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.
When a romantic surprise on the Strip links up with a cool crowd, you’ve got a party with Ocean's Eleven attitude. Viva Las Vegas!
Number of guests: 90
Location: Las Vegas
Style: Rat Pack hip
As an entertainment reporter and anchor for a Las Vegas TV station, Kate Maddox knows a thing or two about over-the-top megaparties. And that's exactly what she and her fiancé, Cab Bennett, intended to avoid when they were planning their post-wedding celebration in casino country. "I was insistent on not inviting strangers," Kate recalls. "Besides, I wanted to spend quality time with each and every person." So when family pressure pushed the list to 160, she started cutting back: no distant cousins, no children, no friends of the folks. The final count: 90 guests.
That manageable number made an intimate outdoor buffet possible, and the pool gardens at the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas were a perfect fit. "We wanted a little bit of a Rat Pack feeling," Kate says, so the seating was informal—couches and ottomans in white patent leather, cocktail and café tables, all clustered around witty light fixtures resembling table lamps on steroids. "A lounge wouldn't have worked as well if we'd had more people," she says. Add a martini bar and a jazz combo softly playing Sinatra and Dean Martin favorites, and everyone had a blast. "People could really talk," says Kate. "Either they knew each other or there was just one degree of separation." The coup de théâtre: During cocktails, the couple surprised their guests with a marriage ceremony—the one they pretended to have had in the Caribbean two weeks before. Ain't that a kick in the head?
The Message on Medium
- When it came to the guest list, Kate Maddox was ruthless. You can be too. Make rules and stick to them; if you've limited family members of your own generation to siblings, don't squeeze in your favorite first cousin.
- If your list tops out at 100 or fewer, have just one or two attendants. A couple of bridesmaids at your side will look appropriate; a line of Rockettes will not.
- When you're considering sites, pay attention to scale. That former bank lobby with 40-foot ceilings will dwarf the crowd and sap the energy from the event.
- Don't deprive yourself or your guests of the sweet, often funny traditions—the toasts, the first dance, the cake-cutting—that distinguish a wedding from just another party.
A soaring sanctuary, masses of roses, flickering candles—no gesture was too grand for a couple who just couldn't say no.
Number of guests: 225
Location: New York City
Style: Regal and romantic
When you've ordered pajamas for hundreds of thousands of women as a buyer for Bloomingdale's, thinking big comes naturally. So when bride-to-be Stephanie Lushear started compiling the guest list for her New York wedding, she took an all-inclusive approach. Her fiancé, Will Cruse, a Texan with a typical more-is-more attitude, urged her on. "I can't begin to tell you how many friends Will's family has, and my mother alone has nine first cousins," says Stephanie. "Neither one of us nor our families wanted to leave anyone out."
With invitations for 300 (225 guests actually came) Stephanie felt she could indulge in the kind of overscaled features that would have been inappropriate for a smaller group. It started with her choice for the ceremony: ornate, cathedral-size St. Bartholomew's, a landmark church just right for her retinue of seven bridesmaids. And at the reception at the W New York Hotel ballroom, her formally attired guests sat at long, ceremonial kings' tables for 20, surrounded by acres of red roses and enough pillar and votive candles to excite an army of smoke detectors. "We had so many people," Stephanie says, "I felt I could pull off anything"—including a mid-evening change of dress to make a diva proud.
The Supersize Scoop
- Use your program to introduce each wedding-party member to your guests—if they haven't met everyone, they'll feel more involved from the get-go.
- To avoid a logjam, keep the receiving line short—just you two, plus moms, if you must. Buffet service is a no-no.
- Moving a crowd from one location to another will take longer than you think—adjust your schedule accordingly.
- Don&'t expect to have a heart-to-heart with everybody. Do greet each guest, but don't feel you have to work the room like a candidate who's ten points behind in the polls.
- Even if you can't converse with everyone, you can make your guests feel special with well-thought-out seating.
- With numbers this big, no dress is too showy. Go wild!