Once you start planning a wedding, it won't take long to figure out there are phrases and terms only used in the world of weddings. "You could definitely say we have our own 'lingo' at times," says Tracy Taylor Ward, a wedding planner and designer in New York City. Not only are there terms that are specific to wedding planners, she says, but there are also special phrases used by wedding vendors including caterers, musicians, and photographers.
Meet the Expert
Tracy Taylor Ward is an award-winning wedding planner and designer in New York City.
But have no fear! With the help of Ward, we've compiled a dictionary of the most common wedding words you'll encounter while organizing your big day. These will help you get started as you plan your wedding. But if you hear other phrases you aren't familiar with, don't fret, Ward says. "When working with any wedding professional, it’s important for couples to try not to feel ashamed about asking for clarification on any unfamiliar terms or concepts because no vendors expect others, especially couples who typically are new to wedding planning, to understand everything," she says. "It’s our job to help educate and support couples throughout their planning journey, and we love to do it."
Below are definitions of wedding words you'll encounter as you start planning your big day.
This term typically refers to the structure or table at the front of a house of worship, but, when it comes to your wedding day, it takes on a more general meaning. In the wedding world, the altar is the physical spot where you and your significant other will exchange vows, whether the ceremony is religious or otherwise. If you're creating an altar from scratch, explore some unique ideas.
You’ll hear this term a lot once you start dress shopping. Appliqués are pieces of lace or other fabric that are sewn onto a base fabric, creating a textured and often 3D effect. How fun is the hidden "Love You" phrase on Danielle Snyder's Reem Acra gown?!
Also known as a bachelor or bachelorette party, a bach party is a gathering of one’s wedding party (and oftentimes additional close friends or family members) in celebration of the bride(s) or groom(s) taking the plunge into marriage. Typically this takes place ahead of their wedding celebrations. Nowadays couples are tossing traditions to ensure their pre-wedding festivities are reflective of their unique personalities and interests, whether that means a weekend away with friends, a combined bach party with their fiancé, or a night out to celebrate the end of their “single era.”
A black-tie dress code will always be indicated on the wedding invite. Such a formal affair typically takes place after 6 p.m., and men should be dressed in a tuxedo. Women are welcome to wear either a formal cocktail dress or a long evening gown for the occasion.
Black Tie Optional
Here, the dress code indicates that something slightly more casual than black tie will do. Women can still opt for long or short gowns and men have the option of wearing a suit (but a tux is still very much appropriate).
A bridal dresser is an experienced seamstress who specializes in working with fine fabrics. This individual arrives the morning of the wedding to prep the bride and her wedding party’s attire. Typically their services include: Last minute alterations and repairs, steaming/pressing the bridal gown and any additional formalwear, assistance throughout photos, help with the veil and bride’s accessories, help with the groom/mens’ attire, and more. We like to think of our bridal dressers as an insurance policy, in that they are there to help with any attire snafus.
Men traditionally wear boutonnieres (placed on their left lapel, over their heart). You might opt for a boutonniere-style floral as an alternative to a corsage for loved ones like your grandmother, as well.
Ever wonder how, exactly, you’ll walk and dance in your wedding dress once the ceremony is over? Enter the bustle. This tailoring trick features loops, buttons, or ribbons used to pull up and tuck the train of a dress to make moving easier. A French bustle attaches to the underside of the fabric, tucking it under so most of the train is hidden. An American bustle, on the other hand, attaches to the outside of the skirt, pulling the fabric up toward the waist to create a pretty and visible drape. A stylist can determine what will work best for your dress at your final dress fitting.
A canapé is typically a cracker or puff pastry topped with something savory, but the term can be used interchangeably for small bites, hors d'oeuvres, and apps served before dinner. No matter what you decide to serve during cocktail hour, we suggest you take a lesson from the true canapé and make each dish bite-size.
It's time to read up on your candle vocabulary as there are many options available. To start, there are votive candles, which are petite styles that are about an inch-and-a-half tall. They're low and subtle and often scattered around centerpieces. Then, there are taper candles, which are skinny candlesticks that stand tall on tabletops. They can be placed in a candelabra or individual candle holders (made of marble, lucite, metal, you name it). Finally, there are pillar candles, which are shown here. These stand on their own (meaning they don't have to be paired with any kind of holder or base) and can be displayed on tabletops as well as inside lanterns.
Whether they’re a member of the clergy, a judge, or your best friend who got ordained online, a celebrant is a person who will officiate your ceremony and has the power to pronounce you “married.”
Floral arrangements on reception tables are called centerpieces. Unsurprisingly, they fill the "center" of the table and set the tone of the night's decor. While vessels and vases are typically filled with blooms, they don't have to be. We love seeing couples experiment with fruit, greenery—or even just candlelight.
A wedding ceremony is a ritual in which two people get married. There are many different types of ceremonial traditions based on geography, religion, cultural background, etc.
No, it’s not for your phone. In the context of weddings, a charger is a larger plate that is used as the base of a place setting, essentially taking the place of a placemat. Plated courses are placed on top of the charger, which can also be removed before the serving of the main course if you prefer.
Jewish wedding ceremonies are performed beneath a chuppah. This structure consists of a cloth canopy and four poles. The four sides are left open to represent hospitality to wedding guests.
Cocktail hour is a chance to mix, mingle, sip, and snack before sitting down for dinner. It usually occurs after the ceremony, acting as a transition from a more serious and emotional moment to the party to come. A great cocktail hour needs three things: refreshing drinks (a signature cocktail, a small selection of wine and beer, or a full open bar), flavorful food (think small bites and grazing stations), and entertaining music. Looking to shake things up? Have cocktail hour before your ceremony so everyone can toast your vows with their favorite drink.
You probably saw these at your high school prom, and you’ll see them again at your wedding. Corsages are most often given to mothers and grandmothers and are basically petite floral accessories worn on the wrist. For a modern take, swap out the elastic for a metal cuff with flowers attached.
Cost Per Person
The cost per person is most commonly referred to by venues and caterers, due to the fact that their overhead costs are impacted by a couple’s total guest count in order to supply an adequate amount of food and beverages for each individual at an event. Wedding planners also refer to the cost per person when estimating total budgets for clients, as food and beverages are not the only costs that could be impacted by guest count. Other costs that could be impacted by guest count include florals, rentals, invitations, guest favors, transportation, and so much more.
If a full-service wedding planner isn’t in your budget, we highly recommend investing in a DOC, or day-of coordinator, if your venue doesn’t provide one. This pro will take over the production side of your wedding day, overseeing the set-up and making sure the timeline runs smoothly so you can focus on being the bride and your loved ones can celebrate instead of stressing over whether they’ve accurately brought your vision to life.
Get out of town! Destination weddings are a fantastic way to share a place you love with your favorite people. So what qualifies as a destination? Really any location where you and your guests will want to book a hotel room instead of driving home at the end of the night. So it might require a long flight, or it could be just an hour or two away. Either way, a destination wedding creates an intimate and personal experience that you really get to share with your guests.
Historically, eloping referred to couples who ran off secretly to marry without their parents' consent. Nowadays, it refers to a couple opting to have an intimate wedding ceremony, often without the presence of their loved ones and typically taking place in a scenic environment. Many couples who elope will host a larger celebration with friends and family separately to celebrate their union.
Consider this a dress rehearsal. Engagement photos have become more and more common, and are now often included in packages offered by wedding photographers. It’s an opportunity to get more comfortable in front of the camera, get to know your photographer (so you’re all friendly by the time your wedding day arrives), and come away with a few gorgeous photos to use in your save-the-dates or wedding website.
Escort cards and place cards (covered below) are the two most-confused pieces of wedding terminology. Escort cards are displayed at the entrance to the reception area, ultimately directing each guest to their assigned dinner table.
Escort Card Display
Rather than have individual cards, some couples choose to direct guests with a single statement sign. In this case, table assignments are noted on a larger sign or display with guest names arranged either by table or in alphabetical order.
An event designer is someone who specializes in the aesthetics of the event. Designers focus on all visual elements of an event, from floor plans and color schemes to florals, lighting production, and paper goods, in order to ensure the entirety of the event (or multiple events) feel cohesive, elevated, and reflective of the couple’s personalities and style.
Thank your guests with a take-home treat at the end of the night. These gifts can be whatever you like, from charitable gifts in a guest's honor to chocolate truffles in personalized boxes (as shown here). We've learned that guests appreciate something to munch on after hours of dancing.
Can’t imagine not seeing your significant other before you walk down the aisle? A first look might be for you. This moment, which happens before the ceremony, is a chance for you to reveal your big-day looks and spend time together before you’re surrounded by family and friends. It’s also a great way to squeeze in some photos before the ceremony—freeing you up for cocktail hour later.
A floor plan is a mock-up of an event space including all existing furniture and permanent structures in the space, along with any additional items being supplied by third-party vendors for an event. This is typically created by the venue, event planner, or event designer.
If you’re looking to make a major statement, a flower wall is a good place to start. These dramatic installations of florals and greenery are exactly what they sound like: Walls of flowers! A flower wall makes for a stunning ceremony backdrop, a creative way to display escort cards, a gorgeous photo booth, or an eye-catching backdrop for the band.
This sugary dough is used to give cakes a smooth and sleek exterior, whether it’s the finished look or a canvas for hand-painted details or a cascade of flowers. Fondant can be dyed, marbled, molded, and sculpted to take your wedding cake to the next level. Fondant is edible, however many prefer to remove it before serving slices to guests as it can be very sweet and a little gummy.
Garlands are strands of greenery and flowers that can be used to dress up just about any surface at your wedding. Weave them amongst candles on your reception tables, drape them across the front of the bar, string them from chandeliers, and more.
If you’re working with a lighting designer for your reception, you may hear talk of gobos. These stencils are placed on the front of lights to create patterns that can be projected on the floor or the wall to add depth and texture. Shine a leaf or floral pattern on the walls and ceiling of your tent for an even more immersive feel, or have your lighting designer create a custom gobo with your monogram to shine on the dance floor.
Photographers often refer to the time just before sunset as "golden hour." During this time, the light is soft and perfect for post-ceremony portraits.
This means the food and beverages are handled by your venue and not an outside vendor. An in-house team has the home-court advantage, meaning they know the venue and how to operate in the space. Some vendors require you to work with their team, so ask about this at your first site visit.
Sweetheart tables will never go out of style, but head tables are here to stay. This larger VIP table is where the newlyweds sit, surrounded by either their wedding party or their families. The head table is centrally located—often right next to the dance floor for optimal toast viewing—and often features more elaborate decorations than the other reception tables.
If you’ve been wowed by photos of floral chandeliers, flower walls, or other towering arrangements, the thing that’s catching your eye is called an installation. These statement-making designs may require a little more time and technique to put together, but the end result is totally priceless. If you want to make a statement without blowing your budget, consider a single dramatic installation over the dance floor and more simple centerpieces.
The invitation suite includes everything you need to know to tell guests the who, what, where, and when of your wedding. A suite typically includes a save-the-date, invitation, and RSVP card, and may also feature an additional information card (calling out things like your wedding website URL or travel information), a map, or a weekend itinerary. Further add-ons include coordinating menus, programs, escort cards, and place cards.
This is the Jewish wedding contract, used to formalize vows and celebrate their commitments. Newlyweds sign the ketubah following their vows. Many modern couples choose to turn to artists to incorporate their contracts into permanent pieces of art.
Justice of the Peace
A justice of the peace is a judge—often of a more local jurisdiction—who, in addition to overseeing and keeping the peace in court, is able to perform civil marriages. This official is a secular alternative to having your ceremony performed by a religious leader or a loved one who is ordained just for the occasion. A justice of the peace may perform the ceremony in a courthouse setting, while some are also available to perform weddings at your venue.
One of the most popular styles of printing used on wedding invitations, letterpress printing occurs when a plate with raised text (think a rubber stamp) is inked, and then pressed into paper. Letterpress doesn’t usually produce a noticeable relief texture—ask your stationer about embossing and debossing if you want more of a 3D effect—however, when applied to thicker papers, letterpress can produce a subtle texture when ink is applied and the plate is pressed into the paper.
A marriage license is the legal document couples need to obtain in the state or country they are marrying in, in order for their marriage to be legally binding and acknowledged by the law. Because each state, province, and country has different laws surrounding when this needs to be obtained and how long it is valid, it is essential that couples research this information well ahead of the wedding date to ensure they have what they need in time for the big day. This document is signed by the couple’s officiant and witnesses of the marriage.
A micro-wedding is a term commonly used for weddings that are at or under 50 guests in size. While these celebrations are smaller in guest count, they typically still involve the same types of vendors and traditions as larger weddings. These intimate gatherings, on occasion, can be more informal depending on the vision of the couple.
MOH stands for Maid or Matron of Honor. This woman (maid is unmarried and matron is married) is the one to stand directly by the bride’s side on the wedding day, and is usually a sister or close friend—though your mom or grandma could absolutely be MOH, too. The maid of honor is often responsible for planning the bachelorette party, and may also play a role in the bridal shower. Come wedding day, she may wear a dress that is slightly different from the other bridesmaids or may carry a distinct bouquet so she stands out from the crowd.
A mood board is the original Pinterest board, a collection of colors, swatches, and images gathered to inspire and guide you as you work on the wedding design. You and your planner or florist might work on a mood board to help narrow down and solidify your vision—it’s a great tool to keep the design on track and help you figure out which details and colors work best together.
Like at other parties and receptions, an open bar means you have wine, beer, and a full bar of liquor to offer guests. This option is the most expensive way to serve liquor at your wedding, so feel free to get creative if it's not in your budget. You'll want to read about everything you need to know about serving booze.
A nosegay is a small, handheld bouquet of flowers. A nosegay is differentiated by its petite stature and is often carried by bridesmaids or junior bridesmaids for contrast in size against the bride’s larger and more ornate bouquet.
Any guest who needs to book a hotel room to attend your wedding—and isn’t just spending the night so they don’t have to drive after the party—is considered an out-of-town guest. As a courtesy, many couples opt to invite out-of-town guests to some sort of welcome event, ranging from a full-on dinner to just drinks and desserts once the rehearsal dinner is over. And those Instagram-worthy curated welcome bags? They’re always a nice touch, especially if you’re in a destination with unique needs (think a reusable water bottle for a wedding at high altitude, or a mini bottle of sunscreen if you’re tying the knot on the beach).
Your palette is the selection of colors you’ve chosen to work with on your wedding day, influencing everything from linens to flowers to even the ink on your invitations. Most palettes feature at least three colors—the main color, a neutral, and an accent—though you may also include a few different shades of each color for depth (think blush, pink, and fuchsia or French blue and navy).
Not to be confused with escort cards, place cards are what tell your guests exactly where to sit once they’ve gotten to their table. These aren’t always used—you can opt for open table seating, meaning you tell your guests which table to sit at and then let them choose their own chair from there—but are commonly used at head tables even for more casual weddings. However, they’re essential for more formal and black-tie weddings, where each guest’s seat is carefully chosen in advance.
Time to set the table! Place settings are the pieces used at each guest’s seat at the dinner table. Weddings tend to feature more formal service and a larger number of courses, so place settings are often more complicated than what you’d see at home on a regular weeknight. Formal wedding place settings include a charger, a dinner plate, a salad plate, a bread plate with a bread knife, salad and dinner forks, salad and dinner knives, a soup spoon, a dessert spoon and fork, a water glass, and at least one wine glass.
This is always a point of pre-wedding conversation, and for good reason. A plus-one is an additional invite for a wedding guest to invite a date...and some guests get one, while others don't. The rules can vary here (depending on the couple's budget, wedding size, and wedding vision) but generally married couples and established couples (who live together, et cetera) get plus-ones. It's also nice to consider a plus-one for any attendee who may not know anyone else at the wedding.
During this part of the wedding ceremony, bridal party members walk down the aisle, eventually ending with the bride's grand entrance. Check out the full order for the processional, and unique music choices.
Queen Anne Neckline
You’ve heard of strapless, V-neck, and off-the-shoulder, but what exactly is a Queen Anne neckline? This face-framing neckline is totally flattering and will give your wedding gown royal vibes. A dress with a Queen Anne neckline has a high back and sleeves (cap sleeves or full-length sleeves are most common), which are cut away in the front to reveal a sweetheart neckline at the bust. It flaunts your collarbones while keeping your shoulders covered, a beautiful compromise for a bride who wants to show a little skin in a more modest setting. This neckline can also be achieved by wearing a bolero or jacket over a strapless gown with a sweetheart neckline.
A rain plan is a logistical plan that involves all necessary arrangements in case of inclement weather for weddings with outdoor elements. Instead of thinking of this as a “ backup plan,” we always recommend thinking of this as your expected plan (or “Plan A”) with your ideal weather plan as your bonus (or “Plan A+”) so that way you are not surprised or disappointed if you need to rely on this plan. Also, in case it is necessary to utilize tenting as part of your rain plan, you’ll want to make sure you reserve this with a deposit well ahead of time in order to ensure you have the necessary supplies and labor locked in to protect your event from inclement weather if needed.
Ever wonder what makes our Real Weddings real? The couples, of course! Each of our real weddings tells the story of a real-life couple, from how they met to the details of their big day. If you’re hoping to have your wedding published after you’ve tied the knot, be sure to talk to your wedding planner and photographer so they can make sure to get those key photos and help you gather all the necessary information to make a submission.
The recessional is technically the music playing as the couple makes their grand exit. It's one of our favorite photos from the day, so be sure to enjoy every chord. Think about using unique song selections.
A registry is a wish list of gifts a couple compiles to help guide their guests when purchasing wedding presents that will help them kick off their newlywed lives together. Traditionally a registry was predominantly homeware items, however, in current times with many couples already living together prior to getting married (and therefore owning many homeware items already), they’ve expanded to include a variety of lifestyle essentials and truly serve as a reflection of the couple’s unique interests, styles, and hopes for their futures. Nowadays registries often include cash funds, charity donations, upgraded homeware to replace their current items, furniture, artwork, outdoor essentials, and more—the sky's the limit with regard to what couples can register for.
A rehearsal dinner is a pre-wedding event that often occurs the night before the wedding itself. It typically takes place after the wedding rehearsal (hence the name) and includes the couple, their wedding party, and immediate family members. There is no set rule on who is invited to this dinner, and some couples choose to welcome out-of-town guests, the wedding party's plus-ones, and close friends as well.
Répondez, s’il vous plaît! RSVP is a polite (and French) way to ask your guests to please let you know if they’ll be attending your wedding. Most wedding invitations feature an RSVP card—or, nowadays, a URL where guests can RSVP online—asking guests to specify how many people will be attending, and might also include details like meal choices, where guests will be staying, or even a song they’d love to hear on the dance floor.
Looking to get a wedding gown for a steal? Keep an eye out for sample sales at your favorite salons. These sales are a chance for salons to clear out some of their past inventory (including floor samples) while giving brides the opportunity to buy the gently-used gown of their dreams at an incredible price. Keep in mind that these samples have been tried on by many brides, so they may need to be cleaned before you wear them down the aisle. Ask the salon to recommend their favorite local dry cleaner, as well as a fantastic seamstress to make this off-the-rack dress fit like a glove.
Sip, sip, hooray! You’ve finally tied the knot, so let’s head to cocktail hour to celebrate. Mark the occasion with a signature cocktail that you and your partner love, whether it’s a classic (think a margarita or a boulevardier) or a creative seasonal concoction crafted by your caterer just for the occasion. Don’t forget a sign telling guests what’s in their drink.
Save the Date
Save-the-Dates are the perfect way to get on guests’ calendars before you send out your wedding invitation. They’re particularly useful if you’re having a destination wedding or have chosen a particularly popular wedding date (like a holiday weekend), as you’ll be able to let guests know to expect an invitation before they’ve made other big plans. Be sure to include your wedding website, where you can provide lodging and travel tips so guests can start shopping for flights and booking hotel rooms.
This is a table set for two. It's a great option for couples who want to enjoy a dinner date surrounded by their nearest and dearest. We love when couples play up this display with special signage and decorated chairs.
A tablescape is what you get when your entire table design comes together, from the plates and flatware to the flowers and candles. As you’re working on your wedding design, think about this overall picture and work with your florist, planner, and rental company to fill in the finishing touches (like low centerpieces of fresh fruit or playful objects that will bring your theme together).
If you're looking to make a grand entrance, consider a gown with a dramatic train. (Most guests will be looking at the back of your dress throughout the ceremony, after all!) This extension of the skirt of your dress can range from a few extra inches to multiple feet trailing behind you and can look oh-so-dramatic when expertly fluffed just before you walk down the aisle. Add a bustle to get the train out of the way when it’s time to dance.
It can be hard to imagine how things will turn out on your wedding day, which is where trials come in handy. The most common trials are with hair and makeup artists and are basically a test run so you can see if you like their style and get an idea of what you’ll look like on the big day. However, other vendors (like florists and rental companies) also offer trials and mock-ups so you can visualize and tweak designs in real-time.
Unlike a sample sale, a trunk show is an opportunity to purchase the newest collection of made-to-order wedding dresses at a great price—and often with the designer by your side. So why shop at a trunk show? Most salons won’t carry a designer’s entire line, but those additional pieces may be brought into town just for the occasion (which means a bigger selection from the designer in question). They often also offer reduced prices during this period, so you might find your dream dress for less. Finally, having the designer in the salon will give you more insight into the customization options, whether it’s the subtle change of a neckline or the use of a completely different colored fabric.
Ushers serve an important role during the ceremony, helping escort guests to their seats and keeping things organized before the processional begins. Often friends or family members of the couple, these gents (and sometimes ladies!) let guests know which seats are reserved and whether there is a bride’s and groom’s side of the aisle. Sometimes, they also hand out ceremony programs. You might have them dress to match the groomsmen or wear their own coordinated attire, but don’t forget to get them boutonnieres so they stand out from the crowd.
Veils are synonymous with brides for a reason. There's something about adding this hair accessory that makes you feel like a real bride. Veils can vary in length, material, and pricing, so read up on everything you need to know beforehand.
This is one wedding investment many couples are thankful for—or wish they’d made. A videographer is a fantastic addition to your vendor team, providing live and moving memories of moments that you’ll cherish. Yes, fantastic photography is worth every penny, but those photos don’t move and can’t preserve the words of your father’s toast or your grandma’s killer dance moves. If you’ve got space in your budget, give a videographer a call.
There are two types of venue walk-throughs: The initial visit, where you’ll tour the venue and be able to ask questions before you sign a contract, and the pre-wedding walk-through, where you and your vendor team will get to see the space one last time and tweak your designs as needed before your big day arrives. Use the former to figure out if a venue is right for you, and the latter to finalize the details and make sure every aspect has been addressed.
If you have out-of-town guests, consider greeting them with a welcome bag—or box! This gesture can be as simple or as complex as you’d like, but we recommend including the weekend’s itinerary and something edible (like wine, snacks, and water). No matter what you offer, remember to include one important item: a note thanking each guest.
If a couple decides to hire a wedding planner, they are tapping an outside individual to orchestrate their wedding from start to finish. This pro handles pre-wedding planning (budgets! spreadsheets! you name it!), as well as the installation and run of the show on the big day. See our list of the top wedding planners from coast-to-coast.
When the night is over, cap it all off with a grand exit as you make your way into married life. From sparklers and glow sticks to confetti tosses and even fireworks, there are dozens of ways to signify that the party may be over, but your life together is just beginning.
A meaningful Jewish wedding tradition, yichud means “seclusion,” and is the term for the period of time the newlyweds spend together in private immediately after the ceremony. This gives the couple time to reflect on their new relationship, provides a moment to rejoice, and is also often a chance to share their first meal together (especially if they have been fasting) and have some water before heading to the dance floor for a wild and exhausting round of dancing.