Written by Bailey Heldmar & Christina Oddo | Photography by Photography by Lauryn
Now that you’re planning a wedding, we’re betting your schedule has gotten a lot busier. But don’t let these celebrations overwhelm you, especially with potential adjustments due to COVID. This is a time to have fun with your family and friends — to spend quality time together. Because this is for your wedding, people will make an extra effort to be there for you, and we all know that getting together a group only gets more difficult as life goes on. If there’s anything we’ve learned from the pandemic it’s to really savor the moments and take advantage of the opportunity. We’re here to minimize the stress. Consider this your go-to guide for all the events and parties leading up to your wedding ceremony.
THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY
You and your love are engaged, and now it’s time to party! Before you start hunkering down to plan the wedding, take the time to stop and celebrate the fact that you have just made the most important commitment of your life. Whether you host an intimate dinner with just your families and close friends or invite everyone you know to a gigantic bash, reveling in your new status as a fiancé is a must.
Like we mentioned above, the invite list to your engagement party is totally flexible. If you’re pressed for time and want to make the celebration short and sweet, keep it to just the VIPs. If you know you’re going to have a destination wedding, though, consider expanding the guest list to include friends, extended family, and other people who are important to you. Not everybody will be able to afford to travel for your wedding, but most will be able to swing by an engagement party for at least an hour or two.
WHO PLANS IT?
Just like the actual wedding, the engagement party gets planned by you and your partner or a professional planner. That being said, it shouldn’t take nearly as much effort as wedding planning — just pick a when and a where, then spread the word and let a professional handle the rest.
WHAT TO WEAR
Take cues from the venue and season to plan an outfit that gives a sneak peek of your bridal style. For a backyard soirée on a warm summer evening, pair a crisp, white sundress with espadrille wedges. When it comes to jewelry, wear what you would normally wear, whether that’s bold earrings and a colorful statement necklace or minimalist, gold pieces.
A festive cocktail party at your favorite local restaurant calls for something classic and polished. Reach for your go-to LBD, or — since you’re a bride-to-be now — find an elegant little white dress. Finish either look with strappy metallic pumps. During the frigid Chicago winters, sleeves are a must. A jersey wrap dress with three- quarter sleeves is a timeless option no matter your venue; try topping it with a cropped fur jacket for extra warmth and bit of glam.
THE BRIDAL SHOWER
Traditionally, bridal showers are a much tamer version of the bachelorette party that moms, mothers-in-law, grandmas and aunts get to attend. Think a girls-only lunch that involves presents like cute and necessary homeware. If you’re yawning as you’re reading this, don’t worry — you aren’t alone. Most modern brides have put their own special twist on the bridal shower, and we’ve found that the more you adjust this event to fit your personality, the more fun you’ll have.
Turn it into a wine night, host it at a cute bed and breakfast, take a cruise around Lake Michigan — as long as you’re spending quality time with the women who matter most to you, you’re doing this one right.
Your future partner typically sits this one out, but the women in his or her life get to come — sisters, mom and grandma should get an invite to the shower, and so should all the important women in your own life.
WHO PLANS IT?
The role of planner typically falls on your mom, sister, maid-of-honor or bridesmaids for this one. If none of them want to take the lead, it’s perfectly okay for this to turn into a group effort, so long as you aren’t lifting a finger. Again, a professional wedding planner could step in here and make your life considerably easier.
WHAT TO WEAR
Something equal parts feminine and sophisticated is the perfect ensemble as you get showered with love and gifts. Since most bridal showers happen during the day, opt for lighter shades. White is traditional and sets you apart from your guests, but this might be a good time to reach for soft blush, floral prints or a little “something blue.”
A flowy maxi or a silk tank and pleated midi-skirt are perfect for brunch with all your favorite ladies. Not really a dress gal? Try wide-legged pants and a lightweight cashmere sweater. Complete the ensemble with your favorite heeled boots and a mimosa in hand.
THE BACHELOR AND BACHELORETTE PARTIES
Bar hopping. Strippers. Sexually suggestive desserts. Whether your bachelor/bachelorette parties include all or none of these things, it’s bound to be one of the most memorable nights of your life. Other than the fact that it’s meant to be just for you and your wedding party, there really are no rules here. Some opt to skip the partying and have a movie and cocktails night, while others decided to turn the party into a weekend-long affair. If you’ve got your heart set on a trip though, be aware of your guests.
Some might not be able to afford a weekend in Vegas or New Orleans and putting them in an uncomfortable spot is the last thing you want to do. The solution: If your bachelor/ bachelorette party is going to last longer than a night, have an honest talk with your group before the planning starts steamrolling.
This night is for the respective wedding party, plus maybe one or two additions.
WHO PLANS IT?
The maid-of-honor and best man lead the charge on this one, but don’t be surprised if it turns into a group effort. In fact, it usually turns out for the best if multiple people put the night or weekend together!
WHAT TO WEAR
Ditch the cheesy matching t-shirts and look for something more grown-up that you might actually wear again. Trust us, your bridesmaids will thank you. Stand out from the crowd in an all-white wardrobe that tells the world you’re the soon-to-be-bride. Your group may choose to coordinate by wearing the alternate same color, such as black, to really make sure that you have the spotlight.
A night on the town calls for something extra playful, and trendy details like fringe or sequins are encouraged. Pair with a leather jacket and pretty heels that are comfortable enough for dancing all night!
If a nice dinner and wine tasting are more your style, why not try something elegant and unexpected like a jumpsuit? Bring out your best statement shoes to complete this sophisticated look.
THE REHEARSAL DINNER
Just like bridal showers, this event has evolved over time. It used to be an actual rehearsal for the wedding followed by dinner with everyone involved, but modern couples have turned it into the calm before the wedding storm. It’s a chance to hang out with all the amazing people who are going to help you pull off your big day, and it’s a perfect opportunity to trade stories, hand out thank- you gifts and let all your loved ones get to know each other. It’s also one of the first chances you get to see what your combined family of friends and relatives look like together, and we promise that sight is something unbelievably special.
All of the VIPs should be on the list for this one. Both sets of parents, siblings, bridesmaids and/or groomsmen get an invite and optional attendees include your ring bearer and flower girl (if it’s not past their bedtime!) and your officiant (if you’re close with him or her).
WHO PLANS IT?
Traditionally, the groom’s parents handle this one. Some couples like to totally take the reins and do all the leg work, while others are so exhausted by the wedding planning that they pass the responsibility off to their parents, best man, maid-of-honor or wedding planner. As long as all your loved ones wind up in the same place at the same time, consider this one a win.
WHAT TO WEAR
Depending on the venue, the rehearsal dinner calls for something a little more formal than your previous events. But, it’s also a great time to have a little fun and show off your more fashion-forward side. Amp up your look with statement accessories, perhaps incorporating your wedding colors as a hint about the next day’s festivities.
Even though the occasion calls for something dressier, let your everyday style guide your rehearsal look. Peruse your favorite stores for something elevated and bridal that still feels like you. A maxi dress with crocheted lace details is perfect for a boho bride- to-be. If J.Crew is more your style, seek out fabrics like cashmere or linen. And don’t be afraid to show off your glam side with sequins, if your favorite color is “sparkle.”
Whatever you choose to wear, comfortable shoes are a must at your rehearsal dinner. You don’t want aching feet on your wedding day! A pair of nude or black flats goes with everything and lets you mingle all night with ease.
THE MORNING-AFTER BRUNCH
Brunch is a fairly new addition to the list of optional wedding events, but many couples say it’s their favorite.
After everyone wakes up with a raging post-wedding hangover, you all head down to the lobby of your hotel or to a restaurant and stuff yourselves with pancakes, bacon and waffles. It’s the perfect way to rehash the night and, besides, hangovers are always more tolerable when you aren’t suffering alone.
Most couples extend the invitation to any guests who want to tag along. If you’d rather keep it small, you could make the invite list match the one for your rehearsal dinner. Inviting those that traveled a long distance for your celebration is also a nice gesture.
WHO PLANS IT?
You and your new spouse. If you want brunch to happen at the hotel you and your guests stayed at, you’ll have to plan ahead, but if it’s a last-minute decision, rallying the troops and heading out in Ubers will work just fine.
WHAT TO WEAR
Perhaps more so than any other event, comfort is key. Best yet? You can leave the bridal white behind; unless you’ve decided that white really is your color.
If a family member is hosting the brunch at their home, try dressing up a t-shirt dress with understated jewelry, and strappy sandals. A pair of flowy culottes with a tucked in tee or blouse is another comfy option that still feels put-together. The wide-legged pants look best with a pair of classic, pointed- toe pumps.
For a slightly more formal occasion at a local restaurant, think about repurposing a dress from your engagement party or bachelorette weekend. Your guests will be so eager to rehash the night before that they’ll never know. If you absolutely must have something new, look for a tea- length dress in a fun pattern to end the wedding festivities in style.
It goes without saying that you aren’t required to throw any of these events, pandemic or not. After all, getting hitched is a big enough celebration as it is! If you’re excited to start planning one or all of these soirées, keep in mind that there’s no “right way” to throw them. You and your fiancé are different from every other couple out there, and how you decide to celebrate is entirely up to you.
Whether you spend hundreds of dollars on these events or opt to make them much more low-key, the important part is that they’re in honor of you and your soon-to-be-spouse. As long as that’s where the focus stays, we guarantee your showers, dinners and parties will be a smashing success.