I’d always thought there were two kinds of brides: those who take at least a year planning a wedding (maybe after a lifetime of Pinterest boarding), and those who elope (and break their mother’s heart). But then, the best wedding I ever went to came as a surprise to the bride, my best friend JJ—thereby spawning a third, entirely new category of bride: the one who just shows up after her partner has done all the work.
JJ had flown from New York to Los Angeles under the pretense of going to a client dinner with her boyfriend, Scott. She didn’t think twice about making the trip; her family lives in L.A., and they’re the kind of close-knit siblings who’ll happily fly six hours just to see each other for one. And so it was in the parking lot of LAX that Scott proposed—and, in the next breath, informed JJ that the wedding would be the next day.
To be clear, they already lived together, they were buying a house, and (maybe most important) she was three months pregnant. There was no question they were committed to each other. But Scott, so staunchly unconventional, never cared about a big ceremony. Committing to forever? Yes. A marriage certificate? Meh. While JJ is more traditional, the excitement of starting a family far outweighed having a wedding. Despite her willingness to forgo the fuss, Scott knew that the idea of marriage, and, yes, marking it in some way with their family and friends, was still important to her.
Scott and JJ weren’t the most obvious couple. I had set them up just a year and a half earlier. I essentially grew up with JJ (after eating dinner at her house at least three times a week throughout high school, I consider myself an unofficial Ramberg sibling), and I’d known Scott for years. She is a cofounder (with her brother) of Goodshop and an anchor on MSNBC. He’s an architect and an aesthete who collects midcentury Danish furniture. She likes hot pink, yellow, and sparkles. He likes white, gray, and navy blue. When I invited them over for dinner and our only other guests “coincidentally” canceled, my husband rolled his eyes at my yenta scheme, swearing it would never work. Despite their odd-couple differences on the surface, my logic was simple: They were the two best, smartest, and most talented human beings I’d ever known. When they left my house, I heard them exchange numbers. Within months, they were living together.
A surprise wedding, it turns out, was the perfect intersection of their traditional and unconventional instincts. At its heart, the affair was pretty traditional: Scott had actually asked JJ’s dad for her hand a few weeks before they found out she was pregnant. (JJ’s sister Melanie jokingly insists, “They were engaged for three months; JJ just didn’t know it.”) Granted, it was the groom, not the bride, who did virtually all of the planning, and he pulled it off in just six weeks. It was the surprise idea that proved exactly how much he understood JJ—because she loves nothing more than a surprise. She also has no giddiness for shopping and decor and gladly cedes style decisions to someone she trusts. We knew she’d love the vibe of the event, since her only aesthetic requirement seems to be pops of color—and Scott had planned plenty of those.
Deciding the location was easy—her brother’s yard was big enough for a tent—but all other details needed to be organized, and for that, Scott got help from JJ’s three siblings and their spouses. Those many intense weeks leading up to the wedding—far more than the actual vows—was when Scott officially joined the Ramberg family. During any given week, Scott soon learned, the Rambergs might set up a conference call to discuss everything from planning a family vacation to passing along book recommendations to JJ’s preferences for a live band over a DJ. Between Scott, her family, and a group of us deputized friends, all the details fell into place. Her cousin Jamie booked the hair and makeup team. Scott’s best friend Rob and I got Internet-ordained so that we could marry them.
Not only was I the officiant, but I was also her accidental stylist, because she wore a dress I picked out. One task that’s nearly impossible to delegate, we all realized, is finding the dress—so many of her female friends each brought or bought one for her (keeping the receipts, of course). Then, after that LAX parking-lot proposal, Scott brought JJ to Melanie’s house, where we all (re-)surprised her by hiding in the walk-in closet and throwing her a kind of wedding shower/bachelorette party/dress-shopping session all in one. No fewer than 20 dresses were strewn over chairs and on hooks, and after JJ finished hugging everyone, she got down to the important task of finding her wedding dress. She rejected at least a dozen out of hand, then tried on the rest. There was a bright yellow dress, an off-the-shoulder Oaxacan dress, a couple of maxi dresses, and a few pale shifts.
One of the perks of my job as a magazine editor is being able to borrow clothes from designers on occasion, and I had picked out two dresses from Luisa Beccaria, whose feminine silhouettes, I thought, were just bridal enough for JJ. Of the two options, I was in favor of an ivory shift—and JJ was too: The A-line dress was forgiving of her first-trimester swell but flattering to her still-tiny waist. After a lightning round of alterations (and a pit stop at Neiman’s for shoes), she had her bridal outfit. The next day, the morning of the wedding, Melanie brought out the blue garter that all the brides in their family—their late mother, aunts, cousins—had worn on their big days.
On the way to the ceremony, JJ thought to ask Scott who was on the guest list, and he had forgotten only a couple of people. JJ called them with the exceedingly last-minute invitation, and they canceled their plans and made it just in time for the vows. JJ still can’t believe the whole thing came together so perfectly. “What’s better than knowing that all the people you love—your husband, siblings, dad, and best friends—did this for you?” she told me recently. “And that they knew you well enough to know you’d love it?”
And as a daily reminder of their impromptu wedding, they have their wedding rings—the sole detail Scott nearly let fall through the cracks. The day of the wedding, as he was driving by a going-out-of-business jewelry store, he realized he’d forgotten the rings. He swung into the parking lot, ran into the store, and bought two placeholder bands for $10 each. But JJ was so charmed by the story—by the gesture, by the day, by the entire event—that she’s never replaced hers.