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Forget meringue dresses and stuffy tradition. Here are some cool wedding ideas for 2017

Words by Jo Usmar

Cool weddings are the new vintage weddings and the more personal and unique, the better. Last year, my now-husband and I eloped. We packed a suitcase, kissed our cat goodbye and the two of us flew to Italy with little more than an ‘Arrivederci, folks, don’t buy a hat.’ We wanted the emotional and financial security that comes from being married, but we simply couldn’t face the expectation, fuss and eye-watering costs involved with a traditional big day.

There is growing discontent with the big frothy white weddings of our parents’ era with more women looking for cool wedding ideas. Only 5 per cent of men and 10 per cent of women aged 25 were registered as married in 2014, compared to 60 per cent of men and 80 per cent of women 44 years before. With the average age of newly-weds now 37 for men and 34 for women, people are still getting hitched, but on their own terms.

‘With the growth of social media, the level of conformity has dropped,’ explains psychologist Alla Davies. ‘Women feel more free to make the choices they want without the constraints of conservative traditions, and they’re not being judged for wanting a cool wedding.’

Bridal designer Charlie Brear

Kat Williams, founder of Rocknrollbride.com, adds: ‘Nobody wants a wedding-by-numbers any more. I’ve featured pop-up “flash weddings”, where the couple text a time and location to guests on the day, and newlyweds who just rocked up to a field and had a friend officiate.’ Elsewhere, there’s a growing trend for virtual wedding planning, with couples taking a digital tour of venues and booking without visiting first.

Affordable wedding dresses

For cash-poor and time-poorer millennials, there’s little appeal in a wedding that takes 250 hours to plan and costs £20,000 to £30,000. This could explain the rise of the high-street wedding dress, with brands such a Whistles and ASOS offering stylish, more affordable versions to bridal boutique meringues. Marie Claire’s fashion features director Jess Wood (pictured far left with her father on her wedding day) says, ‘Splurging your entire budget on an identikit big white dress doesn’t feel very modern. And when you can buy a chic slip gown by Needle & Thread for £130 on Net-A-Porter or a cream jacquard dress by Self-Portrait for £102 on The Outnet – both of which you’ll wear again – why spend thousands? I got married in a blush-pink tulle, knee-length dress by Kate Halfpenny [who specialises in bespoke vintage-inspired pieces]. I’d wear it every day if I could.’

Marie Claire’s fashion features director Jess Wood, wearing Kate Halfpenny

It was a determination to do something unique that inspired Jenny Wilcox and her husband, Andy, to have their dream wedding by the sea in Devon. ‘We’d been to so many weddings that felt samey. We wanted something personal and relaxed, so we invited everyone to go camping (having had a private registry office ceremony the week before) and asked guests to bring something to stick on the beachfront BBQ. The whole thing cost £3,000 and it was very “us”.’

Cool wedding ideas

The DIY crafting trend has a lot to answer for, too, with Pinterest and Instagram setting the aesthetic of the modern wedding (70 per cent of Pinterest users have wedding boards before they’re even engaged). ‘I had pine-cone place settings, tree-trunk cake stands, eBay bargain baubles, dried-flower bouquets and mulled-wine mix for my wedding favours,’ says stylist Sarah Attrill of her December wedding in 2015. ‘I know the effort we went to made it more personal for our guests.’

But while economics and social media have played a part, does this signal a deeper societal shift? ‘There’s no question that feminism plays a role in women doing things their way,’ says Susan Pease Gadoua, therapist and co-author of The New ‘I Do’: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels. ‘Young people are realising that they have more options; I’ve seen a rise in open marriages and polyamorous relationships, for instance, and the weddings people are having reflect that fluidity. I think the decline in religious constructs have relieved more traditional obligations.’

Women ‘owning’ their wedding day is something Williams has recognised, too: ‘Many don’t want their fathers to walk them down the aisle any more, seeing it as old-fashioned and anti-feminist,’ she says. ‘Couples are walking down together or even alone. And many women are doing speeches, which explains the new websites offering sample speeches for brides. You’ve also got to consider family dynamics – people have larger, more complicated extended families, which does change things.’

Rather than sounding the death knell for marriage, these changes actually signal a long-overdue revitalisation of an industry steeped in patriarchal tradition. In times of societal upheaval, our faith in romance is greater than ever and weddings have been pulled firmly into the 21st century. There will be few objections to that.

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