There is a lot that goes into throwing your own wedding. It’s likely the biggest event you’ll ever host with a ton of information that you’ll never need to know again that somehow everyone and their mother already have a firm grasp on.
“Did you number the back of your RSVP cards and coordinate it with guest’s names on a google spreadsheet so that if you can’t read someone’s handwriting, you know who rsvped?” Nope, no I absolutely skimmed over that part in the twenty-seven magazines I now have towering next to my bed conveniently taking the place of my nightstand.
Ugh, looking back to my life exactly five years ago, from organizational skills to my diplomatic approach to everyone who had a suggestion, which I coined “being a Stepford Bride”, there is so much I learned in that one year of wedding planning. Honestly, I’m beginning to think that if I were hiring an employee, seeing “planned my own wedding” on their resume would be a gold star. I’m getting ahead of myself.
First thing’s first, the most important part of any wedding is the couple. If every single heartfelt detail I put into our wedding crumbled to bits, I’d still be dancing their in my duvet sized gown in the arms of my better half looking forward to our future and that would be more than enough—everything else would be the Ron Ben Israel approved icing on the cake.
I met my now husband Franklin fifteen years ago this month. When people ask how we met, I usually go with the quick “we went to neighborhood high schools and met through a mutual friend”—it’s true, but that’s the bare bones of it all. I already feel like you, yes you, and I are friends and I know that you already scrolled to see how long this article is so you’re in it for the long haul, so I’ll give you a little more of the fun details. FYI, I’m blushing as I type, seeing my high school self, the style choices specifically, good god were they incredibly ridiculous.
Dressed in my favorite black flare stretchy pants, chunky black four inch heels, cropped skin tight light blue spaghetti strapped tank and my oversized silver hoop earrings, my equally as awesomely dressed girlfriend and I put on our best struts, likely to Destiny’s Child’s new hit single Independent Women, and made our way up west 93rd street to see if there were any hot guys hanging out outside of Columbia Prep High School. There he stood in his best Captain Morgan stance in a black suit, fresh to death, talking to his parents on his, if I remember correctly, Motorola flip phone, outside of his school’s science fair. Yup, we made eye contact and everything. It was hardcore.
Flash forward again, and Calhoun, my high school—Go Cougars!—were playing Columbia Prep in men’s basketball. Of course, I went. Any excuse to satiate my boy crazy basketball loving self. That same girlfriend I had strutted the streets with (there has to be a better way to say that) was the official scorekeeper of the game. At its end, I walked over to her official table to chat. That’s when one of the Columbia Prep sweat clad basketball players approached me.
“You’re a really beautiful woman. I’d love to take you out to dinner sometime”. Sounded weird then too, but why not, I’ll go with the line! I wrote down my screenname for him on a torn piece of paper. That night, I signed on to my online chat. One after another, a slew of windows popped up. Apparently, this guy ran down to the locker room and showed that torn piece of paper to the whole basketball team. With a super easy screen name to remember, they all decided to throw friendship to the wind and chat with me.
Looking back, I’m super flattered. By the time my now husband chatted me, my response was, “let me guess, you go to Columbia Prep”. I was still super sweet and hung out with guy number one. We went out once or twice and talked on the phone a slew of times, but nothing ever happened there. It’s kinda weird, he had this fascination with me meeting his best friend. So much so that he randomly showed up at my building with this guy in tow once, I wasn’t even home! I guess he had to prove that I was real or something. I don’t know.
Some sort of bro thing I won’t pretend to understand. Well, I met his best friend, realized he was the same guy I had strutted past, that same guy who I’d been chatting with online for weeks and what did I do, I said “that’s a cool watch, can I see it”, tried it on and thought the best way to flirt was to run off with it. Me in those chunky black heels again and he the star on the track team, he caught me and like a nice fisherman released me watch still in hand to my crosstown bus getaway. He was smart. He now had an excuse to see me again—I still have that watch.
A lot of great stories happened in the ten years to follow, like the one about our amazing engagement or the monsoon on the night of our rehearsal dinner that literally flooded our venue, but those I’ll save for another day.
After working as a freelancer for a lot of years, I was ready to settle down in a nine-to-five kind of life—“we’ll hire you, but you’re extremely over qualified, you should consider picking up a hobby”. My hobby quickly became planning my wedding. Being a web designer, motion graphics designer and graphics designer, I felt this looming pressure to design every last detail of our wedding myself with the fear that I’d have to say “no” any time a family member would say “these invites are gorgeous, did you design them yourself?”.
Thank god, I was marrying a guy who was all in to get his hands dirty in this process—I’m talking setting up camp in his office, running back and forth to Paper Source together to get more, you guessed it, paper to print our invites on and then use his guillotine-esque paper cutter to get the perfect straight lines on every last one of them. Invites, place cards, cards for guests to write their best wishes to the couple on, I even went so far as designing the cake for the baker and hand painting and sanding to distress the frames of the chalkboards we bought for custom photo opps. I designed our wedding website, he developed it with his mad coding skills.
Together, we choreographed our first dance—I kept joking that we should duct tape our duvet around my waist because practicing in leggings would be a world easier than doing it for real in my epic gown on the big day. Goodness, if we could survive planning the wedding, marriage would prove to be a sinch!
We decided to get married at the Loeb Central Park Boathouse. Having spent so much time early on in our relationship hiding out away from our parents in the park, the fact that I would go running in the park every morning, that he proposed to me in the park, that we picnic in the park, that he did a backflip over me in the park the first day I met him, it all just made sense. The venue felt very no-brainer to us—you know, once we thought of it!
I’m convinced that finding the right dress is a lot easier than most brides, myself included, make out it to be. Oh, yes, I had a slew of Pinterest boards (still there if you need ‘em)—was I a vintage inspired lace bride? Super manicured mermaid bride? Minimalist mod silk slip-like bride? Glam over-the-top ball gown bride?
The first dress I tried on was the dress I went back and purchased. It’s the one dress that I mentally compared the next seven billion dresses I tried on to. It had this one arm Statue Of Liberty vibe going on that I wasn’t completely sold on but the second I realized I could customize it, get that removed, turn the top into a slight sweetheart cut and swap the black ribbon belt for a nude one, I was sold. Yes, I altered Vera. Turns out, I was a ball gown kind of bride.
I chose not to wear a veil thinking that that custom of arranged marriage and hiding my face to be presented to my husband was strange being that we were getting married on the date that marked our ten year anniversary—he knew full well what I looked like. Months after our wedding, there would be extra confirmation on my dress altering decisions when BuzzFeed included me in their top fifty wedding dresses feature (#32!). How they found me and how I found that article, I have no idea, but to this day, every time I think about it, I smile with pride. The Style Me Pretty feature also didn’t hurt my ego.
My bridesmaids wore a sunny yellow—a color I could never ever pull off but with all of their Spanish, Dominican and Jamaican skintones couldn’t have worked more beautifully. Our groomsmen sprinkled their outfits, socks and boutonnieres with that same sunny yellow to match. Seeing them all dressed up on the big day was breathtaking! What a gorgeous crew!
Not to stray too much, but the day we went shopping for those bridesmaids dresses was amazing! I had them all meet me at my house where I surprised them with a homemade brunch. I still remember the mini muffins, candied ginger fruit salad and the giant rustic quiche. I was so proud! I wanted them to feel special. I know, having been a bridesmaid, that a lot of the experience feels like chores, because they were each so important to me, I truly wanted them to have fun with it. In the long run, I think this general desire to have fun with it all made the time leading up to the wedding a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved, myself included.
Over brunch, I laid down the plan for the day and how I wanted them to be happy in their outfits and that I would be completely content with whichever dress they chose so long as they were the same yellow color. I lucked out in that they all fell in love with the same designer and picked different versions of her dresses. I’ll never forget my best friend Alexandra stuffing her face with the extra batch of mini muffins that I made just for her (they are her favorite after all) as we walked down Fifth Avenue from one appointment to the next—my girl!
If there was one thing I’d tell a couple planning their wedding, it’s to take the time to make a handful of unique to you details. It keeps a wedding from feeling like a cookie cutter out of the box kind of event where you can insert any couple, eat, dance, listen to toasts and go home. My favorite one that we did was our escort cards. It is also likely the most repinned element from our wedding, perhaps you’ve seen it or better yet re-pinned it!
We went to Lee’s Art Shop (which unfortunately is closing down) and bought a series of small wooden boxes and metal stickers that looked like old school library filing box labels. We stuck the stickers on the boxes, wrote the table number on the label, filled the boxes with coffee beans, and stuck small envelopes each with a guest’s names written on them and five dollar Starbucks gift cards inside—it doubled as our thank you gifts, brilliant, I know.
That detail led guests directly to another one that I love. I always hated that feeling of walking into a wedding and waiting on that obligatory line to write an on-the-spot note to the couple. It was this spewing hatred that inspired the hand stamped “to the happy couple…” cards placed along with a Le Pen pen on each of our guests place settings. At any point throughout the night, guests would be able to thoughtfully write notes, doodle inappropriate “artwork” (we didn’t think that one through) or share inspired stories on these cards, then make their way over to the leather bound book that we strategically placed by the gift box and insert them into the corner tabs that we hand measured and stuck on every page. It made for the perfect keepsake.
The detail of our first dance was the most nerve wracking part of the whole day. First, we had to decide between the sophisticated choice of Van Morrison’s “Moondance” or the nostalgic choice of the song that we had our very first dance to when playing with my ten year younger sister, Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” (the fancy credit’s version, of course).
Yes, we went nostalgic. Yes, everyone remembers it. Yes, we get asked if we remember the dance every single time we are at an event where it plays. No, sadly we don’t. But, the win is that we taped a bunch of our rehearsals so we could see how amazing we looked, catch our mistakes and now, an added purpose, relearn it.
Before performing, the two of us lingered on the balcony of the boathouse, he gave me a pep talk and we burst through the doors hand in hand, the DJ playing our dorky choice of a tune, and in our brains we so nailed that dance! If we are nothing else, we were certainly entertainers! After our first dance, with much help from my bridesmaids, I promptly changed into a white Herve Leger bandage dress to dance the night away in. To reveal my new look, my maidens and I danced our way onto the dance floor to Missy Elliot’s “Work It”, talk about party starters. The rest of the night was an epic dance party. From the grandparents to friends everyone was dancing together in what began to feel like a club—yes, still at the boathouse.
The whole night was truly incredible. Thinking back, I feel this had largely to do with the order in which we planned it. A lot of weddings I’ve been to, the couple and bridal party disappear for a good hour to take photos which in turn means that the stars of the night are missing the wedding and guests are left to mingle and make small talk with strangers from some point in bride or groom’s lives. Those are the couples I hear talk about how they feel like their wedding flew by and they were unable to fully enjoy it.
Instead, we made a full day of it! We started at The Mall in Central Park. His back was turned to me while his groomsmen sprawled their arms wide while smiling to block off foot traffic. I walked enveloped by my three beautiful bridesmaids dressed in their sunny yellow dresses toward him. My ladies lingered behind as I tapped his shoulder to reveal my breathtaking look to him. For the next hour or so we took all of the photos our fabulous photographers desired. My face twitched from smiling so much.
After the photoshoot, the gents made their way to the venue, and us ladies hopped in the vintage Rolls Royce that my now husband wanted to sweep us away in at the end of the night in and did a loop around the park while sipping champagne. We walked into the venue just in time to line up to walk down the aisle. My cousin and his wife, who played in the Juilliard Symphony Orchestra, to our request slummed it and played contemporary songs on their double bass and viola during the processional—it was masterful.
When I walked down the narrow aisle clinging to my father’s arm, through all of the standing guests, I could hear the whole room inhale at once. I focused my gaze forward knowing that in my future husband’s smiling confidence, I would always find my way. My friends joked saying that they laughed at how presumptuous the yellow ribbon clad tissues placed on their seats were until our custom vows caused them to use them all up.
Being able to look back knowing that there is not one detail that I would have changed and remembering just how happy I was continues to bring me joy to this day. I couldn’t have asked for a better wedding or a more exhilarating year of planning and teamwork that led up to it. Writing this article is the perfect way to celebrate our five year wedding anniversary and our fifteen years together. Happy anniversary, my love!