When Caroline Wiest walked down the aisle last June in Nisswa, MN, she was surrounded by pew decorations and bouquets that she'd never seen before. Upon arriving at the reception in the woods near her family's lake house, she was delighted to see the cocktail tent filled with lanterns in every shade of green, and the dinner and dancing tent swathed in dramatic colors; all of it was a revelation to her. And at the end of the night, when the band launched into "Sweet Caroline" and the guests gathered to see the happy couple off, she was once again surprised to see a golf cart festooned with flowers waiting to deliver them to their limo. The night had been a dream come true…just not one she'd spent time realizing.
"I'm not a very artistic visionary," admits Caroline, who feared that her self-described "high-anxiety" disposition and responsibilities as a New York City schoolteacher would turn the planning process into a nightmare. So she relied on NYC-based planner Michelle Rago to do the work—and worrying—for her, freeing her and her fiancé to concentrate fully on their guests. "I'd heard so many stories about brides who ruin their wedding days freaking out about the little details that guests aren't even going to remember," she says. "We were much more focused on people being relaxed and having fun."
Of course, plenty of brides hire planners to execute the wedding. The difference is that Caroline and a growing number of brides are almost completely relinquishing creative (not budgetary) control from the get-go, defying the stereotype of the hyperinvolved, micromanaging bride from the engagement on. Rago attributes the change to the bridal industry, which educates brides to believe that a good planner is there not just to help out but to take on as much as a bride will allow. "It's come a long way even in the past two years, this swing to really relying on your professional," she says. "When I started in the business, people didn't understand what a planner was." Caroline is quick to add that leaving more to the pros doesn't mean she didn't care. She simply established her priorities—square tables were a must, as was a big band—and then let Rago take it from there.
Jennifer Zabinski of the Wed-ding Library in NYC estimates that 25 percent of her clients these days are willing to hand her the planning reins. "I think everyone is valuing their time more," she says, so she goes to increasingly great lengths to free them up. It's not unheard of for her to do menu tastings, fly to Paris to search for vendors, or choose a venue—by herself. She's even submitted to hair and makeup trials on a bride's behalf. "She was just like, Was it scary? Was it glittery?'" says Zabinski. "She didn't even care about seeing images. It's really about trust."
It was this sort of trust that Kit Turner placed in Sasha Souza to plan her Napa Valley wedding in November 2007. Although Kit and her fiancé lived nearby in Walnut Creek, CA, they didn't have the time or the desire to coordinate the elements themselves. Kit wanted an intimate dinner party at a winery that would still be fun for kids. After filling out a questionnaire about her tastes, likes and dislikes, she trusted Souza's judgment implicitly. For everything from the photographer to the string quartet, Kit didn't spend any time poring over options. She just asked whom Souza recommended—and hired them. When the established budget demanded that a few last-minute corners be cut, Kit nixed the one design element she'd requested, a gate that was to decorate the ceremony… and Sasha surprised her by including it anyway. "At no point was I worried about how it would come off," says Kit. "I knew she could do a far better job than I ever could, but I still can't get over how beautiful it all was!"
Some brides have even fewer big-picture ideas for their day, allowing the element of surprise—and the indulgence of a carefree engagement—to make the anticipation and event even sweeter. CeCe Colhoun had only three wishes for her New Orleans blowout bash of more than 500 guests last April: She wanted to capture the spirit of her hometown, she wanted to enjoy time with her fiancé and she wanted to not be the bridezilla she feared everyone expected her to be. So when she and her husband were announced and entered the tent for their first dance, it was with the same awe as their guests'. They'd managed to steer clear of nearly all the details, from the lavish decor (they had only one meeting with the designer) to the cake ("I knew it was round, and that's it!") to what songs the band would play ("You don't want to tell them how to do their job"). They'd hired people they trusted completely—NYC-based designers Van Wyck & Van Wyck—and given them free rein. "When you let talented people do their thing, they'll do it the best they can," CeCe explains. "If you know every detail, you're going to look for what went wrong, and the last thing you want to feel is disappointment."
Perhaps this is why none of these brides can summon any regrets…other than not having let go even more than they did, if that's possible. "For brides, there is a risk of not being in the moment because you're planning all year for this one day," says Allison Page of New York City. She chose to marry in her hometown of Knoxville, TN, in October 2007 in part because she knew it would allow her parents full access and help distance herself from the process. So, beyond the few things she and her now-husband insisted on—serving a particular wine, flying in a favorite photographer from New York—the lion's share of the event was left to her parents and the local planner they hired. The only downside? "There were moments when my parents wanted me to have more opinions," she says. "If you're spending a lot of money and investing in this idea you've had for your child, you want her to care! But I had so much faith in them, it afforded me the opportunity to not worry." And they didn't let her down. "It's such a momentous day, your senses can't take it all in," Allison says, admitting that she didn't even notice details like the chairs or the venue's curved ceiling until a guest captured them in a painting months later. "But my wedding had the magical feeling I was hoping for, and that's all I cared about from the beginning anyway."