I recently got engaged...now what?
February 4, 2014 6:06 PM   Subscribe

I recently got engaged, and am so happy about this! But, I am not the type of girl who always dreamed about what my wedding would be like...basically, I'm more of a casual-type person who is not super into party planning (nor is the hubby-to-be). :) I feel like we need some help in figuring out how to make this wedding happen, but I don't want to get sucked into all the wedding industry stuff...we are not rich, and to the extent we will want to spend money on this, it is probably not on things like ridiculously expensive flower arrangements. So, two questions:

1. Do you have recommendations on particular websites or books that would walk one through planning a CASUAL wedding (i.e. we still want to include family and friends and throw a bit of a party to celebrate, so no eloping, but also nothing super formal/fancy).

2. Do you have any suggestions for an awesome wedding dress? I have no concerns about looking traditional here...white could work, but so could off-white, pink, light green, etc. I'm thinking more like "nice, festive dress" rather than wedding dress, while still feeling special. Important: I want to be able to wear a normal, non-corset bra! But, I don't want to look like a bridesmaid either... Cocktail length is probably preferable to floor length. I am not the sort of person who typically spends more than $50 on a dress, so any suggestions on where to look would be great. :) Looking to spend around $300 but willing to go more if it's the perfect thing.
posted by rainbowbrite to Shopping (32 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Oh my god, your question was made for A Practical Wedding. Seriously, you sound like pretty much exactly their target reader.
posted by peacheater at 6:12 PM on February 4, 2014 [12 favorites]

I'm in a very similar boat, and I can't recommend A Practical Wedding enough.
posted by rebekah at 6:13 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thirding good ol' APW.
posted by lovableiago at 6:17 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

J Crew has an affordable line of wedding dresses. Maybe something like this?
posted by goggie at 6:22 PM on February 4, 2014

Yeah seriously A Practical Wedding is what you are looking for, especially the Logistics and Toolkit sections. I found Real Simple's wedding tools surprisingly good and it's easy to ignore sections that just aren't important. Offbeat Bride has a lot of backyard/smaller weddings too, especially of the Offbeat Lite-persuasion, and they also focus on non-traditional wedding dresses. Personally, if I had $300 and a view to purchase something special, I'd go for Tadeshi Shoji but in generally I quite like Nordstrom's cocktail dress selections but ymmv. If I needed a reception dress I would totally go for this new one from Anthro; if your taste runs along those lines, their sister line BHLDN has many stunning occasion dresses that could easily be wedding dresses. Congratulations!
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:24 PM on February 4, 2014

Depending on how far away your wedding is and where you live Chicago does the Running of the Brides every year. It is amazing fun and you can get a wedding dress for cheap and it can make for a fun bridesmade event.

There are multiple websites on having weddings under $5,000 with all kinds of tips and tricks.

Remeber that expense is tied to the number of guests. My wedding was inexpensive because I had about 20 guests. So everything was smaller (venue, catering, decorations, number of invitations and so on!)
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:26 PM on February 4, 2014

I also like Offbeat Bride for neat, cheap ideas and lots of cool DIY stuff.

Nthing a Practical Wedding. Lots of good spreadsheets for budgets/things to consider etc.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 6:26 PM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

1) Pinterest all the way. Search "casual wedding" or "cheap wedding" or "DIY wedding" and you will probably get millions of results. I DIYed a lot of stuff and had a small courthouse wedding.

2) I got a knee length ivory cocktail dress with black appliques at Dillards for $150. Search for cocktail dresses if you want something a little more dressy. Also look into something like prom dresses. I would avoid bridal shops for your dress if you're not going traditional. I think it's almost prom season right? So head to the mall and start looking in their formal section. I have also seen tons and tons of people order dresses from Modcloth for their wedding. They get lots and lots of ivory/white/peachy dresses and lots of people who have low key weddings have gotten very casual dresses for their wedding from Modcloth.

Wedding Style Section on Modcloth

This is super cute. Actually called "Courtship to Courthouse Wedding Dress"

Aisle Be There Dress

Love you Ivory Day Dress

With Only a Wink Dress in Ivory

Elite the Way Dress

Mesmerizing Masquerade Dress

I linked ivory/white dresses but you could go non-traditional in color too! (Polka dot!)

If you've got a bit of a budget I'd say order a few you like online that are less expensive and then return any you don't like.
posted by Crystalinne at 6:28 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get a celebrant, ask your local council if you can borrow a nice corner of a nice park for the day, then cruise back to somebody's place for drinks and refreshments and get the hell out of there after a few hours and on your way to a ballin'-ass honeymoon!
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:59 PM on February 4, 2014

You definitely want APW.

If you like a little bit of snark with your wedding planning, I also suggest the archives of East Side Bride.

It can be a bit overwhelming when you start reading up on weddings - an overwhelming number of things to decide. Here are the first few to think about, so you know where to start:
1. Guest list
2. Budget
3. Venue

Good luck!
posted by leitmotif at 7:17 PM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you don't care about needing a Wedding Dress, you have so many options! If you have a BCBG outlet store near you, that's where I found my dress for about $250. They arrange their dresses by color, so I just tried on all of the white dresses they had (maybe 8 options?) and ended up really liking one. I didn't even get it altered or anything and wore a normal strapless bra. Otherwise, I would go to any big mall and just try different options or order a few from online retailers with decent return policies. Ruche is like ModCloth and where I ended up buying a rehearsal dress.
posted by wsquared at 7:28 PM on February 4, 2014

You might also like Offbeat Bride. I am almost exactly like you w/r/t this stuff and am getting married in June. I liked APW a lot, but their recent site redesign has made it so hard to find the useful posts that I'm kind of going off it. However, they do have really useful 101-type guides to dealing with the stuff in simple ways.

In your search for a dress, don't overlook David's Bridal. I know it sounds crazy, but after going to a couple fancier boutiques to try stuff on, and hating it a LOT, I found that David's was just the right mix of direct, no-nonsense, affordable, supportive and fun. I really was shocked at how cool the experience was. Every kind of bride, from young to senior, in every type of style and family grouping, all getting friendly helpful service. It totally didn't suck, and I admit I thought it would. If nothing else, it's a place to try on about 27 things so you can get an idea what looks good on you and doesn't - which you can't tell looking at a picture of a dress. I got the dress you see here and love it - casual enough, but dressy and weddingy enough. About $500. But had I really been looking to drive the cost down, I became aware that almost every dress in every size is available used on eBay for cheap. There are also recycled wedding sites like Tradesy and Once Wed.

A couple things I would say midway through the process. First, you're going to die of advice. Everyone has advice. Take it with a grain of salt - rather, take what you need, leave the rest. Second, I went in thinking I wanted to really minimize the whole endeavor, and found in the process of talking to my SO, friends, family, etc, that what I wanted was actually a pretty nice sense of occasion with some of the traditional trappings, but sincere. We're spending more than I thought we would, but not on anything I don't want to do. Finally, don't think that doing everything DIY will save a bundle. As it turns out, in fact, DIY can cost more in the end, because instead of an all-in price tag at a place that owns all the equipment and cooking facilities and everything, you are getting that stuff a la carte, and it just adds up.
posted by Miko at 7:36 PM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, leitmotif's shortlist of where to start: it's great. Answering these 3 things answers a lot of the rest for you. Do the guest list to decide who, at a minimum, you want there. We did one in three tiers with must-be-there people, should-be-there people, and would-like-to-have-there people. If you do a similar process, that gives you three different potential event sizes. Decide which size feels rightest to you both. Then you can shop around for venues. Your group size determines what venues you can consider, and your venue determines a lot of the rest of what you do. Venues can come with a built-in per person price tag, if you're doing like a function hall rental or restaurant wedding package or just a straight up restaurant meal. Or they can be a flat fee to get the space, and you bring in the rest. So the venue hunt is tied to your overall budget. These are kind of the three keys to determining the whole size and scope of the thing. In the end, it turns out things like the dress and the decor are pretty piddling costs compared to venue and catering/bar, if you do that. That's what eats up the bucks.
posted by Miko at 7:43 PM on February 4, 2014

There's a secondhand wedding dress store where I live, so your town might have one too (or a sample store). Their price range went down to one or two hundred I think.

Also wanted to say, I started out like you and got more caught up in all the dumb details than I ever expected, so stay true. Venue and food are the biggest expense, but one of my favorite weddings I've ever been too was potluck-style at their friends' ranch, so there are many options if you're not tied to tradition.
posted by Gravel at 8:01 PM on February 4, 2014

I'm planning a wedding right now and I sound a lot like you, except my fiance has decent savings he can put towards this and wants a fairly standard wedding. Be prepared for everything traditional to cost a lot.

I found a sample of a $3,500 wedding dress for $400 at a bridal shop. I still have to pay for alterations though. I am really excited with it though, even though I was looking at lots of non-bridal alternatives. Silk feels so amazing. If Sacramento is close to you, memail me. I also really liked BHLDN and J. Crew. Preownedweddingdresses.com was an option I was seriously considering. My dream dress was from Wai-Ching but they're way over your budget. Also consider Rent the Runway. I think APW just had a post about using them. David's Bridal was not nearly as bad an experience as I was expecting. I've heard that shopping in department stores around prom dress buying time can be successful.

We're getting invitations from Vistaprint but I haven't seen them yet. Don't buy from them without a coupon. I wanted to use Paperless Post but that was vetoed as too confusing for older relatives.

Wedding photographers are really, really expensive.

Lots of tutorials on APW for arranging flowers that look totally doable.

A Practical Wedding and Offbeat Bride are great. I read them all the time now. I got the A Practical Wedding book and it was worth reading.
posted by carolr at 8:06 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

What about looking at regular party or event planning books, rather than making a pit stop at the Wedding Industrial Complex?

At the end of the day, there is no real difference between a wedding and a family reunion, or an office party, or a big holiday gathering.

The bigger stuff to deal with are going to be big ticket things like booking a venue and feeding everyone. Also figuring out the ceremony stuff, especially if you're not religious and don't have a built in "obviously we'll go to Venue X and engage in Ceremony Y" system in place.

For things like the dress, well, if you're not all bride-tastic about it, why not just go shopping for a nice dress you feel is appropriate to the occasion? At, like, a regular store?

A wedding cake is just a cake that you serve at a wedding. With iTunes and a smartphone, anyone can make a music playlist. Etc. Etc.
posted by Sara C. at 8:58 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's the SuperCuts of bridal shops, but David's Bridal has plenty of dresses under a hundred bucks. It's worth going to a bridal shop to try on dresses just to get a sense of what dresses look good on you. You don't NEED a bridal dress, but since there a many available in your price range why not go look.

However, if you go to a bridal shop you much have the seamstress estimate the cost of alterations before you purchase. Alterations are where the profit is and those can really add up quickly.
posted by 26.2 at 9:48 PM on February 4, 2014

A couple thoughts on the planning aspects:
- we went with a pretty DIY approach to our wedding, and as stated above, it's not always the best way to save money. I absolutely didn't want a hotel ballroom type wedding, but it honestly would have been way easier and probably wouldn't have been much more expensive. Hotel event coordinators can plan the whole day for you and do it all the time, so can take a lot off your plate.
- have a good conversation with your fiancé about both of your expectations. I was surprised at some of the traditional things my husband wanted to include and we talked through some other things together. Depending on your relationship with your parents (both sides), don't forget to bring them into the talks. Obviously don't let them dictate if you don't want that, but it's good to hear what their expectations are (especially if they are paying --- also find out if they are planning to pay for anything!). Have you been to any weddings recently or going to any soon? Talk through what you liked and didn't like about those (or watch a few episodes of TLC's Four Weddings)
- if you decide you don't want to do something, don't let anyone talk you into it! I didn't really run into this with close friends and family, but more with coworkers or other busybodys who have to share their opinion on everything. "No, we're not going to do a first dance and no, I'm not going to change my name!" be prepared for your wedding to be the main topic of conversation until your wedding, ugh. I just came up with some easy talking point for this type of small talk.
posted by wsquared at 10:49 PM on February 4, 2014

Don't miss out on reading "Miss Manners' Guide to Perfectly Proper Weddings".
posted by tel3path at 10:55 PM on February 4, 2014

The Knot has a really good timeline/checklist. There were a number of unnecessary items (to me and my husband) but you can delete and add as you want.

Main things:
1. Venue
2. Guest list
3. Dress
4. Officiant

I got my dress at David's Bridal for $200. it was tea length but it did require a longline bra.
posted by amapolaroja at 10:56 PM on February 4, 2014

I just recently got married, with sort of the same attitude you have. For planning, I downloaded one of the many, many planning guides and just deleted things that didn't seem necessary. That pretty much left us with officiant, invitations, venue, food, photographer, and cake in terms of things that needed to be planned ahead. Basically, I think, the other misc stuff is fine as long as it happens before you actually get married.

It's helpful, though, to start with a comprehensive list and narrow down even if you know you don't care about 90% of it. Especially if you're not experienced with planning events there are things that'll slip through the cracks, and you won't know how far ahead you need to be planning different things. There were a lot of things I waited until to late for, and was really, really lucky to make them work. On that note, if something does slip, don't be afraid to call and ask if it can be made to work. We got our cake from a baker that's supposed to be booked 4-6 months in advance, even though it was more like 3 weeks out. She just happened to have a slot open for that day.

For the dress, I ended up getting a JCrew bridesmaid dress on clearance. I got a fairly simple style in pale gray, which I think made it still wedding-y, without being too traditional. I think it ended up looking really nice, and not too much like a bridesmaid.

One thing I wouldn't have though of is to make sure that you have everything that needs to happen on the day of the wedding delegated. I had a chain of people between me and any vendor who had a question, and also someone who was in charge of making sure everything happened on time. You'll be busy getting married, and you really, really won't care whether the caterer wants to rearrange the dishes because something is running low (or whatever equivalent little decision). You will not actually have any space in your brain to deal with this stuff once your wedding starts happening.

I actually ended up having a chain of people -- all day-of vendors were instructed to ask my cousin. If she wasn't sure, she was instructed to ask my mom. My mom would ask me if and only if she thought it might really be important. I then I told both of them that there were basically no decisions that were so important that I wanted to have to worry about the logistics unless the affected something truly major. Figure out who that person will be, and spend some time discussing what's important enough to bug you for. For me, the only thing that actually made it through to me was that the taxi to our hotel was going to leave without us if we didn't get in right now. And I'm so glad, because there were tons of little decisions that had to be made.
posted by duien at 12:56 AM on February 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

There should be no concern about what kind of wedding you have except it is yours. Here are three data points:
1. My oldest brother had his wedding in Bhutan. He is a noteworthy person and by doing it this way, he and his wife were married in a place they love and were able to cut the guest list way down. Neither wanted a huge wedding, so the put a travel barrier up.
2. My middle brother and his wife were married at city hall. They both wore suits. They had a small party at their place after.
3. Mrs. Plinth and I were married in a small church. My oldest brother played us in on piano (the march from Jupiter by Holst), my sister in law played us out on cello (La RĂ©jouissance by Telemann). Pictures were taken at the gardens at the Emily Dickinson house. The reception was at a common house at a community housing area with a jazz combo. All decorations done by my in-laws or by me and Mrs. Plinth. A friend of mine sung with them for the first dance. I smuggled in a flugelhorn and played with them later to surprise the wife.

And all of these were 'right'. It's right if you want to get married in your back yard. It's right if you want to get married in a park. It's right if you want to take a vacation and get married there. It's right if you don't want to have a big party. It's right if you do.
posted by plinth at 3:50 AM on February 5, 2014

I got a David's Bridal dress for $300 and you can definitely get them for less, but a few data points:

1) yeah, make sure it fits well off the rack because alterations are expensive
2) don't get a dress with a train or you'll be paying to 'bustle' it

But my main advice is, go with what's easiest if it's easiest. I was totally like you - I thought I'd buy a dress online or just a white-ish dress from a normal store, because they were cheaper and seemed easier. I went to David's Bridal just to try on some different things, found a dress I liked, and said "is it worth paying a little more than I budgeted for this dress that I like and have seen on my body, than to keep looking online for something cheaper that I haven't seen on my body"?

The answer was yes. I have not regretted "splurging" a little on the dress because it was so convenient. I will totally admit that I had a little hangup about going to David's Bridal, which is kind of widely snobbed at as the Walmart of wedding dresses, but I did and it was easy and I was happy.

SUPER BONUS: I picked a dress that I could wear a normal bra with and NO SPANX to suck myself in. I can't recommend this enough.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:15 AM on February 5, 2014

Hi, I'm also engaged and trying to plan a casual wedding. N'thing APW for sure, as well as Offbeat Bride and East Side Bride. But I'd also recommend taking the APW book out of the library, or picking up a copy. It does a good job of answering the "ok, how do I start?" question.

I haven't figured out the dress thing. I hate shopping, and the thought of buying a dress to wear only once makes me break out in hives.
posted by quaking fajita at 5:26 AM on February 5, 2014

I bought my traditional wedding dress at the Alfred Angelo Outlet in Florida. To this DAY, I wish I had stuck with my original plan of having a Mexican Wedding Dress.

So I'm voting for a lovely, muslin, Mexican Wedding dress. Comfortable, pretty and casual. Can be reworn on a Caribbean honeymoon!

Now for the wedding, you can do this in your house. My dad is a Universal Life Minister, and he's performed a bajillion weddings for friends and family. Anyone can do this and it's recognized everywhere. Have a friend do the free ordination, and then have him/her perform the ceremony wherever you like.

Once you have that sorted, the rest is just a party. View it as a party, and plan whatever appeals to you. Beach clambake, backyard barbecue, restaurant buffet.

Honestly, you can't screw this up, the more relaxed you are about it, the more fun it will be for you and for your friends and family.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:27 AM on February 5, 2014

We got married in 2010 and tried to make our wedding as easy as possible, while still having 60 friends/family members from around the country there.

1) Dress: I got my dress at Macy's in the junior's department; even though it was January they still had a ton of cocktail/prom dresses, and it was $50.

2) Venue: In my opinion, the best thing we did to make this easy on us was picking a restaurant for our venue that did the catering and cake for us. We picked a local seafood restaurant on Puget Sound who is accustomed to catering events. They had buffet options, so we picked the cheapest one, and they did the cake too.

One of the things that freaked me out the most when we started looking at venues was how many places you can rent are pretty much just an empty shell - they expect you to provide tables, linens, silverware, etc. as well as just food. Plus wedding cakes are expensive! The restaurant took care of it all for a per-person sum plus a flat fee for the cake (which was a two-tiered chocolate cake and not traditionally wedding-y). Got rid of a significant amount of my stress.

3) Flowers: Do you have a farmer's market near you? We went down to Pike Place Market the day before the wedding with a hundred bucks and bought 10 $10 bouquets, one for each of the 8 tables, 1 for the gift tables, and 1 for me.

4) Photographer: We decided we didn't want to splurge on this, so we just asked all of our friends to send us the photos they took afterward. I don't feel bad that I don't have photos of me doing my hair before the wedding or whatever.

Good luck!
posted by skycrashesdown at 5:34 AM on February 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Another point about DIYing is that if you easily get decision fatigue, it's not for you. As others have noted, a packaging-type venue takes care of a lot of decisions and also presents you with short lists of options (A, B or C), where if you DIY you have to think about each thing separately: do you or don't you want it, what kind, how many, how much, etc. Like, are wineglasses only OK or do we also need water goblets? 8 oz wineglasses or 12 oz? Napkins, paper or rented? Chairs, garden, chivari, or cushioned? White or natural? Centerpieces, flowers or living plants? Placecards or not? Vases or mason jars? Blah blah blah.

I event plan as part of my job so I am pretty much up to this but even so, I find it kind of exhausting. But I'm also very into having the kind of party I want, so I think it's worth it to make all the decisions. However, if you are not the kind of person that likes deliberating over detail, definitely lean toward something like a reception at a restaurant or dealing with a one-stop-shop caterer who handles all the rentals and does the cake, beverages and everything.
posted by Miko at 5:48 AM on February 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

I catered a friend's wedding a couple years ago, and it was the most beautiful low-key affair you could imagine. Bride and groom were barefoot--he was in shorts and she wore a cute sundress, everyone was told to show up dressed comfortably, and dinner was a couple of pigs we spit roasted over an open fire all day.

They rented a venue in the middle of nowhere--an old barn with a full service kitchen underneath, and the actual ceremony was under a tree with everyone sitting on the ground around them.

Absolutely beautiful, gorgeous wedding. I didn't charge them for my time (that was my wedding gift), but between food cost, my sous, venue rental, officiant, and wedding cake (I am not nearly talented enough to decorate a proper wedding cake so they got a specialist for that) I think their total spend was maybe $3K. The biggest single cost was venue rental. (The pigs we roasted were a wedding gift from a farmer he knew, which helped a lot, and I ordered everything else through the restaurant I worked at so got wholesale pricing).

Point being, nowadays there is no 'should' with weddings. The only thing that matters is you two having the special time you want.

Really the biggest costs you'll be looking at are venue rental and food. (Well, and the rings I guess). Most venues will have a list of preferred caterers, and most will charge a premium if you prefer a caterer not on the list.

Beyond that, it's probably easier if you think of it as throwing a party/dinner for X number of people, with a ceremony tossed in.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:37 AM on February 5, 2014

I was not into the idea of spending beaucoup bucks on a dress either. In fact, I was originally planning on just wearing something I already owned. However, my maid of honor and I went shopping at a boutiquey place anyway, just for fun, and I learned two things:

1) Short dresses are WAY cheaper than long ones.
2) The store samples are WAY cheaper than the regular prices.

I ended up with an adorable cocktail-length dress that was perfect, for $300. However, now it's just taking up space in my closet, so my second piece of advice might be to look into buying used? (Also, feel free to memail me if you're a size 6-8 and want a short white cocktail dress. With matching jewelry. :)
posted by slenderloris at 11:48 AM on February 5, 2014

I really liked the wedding site that a nice couple put up for their $2,000 wedding.
posted by cnc at 11:55 AM on February 5, 2014

Congrats! Another engaged person here trying to plan a wedding with minimal effort. So much good advice above. I second the recommendations of A Practical Wedding (the blog and the book) and looking for party-planning advice, as opposed to/in addition to wedding-planning advice.

As for the dress question, you could try looking at bridesmaids dresses. There are a lot of really lovely bridesmaids dresses out there and they come in many colours, including white and various off-white colours. Most should cost under $500, including alterations.
posted by Rora at 5:42 PM on February 5, 2014

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