In the late 1990s, during my college years in Boston, Mass., I worked at a historic, city club that was a popular wedding venue. These weddings were fancy and beautiful, and in my opinion, boring — similar room set-ups, similar plated dinners, similar cakes. They were devoid of any personality.

A little more than ten years later in 2010, my husband, Roger, and I planned our wedding. I remembered those Boston weddings and knew that I wanted something more interesting, more memorable. Luckily, personalization was becoming a popular wedding trend. Couples were moving away from some wedding traditions like plated dinners and wedding cakes, instead choosing to incorporate unique and meaningful details into their special days.

Roger and I married at a casual, relaxed event. We selected a Yadkin Valley winery, Sanders Ridge, for our ceremony and reception venue. I wore a simple, tea length dress and fabulous, colorful shoes. The winery’s tasting room was set cocktail style with smaller tables and couches to encourage mingling and dancing, and we chose tapas-style food stations and a dessert station in lieu of a cake. We ignored tradition when it didn’t mesh with our vision and focused our time and money on things that mattered to us, like the food and beverage.

In the past decade, couples have continued to push wedding personalization limits. Cupcakes had a moment, rustic was chic and décor was designed with social media in mind. Recently, anything goes when it comes to venues; dresses aren’t always white or even always dresses; puppies sometimes replace flower bouquets; colors are bold; and food trucks are commonplace at receptions.

Then 2020 happened, disrupting wedding plans and forcing couples to either postpone their special days or adapt to ever-changing conditions. However, it was also an opportunity for couples to scale down and consider what really mattered to them. As we enter 2021, it’s hard to say if or how weddings will continue to look different. And, yet, I believe personalization is here to stay! Read on for my take on some recent wedding trends and suggestions for how to incorporate these into your wedding. My advice: be true to you.

Interesting Venues

In 2020, shrinking guest lists allowed couples to consider all sorts of spaces — parks, breweries and distilleries, favorite restaurants, bowling alleys and others. Are you both big readers? How about a library wedding? Did you first connect over coffee? Rent out a coffee shop. Are you outdoorsy and fond of hiking? How about a destination wedding to your favorite trail?

Why restrict yourself to traditional wedding venues; find a location that’s memorable and meaningful. Just remember to check the fire code and/or capacity restrictions before planning your guest list.

Dressing Up

Queen Victoria popularized the white wedding dress in 1840, and brides have followed suit for over a century. If you want a white wedding dress, go for it. If you want to wear pink, green, leopard print or — gasp — pants, go for it. I also love the idea of reworking a vintage dress — maybe your mother’s or grandmother’s dress — into something new and one-of-a-kind. The main thing is to find something special that you also feel comfortable wearing (and that passes the sit test).

Speaking of comfort, I hope matchy-matchy bridesmaids’ dresses are a thing of the past. Consider coordinating, not matching attire for your wedding party. Additionally, if you truly want your attendants to wear the outfit again, let them choose something that suits their individual styles. This is especially key as more couples have best friends of both genders serve as attendants.

Mismatched Everything

Don’t limit mismatching to attire. Consider mismatched but coordinated seating, tableware, linens and more for a fresh, unique look. Choose a color or style and work from there — such as different chairs and/or couches in a similar color palette for ceremony seating, mismatched china in a variety of floral patterns, or table cloths in different shades of blue. This will also make it considerably easier to source items for your wedding and/or reception.

Food for Thought

Chicken, beef or fish? Those were the de rigueur wedding menu selections for many years — all accompanied by the same vegetable and starch. Yawn! Today’s wedding menus, however, often combine food traditions from the couple’s backgrounds. For example, at my wedding, there was an Asian-themed food station, because I grew up working in a Chinese restaurant and Chinese is my comfort food, and one featuring southern-inspired bites to honor Roger’s food traditions. We were lucky to work with a chef who created a diverse menu, and the variety let our guests customize their plates.

A signature cocktail and unique desserts are two other ways to personalize your menu. I love the idea of a signature cocktail — it’s the perfect representation of how marriage is a blending of two individuals to create something new and special. As for desserts, while I find it fascinating that wedding cakes, in one form or another, have been around since the ancient world, I didn’t want a wedding cake because:

At those previously mentioned Boston weddings, the pastry chef made the cakes weeks in advance. Gross!

Wedding cakes are already expensive, and then sometimes you have to pay to have it cut and served. No thanks!

Instead, we had a dessert station with seasonal fresh fruit, gourmet chocolates, mini bread puddings and crème brûlées. Cupcakes are an alternative to a traditional wedding cake, but I think they’ve had their day. Instead, consider petits fours, macarons or other bite-sized sweets.

Do Me a Favor

Skip the wedding favors. Unless it’s consumable, like locally sourced honey, or really useful, like hand sanitizer (hello 2020), chances are good that your guests will “forget” to take them home. Roger and I created CDs with featured songs from our wedding. We thought this was creative and fun. Spoiler alert, we were left with a bunch of CDs.

I suggest rerouting those funds elsewhere; however, if you feel that you must have a favor, as mentioned above, consumables are a good choice as well as small succulents, charitable donations and carbon offsets.

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Considers life to be one big anthropological field experience. She observes and reports. She enjoys travel, food and wine and adventures with her husband, Roger.

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