Advice for Engaged Couples from Wedding Experts

wedding photo

To many people’s surprise, this year (2018) I will celebrate 13 years of marriage. I married my college sweetheart a week after graduation and it couldn’t have been a better decision. We are perfect for each other and couldn’t be happier after 16 years of being together.

Our wedding, while large, was very low budget and honestly that was a blessing for me. I was a senior in college trying to finish up my journalism degree, find a job, and plan a wedding. No budget for me meant just focusing on the things that were really important to me, and focusing on us.

To me, the important things were venue — as much as I would have loved to do it outside we found a gorgeous all white church and had a candlelit evening ceremony. I also just wanted to love my dress. No problem there, I knew exactly what I wanted and it was one of the first dresses I found. And I wanted a good photographer that captured candid photos. We hired a grad student who wanted to be a wedding photographer. Also I had just turned 22, and weddings (in the Midwest) were totally different when I got married. I also didn’t have a website or any social media (besides the early days of Facebook) to share photos on, so a lot of the details that matter to people now, didn’t matter to me at all.

When I moved to DC I (randomly) became friends with a lot of women who work in the wedding/events industry. And man did I get an education on weddings. WOW. It is just a whole different ballgame now and here in Washington DC. The venues are insane, the budgets are even more insane, and the details. It’s all in the details. These weddings are gorgeous, amazing, and I’m just waiting to get invited to one so I can see it all in action!

A lot of the women I’m talking about are repeatedly featured in the most notable wedding magazines, local magazines, and huge wedding websites. They are talented business women who you could absolutely trust with your most precious day.

So since engagement season (the holidays) just wrapped up, I thought it would be fun to Ask the Wedding Experts for some advice for all of you who are newly engaged! Do you see a theme here — Wedding Experts, Beauty Experts… I’m doing a series with experts! Next up is Mom Experts (because I’m obviously not an expert in weddings or being a mom!).

So today we have seven ladies who have been professionals in the wedding industry for years who will be giving their best advice to engaged couples, not to mention they have some CREDS! They are:

Laura Ritchie of Grit & Grace — Voted Top Wedding Planner and named The Most Powerful Women in Washington by the Washingtonian, and has been featured in Martha Stewart Weddings.

Abby Jiu of Abby Jiu Photography — Published regularly in national magazines such as Martha Stewart Weddings, and named a top photographer by Martha Stewart Weddings.

Jeannette Tavares of Evoke — Named Top 30 Planners Under 40 by Special Events Magazine, and had her own wedding published in Martha Stewart Weddings.

Bonnie Sen of Bonnie Sen Photography — Met and photographed President Obama and White House Photographer Pete Souza during a wedding.

Melissa Schwartz Jones of Georgetown Bride — Has countless celebrity clients, lead makeup for the Mara Hoffman show at fashion week, and has worked with Annie Leibovitz.

Astrid Woltering of Astrid Photography — Voted Top DC Wedding Photographer by Washingtonian Bride & Groom Magazine, and has been published in Town & Country.

Claire Ashley of Claire Ashley Beauty — Has over 180,000 followers on her YouTube channel, and is TLC’s online beauty host.

wedding photo - astrid photography

What’s the biggest mistake you see people make when they plan a wedding?

JeannetteRushing. It is an important day and weekend. Many guests travel in for the weekend to celebrate with you! It is important that you think through each and every step carefully. At EVOKE, we plan through the guest experience starting from when guests land at the airport. This allows for the weekend to be seamless for you and the guests which leads to a remarkable, stress-free, and fun weekend!

Bonnie — The biggest mistake I see is when people don’t have a big picture, cohesive vision for their day. Sometimes I’ll see a barn wedding with a glamorous ballgown style dress, or I’ll see an invitation suite that doesn’t match the rest of the wedding reception decor. If you’re not sure about your personal style as a couple and are planning on hiring a wedding planner (which I highly recommend) then it’s fine to wait for their help before looking at wedding details. As a photographer I’m trying to tell the story of your wedding and your relationship in a visually cohesive way, and it’s usually helpful when the content works all together.

Claire — When you’re planning your wedding it is vital to get everything in writing. There are a lot of moving pieces during the engagement stage, so when you’re establishing relationships with different vendors you want to make sure that all communication is crystal clear on both ends. This includes everything from when payments are due, what time they show up, what their cancellation policy is, etc. When everything is in writing and when there is a contract it lessens any potential risk leading up to your wedding day and gives you overall peace of mind. Trust me!

Abby — There’s so much to learn after you get engaged. It is a very exciting time, but since most people aren’t planning a wedding everyday there is a whole world out there to navigate. It’s all about making the pieces of the puzzle fit. Whether it be budget, guest count, etc. I highly recommend couples hire a wedding planner to help you navigate it all.

Laura — The biggest mistake we see when couples plan a wedding is not taking into account their headcount vs. budget first and foremost. Your headcount is the cornerstone to your event and affects so much more than just the food. It changes the venue options, quantity of centerpieces, and more importantly how far you can stretch your dollar. Weddings are expensive and thinking you can invite 300 people with a budget better suited for 100 people is going to put a damper on the planning at every turn.

Melissa — From a beauty perspective, I’d say waiting until the last minute to take care of yourself. How do you want to look and feel on your wedding day? Whether it’s 10 pounds lighter, sun kissed, more blonde, less blonde, or just fresh and well rested….don’t try to pull it all off the week before the wedding. Nothing is worse than being cranky from crash dieting, orange from a spray tan gone wrong, or just not feeling beautiful on your wedding day.

Astrid — The biggest mistake I see when couples are planning a wedding is not taking their timeline (especially sunset) into consideration. If you want to have your bride and groom portraits taken during the day with natural light, then having a ceremony starting at sunset isn’t going to work unless you do a First Look.

abby jiu photo - wedding table

What’s your best general advice for someone when planning a wedding?

Laura — My best advice for couples planning a wedding would be to invest in a wedding planner. I know I know it sounds obvious coming from me but this is an investment in your time, money, and sanity for the months or year ahead. Planners…specifically ones that specialize in event design and planning (not just simply a day of coordinator) can not only save you some money but more importantly they aren’t going to waste your precious time on Google all day, looking at pages and pages on websites of vendors when they can probably already narrow things down for you based on your style, venue, budget, and personality. Would you buy a house without a Realtor? Maybe, but it would be a pain in the butt and tricky. Would you decorate and install major design items in your home without a professional? Maybe, but it might take double the time and you might end up $9.99-ing yourself to the same place anyway. So why leave one of the most important days of your life up to chance?

Abby — Trust the people that you hire. You want to put the effort in on the front end by choosing the best wedding team. That way on your wedding day, you can sit back, relax, and ride the wave.

Melissa — Don’t forget to enjoy the process. Coordinating, budgeting, seemingly endless details, and family pressure can leave a bride feeling overwhelmed. Time flies and the day is over in a flash! Slow down, soak it all in, ask for help, and have fun.

Claire — Ask friends and family who’ve been married about their recommendations and regrets. You can learn a lot from people who have already walked down the aisle! This is helpful for finding reliable vendors, ways to save money, and overall do’s and don’ts that you might not think of.

Astrid — You hired your vendors for a reason! Value their expertise when they are giving you advice and trust that they will do their best for you.

JeannettePersonalize it. I love when guests walk into a wedding and say things like, this is so Andrew & Katie, or I love that they included their dogs, or what a fun cocktail bar of their favorites!

Bonnie — Definitely outline your priorities as a couple, and keep referring back to them. Often friends and family will try to offer advice and say that some traditions just HAVE to happen, but it’s really completely up to you. The best weddings are personalized and have new traditions.

abby jiu photography - wedding

What’s your best advice for someone when choosing a vendors (planners/photographers/makeup artists/etc.) for your wedding?

Bonnie — Look for consistency in the style that you’re looking for, and don’t hire someone to do something completely out of their wheelhouse.

JeannetteMake a connection. These people are your dream team. They are there for YOU and your family. Choose wisely and make a connection. Don’t base your decision simply off the dollar amount. Do your research, talk to referrals, and feel that emotional connection with them!

Astrid Obviously, you want to absolutely LOVE your photographer’s work and portfolio. However, you also want a photographer you feel very comfortable with. Other than your wedding planner, you will be spending almost the entire wedding day with this person — make sure you like them as a person as much as you like their work!

Claire — I think its important for brides to be meeting with their potential wedding vendors whether its via FaceTime or for coffee. I know it’s easy to just look at their Instagram, see their beautiful work, inquire, and seal the deal. However, you’re missing out on a whole opportunity to really see if it would be a good fit. It’s a lot of money and time once you commit to a vendor, so it’s worth going the extra mile to make sure they’re absolutely perfect for you and your big day.

Laura — Look for experience, publications, reviews and if they are on any recommended lists. Price can dictate quality over someone doing this on the side and not being truly capable of handling your event. There are always new up-and-coming talent that might be a bit cheaper but if you are hearing the same pricing over and over again then you can bet that then your personal choices made on vibe, style, and personality are going to drive home a good choice or not. A great resource is the Washingtonian Bride & Groom list of vendors in the Washington DC metro area.

Melissa — “Your vibe attracts your tribe.” Sites like Pinterest and Instagram are great tools for pinpointing your vibe and leading you to your tribe. Once you narrow it down, stick with vendors who have a strong portfolio and solid reviews.

Abby — It’s all about the connection between you and your photographer. You are with your photographer the majority of the day (sometimes even more than your husband to be if you don’t do a first look). So you want to make sure you find yourself relaxed and confident in your photographer. It will result in more natural and effortless pictures. Of course, it’s also important to like the photographer’s aesthetic too!

Bonnie Sen

Any other advice you want to give newly engaged couples?

Astrid — When the actual wedding day arrives, let it all go and just enjoy your day!!

Laura — The first thing you should do is create a real guest list with addresses. Sounds less glamorous than venue searching and Pinteresting your heart out, but that guest list will be needed so many times. It’s also impossible to get all the addresses so start early, use holiday card lists as a great starting point to grab as many guest’s addresses as possible. Also, have a real talk with anyone who is participating in paying for the wedding. Knowing the real budget numbers and where the hard line in the sand is, or more wiggle room in certain spots, can help alleviate any family or money tension down the road.

Bonnie — At the end of the day it’s a big, fun, celebration — or a small celebration — but a celebration nonetheless! Even if it feel stressful at times, try to think about the the party at the end of the day!

Claire — First off, enjoy it. This precious time goes by very quickly! In the beginning, I would make a game plan placing certain markers you want to hit during your engagement whether that’s with a planner or if you’re planning on your own. There are plenty of great timelines on Pinterest to keep you on track and at a pace to where you feel like you’re on top of it. Organization in the beginning is key for setting up a successful and fun wedding planning experience.


Photos 1 and 2 by Astrid Photography, photos 3 and 4 by Abby Jiu, photo 5 by Bonnie Sen.