Back in the halcyon days of March, I vividly remember well-meaning people saying, You’re lucky your wedding is in August! Everything will be back to normal by then. As we all now know, nope. My (now) husband and I paired down our plan again and again, until all that was left of it was an elopement on the Oregon coast with his parents and my mother and sister, followed a few days later by distanced pizza in the park with local friends. And, it was perfect.
I opted out of doing a virtual ceremony (though we did have a videographer recording our day) but I was wondering what it was like to plan and execute a Zoom wedding. So I asked four couples and one wedding planner, and here’s what they had to say. Spoiler alert: mute the guests.
Hannah & Joey
Pre-COVID, Hannah and Joey were expecting a little over 200 guests in a large garden. “I think we knew right away that we weren’t going to be having our wedding that summer,” Hannah tells me. “I have a sister that lives in Italy and based on what she was telling us, we knew. “But, if the question is how long I held onto false hope I would say until the end of April. Our wedding was [scheduled for the] end of June.”
They weren’t originally planning to pivot to a Zoom wedding, but they wanted to be married and decided to go for it. The wedding took place in their backyard with Joey’s parents and best man, and Hannah’s mom and her maid of honor. “We bought an arch and $100 worth of flowers from the grocery store and that was our decor,” Hannah says. The Zoom was originally planned to be very small, just for Hannah’s dad and her siblings, but more guests found out about it and wanted to witness their wedding.
“We ended up inviting most people to the Zoom about two hours before we got married and it was about 50 people,” Hannah says. The couple still plans to have their big party eventually. “We both have very big families that were [planning to travel] from all over the world and we would love to have an event where they would get a chance to meet. We had, what I think is an amazing party planned, and we still want to attend it!” Hannah says.
Because she knew there would be another party, she was torn about whether or not to wear her original wedding dress for the Zoom. “I was afraid that [if I wore my] dress I would feel disappointed because the dress feels like it should be a part of a bigger event. I think it would have put more expectations on my Zoom wedding and would have felt like I needed to do more when I wanted to keep it small,” she says. Ultimately she wore a pair of white bike shorts, the Grace Loves Lace silky button-up she’d purchased to get ready in, a veil, and both Joey and Hannah wore flat white sneakers.
In hindsight, she may have planned the Zoom a little bit more, or given instructions to the guests. She’d assume everyone would mute themselves, and some of the folks had a tough time figuring that step out. “Some people viewing said it was a little annoying because they felt like they were missing stuff,” she says. Overall, the couple was thrilled with how everything turned out, and they followed the Zoom with dinner in their home, cooked by a private chef.
Alice & Bill
Alice and Bill were planning to get married with about 200 guests at the bride’s parents’ home in Chilmark, MA. The couple had planned three days of parties for their family and friends, many of whom would have been traveling to the island for the occasion (Chilmark is on Martha’s Vineyard).
The couple ended up getting married in the same spot they’d planned to, but with just eight people physically present, on the two year anniversary of their first date (which was not their original wedding date). Alice decided to wear the original custom Vera Wang dress she’d chosen before the plans changed. The first dress they sent was too short, which is really saying something when you consider that Alice is five feet tall, but they rushed a second dress and it fit. “If it had been a regular year I would have had the dress tailored with them a few times. It ended up being a little big, but since we weren’t dancing it worked,” Alice tells me.
Alice’s brother officiated and her parents were there, as were Bill’s mother and sister.
At the last minute, Alice decided she wanted to have live music as she walked down the aisle and so she called on her close friend Lizzy, who just so happens to be the pop singer, LPX, who wrote an original song for the occasion.
The person who was hired to provide A/V support for the original plan ended up running the Zoom; he brought a camera and handled all the technical aspects of the virtual wedding. At the end of the ceremony, all the guests were unmuted, and everyone cheered as the couple kissed. They thanked everyone for being part of their day and then said goodbye to the Zoomers.
When asked if she would have done anything different in hindsight, Alice says, “I might have turned off the chat function. There was apparently a lot of chatting amongst the older guests [and] some people said it was distracting.” The couple is planning on having a big one-year anniversary part next summer; “if the world returns to normal we’ll do it,” Alice says. And if they do, she already has her outfit covered; she “panic-purchased” a second dress from Lovely Bride when she thought her dress wasn’t going to make it.
Ty & Antonio
Ty and Antonio were planning on a 290 person wedding in a large vintage loft space in Chicago. Then COVID hit. “We knew that the wedding would need to be pivoted as of May 1, when the Governor of Illinois announced the reopening of the state would happen in phases. Based on the details of each phase we would have only been able to have our wedding as planned if we had a vaccine. Even then, the state of catering and vendors was all very iffy. So many businesses have closed permanently due to COVID,” the couple tells me.
They decided to have a small ceremony with immediate family and their bridal party at the event space, Row 24, in Chicago. They sent out a “We’re Going Virtual” invitation which included instructions on how to access the Zoom link through the couple’s website. The Zoom link was provided to 100 households, and the bride and groom wore the wedding dress and suit they’d picked out when they thought they’d be having a (much) bigger wedding. They used an iPad, iPhone, and laptop to provide multiple angles and purchased tripods for the iPad and phone. “During our rehearsal, all of this was tested to make sure everything was visible and could be heard clearly. Zoom also recorded the session, so now we have the ceremony saved forever,” the couple says.
Their original wedding planner, Shay Gordon of Vibrant Moments helped bring their idea to life, and they hired a videographer, PictureMe Working, specifically to handle the Zoom, switch the cameras, and provide several angles. “Money well spent,” the couple says. “He was amazing and perfected it. Our guests felt like they were in the room with us!”
The couple is completely satisfied with their wedding, and they are not planning to have another party, even once it’s safe to do so. “We had a small after-party in our backyard that night and everything turned out perfect. We wouldn’t change a thing.”
Sarah & Ben
Sarah and Ben did not have a wedding planned before the pandemic hit. “We knew we wanted to get married but dithered on the details— eloping? A small family gathering? A surprise party?” the couple says. Then Ben read an article in New York Magazine’s The Cut, simply titled, “It’s A Great Time To Elope.” He spontaneously made a virtual appointment with the City Clerk’s office, where their marriage license would be issued. The nearest appointment was set for August 18, two months away (these appointments would generally be required in person, but the City Clerk has allowed virtual appointments during the pandemic, an initiative known as ‘Project Cupid.’)
They were told they had to wait 24 hours before getting married but had to be married within 60 days (most marriage licenses expire after a time, though the exact amount of time varies by state). They went back-and-forth on a date, and while their anniversary fell on Oct.17th, which would have been the sixtieth (and final) day they could get married, that felt too far.
So, they made an appointment for the next business day, a Monday at 6 pm, with Instant Elopements, a website that bills itself as an alternative to City Hall. Instant Elopements offers in-person ceremonies with up to four guests, or you can make a virtual appointment, which Ben and Sarah did (City Hall does not offer virtual weddings and is currently closed for in-person ceremonies).
When asked how they prepared for the big (virtual) moment, Ben says, “I’ve found that stacking your computer on some books gets rid of double chins, so we did that. I wore a shirt and jacket, Sarah put on a nice shirt, and neither of us wore pants.”
“It took all of ten minutes. It went from ‘show me your ID’ to ‘do you take this man?’ very quickly. Suddenly, we were married! Soon after our license arrived in the mail. We put it on the fridge,” Sarah says.
The only thing they may have done differently if given the chance would be to have their own witness; instead, an offscreen witness was provided for them. “Scheduling our own witness and having them in our home (a guest in our home for the first time since March, when the NYC lockdown began) just felt like an extra headache, and neither of us has agreed on [when to have someone over] yet,” Ben says.
The couple does plan to have a party someday, possibly next year, close to their one-year anniversary.
A Planner’s Perspective: Amy Shack Egan of Modern Rebel Co.
Amy Shack Egan is the founder of event planning company, Modern Rebel, and more recently, Rebel Virtual which focuses on planning virtual events (including Zoom weddings). She describes her 2020 couples as, “Adaptable and partnership-focused. There is something about having all your plans thrown upside down and riding that wave together. You build grit in your relationship right there at the beginning. This year is certainly not how our clients imagined their year going but I’ve been floored with how they’re prioritizing partnership in this strange, seemingly apocalyptic time.”
She’s helped plan 15 virtual weddings and counting, and she tells me that the joys of a Zoom wedding include, “the intimacy, accessibility, and the ease — especially if you hire a virtual coordinator!” Beyond the stress of having to rebuild a wedding plan from the ground-up, the biggest challenges Shack Egan sees on the actual day of the virtual wedding are WiFi issues. “It’s one of the reasons we highly recommend a tech rehearsal or two! If you’re getting married outside, pack a portable hotspot and test it prior; not every area has solid cell reception.”
She says she highly recommends hiring a designated person to handle the technical aspects of the day from the cameras, to the guests’ log-in (there’s always gotta be at least one person who struggles with the link) to making sure everyone is muted. “It really takes the event to the next level to have someone on camera duty, doing multiple angles, and [troubleshooting] sound or wifi quality,” Shack Egan adds.