From “I Will” to “I Do!”
A 12-month countdown for planning the wedding of your dreams
Illustrations by Bella Pillar
He’s popped the question and slipped a gorgeous rock on your finger. Congrats! Now that you’ve spent hours—or days—gazing lovingly at your new sparkler, it’s time to stop daydreaming and start planning! If you want your wedding to go off without a hitch, and if you want it to be a labor of love rather than a year of nail-biting drudgery, follow our 12-month timeline filled with tips, tricks, and advice from local wedding vendors and pros. Ready? Take a cleansing breath, and let’s get started. The big day will be here before you know it!
Set a Budget
That $10,000 Pnina Tornai ball gown from Kleinfeld may be calling your name, but your bank account is screaming, “David’s Bridal!” You may want a sit-down dinner for 200 at The Ritz, but an intimate gathering for 50 at your favorite restaurant is more in line with your bank account. Figure out what you can afford—and remember that your budget includes not only the dress, the venue, and the music, but also the rehearsal dinner, transportation, flowers, photography, lodging for out-of-town guests, tips, wedding-party gifts — and that’s just for starters. Also, now is the time to find out who's paying for what.
Set a Date
Be prepared to pay a premium if you want a Saturday night in May or June, and make sure to consider the possibility of a blizzard if you've got your heart set on a winter wedding.
TIP: You can save substantial $$ by booking your wedding on an off-day (Friday or Sunday rather than Saturday) or off-month (like March, July, or August).
Choose a Color Scheme
Color is a great way to let your personality shine. Choose colors and fabrics that work with the season and that reflect the tone/style (Formal? Casual? Barn? Ballroom?) of the wedding.
Choose a Photographer
Your photographer is your storyteller, so you need a good one. Do some research so that you can ask the right questions and get answers that can help you make a decision. Learn a little about the importance of lighting, composition, color, etc., so that you're armed with info when you interview photographers.
Every picture tells a story: Find a great photographer to help you tell yours.
Listen, anybody can stand there with a fancy camera and push a button. But a reputable photographer will not just hit that button 500 times and charge you for a "package." You want someone who has both technical know-how and a creative eye. So how do you find that someone?
1. Research. Do Internet searches; ask friends for recommendations, etc.; then schedule interviews with three or four photographers you like.
2. Find wedding photos you love in magazines and online, then take them with you to the interviews.
3. Discuss the details of your wedding with your prospective photographers and tell them a little about you.
4. Ask how the photographer will make your photos memorable and capture the vibe you want. Also ask how many weddings he or she has photographed and what distinguishes him or her from other photographers.
5. Ask to see photographers' portfolios. If you don't like the photos — for whatever reason — move on.
6. Ask about costs and packages: What's included? What's not? What if I hate the photos?
Hire a Wedding Planner
This is usually a worthwhile investment, particularly if your wedding has a lot of “moving parts”—a large bridal party, out-of-town guests, intricacies and customizations, etc.
TIP: You can save $$ by hiring a consultant for just certain aspects of the wedding (say, coordinating the music, photography, and flowers) or to take care of all the details on your wedding day.
Book Your Venue(s)
Make a wish list of venues you can afford. Narrow down your choices to a handful and schedule visits. It's important to book early, especially if it's a popular venue or a coveted date. Find out what is included in the price and what is not, and ask about insurance, deposits, etc.
Booking the Big Day
We asked Alexandra Corbett, senior wedding sales manager for The Ritz-Carlton, Westchester, to give us the scoop on prices, trends, deposits, and other things you need to consider when booking your wedding.
How far in advance should you book your wedding? I would recommend 10 to 12 months in advance if you have your heart set on a certain date.
What percentage deposit do you require? The Ritz-Carlton, Westchester, requires a 25-percent deposit.
Is the deposit refundable? Under what conditions? The deposit is non-refundable.
How does the day of week, time of day, and month of year affect pricing? Our typical wedding package for Saturday evenings start at $185 (pp), and, for Fridays and Sundays, prices start at $165. Pricing can be flexible from January to March and in July and August.
What percentage of couples use wedding planners to book their weddings? Forty percent of our couples will use a planner.
What are some of the biggest mistakes couples make when booking a wedding? ‘Too many cooks spoil the food.’ I always like to remind my couples that it is their day; they need to make their wedding uniquely theirs and enjoy the process.
What are some trends you've been seeing recently? Family-style dinners are extremely popular, as are passed desserts on the dance floor, and more relaxed after-parties. Calligraphy is a huge trend in invites, table numbers, and cake toppers.
What are the trends for desserts or sweets tables? Mini desserts, s’mores, desserts in a jar, donuts, and macarons.
What trends have gone out of favor? Stiff formality! And the garter and/or bouquet toss you never see anymore.
Choose Your Gown
You may have a favorite designer, silhouette, color, fabric—or all or none of the above. In any case, now is the time to schedule appointments at bridal shops to try on dresses. Keep an open mind: You may think you want a mermaid, but you could end up falling in love with an A-line. (Note: Depending on the dress you choose, you may have to order a year in advance, though, often, eight or nine months is enough time.
TIP: Don't try on anything you can't afford; it's a waste of everyone's time.
Order Veil, Shoes, Lingerie & Accessories...
And, if you haven't already done so, order your gown! It's important to have the undergarments that you are planning to wear on your wedding day when you go for your fittings, as even the slightest variation can alter the fit.
Schedule Cake-Tastings & Order Cake
Though nine months is usually sufficient advance time, ultra-popular bakers may require a year or more.
Have Your Cake
We spoke to Victor Gonzalez at Lulu Cake Boutique in Scarsdale about pricing, trends, and how to save dough on your cake.
How do you price your cakes? We price per serving.
How can you get a beautiful cake without breaking the bank? Order a cake with buttercream instead of fondant. Instead of handmade fondant flowers, have your florist add fresh blooms.
What are some current trends in wedding cakes? The farm-to-table experience. We use local butter, fruit from local farms, even honey from a Bronx rooftop. For our bourbon cakes, we use locally sourced liquor from Hudson Baby Bourbon.
Is there a charge for tasting? Some bakeries do charge, but we don’t. We’re sure once you taste our cakes you won’t want to go anywhere else!
What’s the deposit and cancellation fee? It’s just $100. At some places, it can be 50 percent. If there is a death, emergency, or weather cancellation, we'll issue a credit for the bakery.
Select an Officiant
First, decide whether you want a religious or secular ceremony. Of course, you may choose your parish priest or your temple’s rabbi. If you have an interfaith wedding, you may opt for an interfaith minister or a clergy member from each religion. Or, you may choose a secular officiant — choices are plentiful in the Hudson Valley.
Book a Florist
Check out local florists’ websites, and visit two or three before putting down a deposit. Ask to see samples or photos of the florists‘ work, and get references.
Monica Chimes of Monica Chimes Floral in West Harrison on how to choose your wedding flowers
“Ask yourself, What inspires me?” she advises. “It can be the fragrance of a flower, the colors of a painting, or a feeling that a peony evokes.” Some things to consider:
• The scale of your event; this will dictate budget.
• Whether the flowers you want are in season; if not, they will need to be flown in. This adds considerably to the cost.
• Ask your bridal party if there are any allergies to a particular bloom.
• The best bang for your buck? White hydrangeas. Full, fragrant, and frugal.
• Brides are trending toward vintage details: Think succulents in wooden boxes.
Nobody wants to think about it, but things can go wrong on your wedding day. Consider insurance to cover the cost of your dress, gifts, photos, jewelry, or deposits. A simple liability policy can cost less than $200. Also, ask each vendor about their own insurance policies and what they cover.
Book Band and/or DJ
Music sets the tone, literally, for both your wedding ceremony and reception. Decide whether you want a soloist or ensemble for your ceremony or a band or DJ for your reception. Make sure the music reflects you as well as the wedding itself.
When it comes to your ceremony, unless you are having an especially lavish affair, subtlety usually works best. Consider an instrumental soloist — a harpist is classic — or an ensemble. The right vocalist can also work, but remember: The music is there for ambience; you are the star of the show. For your reception, the style, formality, budget, and your personal preference, should determine whether you have a band, DJ, or both. Quality is key: Make sure you hear the band and/or DJ in a live setting. Most musicians and music companies offer packages.
Book a Hair Stylist
You want a stylist who is not just technically proficient but also someone who is going to listen to your wants and needs and advise you on what will work best for your hair type, face shape, and headpiece.
Be the best-tressed you can be. Melissa Scrofani is an award-winning hairstylist with great tips for your big day.
What are some tips for bridal hair? Choose two styles at your trial run. Make sure you love them equally. This way, you’re not disappointed if you have to choose one over the other.
What are some of the latest hair trends? I tell each of my brides to choose a style based on what makes you look and feel most beautiful, not based on what the current trends are.
How does the bride’s dress influence her hairstyle? Always make sure you look at the neckline and the back of the dress. Choose a style that complements the dress, not competes with it.
Set Up Your Registry
You can register at more than one store: say, one for china and stemware, and another for everyday items, linens, etc. Already have your nest feathered? Register for a honeymoon instead at www.honeyfund.com.
Plan Rehearsal Dinner
…and determine who’s paying. "Get the elephant out of the room,” recommends wedding planner Monique Banks. “Talk about money right away.”
Alissa Sampogna of The King’s Scribe in Chappaqua says that couples should order their invitations six months before their wedding “and definitely no later than four months.” She recommends timeless looks, and says that “letterpress printing creates a beautiful, artisan, and tactile quality."
The white stretch limo has fallen somewhat out of favor, says Steve Brenna of Red Oak Transportation in Port Chester. Trends include luxury mini-buses for the bride, groom, and wedding party, as well as limos or antique vehicles, which are pricier.
Choose Wedding Bands
Generally, wedding bands are chosen by the bride and groom together. Sal D’Errico of D’Errico Jewelers in Scarsdale says that a band with diamonds usually runs upward of $1,500. For the groom’s band, he says, ”think simple and classic.”
Having your wedding outdoors? You’re going to need to rent everything from tents to linens to heating/cooling units to lighting, flooring, and flatware.
Book a Makeup Artist
If ever there was an area not to cut corners, this is it. Interview makeup artists and book a ”trial run" ASAP. A professional makeup artist will take into account your face shape, skin color and undertones, etc.
Best Face Forward
When it comes to wedding-day makeup, "more" is generally not better. You want to look like a bride, not a Vegas showgirl. To do that, you need a pro. Award-winning makeup artist Meredith Hayman makes you look like you — only better.
What are some things brides should consider when it comes to their makeup? The time of year and your skin tone — not just for your wedding date, but your makeup trial. If you’re getting married in July, but have a trial in January, know that your skin will be more pale and dry in winter. No matter the temperature, you’re likely to sweat more on your wedding day, but a good makeup artist should have the best primers and setting products.
What should a bride wear for the makeup trial? A white or ivory shirt is best. And you should also style your hair closely to your wedding-day style.
Do you recommend brides steer clear of makeup trends? I tell brides to choose a classic makeup look that will ensure they like their photos 20 years from now. The best trend is to look like the best version of yourself on your wedding day.
Rent Men’s Formalwear
According to Shaun Hosdaghian of the Sossi Formals, which has multiple locations in the Hudson Valley, the groom and groomsmen should rent formalwear “as soon as the dress colors have been decided.”
All the info you need can be found here.
Buy Wedding-Party Gifts
The gifts don’t have to be expensive or fancy, though it is customary for the maid of honor and the best man to receive an extra-special gift. Whether you chose a small piece of jewelry engraved with your wedding date or a simple “thank you” or a monogrammed item, customized gifts are classic.
Ask Friends/Family to Participate in Readings
You can be as creative as you like here: Choose your own readings, have your friends or family choose, or write the readings or choose them together.
Be sure that your invitations are addressed by hand, and use a rich, smudge-proof ink. Know the exact postage for the weight of your invitations, and use pretty stamps — never a postage meter!
Be creative, but remember: These are your wedding vows, not a Shakespearean soliloquy. Heartfelt and beautiful, yes; verbose, no. If you don’t have a way with words, you may want to enlist the help of a professional, like Holly Blum of A Speech to Remember (www.aspeechtoremember.com), who will craft custom vows and even toasts for you. Just tell her what you want to say, and she'll help you say it in an eloquent (but not over-the-top) way.
Apply for Marriage License
It would be a shame if something so simple held up your wedding, but it could — if you’re not informed. Before you go to the city or town clerk’s office to obtain your license, make sure you know your parents’ birth names and place of birth, and be sure to have a photo ID, documentation of your age and identity, money for the license fee, and documentation of any previous marriages. You also need to decide if you will both use the same surname, and be aware that you will need to wait 24 hours before getting married.
The Logistics of “I Do”
Wedding planning isn't all guest lists and cake-tastings. Here are some important nuts-and-bolts considerations.
The Marriage License
You and your soon-to-be spouse will need to appear in person at the city or town clerk’s office to obtain a marriage license. (A $40 fee covers the cost of your license and marriage certificate.) Make sure you both bring a legal photo ID, original birth certificate, and, if you’ve been married before, a decree of divorce. In New York, there’s a 24-hour waiting period before your license becomes valid, and then it is valid for 60 days.
If you’re planning to get married in a park, you’ll likely need a permit. Contact your local parks and recreation department as soon as you have a wedding date.
The Marriage Certificate
Your officiant should file your completed marriage license, and you’ll get your certificate in the mail in about 15 business days. If you lose it, you can obtain a new one from the city or town where it was issued or from the New York State Office of Vital Records.
Who Can Officiate?
Select government officials (mayors, clerks, and other authorized officiants); a village, town, or city justice; and members of the clergy are able to officiate a ceremony. While there has been some controversy in New York State about using a family member or friend ordained by the Universal Life Church, it’s generally okay. You’ll also need two witnesses to sign the marriage license.
Planning for Your Honeymoon
It might seem romantic to be Mr. and Mrs. on the honeymoon, but resist the urge to change your name before you go. The name on your tickets and passport needs to be consistent with your legal name. No match and you won’t be getting on the plane.
Have Final Fittings
If you’ve lost or gained a few pounds, this is your last chance to deal with it. If something doesn’t feel quite right, speak now or forever hold your peace!
Have Your Hair Cut and/or Colored
Don’t even think about cutting or coloring your hair any sooner than one to two weeks out, particularly if it's a new cut or color (which you shouldn't be doing this late, anyway).
The Eyes Have It
Devra Bader of Devra Bader Skincare & Beauty Spa on how to get luscious lashes and beautiful brows
How far in advance should the bride get her eyebrows done? A consultation two months before can help put a schedule in place leading up to the big day, and the final shaping should be done two to three days before the wedding. Tweezing is always a safe choice.
Do you recommend false eyelashes for a bride? I love to add a few false lashes; they give a great lift and are easily removed. Strip lashes are a bit too artificial-looking.
Finalize Delivery Times With Vendors
Think of your wedding day as a dance: Every minute counts and everything needs to be perfectly choreographed.
Finalize Music Playlist
Your favorite song may have changed in the past few weeks. Make sure your DJ, band, and/or soloist has the right songs (and the right versions!) in the right order. Make sure everything is written down and keep a copy.
Don’t think of this as your “last hurrah,” but do have a great time, whether you're having a guys’ night out at a local club or a weekend in Vegas with the girls.
Finalize your reception seating chart
You may want to see “one big happy family” at the same table, but, when arranging your seating, think first of your guests and their comfort. Your parents may have had an amicable divorce, but do you really think your dad wants to sit next to your mom’s 30-year-old bodybuilder boyfriend all evening?
Get Some Sleep
After your rehearsal dinner, take a hot shower, wind down, and try to get a good night’s sleep.