15 Wedding Dos and Don’ts

At a friend’s bridal shower recently, we all went around the room sharing our best bits of wedding planning advice. What would you do again? What would you do differently? (My advice = have a glass of wine before the ceremony!) It was so much fun to hear people’s stories that I thought we should do it, too. Here are 15 great pointers from 14 brides — and one groom! — who’ve learned from their experiences…

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“We asked each of our parents to share a piece of marriage advice during the ceremony. We were all crying. When it was my mom’s turn, everyone laughed as she proceeded to unfurl a giant scroll of parental advice (a prop she had brought with her). But the takeaway is that both couples have been married for 30+ years and there will be good years and hard years, and that love and laughter will help you weather it all. – Courtney (and Zach)


“Pick a short song to dance to. As someone with a low threshold for embarrassment, slow dancing in front of friends and family for more than 30 seconds is by definition a mortifying experience. Fortunately, we chose both a short and cool song (Yves Montand’s Autumn Leaves) and a savvy DJ, who subtly faded out the song early for us.” — Susan (and Rob)


“Consider inviting more than just your mom or dad to walk the aisle with you. It was important for us to show our community that we had the support of our families and that we were two families merging to make one. So, we had both families walk hand-in-hand as a united line.” — Colt (and Dustin)


“Do get a video. We poo-pooed the whole idea of a video, saying ‘We’ll never watch it!’ But now I would give anything — anything — to have a video of my late father walking me down the aisle, and the speeches, which were magical and just so funny and emotional… And I wish my kids could see it, too.” — Gemma (and Fox)


“Also, take silly photos with your bridal party, like this one.” — Gemma (and Fox)

15 Wedding Do's and Don'ts

“If you’re on a budget, don’t go crazy on the flowers. I worked with a miserable wedding planner, who told me the only thing I could get for $15 a table was an ugly bud vase with a carnation and a ribbon. Taking a tip from a recent wedding I had been to, I got my brother to pick up orchids from the Trader Joe’s in Tucson for $12 a pop. Ha! They were simple and pretty and didn’t cost an arm and a leg.” — Amy (and Ana)


“At the end of an already amazing night of dancing, my husband David and his friends took the stage to perform a few of my favorite songs. He and his friends are musicians, and they had practiced for months. It was a total mix of stuff — Queen, Def Leppard, The Rolling Stones. But the best part was when David got on the mic and said ‘OK, everyone, I don’t mean to interrupt the fun times and dancing, but I have to get serious for a moment to express how I really feel about Kavi…”, paused for suspense, and then they broke into ‘Shake Señora’ by Harry Belafonte and we all went nuts. Best time ever!” — Kavi (and David)


“I wanted my bridesmaids to be really comfortable and just feel like themselves, so we decided on cream for a color and then everyone went out and picked their own dresses. They were bought from all over (Zara, Topshop, Etsy) and it was also really fun to yay or nay the bajillion choices in the resulting bridesmaid email thread. This one? Too short? Too much cleavage? …Not enough cleavage?Diana (and Anton)


“And if you’re a nail-biter (like me) have a gel manicure just before the wedding. I had bright red nails, which I loved, and the hardy gel also prevented me from chewing my fingers when I was nervous.” — Diana (and Anton)


“Consider doing a ‘first look.’ I loved seeing Patrick alone for a moment before the ceremony. It felt magical to have that moment to ourselves before the wedding started.” — Erica (and Patrick)


“I was only 24 when I got married — throwing parties and being wild — so when people got our evite wedding invitation, they thought it was a THEME PARTY! I had about a dozen wedding crashers and people in ‘wedding theme’ clothes who joined our celebration.” — Piera (and Philippe)


“I spent so much time worrying whether or not people were enjoying themselves that I kind of forgot to enjoy myself! My advice would be this: Once you’re there, it’s done. Now’s the time to take a step back, admire all the work you put in and savor the moment. And have a drink.” — Megan (and Matt)

True Confession: My Wedding Only Looked Perfect

“Be prepared for all kinds of emotions. We planned a big wedding — which, for the most part, went well — but I didn’t anticipate how difficult and emotional it would be to navigate my families’ feelings. My parents have been divorced for 15 years and hadn’t been in the same room since their divorce.

“Six months after the ceremony, Jordy and I were talking about how a wedding isn’t necessarily this moment where both of your families come together to become one big new family. It can be more like a breaking apart, where two people come together to form a new nuclear family. If you’ve come from a challenging background, a wedding can be a wonderful moment of renewal where you get to start over with your partner. Maybe their family will become your family, and that’s great! But maybe they won’t, and that’s okay, too.”

Erica (and Jordy)


“Do whatever you’d like! I was hesitant to have a wedding (I wanted to go to City Hall) because I had never pictured a traditional wedding. So, I got strange looks when I said I wasn’t doing a first dance, wasn’t having my dad walk me down the aisle, etc. But it’s your wedding and you can do it however you want.”

Lena (and Josh)

If you’re married, what was your favorite moment of your wedding? What advice would you give to couples planning a wedding?

P.S. Would you have a friend officiate your wedding, and did you have sex on your on wedding night?

(Our wedding photos by Max Wanger. Amy’s photos by Leigh Miller Photography. All other photos courtesy of the brides and grooms)

  1. The blog is a serious eye-opener for all the couples who are about to get married. There are many good things that are worth considering like not completely relying on the wedding planner and walking down the aisle with your entire family. The pictures are perfectly defining every moment.

  2. Erin says...

    I have been married twice. Once was a big lavish affair where I knew, walking down the isle, that I was going to get a divorce. The second, was a tiny, intimate affair in a gazebo, married by the mayor (on New Year’s Eve!). My take away, from both is: get a decent photographer. We spent the money on someone FABULOUS the second time around – we only had a pre-wedding photo shoot (no all night package) and I couldn’t have been happier with the results!

  3. Dani says...

    I’ve been married twice but had 2 ceremonies with my current parter after the legalisation of same sex marriage in the uk.
    Here’s my advice.
    -don’t get too carried away on photography; but make sure you capture the important moments to you.. I overspent ridiculously the first time, have not got a single decent shot from middle one and thankfully got it spot on the 3rd time!
    – don’t compare your event to anyone else’s. Don’t think you have to do what any one else had, but fully understand that you cannot please everybody. You’ll get questioned and probed by everyone…..I learnt to be vague and change the subject by the 3rd time.. So much easier!
    – you won’t remember your shoes. I lost my first pair the same night as the wedding, wore my mother in laws sandals the 2nd time and couldn’t tell you what adorned my size 9’s the 3rd time.
    Save the $$$ for the honeymoon.
    I so ❤️ A good wedding.
    Congratulations to all brides and grooms to be.

  4. Alicia says...

    Lena, YES! Thank you! I eschewed the same traditions and still get odd looks (five years later!) when I describe my wedding. But, you know what? I don’t regret anything and I love that our day was 100% what WE wanted.

  5. Sasha says...

    The best wedding advice I have, 21 years later, is remember what’s important is your marriage. Don’t get so caught up in your wedding, it’s wonderful, but it’s one day. Focus on your partner, your marriage and the rest of your happy lives. It helps take the pressure off which dress, what flowers and cake flavor. Perspective helps happiness a lot.

  6. What got my attention in your post was this “Be prepared for all kinds of emotions”. My parents are divorced too for about 7 years and its was not easy getting them to attend my sisters wedding, couple with sigma attached to divorce in Nigeria. it was so difficult for my mother, as she has to be close around my dad through out the wedding ceremony.

  7. Rose says...

    Honestly my wedding was not how I wanted it to be. My mother, who graciously paid for the wedding, very much believes the wedding is about your guests and not about you. I wanted no kids, she told me no. I wanted a small wedding, she invited every cousin and their 5 kids a piece (most of whom I haven’t talked to in years).

    I didn’t have the wedding I wanted and every little thing was something to criticize me over. I didn’t want my husband’s friend who was flying in alone from out of state to sit with my cousin and his family who are 10 years older than him (my mom insisted that the guest, who is in finance, would provide opportunity for my cousin, who is in mining and called me an elitist over it). In the end I was counting down the days until I would be with my husband away from all the crap. The night before my wedding, which was supposed to be my last night with my mom and sister, I got yelled at until 3 am and spent my wedding day with a sore throat, baggy eyes, broken blood vessels from crying from the night before. I wish I would have eloped and I’m still upset that my only wedding was so not what I wanted or even okay.

    • Sarah Andersen says...

      Oh, Rose, it makes me so sad to read about your wedding day. Is there a possibility you and your husband can make another memory — one that is special to ONLY you two?? Maybe a trip to city hall, a romantic dinner afterwards, and then a stay at a super romantic bed and breakfast?? I hope you will get the memories you want. Look at your “first” wedding as the practice wedding!! Good luck my dear!!!

  8. I really love your tip about taking silly pictures! That seems like a great way to make memories on such a special day. My sister and her fiance are going to be getting married in a few months and we are trying to work out all the planning. We will have to keep this great advice in mind, thank you for sharing!

  9. I really like your tip about dancing to a short song. My fiance and I are working on our wedding plans right now and the dancing is kind of scaring him a bit! I think a shorter song would be awesome. We are looking into renting some tuxedos right now so maybe we should look into something that is comfortable. Thanks for the tips!

  10. This is such an amazing post with so much valuable advice on wedding planning! Thank you for sharing this!

  11. Adriana says...

    I have been married twice. The first time at 25 the second at 48. There are so many things i learned between the first and the second. The first was definitely my parent’s party. So many things that had to be done to protocol (family pictures after the ceremony, hours in a receiving line, certain time to cut the cake etc…) The second time we were paying. We got married in Mexico and 75 friends and family joined us. Everyone (from teenagers to septuagenarians) agreed that it was the best wedding ever. Why? Because it was about us and our friends. Everyone there was there because they were important people in our lives. We followed zero protocols…no pictures after the ceremony while guests waited around, no cake cutting, no receiving line, no required speeches. An amazing wedding planner who handled everything (vendors, decor, troubleshooting, everything) we trusted her completely so we could enjoy ourselves. Eating, drinking, dancing, jumping in the pool, fun, no rules and love!

  12. Katherine says...

    Figure out what kind of wedding you want (size, budget, etc) and get on the same page before you tell your families you’re engaged. It’s a very small window of time. There are bound to be fights and you and your future spouse need to be a united front before other people’s expectations intervene. If you can pay for your own wedding, you don’t have to put up with as many demands. Also – you don’t have to have bridesmaids and groomsmen. We didn’t and our friends were very grateful, especially my girlfriends.

  13. Emily says...

    Dear Joanna,

    May I know the brand of your wedding gown? I am struggling to find one for me and yours is exactly what I am looking for, simple and elegant, comfortable and classy, just beautiful.

    Thank you,

    • Christine says...

      Hi Emily — You might have found a dress already, but just in case you’re still looking, it was mentioned on another blog post that Jo went with “a silk halter dress from J.Crew.” Good luck!

  14. Jennifer says...

    I was really stressed all throughout my wedding day. I put every ounce of myself into the planning and the making of every little decorative element, and I assumed that I would relax and let myself enjoy the day. It’s heartbreaking that I can’t honestly say that I did. I am so happy to be married! And it was beautiful, and everyone told me how stunning and fun it was, but now, nine months out, I still think about how stressed I was… I wish I could have asked more friends ahead of time to complete specific things and not just “be around to help.”

    Some advice that would have made my wedding better:

    – Think in extreme detail the photos you want from your photographer, and supply a list. We got back our photos and despite paying nearly $9k for our amazing and wonderful (and famous) wedding photographer, there are some really basic things that didn’t get shot… I wish I’d been more specific, or, well, obvious!

    – PUT YOUR FOOT DOWN about the people you don’t want at your wedding. My mom was forced into adding someone last minute, and it was horrifying, and everyone told me that I wouldn’t notice the day of — but you know what — she was the one person I could see during the ceremony, and she somehow invaded my family photo! It’s your wedding day, and if you vehemently dislike someone, just throw a fit. It’s your day, and it’s not worth having the memory of some obnoxious 70 year old woman getting in the way of a day that should only be about love, family, and true friends.

    – NO KIDS. I put my foot down with my mom, but still, she let my cousins bring their kids. They were disruptive on the dance floor. I love these kids, but they got in the way. Every thing I said would happen, did. A baby cried during the ceremony. Beg the parents to leave them at home. It’s an adult party. Simple as that.

    – Reread your vows to each other on your honeymoon. My husband and I did that, and it was so special. The wedding goes by so fast… remind yourselves why you’re on this honeymoon! They are such precious words, and it feels great to repeat them.

    – Eat plenty of food, and DO NOT drink too much. 1 drink at the cocktail hour, 2 glasses of champagne at the reception. You don’t need alcohol to enjoy this day, I promise. And no one loves a sloppy bride!

  15. Jenny says...

    Find a moment, when your guests are mingling but you’re not there yet (like before your reception.) Peak in on your guests, look around, notice how everyone is having a good time….for you. It’s a rare moment when people are celebrating your union and loving on this amazing thing you’ve just done. The guests are all about you and really only want the best for you and your spouse for the years ahead. Soak it all in, enjoy the love!

    I was given this advice right before my wedding. I followed it to a t – and am so thankful for it! (Can’t remember who told me this though!) I don’t remember most of my day but I do remember this special moment when John and I looked at 153 guests and realized that everyone truly celebrating our marriage! Awesome, amazing memory!

  16. Natalie says...

    I just got married last weekend and despite the inevitable things that didn’t go *exactly* to plan… I can only describe it as the most perfectly imperfect day of my life because it was.

    I think I have two favorite parts:
    The first was exchanging vows privately with my now husband the morning of our wedding. No pressure, no anxiety, just the two of us telling each other why and how much we love one another.
    The second was doing my own makeup. I have always loved makeup and it had a calming effect on me that day. I got to choose exactly how I looked and enjoyed some time to myself before walking down the aisle to our romantic and rainy ceremony.

  17. Rosalind says...

    Take a few moments during the day to look around and soak it all in, best advice I got as most brides say the day flew and they don’t remember much! I remember a lot! Do your own thing, be yourself. Get a non-family member (& not necessarily a guest) to come and help on the morning of the wedding especially if you are getting ready from home – to do all the little things like make food, remind you to drink, so helpful.

  18. Seeing my husband for the first time during the Chinese tea ceremony was my favourite…. and try planning most things yourself, not only would you save a lot of dollars, most things would be just to your taste!

  19. Suzie says...

    We got drunk… Blind drunk, danced like idiots and had the most fabulous time. One awesome piece of advise I can offer future Grooms is do your speeches before dinner. My husband decided to do this after he was best man a few years earlier and nervously pushed his dinner around and didn’t eat a bite. At our wedding after the speeches were out the way the men were able to enjoy the gorgeous food with relief that bit was all over. Some of our close friends have followed suit and said it was the best thing they did. X

  20. Jill says...

    Thanks so much for the advice on the video, I have been going back and forth on whether or not to get one. All of the points on getting one are all things that have crossed my mind. Signing the contract and not thinking about the money anymore! :)

  21. Cora says...

    A few thoughts: hire people you like. You will be spending a lot of time and money planning with them, they should be people you enjoy. Don’t be afraid to do what feels right to you. We got married in a beach community that was special to us in a public park. People had to car pool and stand for the ceremony (or bring their own chair). In lieu of favors we sent everyone out for ice cream at a local place between the ceremony and reception. People still talk about the ice cream almost 10 years later.

  22. I completely agree about getting a video even if you think it will be silly. (Of course, all this stuff has come a long way in the last few years; everyone seems to have gorgeous “movie” wedding videos now.) That was the place we decided to save money, and I really wish we had a real video. A family friend shot a few things on her camcorder (this was 2006), and as shaky and incomplete as that is, it’s a treasure. There’s a glimpse of my late father-in-law (who died suddenly a week later while we were on our honeymoon) booming out a hymn in his amazing bass during the ceremony, and bits of many other beloved family members who have since died.

    Also don’t peg all your “splurge” hopes on one thing! I eked out a lovely wedding on a tight budget but splurged out on my dream cake and it ended up getting melted by a faulty heater in the delivery van. It was still delicious, but hardly the perfect centerpiece I’d counted on!

    Finally, I am SO glad we hired a day-of wedding coordinator. We didn’t have a wedding planner, but the day-of lady saved us in a million ways and meant we could just enjoy the party instead of dealing with crises throughout the day! We didn’t have people bugging us about details (“The maitre d’ was fired this afternoon!” “The valets didn’t show up!”); everyone went to her and we didn’t even know about the stuff that was happening behind the scenes. I had a bridesmaid who was a fierce defender of my day, as well–without my knowing she swooped in and intercepted anyone who DID try to come ask me about logistical stuff.

  23. Paige says...

    We kayaked away from our reception because it was at a yacht club. it was so fun to come out of the bathroom in our bathing suits for the last dance then walk down the dock and paddle away!

  24. TC says...

    My post-wedding advice: don’t do a morning-after brunch. We lived in San Francisco and all of our family and many of our friends had to fly in from out of state. We felt obligated to continue entertaining them, so we had a brunch the next day at our house — big mistake! Not only did it suck having to get up early, but we were also super hungover. Don’t feel guilty — let your family and friends feed themselves.

  25. Melissa says...

    I am getting married in just under two weeks (10/17!) It has been so fun to read through all of these comments. Honestly, the whole wedding process has not been nearly as fun as I may have expected. So many decisions are put on the bride and I have frequently felt bullied. Nonetheless, I can’t wait for our magical day! All of the stress just has to be worth it, ha!

    That being said, my advice is like many others. Stick to your gut. With all of the love and respect I have for my parents (mother, step father, and father) I knew that I would feel uncomfortable being walked down the aisle. I stuck to it and I’m walking alone because I want to be truly happy on my day and not feel that I gave in to everything that everyone else wanted. There have definitely been compromises but if you feel strongly that there are things you can’t compromise on, don’t! Those feelings are there for a reason, but expect follow up questions and reactions.

    Also, I have felt pretty guilty about how much money even our backyard wedding is (wishing we stuck to the super casual wedding we had planned.) It definitely got away from us. But you are only a bride once so buy the lingerie you want! Little treats for yourself along the way can remind you that your wedding day is special and it is for celebrating you and your person. There is no better party than one that celebrates love.

  26. My husband and I choose our favorite cookbook, Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, as our guestbook. We provided archival pens, and a note asking people to choose a recipe and leave us a message. Throughout these three years we have enjoyed reaching for that book to reference a recipe for dinner, only to have family and friends in the kitchen with us.

    • This is a genius idea.

    • Nikki says...


  27. I put a social media blackout on my wedding, which my very internet-tuned friends followed. It allowed me to relax and let my wedding happen in a safe bubble, away from the “flash-flash-flash” of cameras, etc. My photos are filled with grinning faces, not the backs of iPhones during our first dance. Everyone was present. It felt so safe, and my photographer was able to capture stellar shots without interruption.

    I’m a wedding photographer myself, so I know the difference!

    • Lauren says...

      Hey Amber, Can I ask how you did that? That sounds like an amazing idea, but I’m not sure how you would get all to comply. Thanks!!

    • Mara says...

      I second this request! My fiance and I really want to do this, but most of our friends/family obsessively take pictures of themselves (and sometimes others) at weddings. It’s very distracting. I can see putting a note on the wedding website and in the invitation, but who reminds people onsite?

  28. jamie says...

    we had a small wedding at an old schoolhouse and we had it in the morning and i loved it. we started with a poem outside with the guests and my husband and i went in the schoolhouse first, followed by our family, and then the guests. i loved this because we were able to see our community who gathered for this special day. i say feel free to skip whatever wedding traditions feel forced and choose to celebrate so that you’re the most comfortable.

  29. a guest at our wedding noticed the guest book (not something that was important to me but my sister bought a cute book on a whim so i went with it) and passed it around the room during dinner. best idea ever!!

  30. These are such unique ideas and takes on the ‘traditional’ wedding I love it!


  31. Anna says...

    Good advice!
    Only surprised to hear that so many people are still being walked down the aisle. In my country, the church/priests discourage you. My dad would also not be comfortable doing that, and I would certainly not want him too. I’m not his to give away!

  32. Haha this post comes just three weeks after my wedding. And reading through it confirmed that I wouldn’t do a single thing differently. My uncle walked me down the aisle since my father’s dead. I had multiple tributes to my dad throughout my wedding, including a bit of one of his blue shirts cut into a heart and sewn into the inside of my dress. We did a mash-up for our first dance, which we totally nailed and people are still talking about it. We didn’t have a wedding planner and did every minute thing ourselves, which nearly killed as as we got married in South Africa but planned it from Australia (also neither of us had ever been to South Africa), but it made it that much more personal for us and that much more special. We had guests sign a custom-made map of the world (thank you Etsy) instead of a guest book. The seating chart was accompanied by a polaroid camera and guests had to replace their names with a selfie (thank you Pinterest). I wore fuchsia coloured shoes and my groom didn’t wear a jacket. We didn’t have a head table, instead sat by ourselves with our guests down two long tables on either side of us, in a “U” shape, kind of. And on the other side of the table from us we had two empty chairs which we named the “chat chairs”, and guests came and sat in them throughout the reception and chatted with us. Dinner was served banquet style. After the ceremony we had ten minutes together alone to absorb the fact that we were now man and wife, and I walked down the isle to musicians playing “Here Comes the Sun”. We wrote our own vows and the entire thing was just the best day ever.

  33. Megan says...

    NYC City Hall! A fabulous, fun, low stress, extremely cheap wedding day. Not for everyone, but perfect for us. As for advice to brides and grooms to be? Enjoy the process….hopefully, you will only do it once!

  34. Leah says...

    Yes to the video. It was a last minute decision for me and something I treasure now. Also, yes to seeing my groom beforehand. I was a nervous wreck until I saw him. My Catholic church had a tradition of the bride & groom greeting guests as they entered and my guests all said they loved it. I also hand wrote my invitations – small wedding – about 100 invites, but to this day, 15 years later, I still have people comment that they had never felt so wanted at a wedding.

  35. This post is perfectly timed for me! I’m getting married next Saturday, (10/10!) and I’m starting to panic about little details. We’ve been engaged for 10 months and I’ve been steadily preparing and thinking over every detail for our 200+ person backyard reception to prevent stress right now. But now our family’s stress about the day is now affecting me! I’ve been reading through all the tips and the comments and it’s helping me to focus so much :) Thank you!!