Couples are saying ‘I do’ to casual post-pandemic weddings

“Now, they are looking to mark the occasion in a meaningful way but possibly without all the fanfare of previous times.” 
Couples are saying ‘I do’ to casual post-pandemic weddings

Small ceremonies are in vogue in the post-pandemic picture.

Low-key brides, little-to-no lead time, new gifting etiquette: Covid-19 has well and truly disrupted the institution that is the Irish wedding. And, while the rise of more casual ceremonies may have been exacerbated by the pandemic, the trend looks set to continue after Leo Varadkar warned people this week to plan on the basis that guest numbers will remain at 50.

“There are a lot of couples who might have done their paperwork during Covid-19 and have had to cancel a wedding three or four times at this point,” says marriage celebrant Barbara Ryan (IrishCeremony.ie). 

“Now, they are looking to mark the occasion in a meaningful way but possibly without all the fanfare of previous times.” 

Couples are so exhausted by the events of the last eighteen months that even if a ‘fairytale’ wedding with a huge guest list was permitted, it doesn’t necessarily appeal right now. 

Instead, trends coming to the fore include shorter lead times, a rise in informal venues and pared-back ceremonies which, overall, have the makings of a more chilled-out day.

“I’m working with a couple who have abandoned both a traditional venue and formal dining,” says Ryan. “The ceremony will be outdoors as friends and family sip Champagne and enjoy canapes. There’s no bridesmaids, no groomsmen; just a simple ceremony with vows and exchanging of rings that’s quite short.” 

One alternative that’s fast gaining popularity is that of the back-garden wedding. It’s popular, Ryan says, because Covid-19 has opened people’s minds to what’s possible in a non-traditional setting.

“It’s definitely a trend,” says Maria Reidy, founder of Maria Reidy Events and Signature Rentals, a one-stop shop that rents stylish tablescaping pieces for weddings and events.

“During the restrictions, I worked with a couple who married at a ceremony on Dalkey Island, followed by a very casual lunch at their home afterwards. Another couple put their money into landscaping their back garden so they’d have it for the wedding and to enjoy afterwards.” 

Garden parties, however more relaxed in feel, do come with a caveat: Reidy warns costs can creep up compared to a venue where a lot of essentials are already included in the price you pay. “Bringing in things like a florist, catering and a marquee can be costly but the upside is you have more control.” It’s not all about the bucolic, however. 

Intimate city weddings are seeing a renewed verve thanks to the hustle and bustle of a re-opened Dublin. A firm favourite, The Westbury has been capitalising on its private dining space The Trinity Room for small groups, according to Kate Gough, events manager at the hotel.

The magic of the big day, sans all the headaches? It's catching on after a traumatic time. Photo: Dora Kazmierak
The magic of the big day, sans all the headaches? It's catching on after a traumatic time. Photo: Dora Kazmierak

Gough admits she is seeing smaller groups take better advantage than ever of the city setting. “They’re doing photos in St Stephen’s Green, stopping at Bruxelles for a pint, booking a meal in town the next day,” she says. “Post Covid-19, I think people who previously would have seen the countryside as lovely scenery now view a bustling city centre in that sense.” Aesthetics aside, couples’ priorities have shifted massively since the beginning of Covid-19 and a more casual wedding reflects that, particularly when it comes to budget.

“There are couples sitting on €20,000 or €30,000 for their big day who have spent the last year and a half indoors and can see how that money might be better used for an extension or home improvement,” says Ryan.

“They might decide to do a wedding for a quarter of the price, that marks the day in a way that makes sense to them, but isn't going to cost an arm and a leg.” According to fashion index Lyst, searches for short wedding dresses have spiked 170 percent in the UK since the beginning of this year. Inspiration is rife, with celebrities such as Lily Allen, who married last September in a Dior blazer-style mini-dress, providing inspiration and brands like Rixo and Warehouse offering affordable collections for the less traditional bride.

“The ‘princess’ dress is really not in fashion at the moment. Brides want to be more casual,” says Reidy. “Rather than put all the money into the dress, brides are investing in really cool things they can wear again like shoes, hair accessories and jewellery.” 

Does the traditional white dress still apply? Yes and no, according to Reidy. “Many brides are deciding to wear a colourful dress the day they go to the registry office, but for a party with family and friends white and cream tend to dominate.” 

A laid back wedding day offers a chance for personalisation. The last year of lockdown has seen a huge focus on homewares and the table; it’s a trend permeating weddings, too. 

“Previously, a lot of brides would have been happy to go with what was provided by the venue for the tablescape,” says Reidy. “Now, they’re aware how something like a colourful plate or a gingham napkin can really transform a table.” 

Rustic touches infuse details such as flowers. Gone are structured, artificial looking bouquets in favour of ethereal florals that have a freshly-picked look. 

“Brides are also more discerning,” says Reidy, “they’re aware of choosing seasonal flowers that come from Irish growers.” 

All in all, a low-key approach to a wedding doesn’t have to mean a day that's any less joyous. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Ditching societal pressure allows for a celebration that recognises the couple in a real way. After all, isn’t that what the couple signed up for in the first place? 

In an age where authenticity is key and movements like ‘Instagram versus reality’ are taking hold, it seems only fitting to deflate the overblown showiness of Irish weddings past. As Ryan says, “It’s about seeing the couple as they are now rather than projecting some kind of aspirational image.” 

Is it all just a knee jerk reaction to the trauma of the last year and half? Perhaps, only time will tell. But the main thing to remember, according to Ryan, is that right now couples have a lot of choice. 

“If a bride wants to do an outdoor ceremony, glass of wine in hand, she can, or she can have 10 close friends in her favourite gallery. The day can be as laid back or as elaborate as you choose — it’s all about what you want.” 

The Gifting Guide

Those attending more unconventional nuptials this summer may feel a little confused as to the best etiquette for gifting. For instance, if you’re only invited to one part of the day, do you gift the same amount as old times? Equally, does the Irish tradition of cash in a card prevail?

“Irish people are very generous and I think the tradition of giving money in a card will remain,” says Reidy. Rather than cutting back, the likelihood is, given the stress corona couples have endured, family and friends will want to go the extra mile to mark the wedding day in a special way.

Donations towards travel abroad and honeymoons may not be as popular at this time, but as priorities shift more couples are looking for a gift registry. “Instead of getting married earlier, a couple may have bought their first house, so they're asking for home-related gifts,” says Reidy.

So, what happens if you’re only invited to one part of the day? The territory becomes a little muddied, in Ryan’s opinion. While the immediate family will likely gift the same, it could differ with extended family and friends. The upside, however, is that it might lend itself to more thoughtful gifting. 

“A friend might pay for the bride’s bouquet or buy a gorgeous piece for the couple’s home. If you’re going really informal, maybe it’s a potluck wedding and your mate brings a casserole.”

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