The Ultimate Guide to Throwing a Virtual Wedding

From how it works to what to wear, we've got you covered.

couple

Photo Courtesy of Sakile Camara/Photo by Richard John Pavel

If you’re one of the thousands of couples who’ve had to make the difficult and emotional decision to cancel or postpone your wedding due to the coronavirus pandemic, you’re understandably disappointed. This unforeseeable situation has thrown the entire wedding industry for a loop and halted so many momentous plans in the process. Not only is the wedding date you chose, as well as the season in which to marry, no longer possible, but you may not be able to have the large-scale event full of all of the friends and family you’d always dreamed of having.

The good news: You can still have a beautiful wedding in the near future—it just might have to be virtual for the time being until it’s safe to have a larger party with friends and family at a later date. The trend is catching on—and fast. In fact, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo even announced on Twitter that he issued an Executive Order allowing couples in the state to be legally wed via video conferencing. This announcement caused a huge sigh of relief for many couples planning to get married in 2020 as well as their team of vendors. (Colorado and California have since made similar announcements, and you can keep up-to-date here.)

“This announcement gives a lot of couples peace of mind to know that, even if they end up having to postpone their wedding, they don't have to postpone their legal marriage,” says Leah Weinberg of Color Pop Events in Long Island City, New York. Gabby Bernstein, meditation expert and New York Times best-selling author of The Universe Has Your Back, has already led a wedding ceremony for a couple over Zoom and says it was one of the most honorable moments in her career as an officiant. “Though it wasn’t a legal ceremony since the couple was in Mexico, it was a powerful moment in their lives where they shared their vows and focused on their love and commitment to each other,” she says.

A virtual wedding, even if it’s a temporary placeholder for the real thing, is a wonderful alternative to postponing or canceling. It can be especially beneficial for couples who have older family members who want to ensure witness their marriage in some shape or form. “Let’s be honest, many people are on edge right now, for various, and understandable reasons, so giving your friends and family a celebratory experience, even if it’s virtual, can be appreciated and apropos,” says Artem Lomaz, award-winning DJ and Principal Event Host at NinetyThree Entertainment in New York City.

Ready to have the virtual wedding of your dreams? Here’s a step-by-step guide to nailing every aspect of your Zoom vows like a pro.

Check With Your Local Clerk’s Office

Even before the pandemic, marriage laws varied greatly across the country, and this rings true even more so now. For this reason, it’s important for couples to get in touch with their county’s clerk’s office to ensure they’re handling the obtaining of their license properly. “We realize that there is a lot of grey area when it comes to the concept of virtual ceremonies, so, more than anything, we just want couples to be informed, and to be cautious,” says Natasha Anakotta, outreach and operations manager, with the American Marriage Ministries. Once the legalities are squared away, the fun part can begin.

Choose Your Platform

There are several different platforms that you can choose from for your virtual wedding—Google Hangout, Facebook Live, Instagram Live, and Zoom. Zoom has definitely the most popular video conferencing tool for weddings and is the platform Julie Samuels, of New York City, decided to use for her April 18th nuptials. “We thought about doing it as a webinar so guests would simply click a link and view the wedding (without being able to see each other), but we decided we really wanted to see our guests and have them see us, so we ultimately did a regular Zoom," she explains. She set up two laptops—one with all of the guests facing them and the other with her rabbi behind them as he would have been in-person. “For the Zoom with all of our guests, we muted everyone and encouraged them to put their zoom on ‘Speaker View’ (so they would be able to see everyone else but mainly see us).”

virtual wedding
Photo by Marisa Ruth Photography

Invite Your Guests

The easiest way to invite your guests is via e-vite or email—tailor it to your theme if you can—since the wedding will be hosted on the Internet, after all. Samuels opted for email and sent her guests a big announcement that started with “Guess what...we are still getting married tomorrow!!!” “We asked our guests to please join us for an intimate, virtual wedding ceremony on April 18th at 5:30 p.m. EST prompt,” she says. “We gave them the option to dress up and drink some bubbly as they watched us say "I do" and told them that all guests would be muted but encouraged them to use the chat function to cheer and send us some love!” Lastly, her email included the Zoom meeting link and meeting ID, which ensures that only guests with that information would be able to join.

Dress the Part

Lucky for you, white reads well on camera, so even if you don’t yet have your wedding dress, you can opt for a slinky gorgeous slip dress or fabulous feathered pajamas, suggests celebrity and bridal stylist Micaela Erlanger. “If you have your gown and want to wear it, that works too—but you can also consider saving it to wear when you postpone,” she says. As for your guests, she recommends encouraging them to wear bright colors to symbolize celebration and add an additional burst of brightness and happiness. While you’re at it, advise them against prints or stripes, which can be distracting on screen.

virtual wedding
Photo by Rafal Ostrowski 

Do Your Own Hair & Makeup

Your go-to stylist won’t be able to provide in-person services for hair and makeup, but that shouldn’t stop you from dolling yourself up for your big day. Most vendors are offering virtual hair and makeup trials where they can go over different styles and looks with you and teach you how to create them yourself. Sephora beauty director, Jeffrey English, suggests keeping things simple. “I always recommend starting with your ‘everyday face,’ and then adding a new detail or two that you really love,” he says. “In the case of a virtual wedding, you might consider a lighter, more edited makeup approach, so as not to appear too overdone on screen.” It’s always a good idea to test your makeup in the lighting that you’ll be shooting in to see how shiny or “hot” the skin appears. He recommends having a mattifying powder on-hand, like the NARS Light Reflecting Pressed Setting Powder, which comes in two shades: “Translucent” for fair to medium skin tones and “Sunstone” for medium-deep to deep complexions. Next, he recommends using a highlighter and blush to amplify your complexion and a quality waterproof mascara in the case of tears (he loves Monsieur Big Waterproof Mascara).

For your hair, it’s all about starting with a great regimen—cleansing, conditioning, and using products to create volume and texture. To create loose curls and volume at the roots, Diane Stevens, a Nioxin top artist and D.C. salon owner, recommends doing this the day before to give the hair enough grit and hold for the big day. “Before styling, make sure your hair is completely dry so that it won’t fall flat,” she says. “If you’re curling your hair, clip the hot curl and let it cool before hairspray six inches away.” For best results, practice a few times before the wedding day so you feel confident enough to achieve the style on your own.

Set the Scene

If you had already been in touch with a florist for your big day, consider reaching out to see how flexible they can be to make your vision come to life, bearing in mind that every state will be different in terms of what can be allowed. “They may be able to arrange a contact-less pick up of arrangements or set up a Zoom tutorial with you to help you create your own bouquet,” says Oleta Collins, florist and owner of Flourish Art Design Studio in Bakersfield, California.

If you have access to a garden, perhaps your own or that of a family member, consider creating your own bridal bouquet by bounding a few blooms together with a ribbon. If you go this route, Collins recommends cutting the flowers from the garden the day before, stripping off all the foliage up to the top two to three leaves, placing them in warm water and binding and tying them the following day. “Keep the flowers in water until photos begin and pat down the bouquet with a towel before holding to make sure water does not get on the dress,” she adds. For the boutonniere, she recommends taking a small flower bud and pinning it to a jacket or shirt. “It doesn’t have to be wrapped or finished to a florist perfection, it’s the simple notation of this ‘button hole’ noting that they are the special someone getting married,” she says.

zoom wedding
Courtesy of Julie Samuels

Make a Playlist

Many MCs like Lomaz are willing and able to participate in virtual weddings and can treat it like a typical wedding day with some adjustments. He suggests creating an entertainment timeline or “run of show” ahead of the event that you can share with your guests. “Once everyone signs in, you can devote some time to simple mingling amongst the guests, perhaps even keeping the cameras off of the wedding party, parents, and yours until it is the appropriate time to reveal,” he says. “Background music can be played as each screen reveals itself: your wedding party, your parents, the newlyweds!” He suggests having a separate chat capability enabled with your MC so that they can help guide this process and give your guests the same experience as if they were watching a wedding on television. Think about additional forms of entertainment to add to the wedding, such as slideshows, virtual backgrounds, personalized elements, etc. “When it’s time for dancing, let your DJ or band play and everyone can join virtually,” he adds.

Run the Ceremony

It’s important to make sure that the infrastructure is set up on whatever platform you are using and ensure that the link is sent to key parties, including the officiant, any loved ones participating in the ceremony, as well as a witness (which is legally required in some states and with some licenses, but not all). “You and your officiant should work together to ensure that the content and timing works for you both so that you aren’t surprised during your own wedding,” says Bethel Nathan, ordained officiant and owner of Ceremonies by Bethel in Bonsall, California. Since it’s a virtual ceremony, she recommends opting for a shorter timeline since guests will likely have a shorter attention span than they would in-person. She also recommends enlisting the help of a friend or two to serve as co-host to take responsibility for muting and unmuting guests as directed by the officiant. “It’s much easier for that to be someone other than the officiant or the couple so that they can focus on their specific roles,” she says. See a sample flow of events, below.

  1. The couple, officiant, witness, and any other key players sign on 10 minutes prior to start time. All other guests are left in the waiting room until the ceremony begins.
  2. Admit guests at start time and keep them un-muted so they can greet each other. “Think of this period as when guests arrive at the ceremony site and want to greet and hug those they care about and maybe haven’t seen in awhile,” says Nathan
  3. Once it seems like the most important guests are on the call, the officiant can let everyone know that they will now be muted, with only the officiant and the couple allowed to be heard.
  4. The officiant conducts the ceremony as planned and approved. “If the couple would like, and the officiant is comfortable doing, there can be a point in the ceremony where you tell the guests that they will briefly be unmuted so that they can take part in a community blessing or honoring, to all chime in with their support when asked,” says Nathan. She recommends that the officiant give a heads-up to all guests when they’re about to pronounce the couple as married and unmute everyone so cheering can be heard as the couple shares their first kiss.

Capture It All

If your state allows and your photographer is comfortable, they still may be able to photograph your ceremony and even a few portraits from a safe distance. “Under circumstances like these, your images are going to speak louder and hold even more meaning, so capturing the true emotion and authenticity is more important than ever,” says Lindsey Nicole, owner of Lindsey Nicole Photography in Boston, Massachusetts. If your photographer is not able to capture your virtual wedding, she suggests going the tripod route and using a timer to capture portraits of the two of you. “Vertical imagery in a clean, neutral space with great lighting is the most flattering for portraits,” she says. In lieu of videography, you can simply record the virtual wedding in its entirety through Zoom.

virtual wedding
Courtesy of Jenna Heide

Cut the Cake!

Even if you don’t have a knack for baking, you can make your own wedding cake—and a beautiful one at that. Heather Anne Leavitt, owner of Sweet Heather Anne bakery in Ann Arbor, Michigan, recommends finding an online recipe for a simple naked cake and decorating it with fresh fruit, flowers, or chocolate shavings. “It’s really the thought that counts and if you find a good recipe the cake will be delicious even if it’s not a work of art,” she says. If following an online recipe sounds like too much work, you could also go the cake mix and premade frosting route or find a baker in your area who is willing and able to make a small cake for the purpose of your ceremony. Her bakery is offering free 3-inch cakes for curbside pick-up to all of our couples who have had to postpone their wedding. “Even if couples aren’t having a virtual wedding, we think it’s nice for them to be able to celebrate in a small way on their original date,” she says. “I would reach out to your cake baker and see what your options are.”

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