Excerpted from the book
Bridal Style


Whether it begins with a march down a church aisle, a cab ride to City Hall, a walk into a trellised garden, or a descent down your own staircase, a marriage ceremony will unite you and the person you love as husband and wife. Regardless of the setting you select, this event is a universal rite that signifies the beginning of a new life together.

The religious or civil service that you choose will establish the basic format of your weding ceremony. Those elements that make a wedding ceremony unique, however, arise from the thoughts and emotions you and your groom choose to share with each other and with your guests and the ways you express these sentiments.

photo not available
Well-wishers fill the church and watch while a unity candle is lit, a gesture symbolizing the joining together of the two families.
Photo: Jonathan Farrer.


Writing part or all of your ceremony is one way to express your feelings. Personalized vows that reflect your commitment to each other must come from the heart, and your own words can reaffirm the themes of love, joy, fidelity, and respect that are so meaningful. As you prepare your vows, though, be sure to consult first with the officiant performing your service to determine which, if any, passages may be mandatory.

You may want to have printed wedding programs that include important elements of your ceremony. As a keepsake as well as a guide, these programs can enhance the wedding for your guests by allowing them to follow the service more closely. The program may hold a note of thanks to parents, a description of a unique tradition, a prayer or quotation or poem, or a tribute to a deceased relative or friend. Standard information in a wedding program usually includes the wedding date, location, and time; the names of those in the wedding party; the officiant or co-celebrants; and any musicians or soloists and the titles of the music performed.

The music you select for your wedding will set the tone for your ceremony from the prelude through the final joyous recessional. Whether you're planning to be married in a majestic church or at home or in a more unusual setting, choose music that is appropriate to your wedding environment.

The grandeur of a trumpet flourish, the classic dignity of a church organ, or the charming simplicity of a soloist or string quartet--decide who will perform your wedding music, and surround yourself and your guests with the sounds you love. You may want to stay with the traditional--Lohengrin's "Bridal Chorus" and Mendelssohn's "Wedding March"--or possibly something lighter or more intimate. Love songs and ballads, even folk songs and movie themes, might be among your list of favorites. Your organist or a musical friend or family member can give you some suggestions, but be sure to clear your final choices with the officiant who will perform the ceremony.


A wedding offers you and your fiancé the perfect opportunity to express yourselves, whether by incorporating a favorite interest or an unusual experience as a theme. For many couples, the object is to create an unforgettable day--in more ways than one.

When Jennifer and Russell Palmer began to plan their wedding, they knew no routine day would do. Lovers of all that's medieval, this Connecticut couple created a Renaissance event.

"I've always been infatuated with King Arthur's story and Celtic ancestry," says Jennifer, who also wanted a warm feeling for her November wedding. "We found an English Tudor manor complete with stone floors, stained-glass windows, and a stone hearth--it was ideal. An Elizabethan quartet played during our ceremony, which took place in the great hall. It was drizzling outside--even the weather was English--so we had a fire going. An old hymn was played for the processional and a bagpipe was played for the recessional. At the reception, the tables were arranged to form a large U, and candles ran the length of them. And, of course, our cake was in the shape of a castle."

Science played a role in the courtship and marriage of Janet and Doug Hardy. She's a research scientist who studies snow, he's an Arctic hydrologist, and they met while on a glaciological research training program in Alaska. Although from different states--she from Colorado, he from Idaho--they dated and eventually both settled in California's Yosemite National Park. With summers off, Doug and Janet take on seasonal jobs during those months. One year, while Janet worked on Mount Olympus in Washington State, Doug paid a visit. The couple decided to marry while on Panic Peak!

The wedding that followed took place at Taft Point, a panoramic spot some two thousand feet above Yosemite Valley. The couple and their one hundred guests walked one mile through a forest to reach the granite point. Janet wore a silk dress that Doug actually made for her; she sewed the vest for his outfit.

"The ceremony itself was simple," recalls Janet. "We basically wrote our own vows and had friends play the music. During the service, we asked the approval of all our guests, rather than just our parents. The response was lots of hoots and hollers, which made us feel just great. After the ceremony, everyone lingered at the point for awhile, eating chocolate and drinking fruit juice --we all needed energy for the long walk back!"

As director of public relations for the Four Seasons Hotel and Resort on Bali, Ilona Toth admires the gentle, spiritual ways of the island's natives. Thus she and her fiancé Gary Robinson decided to marry there. Ilona arrived in Hong Kong from the United States on a newspaper assignment and eventually made her way to Bali. While living in China, she met Gary, a native Londoner who was also working in Hong Kong. Their romance survived her move to the tropics, and while on one of his frequent visits to see Ilona, Gary proposed. And neither of them ever thought twice about where they would be wed.

"The Balinese people are very genuine, warm, and friendly--they love celebrations and festivals. And since they have so many rites of their own, they especially love the idea of marriage," says Ilona, who designed their handpainted wedding invitations, each one mailed in its own batik box. "Our ceremony took place at sunset on a hillside in Ubud, a well-known artist colony that overlooks the valley, river, and rice paddies. Traditional Balinese decorations--intricate palm-leaf weavework and magnificent orchids--were used all around. And a gamelan band, which is made up of bamboo instruments, played in the background. Everything was just perfect for us, and truly mystical."

Ruth Epstein, a justice of the peace living in Kent, Connecticut, has hiked, often literally, to some fairly unusual wedding sites in order to perform her duties. She explains, "One couple asked that I meet them at our town's noted covered bridge. They were cycling enthusiasts who loved to cross the bridge on bike trips. At the appointed hour on the wedding day, they arrived on their bicycles, we stopped traffic for several minutes for the marriage ceremony, and they cycled off on their honeymoon."

Even in a modern metropolis, some couples have unique ways of tying the knot. When Stacey Daniels and Cas Trapp, both floral designers in New York City, decided to marry, they had no way of knowing that the city's biggest blizzard in decades would hit on the same day as their March 1995 wedding. Naturally, they worried about whether their family, friends, and officiant would arrive not just on time, but at all. Somehow nearly every guest defied the odds and made it to the loft Stacey and Cas had chosen for their ceremony and reception. With the storm raging outside, the lushly decorated interior space looked especially romantic in contrast.

What do two floral designers choose for their wedding decor? "Tons of lilacs, verbinium, French tulips, Anna roses from the south of France, lisianthus, and daffodils," says Stacey, who did the planning herself but not the actual decorating. "Cas is from Holland, and his father and stepmother are also florists there. They did almost everything. Pink and red rose petals lined window ledges, bouquets with wired ribbons were carried on each service tray, blooming pear branches were placed on the floor around pedestals that held even more flowers. No two arrangements were alike; they were positioned on the floor all around the loft in different types of urns. The colors were very pale and cool: lavender, blues, soft yellow, blush pink, and a range of greens from light to dark all created this incredible environment. We brought an entire spring garden inside on a wildly snowy day."

Also taking inspiration from their work, Janis and George Obermeier let the sky be their limit. As owners of Natural Highs, a company that promotes drug-free ways to feel good, Janis and George took their marriage to new heights- in a hot air balloon.

"This is a second marriage for both of us, so we wanted to do something different," says George. "Because we had some family members who weren't able to ride in a balloon, the actual vows were exchanged while we were still on the ground. Then two balloons went up, one carrying Janis, myself, and our kids, the other with Janis's father and some friends. It was such a peaceful, serene experience. The only problem was that because the wind conditions had to be perfect, we couldn't invite guests to join us in the air since there was no guarantee we would be able to lift off that day. And we had a wonderful reception on the ground with all of our friends and family one month later."

Billy Barrow was working in Florida as a diving instructor when Ruth Schrenzel signed up as one of his first students. When love bloomed, an underwater wedding seemed the obvious choice. "I grew up on the water and made my living on the water, so it was a natural decision," says Billy, who still teaches diving when he's not on duty as a Coral Gables police officer. The ceremony took place on the Key Largo Dry Rocks near a statue of Christ--a gift from Italian divers that is dedicated to the lost souls of the sea. "All the vows were written on slates," remembers Billy. "Ruth and I only had to check an 'I Do' box to make it official. Some of our guests were in the water with us; those who didn't dive watched from a glass-bottomed boat. This was also followed by a religious ceremony--on dry land."

Many of today's couples choose to marry far away from home, and no locale is more coveted than tropical Hawaii. Alicia Bay Laurel, the director of A Wedding Made in Paradise, based on the island of Maui, has coordinated hundreds of long-distance weddings for couples who seek the unusual and can't be there to plan the event.

"Some months I'll have as many as thirty weddings to work on," says Laurel, who regularly gets calls and letters from nearly every country--Singapore to Scotland. "I've planned a Jewish wedding for an Argentinian and Canadian couple, a ceremony for a Danish architect and his Chinese bride complete with canoe transportation, and an off-shore catamaran service officiated by a Samoan minister. But one of my favorites was the wedding on horseback of two grandparents- their grandchildren urged the union. The bride raised thoroughbreds and the groom was a horsesboer, so the mode of transportation was a logical one. The ceremony was performed high on a hillside overlooking the ocean. It just took your breath away."

Medieval music, "best dogs," balloons, cliffside vows, a marriage made in Bali, or even a lovely service in your own neighborhood. The wedding rite means something different to every couple who takes part in it. If you rely on your own creative ideas and the resources to accommodate them, few dreams need go unfulfilled.

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