How to Plan the Most Elegant Wedding on Zoom

Emilee Geist

Photo credit: Arianna Canelon – Getty Images From Town & Country Covid-19 has forced scores of couples to cancel or postpone their nuptials, and the multibillion-dollar wedding industry, which should be entering its peak season right now, has come to a standstill. But just because venues are closed and flights […]

Photo credit: Arianna Canelon - Getty Images
Photo credit: Arianna Canelon – Getty Images

From Town & Country

Covid-19 has forced scores of couples to cancel or postpone their nuptials, and the multibillion-dollar wedding industry, which should be entering its peak season right now, has come to a standstill. But just because venues are closed and flights cancelled doesn’t mean people can’t celebrate their big day.

Legal impediments to remote weddings are lifting in many places. Last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order stating that New Yorkers can obtain marriage licenses remotely and that clerks can perform ceremonies via videoconference, and California Governor Gavin Newsom issued the same order last week.

As more and more couples turn to video chat apps to host their wedding ceremony in front of friends and family, T&C asked event and wedding planners for their expert tips on how to make a a Zoom wedding feel elegant and chic. Because having to celebrate the most important day of your life in front of a webcam is no excuse to make it a bland affair.

As event designer Rebecca Gardner (who plans parties for Lauren Santo Domingo and Margherita Missoni) put it, “the party must go on!”

Send Detailed Invitations

Your meticulously calligraphed invitations may seem as if they no longer serve a purpose. Paperless Post has a designated selection for virtual parties. Instructions are arguably even more important right now, so your “guests” know what to expect. The date and time should obviously be on there, along with information about a forthcoming Zoom link, RSVP details, and a dress code (more on that later).

Also, consider things like whether you want your guests to do a champagne toast at the end of the ceremony? Should guests have a specific Zoom background photo ready? Are you expecting them to partake in a celebratory meal together? That kind of information all belongs on the invitation.

Pick the Right Time of Day

Photo credit: Trent Bailey Studio
Photo credit: Trent Bailey Studio

All of the planners we consulted were unanimous on this point: lighting is everything. Couples should strive for as much natural light as possible—this means late afternoon or sunset ceremonies are best. Bring it outdoors, if you have the space. If you prefer an evening ceremony, it’s all about the candlelight. “Tons of candlelight!” advises Michelle Rago.

Indoors at night is the worst combination. “Avoid direct up-lights and harsh recessed cans like the plague,” Gardner says.

And be sensitive to your guests’ schedules when picking the date and time—weekday afternoons, for example, may not work for people with jobs (and/or kids) who are working from home.

Keep the Guest List Intimate

As we’ve all probably learned over the past several weeks, large-group video chat gatherings can be incredibly awkward—people accidentally interrupt one another, conversations overlap, sometimes there are uncomfortably long silences. To avoid this, try to keep the guest list as small as possible. If not, hold the main ceremony for a larger group, then schedule 15-30 minute slots of smaller, more intimate Zoom hangouts to spend quality time with each of your guests, much as you would at a real-life reception going from table to table.

Make sure everyone is on mute during your ceremony. The couple and their officiant should be the only people making a sound.

Enforce a Dress Code

“Don’t forget that the people who populate your screen are your most important set decoration,” says Bronson Van Wyck, co-founder of event-planning company Van Wyck & Van Wyck. “Institute a dress code to get them even more excited for the occasion—after weeks of sweats and PJs everybody will welcome the escapism of puttin’ on the ritz.”

And rather than have guests feel pressured to spruce up their homes and spaces for the occasion, he suggests asking them to select their favorite photo with you as their Zoom background. “You’ll be surrounded with magical memories from your past as you look forward to the future.”

Set Up—and Decorate—Your Ceremony Location

Photo credit: Julie Skarratt
Photo credit: Julie Skarratt

What’s a wedding without a few beautiful floral arrangements? This is also a great opportunity to “shop small and shop local to support independent businesses in need,” says Van Wyck.

Several florists around the country have remained open for business during Covid-19 and are doing contactless deliveries. In New York City, for example, Lewis Miller, who is famous for his flower explosions on random street corners all around the city, can create equally fantastic arrangements for your ceremony backdrop.

Check to see if there are florists in your area, or go to online florists such as Belle Fleur NY, Urbanstems, Flowerbx (the company responsible for the flowers at London’s Annabel’s), Rose Story Farm, and even Home Depot. And there’s no need to go overboard—there’s only so much surface area your webcam can show (test out camera angles beforehand so you know just how much to buy).

Speaking of camera angles, be mindful of how you’ll come across onscreen, says Van Wyck: “You want your screen pointing down and not up. Stack coffee table books to get your computer at just the right height. You want your eyes in the middle of the screen whether you’re standing or sitting.” To take it a step further, he suggests investing in an LED ring light.

Bake Your Own Cake

Photo credit: STEVE PARSONS - Getty Images
Photo credit: STEVE PARSONS – Getty Images

Just about everyone you know on Instagram is making sourdough and baking things. Why not take this opportunity to create your own wedding cake? You can also have your guests make their own versions of the cake, too.

“We’re all looking for distractions and baking is a great way to stay engaged and entertained,” says Van Wyck. “Send everybody packets of ingredients and a handwritten dessert recipe before your big day—you’ll foster a much needed sense of community by having everyone do an activity together in advance.” For inspiration, he suggests picking up a copy of The Violet Bakery Cookbook by pastry chef Claire Ptak, a Chez Panisse alum who created Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding cake.

Not much of a baker? Order a cake from your local bakery, or see if your wedding cake maker can create a smaller version of your original cake for this occasion.

Order the Perfect Meal

A great chance to support your favorite restaurants or local caterers—and actually get to eat what you want. “The silver lining in all of this is that without having to plan a menu that works for 120 plus guests, the couple can indulge in an individualized menu of their absolute favorite culinary flavors,” says Vivia Costalas of Floris Special Events. If you want to share a meal with your guests, Costalas advises asking your caterer to create custom dining boxes to send to them, along with partnering with a local wine store to deliver bottles of wine or bubbly to each guest as well.

Van Wyck concurs: “Weddings are a chance for your nearest and dearest to get to know you even better so why not educate them about some of your foodie faves?”

Create a Beautiful Tablescape

Photo credit: Ryan Slack
Photo credit: Ryan Slack

You’re still going to serve a celebratory meal—even if only a handful of people will be partaking—so make it feel special (and photogenic). Tabletop rental companies like Social Studies mean minimal fretting about the decor. Van Wyck is partial to the Doppio collection (above). “The bright colors and Art Deco prints will pop online,” he says.

Or have fun with what you already have. “Wedding luncheons are terribly chic,” says Rago. “Spend the day before setting a beautiful lunch table for two with your good china, silver, pressed napkins, and linens. If you can, harvest some spring blooms from your garden.”

Make an Excellent Playlist

Photo credit: Soccrates Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: Soccrates Images – Getty Images

“The power of music is like no other,” says Costalas, and that’s especially true now more than ever (see: Andrea Bocelli’s moving Easter Sunday performance in front of Milan’s Duomo).

Take time curating a playlist (that reflects your tastes and personality as a couple) that will play from the moment guests log on to the final toast. “Music is an integral part of all parties,” adds Fête co-founder Jung Lee.

Have a Plan—and Rehearse It the Day Before

You don’t want technical issues to ruin the special moment. Do a run-through the day before to make sure everything is working properly. Make sure you have your officiant run through things as well so their tech is running smoothly, too. If your parents, maid of honor, best man, and/or friends are giving toasts (which they should!), it helps to create a run-of-show with them so they know in what order they’ll be speaking.

Then assign a point person to handle logistics. “Have someone in charge so once everyone is on, he/she can start the ceremony and make sure all guests (except the officiant) are muted,” says Lee. She also advises having someone record the ceremony and speeches.

Don’t Forget to Take Photos

Photo credit: Parkpoom Yeesoontes / EyeEm - Getty Images
Photo credit: Parkpoom Yeesoontes / EyeEm – Getty Images

Couples have two options, says Rago. If you have outdoor space and plan on having the ceremony in your backyard, consider hiring a local photographer who can shoot from a safe distance. “Because of the different types of lenses there’s no need to worry about the distance,” she says. If you’re getting married in your apartment living room, then invest in a good camera, tripod, and remote for good full-length shots. Take plenty of photos before guests arrive, too, as you might have done on the real day. “And selfies are a must!” says Rago.

The Ceremony Should Be Short

For the ceremony, 15-40 minutes is the sweet spot for holding everyone’s attention and keeping them engaged. Heartfelt speeches are absolutely encouraged, as long as they’re well-timed and planned. And of course a celebratory toast. Speaking of which…

Chill the Champagne!

Photo credit: Morgan Ione Yeager
Photo credit: Morgan Ione Yeager

An immediate post-ceremony toast is a must and you obviously can’t do it with room temperature brut. Don’t like champagne? Whatever drink of choice will suffice. “Even tequila shots!” says Lee. “It’s about whatever you both love as a couple. No rules!”

Whether you send each guest a bottle of champagne pre-event, or you want them to chill their own, make sure those details are clear in the invitation.

Send Your Guests a Thoughtful Gift

Whether it’s a bottle of wine, treats from your local bakery (Loria Stern’s photogenic shortbread cookies are particularly well-suited to the occasion), or a personalized memento that speaks to your relationship with each guest, sending a small gift ahead of the ceremony will put them all in a celebratory mood and properly thank them for taking the time to be there for you.

Most Importantly, Enjoy Every Moment

“Luxury begins at home,” says Rago, “and this is an opportunity to not only create something beautiful, but to start an ongoing tradition of taking time to honor each other throughout your marriage—no matter what happens.” Make this about the experience, and about spending time together preparing for this milestone and celebrating it with the people who really matter to you. “A Zoom wedding has an air of elopement to it and it supports the couple to create their own narrative,” she says. Plus, while it may not have been the Plan A way to get married, it’ll still be an unforgettable day.

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