A few weeks ago, the culmination of a year and a half's worth of planning came in went in one beautiful, amazingly fun blur. My husband and I went back to my home state of South Carolina and got married in gorgeous, romantic Charleston. From the start, we knew we wanted to try to make more sustainable choices when it came to planning our wedding but getting married has turned into such a business that the pressure to have a perfect event can get in the way.
I didn't want the day to feel so gluttonous, so with a lot of creativity and plenty of patience, we managed to create an event that felt completely personal and special without a tremendous amount of waste. I thought I'd share a few of the choices we made with the hope of giving other eco-conscious brides a few good ideas!
Since our guests were flying from all over the country, we wanted to make sure they could turn the wedding weekend into a little vacation that allowed them to enjoy Charleston and the surrounding coast. We chose to have our wedding on a Friday to give everyone that opportunity and were pleasantly surprised to find that most venues are actually more affordable to rent on Friday as opposed to Saturday. We also decided to get married in the Fall, one of the less popular seasons, which also dropped the price and made the Southern heat much more bearable.
Cypress trees and spanish moss feel like home to me and we knew finding that classic, beautiful Lowcountry setting would mean we'd need to buy/rent/make a lot less stuff to dress up the space. We also wanted a place where we could have both the ceremony and the reception to eliminate a big, gas-guzzling caravan of vehicles from site to site.
We couldn't have found a more perfect backdrop than Magnolia Garden's Carriage House, which only needed a few personal details to make the event really special. A few vintage lanterns hanging from the trees rooted our ceremony site and the landscape was already so beautiful, we opted to keep it simple.
It is shocking just how much stuff you need to host a 160 person wedding. From the tables and chairs to the dinnerware and centerpieces, your budget and patience can quickly get overrun. We knew we didn't want to have 20 tables full of flowers that would only get tossed at the end of the evening, so I had the idea to locally source produce for the table displays so we could donate all of it to the Lowcountry Food Bank
, a Charleston non-profit that feeds hundreds of children and seniors each week. There were even cute little pots of herbs.
We ran with the agriculture theme and my husband made really awesome signs for the tables inspired by vintage product labels. Guests could read about the non-profit while they were finding their seats at the "peach" table and we found that guests were really inspired by the mission and enjoyed the purposeful decor. It felt really good to know that very little on the table would go to waste.
For a more festive touch, I made this easy DIY fringe bunting that made the rustic space party ready. The super simple tutorial is here
. The best part is that we kept these to reuse again and again at home for parties and events.
We tried to limit how many items we bought new for the wedding and used great resources like my Grandmother, who's an avid collector of all things vintage and beautiful. She lent us wicker lawn furniture, this cool old radio and lots of little decor items that made the site feel warm and inviting without buying virtually anything brand new.
We also thought it would be great to incorporate our baby pictures in a creative way around the space but we couldn't use pins, nails or anything that would damage the historic building. I decided to make good use of the thick posts running the length of the Carriage House and bought some gold cord, which we wrapped around the poles and clipped family pictures on.
The final decor touch was inspired by family lore, a great story about how my great-grandfather and great-grandmother got together. My great-grandmother was being courted by the town minister but had fallen in love with my great-grandfather, so they decided to elope against the wishes of their families. The story goes that my great-grandfather parked his truck outside a church window where my great-grandmother was waiting. Notoriously fearless, she hopped out of the church window into the truck below and they drove to the courthouse to wed. At some point during the ceremony, a truck pulled into the courthouse parking lot and my great-grandmother was convinced it was her father and bolted into the woods. It wasn't angry dad after all and once they retrieved her from the woods, they finished making it official and spent the next year trying to make up with their families. Against all odds, they were happily married for 76 wonderful, loving years.
It was this story that made me decide to opt out of the traditional photo booth (although they're so fun!) and save on paper, ink and all the props so that we could bring this 1930s mint green Ford truck (dubbed Sweet Pea) to the site for the guests to check out and take pictures with. This was, in hindsight, one of our best decisions. It set the tone for our wedding as it greeted people at the front of the Carriage House and also gave us some awesome photos that will always remind me of my great-grandparents love story and a marriage that I so admired and aspired to when I was growing up.
Floral costs is really where your wedding budget can get upended. With a florist quote in the thousands of dollars, I decided to perfect my flower tying skills and make my own bouquets and boutonnieres. There are a million tutorials about this online and it's remarkably easy to do, even for the inexperienced. I found an amazing wholesale florist in Charleston and was able to hand pick our flowers the day before the event and get all the supplies in one place.
On the morning of the wedding, my wonderful bridesmaids woke up a little early and spent an hour and a half helping me tie bouquets as we sat on the porch of our rented beach house. Although it was a little more stressful than having someone else do it, I was so pleased with how the flowers turned out and it only cost a manageable $240 total. Other small details like this thrift shop flower girl basket that was re-painted and decorated my grandmother were perfect compliments.
When searching for a dress, I was surprised by how difficult it was to find something that wasn't made in China. I lucked up when I found my Claire Pettibone dress, which was manufactured domestically in California. The fact that it took far fewer resources to make and ship only made me love it more. There are some truly exquisite dress designers working domestically, so it's worth it to do some research and it also helps narrow your search tremendously, which is a blessing in disguise since dress shopping can be an overwhelming experience!
It was also important to me that my bridesmaids buy dresses that they loved and would wear again instead of something that was a one-time use, so I gave them free reign to pick out whatever amazing dress they wanted to get for the wedding as long as it was a metallic color. These stylish ladies did not disappoint and all of them got a dress that they felt comfortable in and made them look like a million bucks. Super hot, right? ;)
My groom opted for a suit that he knew he would wear again and again and had yellow bow ties custom made for all of his groomsmen. Our Brooklyn-based seamstress even went with us to the fabric store to pick the perfect shade for the project and they doubled as great gifts for the guys.
Every Southerner knows the value of amazing comfort food, so our only real pre-requisite for the wedding was an awesome dinner that we could actually sit down and enjoy. Instead of picking a fancy, expensive caterer, we opted to work with a great food truck called Pot Kettle Black that uses locally sourced ingredients and put the most emphasis on the food itself. They did a bang up job on our shrimp and grits, hand carved prime rib and plenty of local roasted veggies.
Buffet style can mean a lot of wasted food and plated meals didn't give our guests a chance to try all the items if they wanted to, so we chose a family-style presentation. This gave guests the chance to actually share a meal and an excuse to mingle with those at their table.
Perhaps the biggest decision of all is the wedding band selection, as you'll be wearing these for a long time to come. It was very important to us that our rings be made by local jewelers using ethically sourced metals. My engagement ring is an Art Deco beauty and I loved that the stone came from a conflict-free mine and that the ring had some history. We purchased our wedding bands with the same ethics in mind, so we had the groom's made at Brooklyn's own In God We Trust
and mine by a local designer that owns the beautiful jewelry store Catbird
The final flourish of bridal accessories were all handmade or borrowed. My freshwater pearl earrings were a last-minute Etsy purchase mailed promptly by an awesome designer and my bracelet belonged to my late grandmother, whose spirit I was happy to carry with me for the event. All the bridesmaids' earrings were a gift from me and locally made, as well.
We couldn't have asked for a wedding that was more "us" and we had what was easily the best night of our lives. Although non-traditional (the girls and I actually danced down the aisle to The Black Keys' Everlasting Light, much to the delight of our wedding guests), I think our guests knew that this wedding was exactly what we wanted and represented our union and the values we care about perfectly. Some of the sustainable aspects were easy and others took more work but we left our wedding feeling good about the event and knew we did everything we could to lighten its environmental footprint.