How To: Plan the Vintage Style, Handmade, Eco-friendly Wedding of Your Dreams (Without Spending a Fortune)
It’s that time of year again; wedding season! This time last year, we were very busy crafting like crazy for our upcoming wedding reception in July. (*Our wedding was originally planned for July 2011, but when we got news that my beloved grandmother was dying of cancer, we moved our ceremony up to ASAP in the hopes she would be able to attend. Unfortunately, she passed away just days before our wedding in March of last year. She will be greatly missed. Our wedding reception was still booked for July, so we proceeded with that date as planned.)
I have been inspired to do a “How To” post on how we pulled off our dream wedding (twice) without breaking the bank, and still have money afterward to buy our dream home. The wedding industry gives lots of figures about how much the “average” wedding costs, and those figures can be enough to give anyone some serious chest pain and a few gray hairs. We wanted our wedding to look like some of the glamorous, vintage-inspired weddings you see in wedding blogs and magazines, but were not willing to spend a ridiculous amount on money in the process. We wanted to stay within the budget that my parents’ had planned, and keep things as affordable as possible.
You can see pictures of our wedding ceremony and impromptu backyard reception here. You can also see pictures of our full wedding reception here, shot by Wildflowers Photography. :)
Here’s how we did it….
When I was in college, I worked in a boutique that also doubled as a floral design shop. I learned a lot about floral design, and how much florists charge for labor and design. I saw many brides nearly faint when they got their final bills, and we charged significantly less than the competitors down the street. I knew that I did not want to pay thousands of dollars to have some flowers arranged that would be tossed out in a couple of days for my own wedding.
I decided that I would plan ahead, and plant most of the flowers that I would use in my flower arrangements for our wedding. I researched the types of flowers I wanted to use, found seeds for them, and calculated how far ahead I would need to plant them in order for them to be in full bloom in early July. I ordered most of my seeds from this website. I highly recommend their seed packages…they are very good quality seeds. Much better than the wildflower seed fiasco I had this year.
Some of the flowers that I planted a lot of were Bachelor Buttons and California Poppies. I have California Poppies growing again in my garden this year (one of my favorites!), and the first of the Bachelor Buttons this year just bloomed (both seen above). Now every time I see them, they remind me of our wedding. :)
I also love lavender and roses, in particular, mini roses. My grandmother used to plant a little area of mini roses for me when I was a kid because she said they reminded her of me (little and petite). I found some plant containers that I loved at Anthropologie, and planted mini roses in each of them for the dinner table centerpieces. That way, once the reception was over, the flowers would not be wasted, but would be planted in our garden.
I purchased two large lavender bushes (now transplanted to our new home, seen above) that I planted in my garden, and they provided tons of flowers for bridesmaid bouquets, boutineers, and more. The mini roses (seen above) and the lavender have all survived long past the wedding, and have even survived the move to our new home with us!
For the floral design, I also thought outside the box a little, and used some rosemary and other herbs from my herb garden for accents. They added a nice scent to the boutineers, and I think gave everything a unique look. :)
My absolute favorite flowers are peonies, and despite all of my research, I could not find a way that I would be able to get them to grow in zone 9 successfully. Since they are a pretty pricey flower, I figured that I could justify using them in my bridal bouquet since they would be one of the few flowers I would be purchasing, and not harvesting from my own garden.
The day before the wedding (on both the ceremony and the reception days), I set up a large folding table in our kitchen and got to work, making bouquets, boutineers, and any needed accent arrangements. If we had a large fridge, I would have stored as much of it in the fridge as possible, but since that house only had room for a tiny apartment sized refrigerator, the only things that went in there were my bouquet , my floral head wreath, and the boutineers. Luckily, we had a basement at that house, and that was the perfect spot to store the arrangements overnight. Cut flowers store best when kept in water, in a cool dark location.
I wanted to keep my wedding bouquet after the wedding, and our friend Catherine of South Bay Floral Preservation did an amazing job. :) My bouquet now sits next to my desk (you can see a sneak peek if you follow me on Instagram @alicia_in_wonderland).
2. Wedding Attire
I had always hoped to one day sew my own wedding dress, but that didn’t quite work out as I had hoped. I was planning to use my old bedroom at my parents’ house as my wedding dress sewing studio, but since my grandmother was sick while we were engaged, she was living in my old room. I decided that without a dedicated space to use, it wasn’t a good idea to try to sew a wedding dress where my cats could potentially create big problems (Pearl in particular is obsessed with anything crafty). I ended up finding my dream dress in downtown LA for much less than the retail price. My husband also found his outfit for the wedding reception in downtown LA as well.
I wanted vintage looking bridesmaid dresses, and we were having a really hard time finding something that would give the look I wanted. I didn’t want my bridesmaids to have to spend a fortune, so I started getting creative and thinking outside the “bridesmaid dress” box. I found the perfect dress at H&M for less than $50 each! It was a little stressful for everyone to find the dress in their size at the stores near them, but it ended up working out in the end.
I wanted to give my bridesmaids something special and handmade to wear with their dresses, so I made them each a customized necklace and earrings, similar to the ones I sell in my Etsy shop.
3. Handmade Decor
From the start, we knew we wanted everything to be either handmade or vintage. There are tons of ways to get the handmade, crafty wedding look by ordering through Etsy, but when I added up how much I would have to spend to get everything I wanted, I knew that we would be spending many nights crafting. Here is a list of what we made:
-Monogram floral fabric banner, inspired by Martha Stewart Weddings website
-Sculpted birds cake topper (the first thing I made when starting our wedding planning process!)
-A vintage locket pin with a picture of my grandparents on their wedding day, to pin on my bouquet.
-Multiple hand-painted reception signs for various areas
-Large welcome banner
-Moss covered wire napkin rings with preserved mini rose heads
-Vintage picture frames with table numbers sculpted from clay
-Mini petit-four place card holders sculpted from clay. My bridesmaids were a huge help with helping me finish these on our girls craft night!
-Escort cards cut out in bird shapes
-Place cards decorated with lace cut-out edges (with Martha Stewart craft tools)
-A card holder using my childhood dollhouse
-“Write us your favorite gardening tip” notecards
-Guest sign in cards styled like old fashioned library cards and stored in vintage filing cabinet
-Packets of bird seed to toss
-Invitations & Save the Date postcards
-Straws decorated with hearts and other vintage ephemera
-Tiny paper butterflies on wire sticks placed into centerpieces
-Packets of a few tissues for “in case of tears”, with handwritten quotes on each
-Lace & paper floral cones for accent flowers
-Extremely long string of bunting made of dozens of vintage handkerchiefs sewn together
-Small floral puffs made from styrofoam balls and tissue paper
-Paper mache hot air balloons for cake gazebo
-Vintage style wine labels with names like Romantic Red, and Wedding White, so no one would be discouraged by the Trader Joe’s wine bottles! My bridesmaids were a big help with this project as well…we had a wine bottle soaking/de-labeling night. :)
-Vintage picture frames scattered throughout reception with pictures from our relationship, with captions marking milestones, to tell the story of our romance.
-Scrapbook paper covered tealight votive candles for dinner tables (not shown in pics because our coordinator forgot to put them out).
-Aqua painted mason jars (to resemble vintage jars) with sand and candles, for pathway lights. These were also not in the pictures since they were also not put out in their locations unfortunately.
-Lace tablecloth overlays. I researched how much it would cost to rent lace overlays, and knew I could make them for much cheaper myself. I found some really discounted lace fabric downtown, and spent many evenings after I got home from work sewing these tablecloths. It was a pain, but after the wedding, I was able to sell them on my Etsy shop!
4. Vintage Decor
There are tons of great vintage prop rental companies out there, but it seemed silly to us to rent a bunch of vintage and antique accent furniture when we already had tons ourselves. We decided to rent a moving truck the morning of our reception, and loaded up most of our house! We couldn’t have done it without the help of our friend (and groomsman) Mike. :)
If you aren’t like me, and want that vintage look but have not been collecting little vintage odds and ends since childhood, there are easy ways to find tons of cute things. I rarely shop at vintage or antique stores since the markup there is going to be much higher. Instead, I scour thrift stores, flea markets, yard sales, estate sales, and Craigslist ads to find what I am looking for.
We originally looked into renting vintage china, since we love the whole mix and match, mad tea party look. We did not want to pay thousands of dollars just to rent pretty china though. It took months and months of digging, but we eventually found enough vintage china at thrift stores and estate sales to feed all of our guests. Instead of spending thousands of dollars to rent china, we spent a couple of hundred dollars and now own a huge, amazing collection. We are very grateful that my parents agreed to wash them all before and after the reception since we had no dishwasher at the old house. One of these days, when our new house has a kitchen, we will get our collection out of storage from my parents’ house, and decide which plates we will keep, and which we will sell. 300+ plates is quite a bit more than we will probably ever need again! :)
We also found a few amazing vintage chandeliers from a flea market, which we are planning to reuse in our new home. Almost everything that we used for decorations at our reception was either from our home, or will be eventually reused in our home in some way. :)
5. Photography, Music, Etc.
Every couple has their own priorities on where the money should be allocated when planning a wedding budget. It is a good idea to take a look at a suggested wedding budget list, and figure out where your priorities are, and where you can skimp a little. People have this idea that vendors in the wedding industry charge more just because they can. While this may be true in some cases, I can assure you (as a wedding vendor myself), that this is often not the case.
We found an amazing caterer who was willing to work with all of our requests. We wanted an English-style high tea instead of cocktail hour, and she pulled this off amazingly. We also had three very serious food allergies that needed to be dealt with extreme caution, and they handled it perfectly (eggs/chicken-me, all dairy-my dad, and seafood-my co-maid of honor). The total bill seemed high when you first look at it, but when you break down the cost per guest, it was much more affordable than if we had paid for a skimpy dinner for each guest at a traditional location. If you are in the Southern California area, I highly recommend Critic’s Choice Catering. The food was amazing, and Michelle was a pleasure to work with.
If wedding photos and a good wedding video are a priority for you (and why wouldn’t they be?!), do not skimp in this area! You want to be sure that you get someone with experience, and who uses quality equipment. We skimped on our wedding videographer since our ceremony was rescheduled at the last minute. We really regretted that decision. Our wedding video transformed our hour and a half, beautiful Catholic ceremony down to a less than 10 minute video, in choppy, shaky clips. We literally cried when we watched it. People who have seen it thought it was a joke.
Good wedding photography and video may be one of your largest expenses, but it is also one of your most valuable wedding investments. It may seem strange to pay someone thousands of dollars for what seems to be just one day’s work, but there is so much more involved than just what you see the photographers/videographers doing the day of the wedding. It takes countless hours of editing and processing after the wedding to get the beautiful end result that you will cherish for a lifetime. Definitely a worthwhile investment. There have been many great blog posts lately about the cost of wedding photography…check out a great one here.
One other thing that was very important to us personally was the music. We both love classical music, and love how classical music is performed everywhere in places like Europe. We had many magical days together on a trip, listening to impromptu concerts and street performers playing Mozart. We hired an amazing string quartet for both our ceremony and again later for our reception (since they were so amazing). We were extremely disappointed that our horrible ceremony videographer did not record any of their amazing performance, or the amazing vocalist/pianist that we had also hired for our ceremony. We didn’t take any chances at our reception, and set up one of our own cameras and a tripod to record the string quartet play during our “first dance”. :) I highly recommend the string quartet we hired: Innocenti Strings.
I recommend doing everything yourself as much as possible. It makes your wedding so much more personal, and saves you so much in the end. There are a few areas though where I only recommend DIY under certain circumstances.
-Wedding programs: You can make these yourself, but it is a lot of work if you are having a very involved ceremony. When I realized how much I would have to put together (with not much time) in a program for a Catholic ceremony with a full mass, I decided to order programs instead. I loved our programs from CatholicBrides, and they came very quickly. So much easier than trying to scan in tons of readings, songs, prayers, etc. myself.
-Food/Cakes: For our mini reception after our ceremony, my dad fired up the barbeque. I’m sure he would have liked to have been able to do the same for the big reception, but we decided to bring in some professional help to serve a large number of people. :) I have seen one wedding that we photographed with an absolutely amazing DIY food spread. All of the women in the family joined forces and created one of the most amazing buffets I have ever seen. If you want to do food DIY style, be sure that you have lots of family members willing to help (or a really small guest list, like we had at our first reception).
-Wedding planning/Day-Of Coordination: As wedding photographers, we have seen some disastrous “coordinators” who are really just a friend of the bride, trying to get things running smoothly the day of the wedding. Unless your friend is an experienced coordinator, this is one area that I recommend that every bride hire an experienced professional. It will make your day go so much smoother.
-Photography/videography: It seems that every wedding we have been to lately has a guest in attendance who is a hobbist/aspiring photographer. While it is great to see so many people take an interest in photography, it is not a good idea to trust an inexperienced friend or family member with capturing the most important day of your life. While someone may have experience with even taking portrait photography, there is a lot of equipment that is needed to successfully capture a wedding, and a lot of tricks of the trade that the average person will miss.
Good luck to all brides and grooms-to-be planning their upcoming weddings! I hope this post will help give you a little DIY inspiration! Be prepared that if you do choose to go the DIY wedding route that it will be a lot of work, but it will be worth it in the end. Try not to get discouraged by all of the projects and planning, and overwhelmed with all of the details. We literally spent over an entire year where all we did once we got home from work was work on wedding planning and crafting. It was worth it in the end though! Don’t hesitate to write to me if you have any questions or need any tips. :)
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