Big Wedding, Small Budget

Pretty, Pretty Princess

Lately, I’ve been spending some time figuring out beauty stuff for the wedding. I’ve been trying to suss out how to handle my hair, since I’ve started wearing it naturally instead of straightening it. So I’ve been experimenting with lots of new products. I’ve been scouting out salons for manicures, brows, etc, and making appointments. And I’ve been trying to nail down the makeup situation.

I am someone who wears makeup every day, but it’s very minimal and takes me all of five minutes. The only time I’ve ever worn foundation was when I had my makeup done for another wedding. But what I hear from everyone is that I really should wear foundation on the wedding day, because, you know, the pictures—they last forever and don’t I want to look good in them? So I spent the day yesterday makeup shopping at expensive department store counters with some (more experienced) friends. I walked away, thankfully, with a ton of samples, and the decision made that I would, indeed wear foundation to the wedding. And that entails blush/bronzer and powder—a whole host of things that I wasn’t planning on using. But, you know, I do want to look nice at the wedding, and I do want to look good in the pictures. So there you go.

The pressure to look absolutely perfect at your wedding is incredible. A bride is supposed to be the thinnest she’s ever been, with a perfectly made up face and coiffed hair, sprayed to within an inch of its life. It doesn’t matter what you usually look like; rules for a bride are completely different. For example, I’ve been told that it doesn’t matter if I hate wearing my hair up; this is my wedding and wearing it down just would not be good enough. Now granted, this advice came from strangers and/or acquaintances (why are they giving me wedding advice anyway?), but I think it reflects the general expectation for brides.

I’ve had a hard time balancing bridal expectations with my own comfort level and values. I do think that a wedding is a special day, with a special dress (at least for me). So, there’s nothing wrong with dressing up my face and hair as well. And buying and shopping for makeup has been super fun; I’ve always liked makeup, so I’ve enjoyed indulging myself with nicer products than what I would usually buy. I will wear more makeup and more hair spray at the wedding then I normally would. But at the end of the day (both literally and figuratively), I want to look like myself. Just a dressier version of myself.

I would never want to look at the pictures later on and feel like I was unrecognizable. How I look should reflect the fact that I am entering into this marriage as my whole self, flaws and all. It should also reflect that this is a special occasion, not just an ordinary day. That’s what I want to think about as I plan my look; I want to leave behind the expectations of the bride as pretty, pretty princess.


Pre-wedding Photo Sessions

A while back, I came across this post: Pre-wedding session. The blog says,

We are completely obsessed with the idea of a pre-wedding session. Not only do you get do a test run with your hair and makeup, make sure your dress is exactly right, but you also get to have some incredibly gorgeous photos captured of you and your love. All this without the stress of the wedding day.

We recommend bringing items that you want photographed, your invites, wedding shoes, or any keepsake you want captured. We love the idea of having a bouquet made for the session as well, to add that extra pretty element in all your photos.

This post has been bouncing around in my head for a while, and now that the wedding day is starting to take shape, I have been thinking about it even more. I could not disagree with it more. Having a pre-wedding shoot pretty much goes against everything I believe in, at least when it comes to weddings.

I hope that my wedding looks nice. I don’t really care if it is beautiful, perfect stylized or “blog-worthy.” I know Steve will look nice, and I’ll hopefully look pretty (although I’m pretty committed to looking normal, too). When I was looking for a photographer, I didn’t choose one based on her recording our fabulousness. I chose one based on her capturing our wedding. How it looks, but also, how it feels.

Dressing up in our wedding clothes, with a bouquet, with hair and makeup done, on the day before our wedding doesn’t mean anything. Pictures of us at the wedding, feeling the emotions (and hopefully, joy) of the day, connecting with friends and family—that’s what I want to see in our photos. We are not models in everyday life, and I definitely don’t want to be models at our wedding day.

This has come up especially when I’m thinking about first look photos. Steve really hates posing for photos, and I really hate contrived moments. We are not good actors, and we like to just get on with things. We will see each before the ceremony for several reasons (Jewish wedding, pictures beforehand), and I would like pictures of that time, but I just want us to act naturally. I learned from our engagement session that our photographer is really good at capturing those kinds of moment without making it look or feel contrived, so I’m not worried about it all.

I guess what it comes down to is this: for me, a wedding is an experience, not a diorama. Treating a wedding like a photoshoot by taking pictures the day before misses the point of the whole thing. Who cares what we look like? I want to see what we felt like.

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A Shift

I don’t know if you guys have noticed it, but there has been a definite shift of tone on this blog. As the wedding has gotten closer, I’ve been writing less inspiration or philosophy posts, and more hardcore planning posts. There’s a reason for that—most of the thinking and decision making is done. We’re now in the checking things off the list part of planning (thank god). And just like I’ve been interacting differently with my wedding blog, I’ve been interacting differently with the planning as well.

For example, I’ve spent a lot less time on those inspiration-heavy wedding blogs. I still like to look at them, of course, but now, it’s more a case of flipping through them quickly while I’m watching TV. I’m still on Offbeat Bride, of course, mostly because the Tribe provides lots of concrete planning help. The thing is, I don’t need to look at pictures anymore. What I do need is to write the ceremony, but that is a topic for another day.

This all came to a head at the end of last week, when we mailed the invitations. Anyone who has planned a wedding can tell you, this is a big step. First of all, there is so much planning that leads up to the actual mailing. Before we could send invitations out, we had to have the place and time nailed down. The website had to be completely finished, especially important for us because so many of our guests are from out of town and we are using the website for all of the information and RSVP. The wedding weekend events had to planned and included. Also, we had to choose, design, and order the invitations. And my mom had to address them all.

So, just being able to send out the invitations means that a lot of the planning is finished. But besides that, spending all of that time stuffing and stamping the envelopes, putting them in the mailbox, and actually imagining people receiving them made this whole thing so much more real. It felt like a point of no return, for lack of a better phrase. People have already started RSVP’ing, and that means that people are really attending. This wedding is really happening.

It’s thrilling and stressful, exciting and anxiety-producing. Now that it’s 2013, now that invitations have been mailed, it’s finally starting to hit me. The wedding is not just a big project, an event to plan. There is a huge to-do list, but that’s not the half of it. A wedding, a marriage, is a big life step, a colossal transition. Intellectually, I knew this all along, but I’m only starting to feel it now.

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Wedding Consumerism

Wedding budgets are ridiculous. There is just so much to pay for! Food, venue, rentals, photographer, and more. There is also a lot of stuff to buy: guestbook, kipot, flowers, dress, ring, shoes, jewelry, underthings….wait, what? Why am I buying all this stuff, anyway?

Some of it is necessary. Once I decided to wear a wedding dress, I needed to buy one. We don’t already have wedding rings, so we have to buy those. I guess I could make a guestbook, but that doesn’t sound fun to me at all, nor is it a realistic project for someone this un-crafty. I’ve picked out a necklace I love, and I’ve been looking around for earrings…and that’s where I stopped.

The WIC says you must buy everything new. Everything must be purchased just for your wedding. The indie blog world isn’t that different, although they do talk about family heirlooms a little more, I guess. But why does everything really need to be new?

When you delve a little deeper, the wedding industry is selling not just items, but special-ness. Weddings are marketed as a once-in-a-lifetime event. And that’s fine; I mean, I hope to have only one wedding in my lifetime. But just the fact that’s it’s a wedding makes it special. Just the fact that it’s happening once makes it once-in-a-lifetime. Spending a ton of money on a bridal-looking necklace that I can never wear again doesn’t make my wedding any more special.

I tried to mitigate this at first by making a rule for myself about accessories and beauty products. I would only buy things I would use/wear again. So my necklace doesn’t look bridal, but it is awesome! And I can think of a couple other outfits to pair it with. I’ve been looking for shoes that I can wear all spring and summer (And fall and winter; who are we kidding here? I live in Florida) long. But that wasn’t enough. The consumerism started to get to me; the shopping and buying felt almost compulsive.

I knew it had gone too far when I found myself looking for shoes, unable to find anything affordable that I liked. Suddenly, I happened upon a perfectly good pair of off-white sandals, pretty much exactly what I was looking for. In my own closet. And I’ve been trying to convince myself that it’s ok to wear them, even though they’re not new. Then, I got into an in-depth conversation with a friend about what kind of eyeliner I should buy. Until I realized that I already have an eyeliner I love.

So, my buying will become more thoughtful from now on. If I have something already that works for the weddings (like my earrings from India that I adore), I will be using it. If I need something new, I will buy it, but not because it makes my wedding more special. That comes from the day itself, from the vows, from the celebration with friends and family. What does it say about my life if I look for that special feeling from a pair of shoes, anyway?

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Wedding Themes

Colors and themes are something all over the wedding world, from the Knot to Offbeat Bride. For more traditional weddings, the theme might be Old Hollywood. For the more offbeat, it might be Civil War or fairy themed. Just please, don’t have a Hunger Games themed wedding, for god’s sake.

For people really interested in styling their wedding, I guess a theme is helpful. It gives you a central idea to build around. It helps narrow down the millions of choices out there. And if you and your partner have a very specific hobby or passionate interest, it makes sense to share that with your guests.

Our theme is (drumroll, please)….getting married.

Yes, you heard right. The truth is, we don’t really have a theme. And sometimes this worries me. I mean, I tell people we’re having a picnic wedding, but does a normal picnic include a DJ and Italian food? No, I think not. I tell them we’re getting married on a farm, evoking images of rustic barn weddings. And we’re really not rustic. I mean, there will be no burlap or cowboy boots (at least, I won’t be wearing them).

Our website is totally different than our save-the-date, which is totally different than our invitation, which will probably be totally different than our place cards, program, and table numbers (which will not match each other). The wedding world tells me this will confuse our guests. Not having a unifying theme will be disruptive and jarring.

Sorry, but I have a little more faith in our guests than that. They know they’re coming to a wedding. What is there to be confused about? I mean, the décor in our house does not have a unifying theme (nor do all the paint colors flow together), yet somehow, people are still able to find the kitchen.

Our wedding is not a styled event. It will probably not be on the pages of a magazine (though I’d love for it to be in Offbeat Bride!). It’s a wedding. It’s an exchange of marriage vows followed by a party filled with some cool stuff that I’ve found, things that I think are pretty or fun. Hopefully, our guests will be too involved in celebrating to worry about the escort cards not matching the invitations, anyway.

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An Untraditional Traditional Wedding

Everyone who reads my blog knows that I am obsessed with Offbeat Bride. I belong to the Tribe, where I read and post regularly. I devour the blog posts and pictures of hippie wedding, steampunk weddings, and cosplay weddings. I will be having none of these weddings. In fact, in that community, our wedding is considering to be “offbeat-lite,” or more traditional than most.

When I’m talking to people in person about our wedding, I generally describe it as completely untraditional. I think there will be a large proportion of guests at our wedding that have never been to a wedding like ours. I do try to prepare people for how different our wedding will be.

So, how is it possible that our wedding is traditional and untraditional at the same time? Let’s look at the facts (or undeveloped ideas, as it were):

Things you’ve see before (traditions we will be following):

  • We will be sending out paper invitations.
  • I will be wearing a white dress, clearly a wedding dress, from a wedding dress store.
  • I’ll have (somewhat) fancy hair, have my nails done, and have someone else (a friend) do my makeup.
  • I will probably be wearing a veil.
  • We’ll be getting married under a chuppah with Jewish traditions guiding the ceremony.
  • We’ll have a hora.
  • We’re serving a full meal at the reception.
  • We’ll be having a DJ and hopefully, there will be lots of dancing.

The path not usually taken (untraditional aspects of our wedding):

  • We sent out email save the dates.
  • The RSVP will be via our wedding website.
  • I will mostly likely be wearing sandals, or maybe going barefoot (still wrapping my head around this one).
  • I’ll have my hair down.
  • The men will not be wearing suits or ties and no one (except, I guess, me) will be very dressed up.
  • There will be no matching wedding parties.
  • Our ceremony will be true to our humanist and atheist beliefs (or non-beliefs). The Jewish traditions will be modified as necessary.
  • We will probably not have flowers.
  • We will probably not have a cake.
  • We’ll have other fun activities besides dancing.

As you can see, our wedding will incorporate both traditional and non-traditional aspects. And truthfully, this is a perfect reflection of my sensibilities and of us as a couple. I mean, we live in the suburbs in a house, we shop at regular stores for our clothes, and we look pretty normal on the surface. But our beliefs and values are pretty radical (mine especially).

Steve hit the nail on the head this week when he described me as someone who is an incredible rule follower when it comes to small details of life, but a rule breaker when it comes to societal expectations and traditions. That’s totally true. I would never walk somewhere that had yellow tape blocking it off, but I have absolutely no problem throwing away cultural expectations or traditions when they don’t speak to me.

So, that’s the kind of wedding we’re having. An in-between wedding for in-between people. Sounds perfect to me!

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Other People’s Weddings

Last weekend, I was the Maid of Honor in my friend Ali’s wedding. Her wedding was as different from mine as could be. She got married in a synagogue. The wedding was black tie invited. It was beautiful, elegant and classic. I even got my hair and makeup done! It was an evening wedding, with a DJ and sit down meal. The bridesmaids all wore matching dresses.

The thing is, her wedding was also exactly the same as mine (at least, what I hope ours will be). She was surrounded by her family and friends. People came from near and far to celebrate with her and her new husband, Jeremy. Everyone had fun. I had a great time hanging out with the other bridesmaids, even though I know most of them only through Ali. The ceremony was emotional and beautiful. Everyone felt the love in the room.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? We all get so caught up on the external trappings of a wedding. The photography. The music. The food. The flowers. I mean, that’s what at least half this blog is about. But those things don’t really matter in the end. The wedding is about the internal stuff. It’s about getting married, no matter how you choose to do it.

Ali’s wedding really made me realize what weddings are all about. They’re a celebration, not just of love but of much more than that. People can be in love and have a great relationship without ever getting married, and they usually don’t get a party to celebrate it. I think weddings are really a celebration of partnership. A celebration of a life lived together, of a joining of two people. Weddings are a celebration of the family you come from (both biological and chosen) and the family you are creating.

Throwing your lot in with someone, saying out loud that you’ll stand by them in good times and bad is a really brave thing to do. And so we celebrate that bravery. We cheer the couple on and reflect on the love we have in our own lives, no matter where that love comes from. We hold a little tighter to our friends and family and remember what’s really important. And the truth is, it doesn’t matter if you do that in a tuxedo or a bathing suit. It doesn’t matter if you have 10 guests or 1000. All weddings are, at their core, exactly the same, no matter how different they may look.

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Ethics vs Finances

I’ve talked before on the blog about spending money in a meaningful way. For us, that means supporting independent artists and vendors as much as we can. My engagement ring came from Etsy; probably my jewelry and some other things for the wedding will as well. Our caterer is a local restaurant owner; our invitations will come from an independent designer.

But the title of this blog is Big Wedding, Small Budget for a reason. We are also trying to throw this wedding in the most economical way possible. And sometimes, our finances and our ethics have trouble playing well together. Sometimes, they are in direct conflict.

For example: our invitations. We are planning to buy a digital file of a printable invitation, and then have it printed. We could use a local, independent print shop, or we could save a ton of money by going with an online printer.

Another example: our tableware. We could rent actual dishes, silverware, and glasses, cutting down on the amount of trash. But we could also spend less money on nice disposable that we wouldn’t have to clean and return afterward.

One last example: my dress, which I did not buy on Etsy or from a local boutique. Instead, I bought it from a big chain bridal store. They had the most dresses in my size and my price range, so I went for it.

Each of these choices has caused me to re-examine my ethics, to prioritize. It’s impossible to do everything just the way we want. But that’s true for everyone’s wedding, I think, whether they are concerned with budget, or ethics, or neither. It’s just part of planning a wedding.

So I’ve decided to approach these decisions the same way I approach eating meat. I’m not a total vegetarian; I do eat meat, but sparingly, for several reasons. Cutting back on the amount of meat I eat is better than not cutting back at all. It’s better (and more realistic) than saying, “Eff it. If I’m not going to give up meat, I may as well eat it all the time.” I don’t have to have an all or nothing approach to planning the wedding. It’s ok for me to use local or independent vendors when I can, and to save money or choose convenience where I need to.

After all, that’s a reflection of my life in general, right? I do what I can, when I can, and I don’t beat myself up about the rest. If I want a wedding that is a reflection of how we live, then this is it.

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In case you didn’t already know this about me, I am an extremely competitive person. Mostly with myself, but sometimes with other people too. However, for most of my life I have been able to restrain my competitive tendencies to video games, board games, trivia, etc. I have never really been competitive about things like school grades, salaries, homes, or other indicators of social standings. To be honest, I’ve never really understood why other people’s accomplishments or material accumulations would reflect on mine at all. I don’t need to beat them at relationships; I just really want to beat them at Mario Kart.

In the world of weddings, though, it’s so easy to be competitive. Or at least, it’s so easy to compare your wedding to others’. Then I guess the choice to be competitive or not is up to you. But if you’re doing a lot of internet wedding browsing, as I am, you are inundated with pictures of others’ weddings, along with all the details of their beautiful favors, personal vows, gorgeous photography, and gourmet, local, sustainable food.

When I’m alone with the internet, I have no problem looking at weddings that bear no resemblance to our wedding or what I want. The problem comes in with all these “indie” weddings. Perusing the indie blogs means that I’m constantly confronted with handmade favors from Etsy, lovingly crafted escort cards, bouquets made with flowers that the couple started growing a year before in their backyard, personal vows, gorgeous photography, and beautiful china that the bride and her mom spent the past two years scouting from thrift stores. Think I’m kidding or exaggerating? I’m not. And my mind automatically starts comparing these “blog-worthy” weddings to my own.

In real life, I have several friends getting married this year. They are all having weddings that are quite different from each other, and quite different from mine. But in real life, it’s a little harder to avoid comparisons. My wedding is just so different. It’s less fancy. Just as our wedding will be missing so much of the indie-blog touches, it will also be missing quite a lot of the typical wedding accoutrements.

Complicating this issue is that brides are often judged on their weddings way more than grooms. Although of course, grooms tend to be more involved in the wedding these days, I still think that there is a lot more pressure on brides to have a beautiful wedding and reflect that image of perfection. No one expects grooms to be perfect anyway; they just expect them to be dragged reluctantly to the altar. This is a subject for another post that I’ll probably write when it makes me feel less angry.

Media and mainstream society pit women against each other constantly. The message that we get, both subliminally and overtly, is that we’re always in competition with other women, whether they are our best friends or strangers. We are told that other women’s looks, partners, careers, and families directly reflect on whether our own are good enough. Whether this has evolutionary origins doesn’t matter. It is really no longer relevant in our society and I hate when women I know buy into it.

The truth is, my friends’ weddings are perfect for them. They will be beautiful and fun and I can’t wait to be a part of them. Just as their grades in college didn’t reflect on mine, their weddings don’t reflect on mine either. There is no reason why, as women, we can’t look at and attend others’ weddings and just enjoy them. Sharing a special time in our lives with those we love is a privilege, and a great opportunity, not a chance to show them up.


Wedding Planning on the Internet

How did people plan weddings before the internet? The internet is where I’ve found our venue, our photographer, and our invitations. The internet is where I’ve learned about the whole range of weddings, from super traditional black-tie to super offbeat steampunk cosplay. The internet has allowed me to write this blog, it’s allowed me to collaborate and get help from other women planning weddings around the country. It’s definitely made things easier in so many ways.

But. As with all things on the internet, it’s not all good. I think that seeing so many weddings online, presented without their flaws, without their mishaps, creates a kind of competition that didn’t exist as much before. I mean, I’m not a competitive person when it comes to stuff like this (with pretty much anything else, it’s a different story). But even if I were competitive with my wedding, I would have a hard time finding very much to compare it to. My friends’ and family members’ weddings have all be pretty spread out. But with everything on the internet, I could compare my wedding not only to my friends, but to strangers as well.

Also, there is just so much wedding stuff on the internet that it’s easy to get wrapped up in the wedding bubble. What did I do before there were pictures upon pictures upon pictures of weddings to look at? Oh yeah, I had other interests. Interests I’m rediscovering now that I’m taking a break from planning (and the Olympics definitely help with that). It’s easy to feel like everyone is talking about weddings all the time. And they are, as long as the only websites I’m looking at are wedding blogs.

The internet has added a lot of pressure, I think. There’s all this pressure to have your wedding exactly reflect you as a couple and your quirky interests. Pressure to make things handmade and personal. Pressure to have a unique wedding, and this is where I think the internet severely misleads us. Chances are, the guests at our wedding are not spending every afternoon looking at pictures of Mason jar centerpieces, wacky photo booths, and brides wearing cowboy boots. So even though trends may seem overdone, that is only in Wedding World. From the real world, where everyone else lives, those trendy features probably seem pretty unique and personal.

It’s an interesting process, planning a wedding. For me at least, it seems to involve a lot of sifting through the external expectations, pressures, and insecurities to get down to what I really want. I might be naïve, but it seems like that might have been easier without the internet. On the other hand, I love seeing other people’s weddings and getting ideas from it. And sites like Offbeat Bride have enabled me to let go of others’ expectations for our wedding.

I guess internet wedding planning is like anything else, right? Try to keep the good, let go of the bad, and remember: your life is your life. You don’t have to compete with anyone else.

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