You can learn a lot getting wed.
We're not talking married life here (with any luck you were in a pretty good place before you got wed and that's why you did it), but the day itself: when else in your life will you put together a full day-to-evening party, likely across two venues, for your nearest and dearest and then some?
The practicalities of budgets, transport and timings, the emotive issues of family politics, reciprocal invites and tricky table plans – and that's before you get to the finer details of mason-jar cocktails, vintage ice-cream trikes and matching bridesmaids dresses.
Here, 15 brides with very different weddings share with Stylist.co.uk what they learnt, loved, and could have done without on their own big days.
Whether it's avoiding knicker disasters, choosing many, many bridesmaids or tackling hair full of bees (it happened), these are their honest dos and don'ts of wedding planning.
“I wish we'd captured the day on film”
Events manager Saorla Swan-Hutton and Amber Swan-Hutton got married in September 2015 in a field in Somerset.
Saorla says: “Focus on the parts of the day that are really important to you, as some things are less so. For instance, I spent six hours choosing baskets for the confetti, which played a split-second role and not a soul was interested in!
But I'm glad we thought about entertainment. We had spacehopper races, giant Twister and a welly toss, which proved as much fun for our younger guests (who got fidgety and needed entertaining) as it did the bridesmaids!
Similarly, as we got married in a field, high-heel protectors went down a storm with our female guests to stop them sinking into the grass.
My one big regret is not capturing the day on video, one of the only things to slip through the net.
With DIY weddings there is always something else to finish, but don’t leave anything to do on the actual morning: it's more important to eliminate stress on the day. Everyone says it, but do exactly what you want to do. It’s your day. We had 13 bridesmaids and people thought we were mad, but we wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
Images: Matt Willis Photography
“Try and slot in ‘wedding break’ days”
Freelance journalist Sejal Kapadia Pocha and Sameer Pocha wed in London in July 2015
Sejal says: “When discussing a contentious cost, we often uttered those famous words: 'We're only going to do this once!' But in hindsight, a little more money in our bank accounts would've been helpful. From early on, decide how big you and your partner want your wedding to be and how much you want it to cost. Then pick five things you're willing to splash out on and five things you want to target on a budget.
However I never felt bad about negotiating prices with suppliers. I gave myself time to research those I would enjoy working with, and saved money by taking the DIY approach to decor wherever possible, using brilliant blogs such as Oh Happy Day.
We had a Hindu wedding and Asian parents are typically heavily involved in the planning. It's important to communicate your expectations with them as much as with your partner.
Try to slot in ‘wedding break’ days and evenings so that you don't burn out and blank out the 10 days before your first wedding festivity. I left far too much to sort out in the week prior, and when unexpected issues cropped up, stress hit. Feeling relaxed and well-slept is invaluable.
When the day arrives, I strongly advise taking a moment to drain all your stresses and soak up the environment; the people, the sounds and smell. Those are the moments I remember most.”
Images: Soniya Zeb
“Make a list of the top five things you both care about”
Victoria and Pete Dale tied the knot in a field in Harrogate, Yorkshire in August 2011.
Victoria says: “Our wedding wasn't fun to plan until we decided to base it on something we really enjoyed – going to a music festival. Everything fell into place. We got to look at amazing tents, organise our friends and families camping and make our own bar, complete with a barrel of ale! We had a really heartfelt humanist ceremony and wrote our own vows.
The best advice I was given was to make a list of the top five things you both care about and find a way to make them happen. That can be finding the budget for something expensive (our tents) or just going against the grain, even if people tease you about it (me having 10 adult bridesmaids, for example). This also gives you the freedom not to care about things that are expected at weddings, but which bore you to death. If it isn't on the list, choose what's easiest or cheapest or get rid of it entirely, which is very liberating.
While planning can be hard – I'm fairly sure I wanted to elope for the entire month before – it's worth it. My heart still bursts thinking of the wave of joy I experienced walking down the aisle with my new husband and the lovely worn-out happiness I felt when we stumbled into our tent at the end of the whole affair, tipsy on love and wine.”
“It’s only the people who matter”
Journalists Amy Swales and Keyan Milanian tied the knot in West Yorkshire in June 2012.
Amy says: “Good thing: I thought wedding advice postcards might be cringe, but they were really fun to read back. Meh thing: turns out if everyone is too drunk to dance in heels, they're too drunk to change into flip-flops. Totally pointless eBay purchase.
Six weeks before our big day, we sacked the marquee and catering company because they were utterly useless. Yep, having no food or venue is a biggie in terms of wedding stuff going wrong, but trust me: it's 10 times better to go with your gut and in reality, you'll find something. We booked fantastic companies to replace them, but if it hadn't been perfect it wouldn't have mattered anyway.
It’s only the people who matter. And forcing all the people to be involved somehow is extra lovely for you and them – friends and family made beer, bread, chutney, bunting and my veil. On the day they became marquee decorators, wedding-party drivers and FORMED A BAND.
The traditions we weren’t bothered about, surprise surprise, we didn’t miss. Don’t be convinced into things you ‘should’ do or have if you personally don’t care. They aren't the tipping point between a good and bad day. Lots of people said the lack of structure was refreshing, for instance: everyone just piled into the marquee after the ceremony, food arrived when it arrived, we got round to speeches eventually.
Also, enter competitions. We saved so much money because I won bouquets, table stationery and marquee decorations.”
Images (above and main image): Sally T Photography
“If you’re not good at DIY it's not worth the hassle”
Hypnobirthing teacher Joanna Snellin and film director Luke Snellin said their vows in a Herefordshire country house in May 2014.
“Play to your strengths. If you're already good at DIY, great! If you're not, it isn't worth the stress. I still have 200 hand-dipped gold glitter feathers that were going to create an incredible centrepiece. This was a totally mad project I should never have undertaken and I'm pretty sure none of our guests were looking around the reception thinking, ‘Hmm it's a nice wedding but definitely short on gold plumage.’
Something I'm glad I compromised on was the seating plan. I really didn't want one, but my mother insisted and actually it was really nice making sure friends who didn't know many people had someone to talk to. In our photos you really get a feel of the buzz of conversation and I'm sure if we didn't have a seating plan we wouldn't have had that as much.
Lastly, bring out some greasy, fatty food at about 11pm. Everyone will love you for it. To this day our friends still talk longingly about our pork pie cake.”
Image: Ben Cherry Photography
“Just go with the flow”
Anna Brech, editor of Stylist.co.uk, and Chris wed in Gloucestershire in July 2014.
Anna says: “The day itself was a bit of a fiasco. We woke up to black clouds sweeping over the so-called Golden Valley. The rain was so torrential, I had a plastic bag over my hair from salon to car (‘Oh, we’re going to have to bag you up, love…’).
My husband tackled 'flu with a toxic mix of Lemsip, Jack Daniels and Stroud Ale. In the chaos of eight bridesmaids getting ready, I lost my wedding knickers, substituting them with a random pair of grey pants which only showed through my dress slightly.
We sort of made the whole thing up as we went along. When I look back, I see a bride with out-of-control frizz (rain plus open-top car) and a perennially on-show bra strap. There’s a traffic cone saving a parking space lingering incongruously in the background of all our photos.
But no matter the chaos, I loved every minute of it. The moment I saw our loved ones all together in one place, I knew we were going to have the most brilliant, gone-by-in-a-flash time. No-one cared about the lone balloon attached to the flower arch or that we forgot place names on two of the tables.
Reject perfection. Don’t kill yourself with details on the run-up. Just make sure everyone is fed and watered and the rest will look after itself. You’re surrounded by those you love, marrying someone you love. There’s no way you can’t have The Best Day Ever.”
“Don't sweat the small stuff”
Writer Cassie Dickerson married husband Neil in a Chichester barn venue in July 2015.
Cassie says: “Did our cake get dropped on the morning of the wedding and have to be stuck back together using strategically iced foam? Yes. Did our venue coordinator forget to bring the sparklers out for our dramatic evening pictures? Yes.
Did my brother wear an animal-print suit and get his balls out in the photo booth? Yes.
Did I care? No, because I’d set no unrealistic standards for the day and was too busy having the time of my life.
Don’t sweat the small stuff in the lead up to your wedding, then if something doesn’t quite go to plan, you won’t have an emotional meltdown over it.”
Images: Peter Goddard
“Crying in the bath was not how I envisaged my wedding morning”
Molly and Lawrence Watson got married in Zambia in September 2010.
Molly says: “We moved to Zambia in the middle of wedding preparations and had a small celebration on a beautiful lake at sunset with an intrepid group of friends and family.
However, we’d woken up to an African bee infestation. They were even entangled in my hair – crying in the bath, reeking of insect repellent was not quite how I envisaged our wedding morning.
We then got stopped by ever-vigilant road police on the way,who insisted we unpack our car to prove we had safety triangles on board: this meant upending flowers, dresses and beer on to hot roadside mud whilst the clock was ticking and guests were arriving.
Then, the wedding host had an expression of constant fear on her face because we were on the bank of a lake she thought was crocodile-infested (which to be fair, probably was).
At the reception, after two minutes our guests ejected my husband's meticulously planned mixtape and whacked on tinny rumba at top volume. Everyone had a ball.
Yes, we laugh when we look at photos of the matching floral fabric on my husband's tie and my dress. Yes, we wish we had not decided cheap would do for my husband’s suit so he ended up looking like he was wearing a brown paper bag.
But we did it our way and had the best time ever with a truly wonderful bunch of people and fantastic memories. That's what really matters.”
“I wanted my wedding to be 100% perfect, but something will go wrong”
Journalist Esther Hong and Christopher Lee married in Tarrytown, New York, in 2005.
Esther says: “I wanted my wedding to be perfect. Absolutely 100% the way I wanted it to be. I spent five months meticulously planning, checking and rechecking every single detail until not a plate or flower was left unaccounted for.
I even had my wedding timetable down to the very minute. However, something's bound to happen that’s not on the agenda. In my case, the bus driver shuttling guests from the ceremony to the reception got lost and made everyone a whopping 45 minutes late to the party I’d spent months painfully planning.
I'd even provided a map with detailed directions, so believe me, I could have easily unleashed the mother of all bridezillas right there and then.
Thankfully, a moment of clarity saved the day. I’d just got married to the man of my dreams in the most beautiful wedding ceremony, and when would I have all of my nearest and dearest together with me under one roof ever again? This blip in the master plan was not going to ruin my special night. It's too easy to get caught up in putting together the perfect wedding, so relax and enjoy it.”
“There will be disasters, but none of your guests will be any the wiser”
Amy Adams, Stylist’s deputy production editor, and Matt Davies had a Lake District wedding in July 2012.
Amy says: “Two weeks before our wedding I faced up to the fact my £5 eBay bridal shoes were way too small and I'd be hobbling down the aisle – cue mad, fruitless dash round Oxford Street and panicked phone calls to my mum who found a gorgeous Bourne pair on sale in her local shoe shop.
A week before the wedding my photographer contracted laryngitis and had to cancel.
The day before it rained so hard that the marquee nearly collapsed (it was a local show tent erected by my family. This is what you get for paying £300 instead of £3,000.)
But I'd do the same again. There will be last-minute disasters but you will solve them somehow, and none of your guests will be any the wiser.”
Image: Hannah Dornford May
Emma says: “We got married in a town hall and singing isn't normally part of the ceremony, but we're always singing with our friends (stupid stuff, not choral!) and so really wanted to sing with everyone on the day.
We picked Bridge Over Troubled Water as most people know it, and put the lyrics in the order of service. We agonised over it and were really worried it would be awkward and weird, but after a bit of encouragement, everyone piped up and it was actually really emotional.
It was one of the moments of the day for us. My mum now calls us the ‘silver girls’!
We had the reception in our local and it's a real bonus that we can drop in there all the time and relive the joy.”
Images: Stephen Bunn Photography
“All the worrying is totally pointless”
Freelance journalist Deborah Cicurel and Andrew Greenwall Cohen wed in Paris in March 2015.
Deborah says: “There’s no denying that planning a wedding is stressful, but while you’re weeping over table plans or worrying about your bouquet, just remember that it will all seem completely irrelevant on the day.
I worried about how I should do my hair and spent hours changing my mind only to decide to have it up. All the worrying was totally pointless as the second I started a rowdy round of Jewish dancing, it came loose and looked a complete mess by the end of the night! I was having so much fun, I didn’t care.
All that will matter is being surrounded by everyone you love in one room and having the best time. The only real problem is how much you’ll miss all the craziness once it’s over and real life sets in again.”
Image: Robert Shack
“We loved the personal touch of DIY”
Doctors Lois and Liam Mackley said their vows at a country estate in North Yorkshire in August 2015.
Lois says: “Our wedding was such an incredible weekend of fun and creativity. We loved putting loads of personal touches in through DIY: one of my favorite things was the 8ft wooden letters Liam built and I painted neon in his parents’ tiny living room.
Something I wasn't sure about but am glad we did was hire two bands. Liam was dead set on having a ceilidh band and I wanted a funk soul band so we went for it and had both – they said they'd never had such a full dance floor.
My advice is don't worry too much. We really wanted to get married in this beautiful old ruin with no roof, so I can't tell you how happy we were when the rain stopped just in time for our wedding – we didn't have a plan B! You can spend weeks stressing about ribbon colours and centrepieces, but when it comes to it, as long as you have enough food and wine and everyone you love is the same place with some awesome music you've
Image: Sally T Photography
“Accept help when it's offered”
Landlord and gardener Charlotte and Jamie Lewis got married in June 2014 at their home in the south of France.
Charlotte says: “There was no way we would get a date/venue/menu etc to fit everyone and this bothered us at first, but we soon learnt to relax and remember we were the most important people to please. Similarly, we had the legal wedding a few weeks before because of where we got married.
We worried family and friends would be disappointed, but it meant we were able to keep everything simple and had much less to do on the day.
“I learnt to accept help when it was offered. We all know someone who loves getting involved, so make the most of it: many hands make light work and more fun! Stressed people don't make for good pictures. So if achieving a more relaxing and joyful day means toning down your plans, I say do it.”
“Do it your way”
Jenna and Tom Wade had an outdoor ceremony and marquee reception in Yorkshire in August 2015.
“When we were planning our wedding, we knew that we wanted it to be about us.
That sounds simple but when you have only ever been to a ‘normal’ wedding it’s difficult to picture the outdoor ceremony we were planning. We spent months planning every detail but we couldn't quite imagine how it would come together and worried whether we had made a terrible decision not to go down the usual route.
But on the day, the sun was shining and everyone we loved was there – for us.
There are two moments from the day that stand out: the sight of all our friends and family dancing and at the end of the night, looking up at the sky filled with thousands and thousands of stars.
Do it your way. For us, that was the only way.”
Image: Sally T Photography
Now for the expert...
Big-day stress is understandable, says Hamish Shephard, founder of free online wedding planner Bridebook.co.uk.
“Planning a wedding is one of the most exciting times of your life, but for most, this is the first time they’ve ever organised a party like it. Of course it can be stressful.
“The best advice I can give couples is to record everything in one place – whether that’s a Filofax, spreadsheet or Bridebook. As soon as you are unsure what you should be working out, deadlines start to loom, budgets spiral, guest lists explode, and stress sets in. So get everything in one place, then you can sit back and enjoy the best party ever.”