Creating a master timeline for your big day can seem like a daunting task, especially if you've never seen one before. Chances are you've probably attended many weddings without giving a second thought to how long the pre-wedding events lasted (well, unless you were positively melting in the heat waiting for an outdoor ceremony to start where every. minute. lasted. forever).
To shed some light on how to keep your big day moving without feeling rushed or ending up with large gaps chunks of time where no one knows what's going on, here are some sample timelines for you to use as a starting point. Keep in mind that these timelines are a guideline and you'll likely have to adjust times accordingly to what works best for you.
This first sample below is a timeline for a 4 p.m. ceremony, where both the ceremony and reception are held in the same venue. (If your reception is in another venue, you'll have to, of course, build in some time for guests to travel to the reception site.) This secular ceremony timeline is one of the most common formats today; it also assumes that you and your groom have decided to have your "first look" before the ceremony so that you can take portraits before the ceremony and enjoy cocktail hour with your guests. (Stay tuned for an ideal cocktail-hour and reception timeline!)
10:00 a.m.: Hair and makeup (may need to start earlier if you have a lot of wedding-party members getting their hair and makeup done)
12:00 to 2:00 p.m.: Vendors arrive for setup; bouquets and boutonnieres are delivered to wedding party (in time for photos)
2:00 p.m.: Bride and groom's first look, followed by wedding party photos
3:00 p.m.: Family photos
3:30 p.m.: Doors open and guests begin to arrive; pre-ceremony music begins
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4:00 p.m.: Start time printed on the invitation
4:15 p.m.: Ceremony starts; wedding-party processional
4:25 p.m.: Officiant's opening remarks, message, and charge to the couple
4:35 p.m.: Exchange of vows and rings
4:45 p.m.: Pronouncement of marriage and the kiss, followed by presentation of the couple and the recessional; cocktail hour begins immediately following the ceremony