How What We Want From Our Wedding Day Is Changing

Photographed by Megan Madden
The pandemic has accelerated engagements and postponed weddings – an all-round bad combination. Couples caught up in this upheaval are still wondering how to plan for less than certain 2022 ceremonies, many of us already burned by multiple rearrangements. Enquiries for 'runaway weddings' in the UK are thought to have trebled during the pandemic, while Google searches for 'elopement' reached an all-time high earlier this year.

For those who have decided to push on with a more traditional ceremony (myself included), the pandemic has spurred a throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude, radicalising approaches, pushing us to go bigger than we ever would have dreamed. (Because: why not?) For others, the 30 guest 'minimony' typology has validated intimate, low-key ceremonies in the face of often towering familial expectations.

Sarah Softley, who has over 15 years' experience of coordinating weddings in the UK, has witnessed these polarisations play out. "Pre-pandemic, there were a lot more ‘middle ground’ weddings. Now, two different and distinct camps are emerging. Some people have decided they aren’t going to invite all the distant cousins, where they would have in the past. Certainly for next year, we’re seeing numbers of 70-80 as standard; smaller than they once were. The other camp thinks, We haven’t been able to all get together for a long time, so we’re craving an all-encompassing celebration. For this group, black tie extravagance is coming back."
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We already have an idea of what kind of flowers, dresses and engagement rings are on many wedding wish lists but Sarah speaks to a general sense of shifting attitudes and priorities among young UK couples. Here are the key takeaways of what planning a wedding looks like today.

Budgets aren’t shifting but the cost per head is

"Budgets haven’t necessarily gone up or down post-pandemic," says Sarah. (In particular: luxury will always be luxury). "However, what people are spending their money on is shifting." Sarah has found that in instances when the guest list is tighter and more refined, the cost per head is often higher than it once was. Think: more extravagant food, more spent on flowers, ad infinitum. "We did a really special wedding for 30 people earlier this year, for instance, where we created a gorgeous wooden copse inside a building. It was lavish but small-scale, and totally beautiful. Here, as we're seeing elsewhere, there was a focus on intimacy and only having people in attendance that you really want to be there," Sarah explains, "but making it an incredibly special experience for those who are able to be there. I see this model continuing."

What’s at the top of our wedding ‘wants’ list is changing 

Even for those opting for a larger ceremony, sustainability is now "absolutely central" in the minds of clients and wedding planners alike, Sarah explains. Wedding dress rental is now widely popular. It hit an all-time Google search high in June this year, and fashion rental app By Rotation identified a 900% increase in rentals for contemporary bridal wear during and after lockdown. Renting your dress instead of buying one opens up the possibility of wearing a couture gown to more people. "You're only going to wear it once, after all," says Sarah. Why not make your dress your 'something borrowed'?

Following the dress rental model, tree and mature shrub rental is another way of boosting a ceremony's sustainability credentials – something Sarah has been doing for years but is now seeing more throughout the industry. "A 2ft rose-ball table centre may cost you £600 and won’t last more than a few days. If you were to hire a tree that size, it might cost you £25-30 and, crucially, it lives and can go on to be planted afterwards. It's win-win: choosing tree rental has environmentally less impact and costs a lot less, too."
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The client-led drive for sustainability continues when it comes to floristry – which is very much a no-foam zone for 2021 onwards – and catering choices, too, which are being sourced from local producers with much more regularity, to help reduce carbon footprint and support local businesses.

Couples: prepare yourselves for more T&Cs

Like all industries, the wedding industry was hit hard by the pandemic, which could have a lasting effect on how things are done. "Everyone has had to revisit terms and conditions," says Sarah. "Often, deposits are now greater and will probably be non-refundable in some cases. Certainly all the suppliers I’ve worked with over the last 18 months have been hugely supportive of clients and have moved dates once, twice, sometimes three times without charge."
"Now, we’ve been hit as an industry so hard, there’s definitely going to be an element of imposing cancellation fees more," she continues. "At the very least, there should be fees imposed for administrative time spent. Goodwill has gone a long, long way but as an industry we simply can’t do that anymore. I think clients have to understand that and I think they will on the whole."

Kindness and consideration are paramount, now more than ever

"I think through the pandemic we’ve hopefully learned that we have to respect others' wishes," Sarah explains. "For a long time to come, we must appreciate that some people will feel nervous [around pandemic regulations]. Everyone will be processing things at different times, and some people will be more comfortable than others."
"I think that on the whole people have realised during the pandemic, particularly those who have had to move the date three or four times, that the important thing for them is the marriage at the other side of the ceremony. They think, Regardless of how many people I can have there, the important thing is that I’m getting married."
Sarah's advice to her couples remains the same today as it has always been. "Remember it’s your day and nobody else’s. There’s so many different pressures from outside, from parents, the wider family, from suppliers, who [say] you should and you must. The only should and must is you have the day that you want."

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