There seems to be a growing divide in wedding extremism. As always, over-the-top, lavish, multi-day destination weddings are popular as ever, with ceremonies being situated among a jam-packed itinerary of luxury activities and décor.
Conversely, a growing number of couples are at the opposite end of the spectrum, choosing minimalism as a way to let their special day speak for itself.
At the core, however, is the desire to celebrate exactly the way the couple wants, with no expectations and a YOLO sort of attitude—one that certainly sprang from the uncertainty, isolation, and restrictions of the pandemic. Also at their core: luxury (though the word luxury in small-scale weddings takes on a different form than that of extravagant destination weddings).
While it’s easy to understand the mindset behind an all-out extravagant affair, it might take a moment to see why couples are choosing to downsize the pomp and circumstance of their big day. Let’s take a closer look at these small-scale weddings and see what makes them shine.
Downsizing the big day
The three main types of scaled-back weddings are micro-weddings, elopements, and pop-up weddings.
It’s a bit up to interpretation what makes a wedding “micro,” but the defining element is that this wedding is much smaller than average. McKenzi Taylor, founder of the Las Vegas wedding coordinating company Cactus Collective Weddings, defines a micro-wedding as 50 guests or less. Basically, a micro-wedding has all the features of a traditional wedding but on a much smaller scale.
Anna Treimer, founder of Wildly Connected Photography, says that elopements are a bit harder to define, because many couples define them differently. Some couples invite up to 20 guests while others have none, making the day about them and their partner alone. While the mere mention of the word "elopement" may conjure up images of sneaking off and tying the knot in a glitzy Las Vegas chapel, these days, the stigma of elopements is fading away as this type of wedding becomes more elegant and intentional.
Finally, pop-up weddings get couples in and out of a brief ceremony that takes place in a temporary venue, set up and broken down by a single wedding coordinating team. This allows multiple couples to get married at the same venue on a date that could otherwise be difficult to book due to limited availability. Pop-up weddings often have a theme, with décor set up, a bouquet and boutonnière provided, and an officiant, a photographer, and a coordinator on-site to take care of everything. The couple merely signs up for one of the slots and shows up for a stress-free, simple ceremony.
As for the festivities around the ceremony, these are often downsized as well. Couples often swap out receptions in favor of dining out or hiring a private chef to cook for them at a vacation rental. The simpler each aspect of the wedding, the better.
Why less is more
While there are many reasons now to minimize a wedding, the initial trend spiked because it was simply the only option. During COVID, couples had to make the difficult decision to either push off their wedding indefinitely, waiting months or even years to get married, or else scale completely back to make the ceremony safe for all involved and satisfy capacity restrictions. Additionally, supply chain issues made it necessary to cut back on décor and supplies.
Based on these circumstances, Treimer says, couples began to realize the upside to inviting fewer guests and having less on their pre-wedding to-do lists. In a way, COVID normalized small-scale weddings.
These days, minimizing a wedding is a move of empowerment. Traditional weddings, Treimer points out, come with a lot of external pressures and expectations. “No matter what they [decide], someone in the family [will be] upset... [or the couple is] worried about keeping people entertained.... You shouldn’t have to worry about that on your wedding day.”
Some of Treimer’s couples now will get closer to the finish line, realize that their special day is becoming more stressful than enjoyable, and scrap the whole thing, opting for a minimal approach instead. “I just want to give them the biggest high-five!” she says. “People are realizing that doing things outside of a traditional wedding allows you to do what feels right for you. If first dances don’t feel good to you, or you have a strained relationship with your family, who wants to have a first dance with your parent in front of hundreds of people?” Small-scale weddings allow the freedom for a couple to express themselves as they are. “Having those smaller weddings opens up the door for you to basically do whatever you want.”
Another upside of small-scale weddings can be the cost, though not all small-scale weddings run on a tight budget. For those that do, ditching the excess and investing only in the essentials can save couples a decent amount of money that can be put toward a honeymoon or life together. Taylor says that given the current economy and inflation, with angst and anxiety around cost, she doesn’t see this scaling back going away anytime soon.
Plus, Taylor notes, “People are looking for quality over quantity,” pointing out that to-be-weds are craving great experiences, and those who can’t necessarily afford large-scale luxury usually end up sacrificing people or the budget to create a semi-luxurious feel. By starting off small, dollars aren’t necessarily stretched thin and instead can be invested in a few high-quality touches that make the day feel luxurious.
Sustainability also plays a role in smaller weddings: with less décor, less invitations—less of everything—small-scale weddings create less waste. Pop-ups are especially eco-friendly, reusing the same wedding set and props for multiple ceremonies.
Finally, in this age of quick turnarounds, small-scale weddings can allow for a sooner wedding date from the time of proposal, easing the stress of finding a venue and planning a ceremony and reception in a short amount of time. To wit, the New York Times published an article on “Flash Weddings”—weddings that “are usually planned within three months or less—sometimes within a week. They are typically less pricey since they are frequently held at no-cost locations like parks or beaches, with less formal decorations. They also involve fewer guests and can happen any day of the week.” With many couples working on short timelines, small-scale weddings are the realistic way to make a ceremony low-key yet memorable.
Tiny wedding plans
“An elopement planner probably sounds like an oxymoron—but it’s totally not,” says an article from WeddingWire. As previously mentioned, elopements have shifted from spur-of-the-moment courthouse marriages to simple but intentional elegant minimalist ceremonies. Planners can still be of great value to a couple who is scaling back their wedding: they help figure out the type of elopement, help coordinate the location, work within a couple’s budget, connect couples to the right vendors, help with the design, cover legalities, create a timeline, and provide support.
The legal aspect itself is important, and one that couples might not be aware of. For example, outdoor elopements and ceremonies require permits, both for the ceremony and for the filming and photography, along with application fees. “Many people think of elopements as a glorified portrait session and that you can set up a table in the woods, who cares?” says Treimer. But you can get fined for skipping the permits, she warns. The legal requirements change depending on the state or location, so as a planner, you can relieve a couple’s stress by knowing and handling the legal aspects of their ceremony.
Venue owner and former planner Dona Liston (Lambermont Events) offers small-scale weddings and agrees that planners are essential for their success.
“Small scale weddings don’t always mean small budgets,” she says. “Many couples today are planning smaller weddings because they want to make the event more intimate, more meaningful. These couples also want to enjoy their day and not be stressed out. This is where a planner is essential.”
Liston encourages using impactful language in your marketing, making sure you don’t minimize the offered experience just because it’s a smaller size. Use words like “intimate,” “stress free,” and “romantic” and stay away from “micro,” “small,” or “budget.” Small weddings are equally as significant as large ones, so sell them with the same enthusiasm as your average and bigger weddings. They also can generate sizable profit, since they often take place during the week or on Sundays, meaning you can fill in days you wouldn’t normally be able to book business.
The best way to approach small-scale wedding planning, says Liston, is to get to know why a small wedding is important to your client. She asks her clients three questions:
- What is the dream wedding?
- What is the budget?
- What is your priority?
Then be prepared for any answer your client gives.
“Really listen and don’t assume,” encourages Liston. “Our job is to help our couples have that dream wedding within their budget, emphasizing their priorities. I tell our couples, ‘If it’s not important to you, don’t do it.’” Work with your client to be creative and start new traditions if that’s what they’re looking for.
As small–scale weddings gain traction, you may decide it’s time to add them to your offerings. By being creative and understanding why each couple is scaling back, you can make their small ceremony a big, memorable experience.
Catch Dona Liston Live at Catersource + The Special Event!