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.

Now, just because “etiquette” gives all these rules and regulations regarding each type of wedding, it doesn’t mean you have to follow them. They are simply suggestions. This is your day. That means you will take into consideration the opinion of those that matter to you, but in the end, you will do what your heart leads you to do.

The most important thing you can do is take some time to sit down with your fiancé and make a list of those things that are most important to each of you. Determine what is negotiable and what is not. Regardless of what the wedding planners and the retail and service providers want you to believe, there is no such thing as a perfect wedding.  And simplicity is still the ultimate sophistication, which is why I’ve written The Simple Wedding: A Faith-filled Guide to Enjoying a Stress-Free Wedding (GuidepostsBooks).

Most of us dream about our wedding day from the time we are young. In the end, the most important thing is that we feel beautiful, honored and cherished. When my husband asked me what was my most important expectation for our ceremony, I told him it was simply to feel cherished—and that part of the planning was left up to him. He met my expectations by singing to me. I can honestly say that I enjoyed my wedding day, and so did my husband, thanks to some ‘wedding style’ advance planning.

Your Wedding, Your Way

·         Consider the statement you want your wedding to make. Your wedding is not just a symbol of your love but also an expression of your personalities and what you esteem most in your relationship. Think about what you want your ceremony to say. What do you want your guests to remember about your wedding? Apply patience, persistence and creativity in devising a plan that will fulfill what both of you desire from your wedding experience.

·         Once the two of you know what you want, gather your family together. Share with your family your plans for how you want your wedding and reception to be handled. Be prepared for high emotions—the closer you get to the wedding day, the stronger the emotional attachments become. Acknowledge your families’ feelings, but confirm your stand as well as your loyalty to family. Let them know their help is appreciated, but gracefully assert yourself as the final decision maker.

·         Consider a theme. Though not necessary, a theme can make your plans easier. Whether it’s cultural, ethnic or topical such as a beach theme, it can help you focus on style. Victorian is a very popular style for weddings. This is an especially good match if you are wearing an antique gown.

·          Take advantage of the plethora of wedding resources out there. Here are a few websites I find helpful: WeddingChannel.com, ModernBride.com and The Knot.com. My new book, The Simple Wedding: A Faith-filled Guide to Enjoying a Stress-Free Wedding (GuidepostsBooks), is designed to help brides and their mothers simplify the planning process.  And you can always hire a wedding consultant—just be sure he or she belongs to The Association of Bridal Consultants.


Sharon Hanby-Robie is the resident home décor expert for QVC, Inc., an author, speaker, and television personality.  It is Sharon’s goal to “help people discover their own personal style, and to give them the confidence to move forward with making choices that make sense for their families and lifestyle.” She has been an interior designer and member of the American Society of Interior Designers for more than thirty years.  Her new book series, The Spirit of Simple Living™, is published by GuidepostsBooks.