Try These on for Size

Three weddings on three different budgets

On a foggy afternoon, one couple's modest wishes—sharing the city's beauty with friends, keeping the festivities mellow—were joyously fulfilled.

Number of guests: Eight

Location: San Francisco

Style: Dressy but laid-back

Julie Caine has witnessed a lot of big, extravagant weddings. Not as a guest—as a photographer. Yet it never entered her mind to have anything but the most intimate celebration for her own nuptials. All she and fiancé Alvaro Salas wanted was a low-key day with immediate family and a few close friends, starting at San Francisco’s magnificent Renaissance Revival City Hall. "It's probably one of the most beautiful civic buildings in the country," she says. "Besides, I liked the Everyman nature of getting married there."

Although only a tiny knot of admirers (eight in all) stood in the light-filled rotunda to watch the weekday afternoon ceremony, the guests' sartorial splendor—vintage duds like a rockabilly suit and a 1950s white beaded-waist cocktail dress à la Marilyn—more than made up for their modest numbers. Afterward, the group headed to the serene Japanese tea garden in Golden Gate Park to sip some bracing brew and promenade in their finery. "Everyone in the park was congratulating us," says Julie. "We became part of the tourist attraction!" The money the couple saved on the wedding went into a new apartment, a car, and tickets to Costa Rica, where Alvaro's extended family threw them a splashy reception for 150. And Julie's camera? It stayed at home.

A Mini-Marriage Manual
  • A puny posse doesn't mean you have to wed at the county clerk's office; think Greece, Hawaii...
  • Getting married is not an everyday event, so don't wear office attire. Even if you're saying your vows in a cocktail dress, you'll feel so much more the bride.
  • Whether it's a florist's clutch or a supermarket special, a bouquet is a must. It will announce your status to others—and who can get enough best wishes?
  • Asking a stranger to be your witness may sound flip and cool, but it's more memorable to have a dear friend or family member stand up for you.
  • Hire a professional photographer. These will be treasured pictures—everyone will want to see them.
  • Announcements, mailed on the day of the nuptials, will tell the world this isn't a Britney-style impulse.
  • If your family's upset with the limited guest list, throw a big party after the honeymoon.
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