A wedding is one big convention composed of a hundred small conventions: centerpieces, family portraits, wedding dresses, flowers and bouquets, rings and suits, makeup, hashtags, photo booths, registries, invitations, cakes, wine, hors d’oeuvres, and dinner, to name a few. How can a couple in the midst of wedding-planning steel themselves against a day that can skew dated, formulaic, and at times impersonal?
Audrey Gelman’s nuptials were the first I ever digitally browsed that felt as if the various conventions had been co-opted and customized to her, rather than vice versa. By mixing the traditional with the eclectic and displaying a firm sense of aesthetic self-awareness, elements of the wedding looked like none I’d ever seen before: Gelman’s bridesmaids wore bespoke J. Crew, her invitations (designed by a friend) hinted at the future of The Wing’s distinct brand identity, and her dress complemented her tattoos rather than hiding them.
Wondering about how best to subvert and improve tired traditions, I asked 16 imaginative minds how they would, or did, put a spin on the customary run-of-show. This group of food stylists, boutique owners, sommeliers, editors, designers, and cartoonists proved that limitations often encourage optimum creativity.
On Getting Dressed
“I think I had the easiest wedding-dress shopping experience ever: I tried on a single dress at Dover Street Market, and I ordered it in white the next day. Part of this is due to the fact that before I went out hunting in the wild, I approximated roughly what I would want: something true to my love of Victorian clothing, big sleeves, enough room to show off some accessories, and short! I tried not to put too much pressure on myself to think ‘WEDDING’ and instead put together an outfit that just made me feel beautifully and quintessentially myself. There’s really no such thing as a timeless dress—in a couple decades, some aspect of whatever you choose to wear will look dated. Focus instead on what will make you feel happy and confident on the big day, because that’s when you’ll actually be wearing it! Also, others have certainly said this before but: Ready-to-wear designer dresses in white or pastel colors tend to be much less expensive and much more stylish than anything available at designated bridal stores.”
“Neither of us could commit to a ring design in the traditional timeline (i.e., pre-marriage)—lifetime interpersonal commitment, yes! Lifetime commitment to jewelry representing that lifetime commitment? No! We opted for custom lockets by Arielle de Pinto instead. Each held a photo of the other, plus another image that felt representative of our relationship in our own way. Later, we each swapped out for a pic of our daughter. We are now, at close to 10 years, about to dive in to the rings, which will be made by Quarry.
I wanted to get my husband a wedding gift, so I commissioned one of our best friends, the artist Aaron Flint Jamison, to make a piece of furniture. It turned out to be a small vitrine, so that my husband can display different artifacts or sketch out ideas for exhibition in a very intimate way. The night I presented it to him, I woke up to find him alone in the living room just staring at it. One of my best memories.”
On the Open Bar
“We do Helen’s interactive wine bars at weddings all the time: the wedding has two bars but wine and booze are separate, which allows guests to choose from 6-8 different wines including orange wine, pet nats, champagne… ranging from the usual to the unique, instead of being trapped with the typical tableside, shitty red or white. Good wine doesn’t have to be expensive.
At the end of the wedding, bust out a Sicilian tradition: serve everyone Spaghettata, pour magnums of a chilled light red, and then tell everyone to get the fuck out.”
“Our invitation was an eight-page zine that folded out into a poster. We consulted so many NY Art Book Fair zines we’d collected over the years to come up with the perfect format. After we made a prototype, we walked around Chinatown trying to hire takeout menu printers to make them for us but they just laughed at us.
My husband doesn’t drink, but I didn’t want him to feel left out, so I named a cocktail ‘Paul’s Favorite Whiskey.’ It was a tumblr of ginger ale over ice that came with a little straw which guests were instructed to throw on the floor and then sip all night pretending it was whiskey.”
“One of my favorite things about my wedding is something I didn’t actually get to experience. We got married in Austin in late April, and since it was already so hot, we had a little station making tequila lime snow cones for guests as they arrived. I was sequestered, but I heard it was great!
One other thing we did that I loved was have like 15 disposable cameras out the night before and the night of the wedding. Those photos are INSANE, hilarious, and terrific. I really treasure them.
Years before our wedding, we went to some friends’ wedding and they had the best music. A bunch of our friends are really, really into music, and they had their pals host one-hour DJ sets rather than get someone to do the whole thing. It was at the Bowery Hotel and it was the best dance party ever. I wish we had done something similar, our DJ was…not excellent.”
On the Tablescape
“Paper crowns are great for a smaller wedding or an intimate rehearsal dinner or shower. I love making them because they’re somewhere between drawing and sculpture, they’re both elegant and funny, and they’re sort of fashion-adjacent, which is exactly where I like to operate. They’re great for weddings for so many reasons:
1. They transform the room! Like flowers, they bring color and volume and charm.
2. Guests treasure them and bring them home to display them in their bookcases / perch them atop their lamps (not recommended, fire hazard).
3. They are extremely photogenic and elicit selfies from the most modest of people.
4. They double as place cards or escort cards.
5. They make everyone feel extremely special.”
“Our eco plates made from wood fiber, bamboo and sugarcane are as beautiful as any ceramic tableware, but disposable and inexpensive, leaving budget for other fabulous decorative touches, like dried flower clouds seen at this year’s Milan Design Week.”
“My good friend and collaborator Hallie Bateman got married this year, and commissioned me to make 20 ceramic centerpieces for the reception—there were five shapes and four colors, so each was unique but they all made sense as a collection. After the wedding—where they were filled with sunflowers by Hallie’s close friend and floral designer, Alice Medland—Hallie gave one to each of her bridesmaids, which I thought was a really smart way to rethink the tradition of both centerpieces and bridesmaid’s gifts. The bridesmaids each got to literally take home part of the wedding, and Hallie had one less set of things to buy.”
On the Ever-Polarizing Wedding Dinner and Dessert
“We often talk about having the food at our wedding have some kind of connection to our relationship, to be made up of stuff we’ve actually eaten together.
Depending on your tastes and budget, it might not be so much more to ask a restaurant you love provide the food on your big day. Here in New York, we fantasize about having a reception catered by our favorite restaurant Superiority Burger, with pastries and cakes by Burrow.”
“No one needs individual fish wrapped in parchment. This is a celebration for you and your partner; serve what you love. Think of it as the most epic dinner party you will ever host. Obsessed with shrimp cocktail? Create an epic tower. Been engaged to pizza for 10 years? Schedule a casual 11:30 p.m. slice drop. Love dim sum? Take over a dim sum restaurant and have a rager. Let’s face it, most of the fancy coursed-out stuff sucks, so keep it family style, and I promise no one will miss the deviled eggs or broiled salmon.”
“Our New Orleans wedding was more like a daytime garden party than a traditional wedding program, and it really mattered to me that our food was both delicious and a reflection of our life there. I had discovered and fallen in love with a mom ‘n’ pop fried chicken shack in my neighborhood when I needed a metric ton of fried chicken for work (I’m a food stylist in film and television), and since fried chicken is both very New Orleans and my favorite food, it seemed right that we chose them to feed our army of wedding guests. They also provided us with homemade coleslaw. We used PA friends instead of cater waiters, because we wanted a friendlier touch, and I knew they’d do a bang-up job since lolling about at your friend’s wedding handling trash is WAY easier than PAing.
Cutting the cake was the single wedding party tradition we stopped the festivities for, but to do it we had a small cake made by a friend for only us, and everyone else had carrot cake cupcakes that my mother’s BFF made, froze, packed in a carry-on suitcase from Los Angeles, and iced at their Airbnb the night before the wedding. People still tell me how relaxed and perfect our wedding was, and to this day everyone in my family refers to the chicken from McHardy’s as ‘wedding chicken.’”
“I think cooking en masse and being exceptional is really hard to do! Here’s what I have to say: order pizzas. If you’re in New York (or Philly, or Chicago, or New Haven even) there is no reason why you shouldn’t just order a million pizzas for your guests, and then go crazy on the cake of your dreams. And if you go the pizza route, you have more time to spend on bakery research to get to the good stuff. May I suggest starting with Margherita Missoni’s raspberry tart?”
“At our wedding we served a cheese course at dessert, big wooden planks with dramatic portions of cheese. It was more than people could eat in one sitting, so we had the leftovers wrapped up in wax paper nicely and handed to guests as party favors.
At Colombian weddings they serve cups of brothy soup to guests on the dance floor in the wee hours of the morning. It’s a fortifying snack that sits so much better the next morning than late night junk food ever could.”
“I once had to track down somebody to make a very custom wedding cake, and none of the wedding cake bakeries I approached would do it because they all had really strict cake templates that allowed them to churn out giant, expensive, cookie-cutter cakes, and that was it for them. Luckily I found Lani Halliday, a super-talented baker who specializes in all sorts of cakes—not just weddings—and she was much more open to building something from the ground up and completely knocked it out of the park.
Right now I’m working on a wedding cake for a friend that’s meant to look like a sculptural mishmash of different styles of wedding cake all piled on top of each other, and I’m talking to someone else about doing a giant jell-o shot installation. Think about what kind of party you’d really want to go to, not about what’s going to look the most like a Pinterest board.
If you’re not crazy about champagne (a lot of people aren’t!), toast with your favorite beer instead.”
On the Projectiles
“Why throw rice—causing everyone in their picture-perfect hairdos to have instant dandruff—when you could throw literally anything else! Fresh mint, for example, would smell nice and eventually decompose (like marriage!). Dice would be fun, and slightly painful (like marriage). Mardi gras beads, with the requirement that both the bride and groom have to show their tits—would be festive and sexy (like, well, you know). Or knives, but the couple are both magicians so they make them turn into doves mid-throw. Now that’s a wedding I’d fly across the country for.”
Feature photo and donut tower by Emily Marshall-Garrett.