Down the aisle in grand style: Couples find fresh ways to customize their big day

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Summer is winding down, but bridal season is far from over.

While historically couples reserved their “I dos” for the warm-weather months, autumn and spring are gaining traction as go-to wedding seasons, according to experts with The Knot, a wedding planning website. And this isn’t the only tradition brides and grooms are transforming. Where they’re getting married, who’s officiating and how they’re celebrating all are evolving, giving couples more chances to pepper their big day with their likes and personalities.

“What was always done, now people are bucking those trends and doing their own things,” says Lauren Kay, style editor for The Knot.

Setting the SEEN: Wedding gowns galore

SEEN editor Natalie Bencivenga and style editor Sara Bauknecht explore the wonderful world of wedding dresses at Glitter & Grit bridal boutique in Lawrenceville. (Video by Nate Guidry; edited by Melissa Tkach; 8/15/2014)

According to the website’s annual Real Weddings Study, which surveyed nearly 13,000 brides and grooms in the United States married last year, more couples want their wedding to be an experience for their guests with after parties at a nearby restaurant or lounge, alternative forms of entertainment (think acrobats, photo booths and throwback bands) and post-wedding brunches. But they’re not cutting costs to do it.

“Couples are spending more money on their weddings than in quite some time,” Ms. Kay says, with the average wedding (excluding the honeymoon) costing nearly $30,000, according to The Knot’s study. Spending per guest also is on the rise.

“Everyone’s a little more flashy this year,” says floral designer and event stylist Bill Chisnell of Bill Chisnell Productions, adding that he’s noticed an influx in weddings with 300, 400 or more guests. 

For the ceremony, more couples are forgoing religious institutions, and fewer are hiring a professional ceremony officiant. Instead, many tap a family member or close friend to officiate.

Brides are being a bit bolder with their style senses, too. Shorter trains, less beading and more lace and texture, as well as higher necklines and more playfulness with accent colors are some of the trends brides are gravitating toward, says Monte Durham of TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta.” Crop tops paired with flowing skirts is another combination that’s been spotted on the runway at Bridal Market in New York City, Ms. Kay says.

For those who can’t decide between two or three looks, why not opt for all of them? Some brides are going with a fuller gown for the ceremony, then switching to something shorter or slimmer for the reception. But if multiple gowns are not in the budget, switching up accessories from one event to the next is another way to freshen up her fashion. Diversifying bridesmaids’ gowns also is becoming more common, either by dressing them in similar silhouettes but in different colors or vice versa. 

Even bouquets present possibilities for personalization. Brooch bouquets have been around for a while but recently have popped up at some high-profile weddings in the region. They allow brides to mix heirloom and vintage pins with artificial flowers (or they can be all pins) for an arrangement that can double as a keepsake. For the crafty bride, Pinterest and websites like The Knot offer inspirations for these unique bouquets or steps for how to make them at home. Artisan sites like are home to hundreds of styles for sale.

But for most brides, fresh flowers are their first choice.

“We’ve been calling this the year of the flower,” Ms. Kay says, with oversized bouquets and elaborate floral installations hanging over a dance floor or as a backdrop at the ceremony.

At the reception, however, couples shouldn’t limit themselves to a single arrangement as the centerpiece. Instead, Mr. Chisnell suggests adding visual variety and a personal touch to tables with a collection of items of different sizes and textures, such as flowers, mercury glass and beads. Playing with different table sizes and shapes is another way couples are giving the typical reception a makeover. For many, the traditional white cake with white icing is a thing of the past, too.

“Now it’s like milkshakes and cookies and petit fours,” Mr. Chisnell says. Some who do crave a cake go for one with multiple layers of flavors, he says, to satisfy all sorts of taste buds.

Technology also is changing how people celebrate. In some cases, guests are treated to charging stations and are encouraged to use a custom hashtag when posting wedding photos to social media sites, Ms. Kay says. Others want people to limit cell phone use.

“It really depends totally on the couple,” she says.

Sara Bauknecht: or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.

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