Traditions, with a twist


April 4, 2024

Planning for a wedding can be a delicate dance between tradition and preference. Here’s how couples are honoring the past while embracing the present with fresh takes on long-standing traditions.

by Amanda Lea

While standard wedding etiquette still serves as a guideline for everything from ceremonies to seating charts, the ways in which couples choose to say “I do” continue to evolve. Many partners are embracing the opportunity to create a celebration that mirrors what’s important to them.

Jackie Fogartie, owner of Jackie Fogartie Events, says regional trends and cultural practices play a big role in how traditions take shape on the big day. “It just depends on what the couple and their families are used to,” she says. “But it’s not ‘wrong’ to do something different. You can observe the Emily Post-esque traditions but still incorporate what’s important to you.”

Staying true to who you are as a couple is key, most planners agree. “I often remind my clients that it’s important to put more emphasis on infusing their wedding day with authenticity rather than trying to incorporate all the latest social media trends,” says Katrina Hutchins of Katrina Hutchins Events. “These platforms can be great for ideas, but it can also make you feel like you need to do things that aren’t true to who you are. If you or your partner don’t typically drink, you don’t need to have a ‘signature cocktail’ just because you saw it online.”

Photographs by Kristin Byrum and Demi Mabry

Laying the foundation

Today, some couples embark on the planning process before the proposal takes place — a shift from traditional wedding etiquette. Demand for popular wedding venues and vendors, along with favored wedding dates, make for a competitive environment. Hutchins notes she has already had inquiries into 2026 and has worked with several brides prior to their engagements.

Whenever you choose to begin preparations, Libby Sarver, owner of Details Wedding Planning, believes this part of the process is about much more than selecting a venue and securing a caterer. “There are big conversations that encompass topics like finances, family dynamics and religious beliefs,” she says. “And what’s beautiful is that as you are having these conversations and making these decisions together, you are thoughtfully laying the foundation of how your marriage will look in the future.”

Money talks

Although many weddings are still traditionally paid for by the bride’s family, weddings now are funded in a variety of ways. Knowing your budget and where the money is coming from is one of the first topics Sarver discusses with clients. “It doesn’t matter who’s paying, that looks different for everyone. But it’s important to walk through the categories and who will be paying for what. Having that conversation upfront is so important because it helps to set expectations.”

Photographs by Demi Mabry and Richard Israel

The main event

When it comes to the wedding day, many of the basic elements remain unchanged but Charlotte couples are finding unique ways to incorporate meaningful moments.

At their Mint Museum Uptown reception, Sammy and Blaise White’s immediate families joined them at the head table, instead of their wedding party. “We wanted to break bread together with our families for our first married meal,” Sammy says. “We didn’t think about it at the time, but this also ended up giving us some of our favorite photos!” 

Prioritizing what was important to them on their big day, Charlotte and Hardin Lucas took all their wedding party photos prior to the ceremony. “It was nice to actually be able to attend and enjoy our cocktail hour and have more time with our guests,” Charlotte says. The couple enjoyed a quick, private dinner before joining their guests for the festivities. “This gave us a few minutes to just be in the moment together.” 

Sarah and Josh Carter asked their parents to join them at the altar for a time of prayer at their Separk Mansion ceremony. And while they had planned on doing the bouquet-and-garter toss at the reception, they decided to forgo it, preferring to stay on the dance floor and keep the party going.

Belle and Chase Cowart opted to skip the big exit after their reception. “We had a flower petal toss after the ceremony, but at the end of the night we just thanked our guests for coming and we slipped out,” Belle says. 

No matter how much you plan things out, sometimes you have to roll with the unexpected. “We picked our wedding date a year in advance, but we never dreamed it would be one of the biggest college basketball games ever: Duke vs UNC in the Final Four,” Sammy says. The couple added a TV next to the dance floor so guests could stay tuned to the game while enjoying the soirée.

Photographs by Megan Travis and Emily Elisabeth

The wedding party

The people you choose to be by your side on your wedding day is a reflection of the community you and your partner have built over the years. It will look different for each couple and is often dependent on social interactions, family dynamics and other life circumstances. Lucas and her husband had a total of 30 wedding attendants (including 16 bridesmaids). “Everyone told us we were crazy — and we definitely were a little — but there wasn’t a single person I would have left out,” Lucas says. “They are all our nearest and dearest friends, and having them be part of our day was incredibly special.”

The Cowarts had a smaller wedding party (seven groomsmen and eight bridesmaids), but no flower girl or ring bearer. “We were the first in our families to get married, so there weren’t any littles in the family to play these parts,” Belle says. 

Aside from the size, couples are putting less emphasis on gender-specific roles. “It’s a lot more fluid,” Sarver says. “Especially when couples have developed a community together, there may not be clear lines between a ‘bride’s side’ and ‘groom’s side.’ It’s just a matter of recognizing the people who mean the most to you and having them be involved in some way.”

Hutchins has seen several weddings in which couples have found creative ways to incorporate family members in nontraditional roles. “One of my favorites is having grandma as the flower girl,” she says. Some couples even have their beloved pet play a supporting role.

Navigating the guest list

Your wedding day offers an opportunity to gather important people from various chapters of your life to celebrate your love and commitment. But knowing who to include can be easier said than done. 

Besides narrowing down the guest list, deciding whether to allow plus-ones for single guests and including children are common dilemmas. Sarver encourages couples to give plus-ones to their wedding party. From there, couples can create some parameters around the guest list. Sammy and Blaise decided guests could bring a plus-one if they were in a committed relationship for over six months. They also chose not to include children on the guest list. “We wanted to be able to enjoy everyone’s company, and we wanted our guests to have a night out to enjoy themselves!” Sammy says.

The digital divide

While digital invites are certainly common, paper still reigns supreme. There are pros to each — namely, digital invitations are a greener alternative (and more affordable), while paper is more formal and widely expected across generations. 

E-invites also run the risk of getting lost in the digital clutter. “A paper invitation is a tangible reminder for people to respond, especially if the return envelope is pre-stamped,” Hutchins says. If you’re considering a hybrid approach, Fogartie cautions couples to choose either paper or digital RSVPs. “It can be a headache trying to reconcile RSVPs when you’re figuring out who mailed theirs in, who submitted online, and who may have forgotten altogether.” 

Photographs by Samantha Laffoon

Mint to be

Old-school wedding rules state that giving tangible gifts from the couple’s registry is more personal than cash or gift cards, but requesting cash contributions instead of, or in addition to, wedding gifts is now widely accepted. 

Many couples appreciate the flexibility to use the funds as needed — whether for honeymoon experiences or home-improvement projects. In addition to a wedding registry, the Whites set up a cash fund to go toward remodeling their primary bathroom. “We appreciate the gifts from the registry … but we’re also thankful to people who donated to the project fund because it is something we get to enjoy just as much as our new kitchen plates.”

No matter what traditions you choose to observe — and how you choose to integrate them — Sarah Carter encourages couples to center their day around what’s important to them. “While compromises can be made to keep some peace, it’s a day to celebrate your marriage,” she says. “So let it be everything you hope and dream it to be.” 

Featured image: Photograph by Demi Mabry


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