No two brides are the same, so their weddings should be unique as well!  After all, a wedding is a very personal celebration and an opportunity to reflect your unique hopes, dreams and beliefs. But as every bride knows, wedding dreams can be railroaded by the tastes and preferences of family members and friends.  So I’m giving you permission to make your wedding your own.  You can discover your own “wedding style” while still giving thoughtful consideration to family customs and concerns.   

To begin your “wedding style discovery,” you must first decide what type of wedding you want: a formal, semi-formal or informal wedding. Of course, your budget will greatly influence your decision. The more formal your affair, the more costly it will be by definition.

A formal wedding means that you plan on the big shebang with all the trimmings—usually 200–500 guests, a formal wedding gown with a train and veil. It also generally means the men will be in white tie or formal daywear and include four or more attendants for each of you. While the bride's dress can be the same for formal daytime or formal evening, the basic formal attire for the groom and other men in the wedding party (i.e. groomsmen, ushers, fathers) changes when it's formal daytime versus formal evening. Formal daytime wear is a morning suit, which is a cutaway coat with tails, gray pinstripe trousers, gray vest, ascot or tie. Formal evening wear is “full dress,” which is black tailcoat, matching black pants, white shirt, white vest and white tie. The groom and other men can wear a tuxedo instead of a morning suit for formal daytime or instead of “full dress” for formal evening.

A formal wedding would also include formal engraved invitations and elaborate decorations with a reception at a private club of exclusive hotel. Of course, it would have to include an orchestra for dancing as well. (I’m not making this up—this is the true definition of a “formal” wedding as defined by nearly every wedding etiquette book in print.)

If you can already feel the pinch on your pocketbook then perhaps you would like to consider something a little simpler. A semi-formal wedding has a guest list of only 100–250 people. But wedding etiquette considers it in bad taste if you wear a dress with a train at a semi-formal wedding. The men should wear black tie or conservative dark suits. If you are getting married in summer, you might get away with white dinner jackets instead. The invitations can be traditionally engraved or you could have them printed on ivory or white paper instead if you are interested in saving a little money. In a semi-formal wedding, you will have fewer attendants—no more than three each. And it would be okay to have a buffet or even an afternoon tea instead of full-course, sit-down dinner. You could also get away with a small combo or even a single musician instead of a full orchestra.

My favorite wedding style is an informal one, because it simply allows you more flexibility to focus on what is most important to you. An informal wedding can take place anywhere you would like. A small church or chapel for 50–100 of your closest friends and family can be perfect. You could wear a long or a short wedding dress or simply your favorite pretty dress. Your veil shouldn’t be longer than elbow length for an informal wedding. And you should keep your attendant to one maid or matron of honor. The groom should also choose just one man for his attendant as well. The men can wear dark conservative suits or black tie if they prefer. Your invitations can be whatever you like, including handwritten. A simple buffet or light lunch or even afternoon tea with finger foods can be served.

If a big public affair is not your style, consider an intimate wedding. An intimate wedding is a charming small affair that can take place anywhere. Most home weddings are of this warm and personal nature. Your dress for an intimate wedding should basically reflect your own personality. If it’s your first wedding, then go ahead and wear your gown. If it’s a second wedding, then a street length dress or suit makes more sense.