Alternative Wedding Ideas

Alternative Wedding Ideas

Of all the alternative wedding trends that have come through Ventura County in the past few years — the unity candle, the rose exchange, the customized vows — one is making its mark in no uncertain terms: the need to be different.

“More than ever before, brides are wanting something in their wedding that’s one-of-a-kind,” said Kerry Lee Dickey, the wedding coordinator at the Pierpont Inn in Ventura. “The whole emphasis now is on quality rather than quantity. It’s on small groups and simpler styles. And most of all, it’s on personalization — having something in your wedding that’s special and that has never been done before.”

LaStarr Heiliger, who runs the LaStarr & Co. bakery in Ventura with her husband, Roger, has witnessed this alternative wedding trend as well.

“There’s a great appreciation for handwork on cakes,” she said. “Couples — and grooms are just as interested as the brides — are saying they want something different, some special touch that makes the cake something the guests haven’t seen before.”

In her business, that can translate into unusual flavorings, unusual shapes or unusual colorings, such as brown chocolate, which is highly popular right now.

“The cake doesn’t have to be white anymore,” she said.

Nor does it have to be the traditional tier. More and more, she’s asked to do intricate spirals or offsets, in which cakes of different sizes are spread across the table to create a special design. She uses gumpaste, which she describes as a candy clay, to create flowers or bows that cascade down tier to tier or that link cakes arranged in an offset pattern. She’ll also incorporate fresh flowers or candles into the design.

“All this is very different, yet it can be done in a traditional, elegant way,” Heiliger explained.

Ava Carroll-Brown, who coordinated her first wedding 33 years ago and has been running Brownstone, an event consulting business, out of Agoura since 1992, has found that traditions and ethnic customs can be effective tools in creating one-of-a-kind weddings.

Often, she will spend hours researching the theme of a wedding to make sure everything is authentic.

“Even the trimming on the ribbon is important,” she said. “Everything down to the last detail has to work together.”

When her son, Bryan, married in September, she coordinated a wedding and reception at the Sherwood Country Club that paid tribute to the Scottish and English heritages of the two families. A 22-pound Excalibur sword was shipped from the East Coast, and a 14th-century chalice, a family heirloom, was used during the reception. The cake was designed to look like a castle. The men wore kilts, and bagpipes and drums replaced traditional organ music.

Each table was decorated with intricate flower arrangements that included champagne grapes.

“Even the grapes were a tradition from the days of old,” Carroll-Brown said. “Our guests could pull them from the centerpiece and eat them, just as was done centuries ago.”

When working with symbolism and ethnic customs, Carroll-Brown makes sure the bride knows exactly what they mean before they’re incorporated into the ceremony or the reception.

“Many traditional wedding customs are related to fertility,” she explained. “Once she finds that out, that may not be what a bride wants.”

Some other personalized touches local wedding coordinators have seen recently include the following:

Wearing the wedding ring on the right hand. “That used to be the custom until the turn of the century,” Carroll-Brown said. “The right hand was the ascension of God; then the left became popular because it was the direct line to your heart. Some couples are going back to the old style.”

Having both the mother and father walk the bride down the aisle. “This is traditionally how it’s done in Jewish ceremonies,” Carroll-Brown said. Now it is spreading to other religions as well.

  • Incorporating family into the ceremony. The rose ceremony, in which the bride and groom exchange a rose, is often expanded to have the bride and groom present roses to their parents. “Again, it’s part of paying respect to family and to guests,” Dickey says.
  • The use of bubbles during outdoor ceremonies. “Guests receive small, wrapped bubble bottles when they walk into the garden or wherever the ceremony is being held, then let the bubbles fly during the recessional,” Dickey said.
  • The use of fresh flowers. “Flowers are showing up everywhere — on the gazebos, on the chairs, on the pews, on the cake,” Dickey said. “They’re very romantic.”
  • Unusual cakes. One specialty the Heiligers are proud of is croquenbouche, tiny individual pastries arranged together like mosaics to form a large cake. Sometimes, each pastry is a tiramisu, wrapped with its own ribbon.
  • A decrease in the size of the wedding parties. “It used to be eight to 12 bridesmaids and groomsmen,” Dickey says. “Now the average is four or five. It’s all part of the trend toward less quantity and greater quality.”

Dickey says that alternative trend began with the Carolyn Bessett Kennedy wedding nearly two years ago. Unlike the ultra-formal Prince Charles-Lady Di wedding, America’s royal couple of Carolyn Bessett and John F. Kennedy Jr. were married in a simple, elegant, intimate ceremony. The bride wore a stunningly simple dress, and the crowd was relatively small.

“The weddings I’m seeing run about 150 people or fewer,” Dickey said. “Couples are inviting their closest friends, not just their acquaintances, to share this most special day. And the bride and groom share a deep concern for those guests. There’s a return of graciousness.”

For example, she said, couples are more apt to have the ceremony and reception at the same site so guests don’t have to bother with transportation. And often, photographs are taken before the ceremony so guests don’t have to wait.

“The notion that the groom can’t see the dress before the ceremony has given way to a desire to spend more time with the guests,” Dickey said.

The trend toward smaller weddings doesn’t always translate into a smaller wedding budget.

“People are spending just as much or more on an intimate ceremony and reception as they did on a huge, formal wedding,” Dickey said. “They’re doing much more for their guests, and they’re spending a lot of money on the details.”

But being different doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive.

“It could be as simple as having guests sign a white felt hat in a western-theme wedding instead of a guest book,” Carroll-Brown said. “It’s not any more expensive, but look how unique it is.”

These are just a few of the alternative wedding  ideas recently popping up across the country.


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