Thursday, March 8, 2012

Our Wedding: Part III: The Planning

This post mostly talks about details - if you crave photos you probably want the next post.

Since we were getting married in WV while living in Annapolis there was a lot of trying to consolidate trips or work things out with my mom on the phone - we only lived two hours away, but I can't imagine what it must be like to plan a wedding much further away. We were extremely luck to have my mom willing to do so much of the leg work - she really enjoyed getting to plan everything and we were happy to let her have her way on a lot of things.

Our budget was pretty small - we planned a wedding that we would ideally be able to pay for ourselves, but our parents were quite eager to help pay for the reception food, alcohol, flowers, eating ware, and decorations. Thanks to having so may people who were willing to put in their time and effort to help us the whole thing cost about $3,000 for a 70-person party, all told - an enormous sum to my mind, but affordable.

So here are the details - maybe you'll find some ideas.

For our 'colors' we were pretty vague - we stuck to white, off-white, cream, black, grey, and silver 95% of the time for wedding party clothes and decorations, but when we had something in another color we didn't mind using it (pink roses in the nosegays, wildflowers in the boutineers).

WAKnight: Black, white and silver/gray are the traditional colours of men's morning dress, so I figured if the things were going to match then our decor would match the suits, not the other way around.

For someone without a lot of opinions on weddings I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted in a wedding dress, though that's mostly because I have a pretty clear idea of what I want in a nice dress.

First and foremost it had to have straps and not be a halter-top. I'm a 30A, and my two adventures with strapless dresses ended badly. Likewise, I know extremely well that halter tops make me like a 13-year-old, and I wasn't going to budge. Any contenders also had to have a minimum of ruching, lace, and sequins, and be under $300. If I'm only going to wear the damn dress once I don't want to lose much money on it, and I'd hoped to get something I could recut into a summer dress.

While the after-Christmas sales were still going on I started looking around online, hoping to avoid the unpleasant business that wedding dress stores sounded like - I'd seen enough clips from chick flicks to imagine a world of pushy sales-clerks urging me to try on $1200 monstrosities dripping with seed pearls and mothers and girlfriends sipping appletinis and clapping their hands as I stumbled out of the dressing-room in frilly shoes. Lacking girlfriends, a touchy-feeling relationship with my mother, and a taste for appletinis, online seemed like the safer option, and I started looking during my lunch breaks.

In a few days I found a Calvin & Klein dress at Nordstrom's that was exactly what I wanted and on sale for $140 (marked down from $500), so I sent the link to Will and asked what he thought. I wasn't going to do that no-seeing-the-dress thing - Will was at least half of this wedding and 80% of the taste, so of course I wanted his advice (though we decided that he wouldn't see the altered dress and complete outfit and I wouldn't see him in his outfit until the day of).

My co-workers and mom didn't quite see the merit in it, but it was the only thing I'd seen that looked remotely appealing, and I had it sent to the store (free shipping) and picked it up. I liked the way it looked and Will liked it, so I took it to Nordstrom's to have it altered by one of their in-house staff. The smallest size left online was a 6 (I'm a 0 or 00) so it was rather large and I had to pay $100 to have it cut down and hemmed, but it was worth it to get a skilled seamstress familiar with the dress, and the final result was, if I may say so myself, very well-suited to my frame, and still a steal at $240 total.

WAKnight: "Well-suited to her frame" means "stunning."

For shoes I decided to buy plain white heels that I could use for nice warm-weather occasions, and after a few more days of looking around online I found a pair of undecorated white leather 2" heels by Calvin Klein at Nordstroms for $70. The local store had them in stock so I called ahead and they were waiting by the cashier when I came in. The shoes were an investment - in addition to being stunningly comfortable (the main benefit of well-made expensive shoes, I've noticed, is that they're actually comfortable to wear), I've since worn them to any number of nice occasions since and expect them to last for years.

My mom got me a new strapless bra from JC Penny (with a coupon!), and we determined that I couldn't wear any type of underwear or formwear under my dress without it showing...

For my necklace I used the Edwardian lavalier Will bought me as a 4th anniversary gift from our favorite antique store - an cameo set in gold with a tiny diamond below it and a river pearl hanging below. My mother found a gauzy off-white shawl on sale at JC Penny for $10 and I used the white satin drawstring reticule she carried at her wedding to keep my cellphone, keys, wallet, multitool, and camera in.

For a hairpiece I looked through some bridal magazines and found something I liked, then asked my creative Aunt Theresa to help me make it. For $15 worth of combs, net, and beads, and an evening sewing and hot-gluing I got a lovely little thing to tuck into my bun that looked just as good as the $100 thing in the magazine.

Make-up was what I always wear: a little lipstick, a little eyeliner and eyeshadow, and a dab of concealer.

WAKnight The whole ensemble was gorgeous.

I had two bridesladies and a bridesdude - a friend from high school and two friends from college. My bridesdude got the same outfit the groomsmen were wearing. I didn't want to have to look for bridesmaids dresses or ask my friends to buy such a thing, so I asked them to wear nice knee-length black dresses with sheer black stockings and black shoes, and a silver or pearl necklace. My mom got them two matching grey shawls from a kiosk in the mall (2/$12), and they looked very well matched.

Will, for his part, looked around online for tux rental places in our part of WV and after an underwhelming visit to a place in Martinsburg (a small shop that mostly did proms and camo/blaze orange tuxes) we went down the valley to Bells, a high-end menswear store on the pedestrian mall in downtown Winchester. The staff was attentive and knowledgeable, which was good for Will because he had invested a mind-boggling amount of time in thinking about what the groomsmen and dads should wear.

He picked out stroller suits with grey vests for our fathers, three groomsmen, and my bridesdude, and morning dress for himself. Will wasn't particularly enthusiastic about the vest options for himself and decided to have a wool double-breasted dove grey waistcoat custom-made for him by Bell's, which looked amazing (I didn't see it till the day of the wedding when he came down the stairs in his finery looking smoking hot) and is something he's been to wear on special occasions since. He also bought nice wool socks, polished up his best shoes (English shoes from Goodwill), and wore his engagement cufflinks.

WAKnight: I could do a whole post about this, probably...because I'm that kind of guy. I didn't want us to wear tuxes, because black tie is evening wear and wearing it in the daytime is a) technically incorrect and b) it doesn't actually look that good in broad daylight in May -- too much black. I also wanted something a bit less common. I also love morning coats. Moreover, the traditional black (or dark gray) coat/striped pants/dove gray vest look of morning dress is extremely classy and hasn't been messed with by rental companies the way that black tie has; you order the classic look, and you get it.

But I didn't want everyone dressed super-formally, so I decided on semi-formal stroller suits (morning dress with a regular suit jacket) for everyone but the groom; since neither Rachel nor I wanted the bride to be at the center of things a snazzier outfit would also draw attention to me. As I wrote at the time, having the bride in a relatively simple dress and the groom in formal wear evened us out and made the whole thing less bride-centric, which was important to us.

The vest I got because I didn't want to go down the aisle wearing entirely rented clothes; also, I wanted a double-breasted vest with shawl lapels and the rental didn't come with one. And hell, it was my wedding; excuses to get custom vests don't come along every day.

For the rehearsal dinner I wore a nice black cocktail dress I found at a thrift store for $5, with a red shrug I found in a pile of free clothes and my trusty black heels from Kohl's. Will wore the expensive French suit he found at Goodwill for $15. For the brunch I wore a cute silk dress I got a few years ago and Will wore his morning dress with the cravat swapped out for a tie (while he had the thing rented he was going to get as much use out of it as he could).

WAKnight: regarding the brunch - I had for a rental suit, by God I was going to wear it a second time. I wore a tie instead to dress down the morning coat, and to change the look (one of the cool things about morning dress is that it can be 'correctly' worn with a four-in-hand tie).

When it came to cakes there weren't many options within a 30 mile radius, and we only tried two: The Sweet Shop in Shepherdstown and Sweet Inspirations Bakery in Martinsburg. We came in not knowing much about cakes and came out glad that we didn't want anything elaborate, just a 3-tier white cake with some black rococo curlieques on the sides, and flowers for a topper (we ended up forgetting to buy flowers and my cousin put my mom's nosegay of wildflowers on top, which looked fine).

I'm not much of a cake person but Will had Serious Opinions about the flavors, so I let him decide: we ended up with a top layer of red velvet, a middle layer of vanilla with lemon mousse, and a bottom layer of chocolate with chocolate mousse, and a mild frosting that wasn't disgustingly sweet. Sweet Inspirations had fewer flavor options than the Sweet Shop (they offered apple cake!) but for the extremely basic cake that we wanted it was $100 less than the Sweet Shop and Sweet Inspirations bakery was 1/4 mile away from our reception hall, so we went with them, and were entirely satisfied. We were in between cake sizes, so we ordered a dozen cupcakes to go around the base of the cake, which balanced what was a small cake on a large table. I think we spent $150, and the cake was actually good (or so I'm told; I'm not a cake person) - we didn't need a groom's cake to be the delicious cake.

I'm a paper and graphic design person, so I actually really enjoyed doing this. Oh, I would have loved the chance to do gorgeous letterpress invitations, but barring that I wasn't going to drop a lot of cash to get someone else to do it, and I wasn't going to drop a lot of money on a kit, so I bought two 50-invitations-for-$30 kits online from Staples (and had 'em delivered to the store for free delivery. You might notice a theme here). The kits came with big envelopes, little envelopes, blank invitations with a raised silver border, and blank response cards with a raised silver border. The paper was a little thinner than I would have liked (80 lb), but to make up for it I spent a lot of time designing the invitations and response cards in Photoshop CS3, using my favorite font, Adobe Caslon, which supports small caps and a true Italic font, and a printer's ornaments and hours of fussing with the kerning and line spacing.

I collected all of the addresses, created an envelope template in Photoshop, dropped the address in and edited it, saved each envelop individually, and then saved them all as a very high resolution multi-page PDF. My brother, bless his heart, printed out the invitations, response cards, and envelope on his laser printer, and the end result was quite professional-looking. Will bought nice stamps with flowers on them from the post office and we spent an evening stuffing envelopes and double-checking our lists. It was a lot of work to do it all ourselves, but we still spent under $100 on invitations. If you're having a wedding for 300 I can understand why people pay someone else to do it for them, though.

Later on I designed the programs in Photoshop, using the same font and printer's ornament from the invitations. I saved them as a very, very high resolution 2-page 8.5x11 PDF and took the document to Kinko's on a flash drive. We picked out a nice, heavy matt paper and had 100 programs run off for $30, though we ended up not needing nearly that many.

WAKnight: frankly the layout and design was more to our liking than it would have been had we paid someone to do it.

I'm a book binder and didn't want to pay for a large, cheaply-made book I was going to use a few pages of, so I made a sewn-spine guest book that would lie flat - some crisp, heavy white cotton paper with an embossed silver cover - I think it cost $5. The nice pen we were going to borrow from my cousin disappeared at the last minute so we ended up using someone's ballpoint, which was fine by me - I was too busy getting married to see.

When it came to venues there were a lot of options, and they fell into two camps: gorgeous and wildly out of our price range (lots of historic homes - oh, it was tempting to drop the extra $400 and go with somewhere beautiful), or cheap and crummy. Many were way too large for a party of 75 to boot. We saw a few places but ended up deciding on the Knights of Columbus Hall, which my mom recommended (she goes to the local Catholic church). It had no windows, a chipped asbestos tile floor, water-damaged wainscotting in one corner, wood paneling, a stained drop-ceiling, heavy-duty folding tables and chairs, flourescent ceiling lights, and a small memorial to 'those babies who have died of abortion' out front, but it was $400 for the evening, we only had to pay $50 extra to have booze, there wasn't a fee for outside catering, we could use the fridges, stoves, and microwaves in the kitchen, and we could come in Friday night to set up, so we said hell yes and paid our deposit. When it was decorated it looked gorgeous, though I'll get to that in a minute.

My cousin Shelley's daughter Leah had gotten A Big Wedding that fall, and Shelley could've run a bridal shop out of all the stuff she had left over - ribbon, candles, a birdcage, cake stand, cake knife, pew bows, silver candlesticks... well, at any rate, we begged her for help, and it is due to Will's diligence, Shelley's generosity, and my mom's creativity that we got such a lovely reception hall and church.

For the reception hall we arranged the tables in long rows and put down thick white paper table cloths, with a wide black ribbon running lengthwise down each table. On this ribbon we put 3-4 mason jars (my mom and mother-in-law both can), and in each jar we put a candle left over from Leah's wedding (once lit you couldn't tell they were half-burned, and they were still going when the reception ended). In between the jars we put chocolates in the shapes of bells and cakes in clear bags tied with a black ribbon - my mom's idea for party favors.

My mother-in-law Jane bought white Christmas lights that come in nets, and these were hung on the wall in alternating panels. The awful overhead flourescents were turned off, and between the nets, the candles, and the wall-sconses (turned down low) the effect was an evenly-lit room, atmospherically dim but with still light enough to see clearly (important for our older relatives).

For the cake table we used a round table from my great-grandmother's house, with a round black tablecloth put on top and rose petals (left over from Leah's wedding) scattered around the cupcakes.

The gift table was covered in a white tablecloth. On top of it we put the flower arrangement from the church and for envelopes we used a birdcage that Shelley had picked up for $2 and painted white.

The food tables had white table cloths, and we put the beer in a tin washtub with some ice. Our friends volunteered to pour wine, beer, and champagne in shifts.

For the family's table my mom used charger plates and some extra ribbon in between the mason jars, with nice napkins and real glasses. For the head table she used some charger plates she got from Shelley, her own china and silver, white cloth napkins she'd found at an antique store, and white crystal goblets she'd been given for her own wedding. Shelley lent us two tall-backed chairs and two chair covers (one black, one white), and the effect was quite pretty.

My family's church is a stone building built in 1832, with thick stone walls and a whitewashed interior of hogbristle and lime plaster. The pews are original; the furniture sparse. In the deep windowsills we put a white candle in a silver candlestick in a hurricane globe with a white and black pew bow in front of it, and we hung pew bows on the reserved pews (bows from Shelley). The pulpit was hung with a white cloth and the table in front of it simply decorated with a white cloth, a cross, two white candles in silver candlesticks, and our rings. A flower arrangement was placed on the small table next to the pulpit. With the guest book on the table at the back we were set: the effect was one of restrained, historical elegance.

Will and I would've settled for Eric's laptop running a playlist through Will's PA system, but there was a local bluegrass band that my father adores and he offered to pay the $500 for them to come and play for 3 hours, so we got the Back Creek Valley Boys to come play for us and they were simply amazing - professional, great music, and we ended up having a great dance party! (a lot of our friends are dancers) I'm also related to a bunch of them and the leader lives down the road from our organist, to boot. I just wished we'd bought their CDs for wedding favors.

For the rehearsal dinner there was really only one place - the Yellow Brick Bank in Shepherdstown. We ran a test of it with our families beforehand and were entirely satisfied.

WAKnight: Rachel's grandad who has lived in Berkeley County for the entirety of his 83 years, (excepting his time in the service) got the Ghoulash when we went for our trial run. He remarked that it 'had some kick to it' and proceeded to clean his plate while his wife looked on incredulously.

Will is Episcopalian and getting married as an Episcopalian was very important to him, so we asked around and were eventually able to enlist the help of someone who went to his parents' church and had recently become a priest. We met with him and got the paperwork in order - as you can imagine it's rather complicated to have a priest from DC marry an Episcopalian and a Presbyterian in a Presbyterian church in West Virginia, and poor Rev Garcia had to make sure that the paperwork was ok between the church elders, his bishop, and WV's bishop. We met with Rev Garcia beforehand to go over the ceremony and talk about what we wanted to do, and I think he was relieved that we wanted to go more or less exactly by the book, the only exception being that I wanted to use a slightly-expanded part of the Song of Songs.

For my part we asked the Certified Lay Pastor that ministers at Tomahawk to give the sermon and give us an additional blessing, so we got both of our denominations included.

For counseling we went with the former rector of Will's childhood church, who is a professional therapist and counselor. We took a very lengthy online quiz separately (to identify any potential problem areas) and met for three sessions to look at the results and just talk about everything. It was expensive ($400) compared to doing a one-day thing with a bunch of couples, but I felt like we actually got a lot out of it instead of it being a waste of time, and good premarital counseling is something I'd recommend spending money on if you're going to need it to get married in a church.

When my great-uncle passed away he had a pig roast, and I liked the pig so much I decided to see if I could get the same guy to do our wedding. My cousin Kelly gave us his number and we met him in the parking lot of a gas station, discussed our options, shook hands, and two months later he showed up at the reception with a 100-lb roasted pig in a roaster on the back of the truck. $500, but deliciously, deliciously worth it (the left-overs were tasty and our guests seemed pleased).

For sides my mom made huge vats of baked beans and tried cole slaw from every place in Martinsburg, deciding on the slaw at the Costco in Winchester. We got our hors d'oeuvres from Costco as well - frozen ones that were heated up in the microwave, though they were all gone by the time Will and I arrived at the reception hall.

For plates, cups, napkins, and cups for our guests we used disposables from Costo, I'm sorry to say - not the best for the earth, but a china service would've been prohibitively expensive.

WAKnight: Rachel's mom, her cousins, and some people from church made the brunch afterwards, and it was incredible.

For alcohol we got Black Box wine, variety packs of beer, and champagne from the Costco in Winchester. For the wedding party we got Chimay to toast with (also from Costco), since neither of use are huge champagne fans. We'd picked up some Chimay glasses at some point, so Will and I had those to toast with.

WAKnight: There was no way that we were having a dry reception -- the Son of God himself saved a wedding from that experience and we weren't about to inflict it on someone else. I learned from my brother's wedding that when planning a wedding in the small-town South (or Appalachia) that you shouldn't count on too many people drinking. What I didn't learn is that there's a lot more beer drinkers than wine drinkers. A case of Yuenglings would have been appreciated by many of the guests, and the band.

We bought plain gold rings from a downtown Annapolis jeweler. I went downtown during a lunch break, saw one I liked, had it resized while I waited, and took it home, and Will did the same.

For service music we had three pieces, two of which were sung by an 8-person four-part choir of our dear friends, all of whom are quite musically skilled (most of whom are Jews or humanists!). For the music played while everyone was getting seated and the recessional we asked Irene, a fellow church-goer, to play the church's organ. She played a good selection of old hymns for seating music, and for the recessional played the hymn "To God Be The Glory". For the processional we chose an eerie shapenote song I heard Will sing in 2005 as a member of our college's Madrigal Choir: This Is My Beloved, and for the service song we chose Palestrina's Sicut Cervus, a favorite at our college.

The choice was simple: my dad's 1963 Studebaker Lark, which he drove at his own wedding. We even found the "just married!" sign in the trunk, and reused it. My dad chauffered us to the church and back to the house.

Will went with a basic google website. Since not everyone we were inviting on my side of the family would be using the internet we made sure to put a lot of information out in other ways, but for his side of the family and our friends he put up a little about us, local hotels, directions to the church (you can't get there by google maps or GPS without being directed down a road that doesn't exist), and directions to the reception hall.

My cousin Shelley and my great-aunt Saralee are skilled flower arrangers, so with flowers from my grandfather's garden (with pink country roses from the ancient rosebush that grows against my grandparents' house), Shelley's garden, and the Martin's grocery store in town the two of them set up shop in my parents' garage on Saturday morning and created a stunning bouquet of white roses for me, colorful nosegays for the bridesladies, mothers, and grandmothers, boutineers for the men, and a beautiful arrangement for the church (in a vase that belonged to my great-grandmother). Thanks to Shelley and Saralee's skill we couldn't have spent more than $40 on flowers.

My cousin Pam is a hair dresser and very generously agreed to straighten, blow-dry, and pull back Will's hair, and put mine up in a messy bun and put the hair-thingee in. The results were gorgeous, and as my hair loosened over the course of the day it looked natural instead of wilted.

Will spent a lot of time researching photographers, but in the end neither of us was willing to drop $700+ when all we really wanted was a few nice pictures. Fortunately, my brother is a very skilled photographer, my dad used to be a wedding photographer, and my cousin Linda Campbell likes taking pictures, so between the three of them we were obsessively photographed for the entire day.

In all seriousness, my father did a splendid job with the pre-ceremony formal shots of the wedding party, which were done across the road from my parents' house on the neighbor's lawn. He shot in black and white 35mm and black and white 120mm (archival shots), and in color with an SLR. My brother set up an impressive field studio with bounced flashes and diffusers. During the ceremony and reception my brother snapped away like mad, and set up a studio in a side-room from the reception where people could get portraits taken if they wanted.

WAKnight: dispensing with the silliness about not seeing each other made taking pictures a heck of a lot easier - we could take most of them before the wedding, and didn't have to tell the guests to cool their heels while we took 90 minutes with photos, or rush our pictures.

The results, as you will see in the next post, were entirely professional, and the weekend was fun and lovely.

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