The formal wedding

The formal wedding, while staunchly traditional, takes a lot of the guesswork out of the planning process. And sometimes sticking to a time-tested formula makes sense (think Classic Coke and Oreo cookies with milk: There are some traditions you just don’t mess with).

Some standbys of the formal wedding (according to Web site weddings.about.com) include: A black or white bow tie for the groom, a formal gown for the bride, white roses or orchids, a small orchestra or a band playing standards (no Boy George covers here) and a vintage Rolls for transportation.

Local events planner Shay Brown (shaybrownevents.com) adds to that list, “Most formal wedding happen after 6 p.m., most are black tie and include a plated and served dinner.”

The elaborate affairs are not for those with attention-deficit disorder—details are of utmost importance, and there’s far more involved that what takes place in front of the minister.

“There are many elements,” Brown notes. “There can be a brunch for the bridesmaids, a golf outing for the groomsmen, a pre-ceremony cocktail hour leading in to the ceremony, leading into a second cocktail, leading into the plated supper.” And guests aren’t expected to dash off with full stomachs—there’s often a next-day brunch planned.

“You make a weekend out of it,” Brown explains, which leads to two important points: Formal weddings require venues that can accommodate the guests (100-250 people is typical) and their activities. And formal weddings also require a substantial budget.

According to Brown, the average wedding she plans these days runs $20,000 to $25,000, while a formal event is closer to the $75,000-to-$100,000 range.

“This is not for a limited budget by any means,” the wedding planner confirms. “A formal wedding is an event where you will pay whatever it takes to produce the experience you really want.”

While formal and traditional weddings aren’t necessarily the same thing, the two share many similarities. There’s a sense of class, taste and old Hollywood glamour throughout. Bridesmaids in mismatched dresses would never do; nor would potluck meals, groomsmen pairing suits with Converse sneakers or wedding guests trying to interject their own personalities into the big day.

The words “black tie” pretty much sum up the expectation, along with the idea of a guest list that expands to include corporate contacts and business associates.

But what, exactly, does “black tie” mean? Web site GoFormal.org says: “Every man in the wedding party, and the male guests, are encouraged to wear a black tuxedo …  the ladies are encouraged to wear formal gowns or cocktail dresses.”

The site goes on to suggest that men who own their own tuxes update their look with a new shirt and cuff links, or a full-back vest and tie set. Men who don’t own tuxes can rent one to suit their budgets. What “black tie” doesn’t mean, ironically, is that male guests need to suit up with black ties.

“Your guests can accessorize their tuxedos to create their own look,” GoFormal.org asserts. “There are hundreds of vest and tie combinations to choose from, a multitude of shirts and shoes, and multiple fabric textures and suit cuts to choose from when selecting formal wear.”

For sticklers to custom, a white-tie event is the most formal of all. Other customs and matters of etiquette include:

• The groom’s family is seated on the right side of the church.

• If the bride and groom have a destination wedding, a dress code must be specified on the invitation.

• It is never appropriate for guests to take photos during the ceremony.

• The mother of the bride should head the receiving line at the reception.

• The groom should offer the second toast at the reception (the best man offers the first toast).

Etiquette, penguin suits and a jazz ensemble at the reception … what couple is right for this sort of wedding? “Ultimately, a wedding should represent who you truly are,” Brown advises. “You want your guests to walk away knowing who the two of you are, and your value of family.”

Her number-one tip for couples planning such an event? “There are so many different levels of formality you could do,” she notes. “Really have a vision and a theme from the beginning.”

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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