When Jon proposed to me after my first day of work of my first job after graduating from college I didn’t feel ready to be engaged, but I knew that our unconventional relationship meant some of my expectations for how I thought my life would go would have to be adjusted. Jon is British and I’m American. We had been dating long-distance for two years already after meeting in Dublin, Ireland. I had tried to find a company to sponsor me for a work visa in the UK, to no avail. Jon had tried to get his employer to send him on secondment to America, with not luck. The only options left available to us were to continue living apart indefinitely, or get married and finally live in the same country.
We had talked about getting married before. We had agreed we would get the fiancé visa, we would do the marriage paperwork in the registry office, and we would have a proper wedding in a couple years, when we were more established, when we had more money, when we had more time, when we were ready. Because if I wasn’t ready to be engaged I definitely wasn’t ready for a wedding. That’s not really how things ended up working out, and since then we’ve had two weddings!
Jon and I had a lovely, small wedding of 50 people in Sheffield England in October 2015. Only 5 of my friends and family could make it to the wedding. I cannot tell you how surreal and bittersweet it felt to walk into a church full of strangers to get married to Jon. I focused a lot of attention on planning a perfect trip to England for my mom and brothers, who all got their first passports for the trip. Almost a year later, in August 2016, I got the celebration that was familiar to me, with 140 of my friends and family around.
Weddings are a lot of work and planning, and I wanted to give everyone a little more insight into the experiences that went into my two weddings.
All photography for the first wedding: Sheffield Photography
All photography for the second wedding: Erin Collins Photography
note: photos have been cropped for comparison purposes
I did not get much of a say when Jon chose his wedding suit. This is primarily because when he bought it, we were not planning on having a wedding. As far as I was aware, the plan was still registry office when Jon, his father, and his brother went out to buy matching suits. This greatly upset me back in America because I wasn’t even planning on buying a wedding dress for the occasion so I didn’t see why anyone needed matching suits! What’s more is they texted me pictures asking which suit I liked best and I said the blue one (not knowing what they were for still) and they bought the grey!
After events kept snowballing and I finally accepted the fact that there would be a wedding, I went to Pinterest to figure out how to work with the medium grey suits. I found a style with a white shirt and pocket square, and black tie and shoes, that I thought looked really smart and modern. I let Jon know what he would be wearing, and he texted me asking if he could wear a brown tie and brown shoes. A BROWN TIE WITH A GREY SUIT!! No. I told him if he wanted to wear brown shoes he should have bought the blue suit, because it doesn’t go with grey.
He wore a calla lily boutonniere (my favorite flower) at both weddings, though they were different colors. At the first wedding he was clean-shaven but at the second he decided on some stubble. You can’t tell, but he’s wearing a different pocket square because the night before the wedding he asked me everything he needed to wear, and when I ran through the list he told me he didn’t bring his pocket square. What’s more, neither did 4 of his groomsmen or his dad, so they had to run to Kohl’s the morning of the wedding, since my father, brothers, and one of the groomsmen were wearing them. Really, I’m just happy he remembered to bring his wedding suit to America, since at one point he asked me “What am I wearing to the wedding again?”
When I finally realized that I was having a wedding, there wasn’t very much time to plan for it. To order a new wedding dress, it takes between 6 months and a year. At the point I went wedding dress shopping, there was probably less than 3 months before the wedding, which meant I would need a store that sold used or sample dresses. I made appointments at two bridal shops around Philadelphia that sell those dresses: The Sample Rack and Sabrina Ann Once Worn and Never Worn Bridal.
I had gone on Pinterest again to look for a dress that I liked, because I hadn’t thought too much about it before. Based on what I liked on my body and my experience with ballroom dance, I knew that I wanted a long skirt that cinched at the waist and flowed out, and I didn’t want any lace or beading on the skirt. For the bodice I liked the idea of a low back and long sleeves. I have always been self-conscious of my arms in pictures and I didn’t want it to be something I thought about at my wedding, and I liked that it was a little bit different than what a lot of brides were wearing these days. Unfortunately, if you’re picking from dresses that other brides have ordered or are samples of popular styles, unusual is not going to happen for you. Both bridal store owners warned me ahead of time that long-sleeved styles were few and far between at their shops. But if I couldn’t have long-sleeves, I was pretty determined to just have sleeves in general.
My mom and cousin Rachel came to Philadelphia to look for dresses with me. Our first appointment was at Sabrina Ann, and at first it wasn’t looking too promising. They seemed to hardly have any dresses at all that had a natural waist and flowy skirt. Most of the styles were primarily satin, which wasn’t what I was going for. Finally at the fifth or sixth dress they brought in the one I ultimately chose. It was the only dress that even remotely resembled the style I wanted. The skirt was ideal, full, and beautiful. the bodice was not entirely what I had in mind in the front but it was a compromise I was willing to make, and I loved the drop back. The only major worry was the size and the price. The dress was a size 4 and even on a good day that is more than pushing it for me. But because my widest bit is my bum and the smallest is my waist, the style was forgiving with my size and I could just about get away with it. The dress was a little more expensive than I would have liked, but the store lets you return the dress for half the price that you paid for it, so I am planning on doing that now that all of the weddings are finished.
We went ahead and bought the dress from Sabrina Ann and cancelled our other appointment that day. I didn’t want to risk someone else buying the dress while I was gone, and even though the chances were small, I couldn’t bear to find a dress I liked better at the next store knowing I couldn’t have it. In retrospect, knowing that it was my only day to try on wedding dresses, I wish I had gone ahead and tried more on. Even if it was just to wear pretty dresses.
Ideally, I would have had more time to look for a dress that was perfect and I would have been able to at least try on a dress with long sleeves (no matter how much everyone else thought it was a bad idea). I also would have liked to have time to order a dress in my size, because it was not the most comfortable thing in the world. The best tip that I got about the dress was from the lady who did the alterations at Victorian Bridal Salon, who told me to get fabric to skin tape for my sleeves. I forgot for the first wedding, and my sleeves kept falling down, but I made sure to remember for the second wedding, and they didn’t budge an inch!
After my experience at the first wedding, I bought a short white dress from asos.com to change into for the dancing portion of the second wedding, so I could be more comfortable and I wouldn’t have to worry about people stepping on my dress, which was a constant struggle!
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to purchase a cathedral veil before, but they are crazy expensive and somewhat hard to find. The bridal stores that I visited only carried small poofy veils that didn’t really hang like I wanted. The veil my mom made for me isn’t exactly a cathedral veil, because it does not drag on the floor, but it is pretty long (it’s longer in the back than it is in the front). I absolutely love my veil. My mom and I bought the fabric and lace trim from JoAnn Fabric and with her endless talent she made it with a comb to tuck into my headband.
The veil is very delicate and rather heavy on the head if it shifts into the wrong position, which became a problem at the second wedding when we were trying to get some shots of my veil blowing in the wind (the wind being my cousin Rachel throwing in the veil in the air). The photos came out great but the task was a real struggle for my hairdo. At both weddings I couldn’t wait to get the veil off, but I love it in the photos and always wish I kept it on longer.
My mom’s own experience with her first wedding veil was a tragedy, since it got caught in a fan at her wedding reception and got torn to shreds. She said perhaps it was a sign that marriage wasn’t meant to be.
I didn’t have a particular color in mind for my bridesmaids, so I just had a look at what Pinterest had to offer and went with what I was drawn to. Instead of doing this, I would recommend stopping by a bridal salon and having a look at the swatches that are in season. Each dress designer will have their own set of colors they’re making at the time you order. This might save you from setting your hopes on something that is hard to find. When I saw the Pinterest picture above I was in love. To me, it’s kind of a berry-toned red, but most people just see red. I loved the way the dresses pulled the pop of color out of the bouquet.
Because I had bridesmaids in LA, NY, PA and the UK, I had to find a designer that stocked dresses in the bridal shops of both countries. My sister-in-law recommended a company called Dessy, which was great because there were also websites that sold the dresses directly, and from Dessy’s website you could find bridal stores near you that stocked the dresses. I asked the bridesmaids to choose a style they liked best with a long chiffon skirt in the color Claret. For the second, summer wedding the bridesmaids shortened their skirts.
The flowers were really an exercise in learning for me. I was in love with the bouquet in the inspiration image, and was really excited about the flowers. I don’t know what got lost in communication with my first florist, but the bouquet I got was not exactly what I had in mind. I think maybe I went to them with too many inspiration images, and didn’t make it clear what was really important to me. What I like about the inspiration bouquet is first and foremost the colors, especially the deeper red/purple color against the shades of pale pink. The textures are also really soft and romantic. The deepest color I got in my first bouquet was that bright pink that they dyed the ends of the white roses. Comparing what I thought I was getting to what I got left me a bit disappointed.
I was able to bring this comparison to my second florist, Sue Weisser from The Floral Studio, and she made it clear that she could see the difference, and she would give me exactly what I wanted. The flowers I got at my second wedding were gorgeous and I couldn’t have been happier, and I thank Sue for that.
I didn’t really have to look for cake inspiration for my first wedding because my sister-in-law Laura offered to make the cake for me. I was relieved to have one less supplier to work with. I was so impressed with the cake she made! I couldn’t believe she was able to make it in her home kitchen. It looked so professional! I still hold to this day that she should go on the Great British Bake-Off but she insists on being a lawyer.
I couldn’t very well ask Laura to make another cake and bring it over from England for the second wedding so I had to order one. The venue, Heidelberg, had a choice of two wedding cake providers that were part of their package. Our first choice couldn’t make the cake because her family was on vacation that week, so no big deal, we went to the other choice. I’d found a simple textured cake that was rustic and informal, and didn’t think this would be a very big issue. The lady was clearly not thrilled with the pictures that I brought in, to say the least. One of the pictures I brought in she flat out said she wouldn’t make a cake like that and they look terrible in real life. Okay, we’ll go with another option. She said she would make the textured cake with the flowers, but she would need to do an elaborate piping around the edges to hide the bases of each cake layer. I asked if there was anyway to not have the piping, so it would look more modern, and she said “no.” I asked if it could be a simple piping design, a straight line or dots, she said “no.” I said “fine, make the cake however you want.” I was not thrilled with that experience to say the least.
When I finally saw the cake at the wedding I said “Well, it looks better than I thought it would.” and someone near me who didn’t know the story laughed, not having been expecting that reaction from me. And with the flowers and ribbons, the piping didn’t really stand out. The texture was done really nicely and the cake tasted good, but I still would have preferred it without the piping. So there.
If I could recommend anything to a future bride, I would say get your make-up professionally done. Wow, this was my favorite decision I made for the wedding (besides my groom). I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed some more at my first wedding, and my make-up stayed completely flawless. I think my make-up artist was a witch or something, because it was actually unbelievable. My first make-up artist was Amanda Humphreys (based in Sheffield, UK), she sent me this lovely list of the products she used:
Base: laura mercier primer, Chanel perfection lumiere foundation in 10
Eyes: mac paintpot in Vintage, various warm eyeshadows from Mac “honeylust”, “saddle”, “embark”, KatVon D tattoo liner in black.
Lash flares x 3 medium
Lower lid: slight embark shadow along lash line
Cheeks: Daniel sandler watercolour in “cherub”
Lips: mac “dare you”
My second make-up artist was a girl I knew from high school named Melissa Wealand, and she managed to recreate the look Amanda made for me. For my look I wanted dark brows and really dark lips. While most everything stayed in place, lipstick won’t stay put no matter what you do. I had my mom and one of my bridesmaids carry extra lipstick for me so I could reapply after eating and drinking.
I chose a down-do for my English October wedding, and an updo for my American July wedding. My hair is really a bit too thin for a lot of the glamorous wedding styles Pinterest has to offer, so I tried to pick something that suited my hair. While my hairdo for my first wedding looks nice with my veil on, the hairdresser went a bit back-comb crazy, and the hair at the crown of my head was a bit too high for my liking. Other than that I was pretty happy with my hair at the first wedding. For my bridesmaids and my mom however, things didn’t quite turn out as smoothly. While I was getting my make-up done there was a flurry of bridesmaids behind me, redo-ing their hair.
It my was mom whose vision fared the worst though. She came to the hairdresser with her natural curly hair basically finished, it was dry with product in it, ready to go, she just asked the hairdresser to pin it up in a nice way for her. And the first thing the hairdresser did was RUN A HAIRBRUSH THROUGH HER CURLS!!! Anyone with curly hair knows that this is the worst possible thing she could have done. It would literally have been better if the hairdresser had poured a bucket of water on her head. My mom had no choice but to have the hairdresser curl it with an iron. The hairdressers and my ladies visions were just not really lining up that day.
At the second wedding, it was hot. Really hot. I decided to have an updo in a style that I really liked. Denise Luckinbill from Bernville Family Hair was able to virtually exactly duplicate the photograph I brought her. She listened to what I wanted and what I didn’t want, and gave me exactly what I asked for. If I could do it again I would have brought a picture of what I wanted to front to look like, because we had to try to edit it a bit after she rolled it to get a side-part in. If you have time, I would recommend getting a test hairstyle done first so you can work everything out before hand. Denise was able to interpret everyone’s hair wishes exactly and all of my bridesmaids came back to me happy, even the notoriously picky Rachel, who had the first hairdresser redo her hair three times.
There was more time to plan for the second wedding and my mom is very crafty, so we had a lot of fun making decorations for the wedding. These little guys, however, are a lot more work than they look! I would say anything you have to do for every single on of your guests individually is probably too much work. I bought the toy animals on eBay from China, very cheaply. However, many of them really struggled to stand up on their own. My mom bought some little cardstock circles for the the sit on. First I used a dremel tool to cut a slit on top of the toys, then I used a hot glue gun to attach them to their bases. I gave them two coats of gold spray-paint and waited for them to dry. And waited, and waited, and waited. Okay, so they never actually dried. Many of them were still sticky when I set them up at the wedding. Whoops. I printed and cut out name tags, stuck them in the toys, and hoped for the best. I had fun choosing animals for everyone, and I think people got a kick out of them. We also set a bunch of glow sticks at the table where people picked up their place cards, and the kids at the wedding went crazy for them! Even the adults were enjoying them. Who doesn’t love a good glow stick?
Another thing I had that I really liked and I’ve seen at other weddings was an ancestry display. I used photographs from parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents weddings in decorative frames. I also used a free trial to newspapers.com to find engagement, wedding, and anniversary announcements from 19th and 20th century newspapers. I printed out the full page of the newspaper and highlighted the relatives wedding announcement. I don’t know how many people checked them out but I really loved seeing the old papers and the history.
I also made a slideshow of Jon and I as babies growing up, where I tried to match our ages and what we were doing as best I could. It was supposed to be playing on a TV screen, but my computer and the TV kept going to sleep, so I don’t know if anyone really saw it. You can view it here: View Slideshow here
We had a videographer at our first wedding so we would be able to share the ceremony with everyone who could not be there. We began the second wedding celebration with the video of our ceremony, and Jon’s and the Bridesmaids speeches. The Bridesmaids speeches include my reactions to video messages that my family members sent to me who couldn’t make it to my first ceremony.
You can view the videos of our wedding ceremony, the groom’s toast, and bridesmaid speeches below (youtube may block people not in the US from viewing these videos if they include copyrighted songs):
Being married suits me. It gives me confidence in my relationship and myself. Being with Jon is easy, and I’m glad that I’m married. I still probably would have preferred to wait, but I’m happy with the way things turned out. I never felt so much love from the people around me as I did at my weddings. It’s actually amazing how much love there is in my life. Thank you to everyone who came to my weddings, your Thank You cards are only their way. And don’t worry, I’m not planning on having anymore weddings.