sliced french bread, a pile of dried figs, a pile of dried cherries, and a bunch of grapes.
- a plate with onion-garlic jam, cream cheese, and crackers.
- piles of fruit: grapes, strawberries, diced melon. My sister-in-law dolled it up with a bowl of sour cream and a pile of brown sugar for dunking.
- A tray of homemade biscotti, made ahead and frozen.
- Lemonade. I made homemade concentrate and froze it, then the servers added water onsite.
- a limited bar: mixed cases of wine (all chosen and provided by my brother, bless him for saving me the thought and trouble), three or four kinds of liquor and mixers, two kegs (one fancy, one cheap). Also, see bar notes below.
- my partner's parents also brought big deli tray of sandwich meats and cheeses, and a big bag of rolls.
- the wedding cake: we lucked out here. My sister, a professional baker specializing in wedding cakes, gave us our cake as a gift. I would not have made my own cake, though some people do it with great success.

We went kinda nuts with the bar as a fun, inexpensive way to make it festive: lots of mixers and finishing touches (cola, diet cola, orange juice, grapefruit juice, tomato juice, mint, simple syrup, olives, oranges, lemons, limes) and I researched and printed out simple drink recipes to spread around the bar table, so people knew what options they had with the ingredients given.

I had a very clear plan for the buffet and drinks. For example, we used disposable cups, and I put labels on each package indicating its use and placement. This seemed nutty, but actually worked like a dream; it meant that I didn't have to hover during set-up to be sure that the big tumblers got placed near the keg and the small child-friendly tumblers got set near the lemonade, for example.

I had the same kind of info for the food, but it was, of course, much more involved, so it was written down in a binder, complete with diagrams. I now know that I should also have:

- communicated all of this info clearly to one person other than my best woman. The best woman spent a lot of the set-up time running around doing unexpected tasks, and the buffet got thrown together by other people. If they'd known about the charts and lists, they would have had an easier, less stressful task.
- put masking tape labels on the bottom of each dish indicating what to serve in it, what its companion dishes were (i.e., where to put it on the buffet: for example, hummus goes with olives, goes with crudites, goes with pita chips).
- One smart thing: I made sure we had extra serving dishes on hand, and most of them did get used. I also wish we'd planned a little redundancy of roles: had more than one person for any given task.

Some procedural things:
- Without a planner or experienced officiant, it's hard to know when to start the ceremony. We let it happen a little too fast, I think: our invitations said 1 p.m., so at 12:59, my over-eager best woman said "Come on!" and I said "What, now? Uh. Okay!" I wish we'd given people 15 or 20 minutes to mill around and chat and find seats.
- Have a timeline hammered out. We did not and, judging by the amount of cake we took home, some people must have left before we finally got around to cutting the cake. That's a shame, since the gorgeous cake was my baker-sister's wedding gift.
- Have the get-away/clean-up planned, and confirm it (and particularly the time) with whoever's tidying up the hall. My new in-laws surprised us with a limo to take us away, but it arrived an hour before we had planned to leave. They packed us into the car, assumed control of the clean-up, and started packing away food and drinks much earlier than our plan called for.
- Consider a limo or other extravagant get-away. I rolled my eyes at the idea, but it was, in fact, the perfect thing: to hop into a neutral space and be spirited away with no responsibilities and complete privacy.

Things we did right:
- The last few days before the wedding, we jettisoned our remaining wedding tasks and chores and spent the time with family and friends who were in town for the wedding.
- Discard any plan, however well thought out, that made us fight.
- Shrug when things go wrong, and remember that no one but us knows The Plan, so no one but us will notice The Mistake. (Well, us and whoever scrambles around to cover it up.)
- Recognize that things will go wrong, and things would also have gone wrong if we'd spent thousands on caterers and DJs and photographers. Cut yourself some slack.

I cannot state this clearly enough: a large-scale party like this is a huge undertaking. I have never been so tired as I was the night after the wedding. We spent three days just giggling and sleeping and lounging and [censored].
posted by Elsa at 10:50 AM on January 2, 2010 [15 favorites]

We did our wedding DIY 6 years ago and I wouldn't change a thing. Except to have better cameras. We did the informal distributed camera thing - we had lots of people tasked with taking photos but at the time digital cameras weren't very good. We have enough photos that we were happy with without the staged nature of professional shots, but resolution in those days wasn't high enough to make big blow up prints and all the reception photos were orange (fixed mostly with Photoshop, thanks askme!). I made my wedding album through iPhoto and it turned out great!

We made our own menus, DJ'ing (we just mixed a bunch of discs), bought and made our own table decorations, wedding quiz to play as a game, invitations and had the wedding in a park. It was really great, with the usual stresses of course (I cut my wedding finger making the menus the day before the wedding, cue lots of tears and blood). It wasn't that much work, and we got what we wanted. Total wedding cost for 60 was about $4500 including room hire and my dress ($500) and the celebrant ($400). We did get it catered.

Many of our friends and relatives commented on how much they enjoyed something that was not a standard function centre with the usual schedule of activities and speeches.
posted by wingless_angel at 10:51 AM on January 2, 2010

On the subject of dresses, I had a very 20s-style dress custom made for me. It was gorgeous and I loved it. Nobody else was in period gear (and mine wasn't properly period so much as "inspired by") and the men in the wedding party were, for the most part, in kilts. The photos we took look great.

The important thing for a custom dress is to get someone to make it whose vibe is sympatico with yours. Don't use a tailor/seamstress if you're not comfortable with them. Ask around and find the right person, because you'll spend a lot of time with them and having it custom made, while cheaper than a lot of bridal salon dresses, is still a chunk of change if you use nice fabrics, have a lot of decorations, etc.
posted by immlass at 11:07 AM on January 2, 2010

Definitely DIY—though that doesn't mean you have to do absolutely every little thing. I do believe you'll get much better results if you don't just hand off the whole shebang to some “professional” who knows nothing about you and your S/O. It will be a lot of work, and possibly something of a test for your relationship, but you likely won't regret it.

My wife and I essentially rented a tiny railroad town in the desert (surprisingly cheap!) that had an old adobe hotel (with a cactus garden, of course) and a bunch of permanent “eco-tents” for lodging. We hired a company to put up a big banquet tent and bring tables and chairs, and a terrific local barbecue joint for catering. Our wedding cake was their excellent bread pudding. Instead of a DJ, we bought a small Fender PA, which we still have and use, and put my little sister and her well-stocked iPod to work.

Friends and family decorated the tent with lights and the tables with succulents that also (along with homemade Mexican wedding cookies) served as living wedding favors. The tables were also wrapped with brown paper and festooned with bundles of crayons so everyone could color their best wishes. We had more relatives play and sing our processional and recessional music, and just as the ceremony was about to begin, a train came through. A friend had gone out with the kids to put pennies on the tracks, so we have pennies that were crushed during our wedding. We got another dear friend to become a preacher through a mail-order ministry so he could perform the ceremony, and I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that the whole thing was downright magical.

I'm pretty sure it all came out cheaper than a big hired to-do, but maybe the missus will chime in with her far better recollection of the expenses.

I should also mention a friend whose amazing DIY wedding at a German chateau (surprisingly cheap, including food!) involved marching the guests trough a maze of ribbon around a hundred year old copper birch tree to a beautiful ceremony (marred only by the loud oom-pah music emanating from the senior center next door) and plenty of remarkable family provided entertainment...

My point? “Saving up and going all out” will probably produce a predictable wedding product that will conform to common expectations for such things. Doing it yourselves will be far more likely to produce an experience that you and your future spouse and all your friends and family will never forget.
posted by donmateo at 11:29 AM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

We had a self-catered, DIY wedding. It was a legendary party, and I recommend it.

1. Location. It's not that easy to find a place that will let you self-cater, and is nice. Summer outdoor locations are great, but you need to plan for weather, and book ahead.

2. Music. We used mixtapes (pre-digital music days); I wish we'd hired a DJ, but a really great mix on an ipod would work. Somebody still needs to pay attention, because pacing is important.

3. Liquor. Limit the options. Beer and lots of small bottles of water in ice buckets. Red, white and sparkly wine. Non-alcoholic punch, not super-sweet, and maybe 1 cocktail, served as punch, probably in pitchers. My now-ex wanted a full bar and bartender. Expensive, and the bartender didn't do a great job. Would not repeat this choice.

4. Photos. Find an aspiring wedding photographer, and also ask friends to take pictures. We were lucky to have a professional photographer friend.
Do take formal shots. Take family group shots. Your whole family is present, with combed hair and clean clothes; document this. Lots of family groupings. And, it's really fun to get a shot of the whole group - wedding party and all guests. This takes time, but the pictures are so nice to have.

5. Cake. A good wedding cake is not cheap. I loved a recent wedding with tiers of delicious cupcakes, and it was easy to arrange. If a friend can do the cake, great, but it's a big task.

6. Food. We cooked, and friends cooked, and the servers we hired flaked out on us. yikes. but family members pitched in, and the pictures prove that the kitchen crew had a champagne-fueled blast. Do not skimp on lots of sparkly wine.

7. Flowers. We had lots of flowers, that I ordered from the mega-grocery, in carafes and glass vases from Goodwill, lots of candles, and helium balloons, in our Theme Colors To Cherish Forever. It was lovely, and not terribly expensive. Theme colors were a recurring joke as we planned the bash.

8. Theme. If you want to have a theme, give your friends warning, ask them to dress the part and really help you do it up. My dress came from a friend's consignment store, the groom didn't want to wear a tux, but the guys wore matching ties, my sisters chose to wear matching dresses, but it was their choice, not mine. They were really pretty.

9. Wedding. Take the time to write of find vows that express the importance of marriage to you. Maybe a few readings by friends of family. If you have friends with musical talent, ask them to help. I had a flower girl, specifically because I had a niece the right age, and I knew she'd love it. We had a minister friend do the ceremony, to appease family. It was nice. Weave in as much meaning and tradition as you want.

A wedding is a ceremony where you and your beloved make promises to one another, with all your family and friends as witnesses, there to support you. The reception is a party, as elaborate as you want to make it. The wedding is the truly important part. Skipping the wedding industry, with false requirements for favors, and hideous matching dresses in the Theme Colors, is a great feeling. Planning a big party is tons of work, but friends and family will help, and that will make it much more fun and personal. Mazel tov
posted by theora55 at 11:53 AM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Our wedding was not "big fancy," just kind of medium. While it was great, we would both do "simple" if we had a do-over. You're just throwing a party with a little skit at the beginning, that's all. Not crowning a new king of the universe. No need to go into debt or make yourself so stressed out with Executive Producer duties that you don't have fun or it doesn't feel romantic. The important parts are having the people you want with you, and the photography, as mentioned above. (Get at least one pro photog. Crowd sourcing can get you some amazing candid shots, but not so much for the portrait-type stuff)
posted by ctmf at 11:59 AM on January 2, 2010

immlass: On the subject of dresses...

For complicated reasons, we actually got married twice so I had two dresses. The first came from a tiny indy boutique in Edinburgh; it had been the senior project of the store owner at design school, was made from an antique bedpread, and was £120 including alterations. It had just been dressing the window for two years, nobody had ever asked to buy it and she was delighted someone wanted to wear it for an actual wedding.

The second dress was £150 and I bought it off Ebay. I took about 32 requested measurements, sent them to the seller, and the custom-tailored dress arrived via DHL from Hong Kong about three weeks later. Fit perfectly, no alterations. My only regret is choosing red instead of hot pink.

Oh, and for the record: My husband's best man was his best friend, who happened to be a woman. My wedding band was £12 and came from a pawn shop. I know the first person to wear it got married in 2000 because it has a millennium hallmark. We got married in 2004 and our marriage has already outlasted that one; there are a lot of (expensive) superstitions around weddings but we're pretty damn happy so that failed marriage hasn't doomed ours or anything.

Moral of the story: you can save money in many, many places in your wedding budget. You don't HAVE to do a single thing the way anyone else did it.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:01 PM on January 2, 2010

Mr. Adams and I already knew that our ceremony would be for witnesses only at our favorite pub (the Yellow Pages minister met us there to perform the ceremony), but we needed a venue for some sort of small reception once word of our impending nuptials got out and folks started expressing a desire to "be there". One day we were having dinner at a small local Italian restaurant and I noticed a blurb on the placemat that said "ask us about our banquet packages!" We inquired on an impulse and got a great deal - a private banquet room where we were welcome to do whatever we wanted (singing, dancing, videos, what have you) and they provided salads, three choices of pasta and one meat entree, and beer and wine. We brought our own wedding cake, and there was a cash bar available in the main restaurant for those who wanted something other than beer, wine or soft drinks. They charged us a flat rate of $500 for 60 guests. Fifteen years later I still occasionally have foks comment on how good the food was at our wedding (usually when they're comparing it to a recent function they've been to). Two different friends took still photos and a video of the reception, and I must admit that 15 years later we've watched our wedding video a total of maybe three times. The still photos are all candid and not professional, but they look "authentic" all these years later when we browse through the album. They match any other set of party photos and are fun to review not because they're professionally staged and retouched, but because we can see our friends and relatives goofing around and, well, being as we know them. To be honest, the candids shot by amateurs turn out to be far more interesting years later than the standard wedding portraits.

Entertainment-wise at our reception, we'd made a mix tape ourselves ahead of time and had the Best Man play it in the banquet room's sound system. The songs were personal favorites of ours (and, because most of the invitees were contemporaries, crowd favorites as well) so the reception spontaneously turned into a raucous sing-along of 70s and 80s hits.

To summarize, we had no official bridal dance, I didn't wear a gown, we didn't pay for flowers or a photographer, and our reception was at a small local restaurant rather than a huge banquet hall. We didn't go into debt ceremony-wise, and friends and family still fondly reminisce about the good time they had at our reception.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:17 PM on January 2, 2010

We had a DIY wedding, and it was brilliant! My mother-in-law made our wedding cake, my best friend did our flowers, i hired a dressmaker to make a dress that we designed together, and we did all of the setup/music/etc. ourselves. We did hire a caterer (who turned out to be very reasonable - try approaching with a fixed budget and just asking what they can do!), but seriously considered potluck and I think that could work very well, too. Everyone pitched in with their particular talents and the result was a big, fun garden party and disco. Here's a writeup of our wedding on Offbeat Bride, the (brilliant) site that DarlingBri mentioned.

The old-timey idea is wonderful (ours was 50's-inspired) and I definitely think you should go for it. Here is some advice based on our own experience:

* I found that music really helped set the tone for the day. I made two iPod playlists: cocktail tunes for immediately after the ceremony, which had nifty fifties sort of upbeat tunes like "Under the Boardwalk" and "Mr. Sandman," then a dinner playlist that switched into more piano and rat pack crooner songs. The older generation appreciated hearing tunes that they knew and loved, and the younger generations enjoyed the fun retro vibe. To play the music (outdoors), we bought an Ion Tailgator, which is basically a big amp with an iPod dock, and just used that. It worked fine! If you have a super-reliable internet connection at your venue, you could also just use Spotify playlists and buy a day pass, which means your music would only cost you $0.99!

* You should check out Unique Vintage for dresses in the 30's style, for bridesmaids, the bride, etc. They are inexpensive and spot-on for the kind of look you're going for. My bridesmaids wore the white satin Marilyn Monroe dress from this shop, and looked great for less than $80 each.

* If you're in the US, check out Goodwill's online site, as it's great for finding old-timey stuff like fedoras, ties, etc. on the cheap. We also bought a ton of vintage glass dishes for next to nothing at a furniture salvage yard, which you might want to look for.

* If you're going to do DIY, i would recommend hiring a few teenagers as helpers for the day - we hired some kids of friends to do everything from snap photos of guests as they arrive to cue the music to wash the dishes. The only big drawback to DIY is the on-the-day organisation (you don't really want your mom in the back re-filling coffee pots), so having these helpers around really really helped us. We did all of the breakdown and cleanup on the morning after, with the rest of the family.

* I completely agree with all of theora's advice, especially the bit about the bubbly! Find some good quality cheap prosecco and buy a ton of it, and give it out with strawberries or mango straight after the ceremony. it perfectly complements the bubbly atmosphere after a ceremony, and will suit your old-timey vibe as well. For the rest of the alcohol, we bought a lot of wine and spirits from supermarkets during holiday sales, and set up a serve-yourself "honesty bar" (a bucket with a sign) where guests could buy drinks for £1. Most people just chucked in a £10 note and drank all night, and a few friends occasionally manned the bar to clear away bottles.

* I wrote detailed timelines for all of the wedding party and helpers, instructions for anything they might need to do, and circulated it a few days before the wedding. I think the key to a successful DIY wedding is careful planning and good communication to all involved parties about what's expected from them. It sounds a little rigid, but just a few lists sent out to people in the days before the wedding meant that we got to have a really relaxed, happy day.

We loved our wedding and wouldn't have had it any other way - the DIY-ness was what made it so special for us. Our respective families didn't know each other well because of geographical distance, but have become fast friends after a weekend of working together to make the wedding happen. Good luck!
posted by ukdanae at 12:39 PM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Great advice so far, guys. Wow, I have been so dreading the idea of any type of wedding but I think I'm coming around.
posted by Rocket26 at 12:47 PM on January 2, 2010

As someone wise once said, "It's not about the wedding; it's about the marriage."

We had: our 10-month old son at the wedding in our living room, at which a few friends were in place. I wore the dress my husband gave me when I gave birth to our son. One friend, who was a horticulturist, brought two huge bouquets of roses. Other friends made a chocolate cake, and forgot the eggs, so another friend went to Safeway and had them ice a layer cake with the unforgettable, "Happy Wedding!" Our college drama coach, who was a Universal Life Church minister, officiated. We got a 6-pack of drinking glasses as our only wedding gift. It was good, good, good and it must have worked, since we're going on our 36th year together.
posted by Lynsey at 1:04 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

We had a terrific time in our DIY wedding in an unassuming beach town where we rented some cottages for family and friends. My mom, a retired judge, did the ceremony, and the reception was held at the local community hall, which our families had decorated that morning. Food was buffet-style from a great nearby Thai take-out restaurant. Our one splurge was to hire a local string band we liked a lot. When we reflected on it, the reason we have so many good memories of the event was that our friends and family really came through and helped with various pieces of the production, and we were able to let go of absolute control of the results and enjoy the ride. Uncle Craig said he would sing a nice song at the begining of the ceremony, and we had no idea what the song was going to be until we heard it in our rehearsal. Turned out great.

Doing it yourself is terrific if you have some good people backing you up and if you're willing to give up on making things "just so" and enjoy the sometimes-unexpected results.
posted by itstheclamsname at 1:07 PM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had a DIY wedding. It was awesome. I bought my roses at the grocery store, since it was the only place I could find roses in the color I wanted. Since they were cheap-ish, I was able to get two dozen.

We got married in a small open air church on the ocean. Then we went to a luau on the beach. (I live on Maui). The priest wore sandals with his cassock. A friend of my husband played classical guitar during the service. My father who is good at taking pictures, was the photographer. It was all small and intimate, and really fun.

I can't understand, nor do I enjoy catered affairs. I think a 1930s theme is great.
posted by fifilaru at 1:43 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

In 2005 we did a smallish DIY wedding (about 30 guests, mostly family) at a small rural retreat center that we rented out for the entire week prior, so that the "assembled families" from across the country could connect and reconnect. Putting together Walmart flowers into arrangements with my sister and SILs, and watching my brand-new hubbie and BIL strip off their jackets and ties to play grillmeisters--it was all so much fun.
posted by drlith at 1:47 PM on January 2, 2010

Our wedding, coming up on 20 years ago, was super-DIY. We found the church where we wanted to have it, negotiated a good price for a Saturday afternoon. As I recall, it was under $100.

My parents were willing to chip in $100 for the rehearsal dinner. A friend of a friend was a chef at the time; I asked him, "what can you do for 20 people with $100?" He came up with something amazing.

A friend served as photographer - we paid her what we could, got some nice prints later.

Siblings chipped in to pay for flowers for the aisles. The local tux rental place was running a "rent your groomsmen tuxes here, get the groom's free." My lovely bride wore an inherited dress.

As for the rings: The night I proposed, we drove to Kroger near midnight and bought two $10 rings from the makeup department. It was uber-romantic, and it was just last year that we bought ourselves "real" rings.

Bottom line: The more of yourself you put into it, and the less off-the-shelf it is, the more you will remember and cherish it. It's not about the day, it's about what the day signifies - that the two of you are deciding to spend the rest of your days together.

Congratulations, and whatever you do, have a blast!
posted by jbickers at 2:08 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

We got married at the courthouse and then took our wedding party out to lunch at a low brow restaurant. Someone once said to me, "Oh, you didn't have a wedding, you just got married." They meant it as a criticism! But it's true and I don't care in the least.

I have never regretted for a single second not spending a bunch of money on a wedding.
posted by peep at 3:09 PM on January 2, 2010

I think it depends on two questions:

1. How many people are you planning on inviting?
2. How much help will you have?

If you're planning on having a large wedding (150+ people) consider paying for some of the more work-intensive aspects, unless you'll have lots of helping hands, and more importantly, ones who will know what they are doing. Potluck weddings are awesome especially if everyone knows what they should be doing and there is someone not in the wedding party to run things. Otherwise, things get disorganized and chaotic.

My rule of thumb is that the wedding should happen without anyone in the wedding party feeling rushed or stressed about preparations, and that includes parents. I always kills me to see the mother of the bride or groom busting her ass instead of relaxing or getting herself ready. If you have a trustworthy friend or relative who knows your wishes and can make decisions, then it's a lot better. We had two friends coordinate our wedding, one at the ceremony venue and one at the reception venue and they were invaluable.

Now, if that's not possible, you can still do a mostly DIY wedding and farm out the most time-consuming tasks. Namely, find a caterer who will do set-up and break-down/clean-up for the reception.

We spent most of our money on the food, reception venue and the photographer (all awesome) and otherwise did everything else DIY or cheap. I have no regrets. Sure, our wedding day could have been cheaper, but I love looking at the pictures of us, our friends, and family and everyone looks happy and natural.
posted by Alison at 3:53 PM on January 2, 2010

Have you checked out Offbeat Bride? They feature a lot of different kinds of weddings, including many theme weddings like the one you're thinking about. I'm sure poking around in the archives would give you a lot of ideas. Good luck!
posted by NHlove at 4:25 PM on January 2, 2010

My husband and I got married in the private room of an outstanding Italian restaurant in Houston. The space was free, and we had an event planner to help get things set up - we just had to pay for the food and booze. My mother in law made my dress, my husband wore a nice suit he already owned, I had flowers shipped from this place and put them together with the help of an artistic friend for the bouquets, centerpieces, etc. The maid and matron of honor were asked to wear black dresses, and the best man wore a nice suit.

I paid for a hairstylist, wedding cake baker (as required by the restaurant), and photographer. Our photographer was someone who was trying to break into wedding photography, so he was flexible and reasonably priced. He did a great job, and I think looking for someone with some experience but who is still working to be established is a good bet.
posted by jeoc at 4:57 PM on January 2, 2010

Forgot to add - my dad, a total jazz aficionado, made a set of CD's with terrific jazz music for the background music. There were 7 CD's full of jazz love songs and some other fun, off-beat stuff. It was a fantastic sound track, and we really treasure those CD's to this day. The whole wedding cost about $4500.
posted by jeoc at 4:59 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

My one idea to add to all the great advice above is on decorating an outdoor venue - it takes a lot of flowers to make a whole field/park/meadow look festive. Balloons didn't suit what I wanted to see at my wedding, so we made a lot of flags. Streamers of small flags decorating the edges of things (tent and picnic shelter) and making a maypole-like fan behind the ceremony, and 3' x 5' flags on 10' poles (buried in the ground 18") to line the walk from the parking to the picnic area.
posted by aimedwander at 7:13 PM on January 2, 2010

I run Offbeat Bride (thanks for the mentions, y'all!) and Rocket26, this wedding might inspire you: (unlinked so as not to self-link :)
posted by arielmeadow at 8:26 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've never been married myself, but I went to a DIY wedding this past spring that was pretty much a disaster, so here are a few things to NOT do--
- don't have someone on another continent make your dress so that you only have it in your hands for the first time two days before the wedding (especially if you're a perfectionist)
- if you don't have time to make your own food--and I'm not at all sure I'd have the nerve to take that on, despite being an enthusiastic cook generally--don't go to CostCo at the last minute and buy a cheap, crappy tray of cold cuts and Velveeta. I think a potluck would have been infinitely preferable.
-- at least get a friend to make the cake, rather than getting one at the grocery store.

I guess what I'm saying is to cut costs by enlisting the help of friends and family rather than by buying poor-quality things to save money.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 8:54 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

We had a DIY wedding on our (large) deck. We did have a nice lunch afterwards with close family and friends, then a big party later at a pavilion at a park.

No regrets here, and certainly none about the lovely purple dress I wore (which resembled a traditional wedding dress not at all).

I just wish I had actually thought a bit more about the casual outfit I wore to the party in the park. It would have been a great excuse for a cute little dress.

My friend got ordained online and signed the paperwork for us. We officiated it ourselves. I later signed the marriage licenses for three different couple friends. It's all been lovely.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:50 PM on January 2, 2010

Something that might fit with your 1930s vibe is what my sister did: an afternoon cake-and-champagne reception. A friend's mum made the cake (a hobby for her, it was delicious), my uncle (an army caterer grateful for the chance to make more delicate food) made trays of little sandwiches and nibblies, and they bought lots of an inexpensive but not too cheap champagne.

You can fancy that up a lot with more nibblies, maybe a musician if you know someone or an iPod setup if you don't, or switch it to a morning-tea or after-dinner ceremony and reception, but overall it's inexpensive and fun. My sister and her new husband were at their honeymoon spot in time for a romantic dinner, and the rest of us went on to party elsewhere.
posted by harriet vane at 3:17 AM on January 3, 2010

Donmateo's other half over here. I am so glad we did our wedding the way we did. It was such a unique experience and created lasting memories for not only ourselves, but, our friends and families as well.

The cost breakdown was $1200 for the tent/tables and chairs, $1200 to rent the town for three nights, $2500 for the food (for 100 people plus a $500 charge for being in the middle of nowhere and maybe $500 for decorations, the PA etc. We also payed for some friends to fly in because they couldn't afford it at the time and for two rented vans so we could be all together when we were sight seeing.
posted by a22lamia at 7:49 AM on January 3, 2010

We had a largely DIY wedding. Our wedding was huge, though (lots of family), so there was only so much we could do ourselves.

I'm a graphic designer so anything paper was designed and printed by me - invitations, programs, thank-yous, etc. It was really fun but a lot of work. We saved a LOT of money, though. If I could do it again, I'd spring for better paper to make it just that much more polished.

A friend runs a catering business, so that was already tied up for us. Luckily, they were one of the few caterers that our venue permitted. The catering will play a huge part in where you choose to have your reception. Most places have rules, so before you go dreaming of a home-made dinner, consider that.

We also wrote our own ceremony, had a relative perform the service, put together all of our own favors and did all of our own reception decorations. I tried to go halfway in designing a lot of the floral elements and then forcing our florist to conform to them. Bad idea. I had a cranky florist (whom I don't blame for being cranky) and ended up with really crappy looking flowers all around. I would totally skip the flowers if I could do it over again.

I designed my own bridesmaids' dresses, myself and the girls picked out the fabric and my mother-in-law sewed them. They turned out fantastic and were about half the cost they would have been if we had gotten a similar dress at David's Bridal. If you go that route, do keep track of the expenses and be clear as to what you expect for compensation from your bridesmaids. When things are custom made like that, it gets kind of confusing.

Something that I don't think you should skimp on is the photography. The photography was by far our biggest expense beside the dinner and it was SO worth it. Everyone I know who has used "discount" photographers or amateurs were extremely disappointed. My sister-in-law almost lost her photographs when her amateur photographer decided that the photos weren't good enough and decided not to hand them over. Losing or having bad photographs is definitely something that tears would be shed over after the fact.

I'm very DIY and would have done as much as I could have if time had allowed. I had dreams of baking my own cake, but after talking to a few cake bakers, I quickly realized that the cake was something best left to a professional - timing would have been too hard, I didn't know how much to make for how many and it really takes a lot of skill to make something beautiful.

Really, I think it all comes down to how much you think you can handle. If both you and your spouse work full-time, it may not be as easy because there is only so much you can do ahead of time and when the wedding gets close, your time will be extremely limited with things you don't expect. It is very satisfying to have something done exactly how you want it and have it come out lovely, though. Good luck and congrats!
posted by bristolcat at 7:08 PM on January 3, 2010

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