Most people have never attended an elopement and have no idea what to expect, how to prepare, or the dos and don’ts of being a wedding guest! Good news for you: I’m about to remedy that with a blog post that you can send to everyone you’re expecting at your elopement. Hopefully, it will give them a heads up of how this shin-dig typically works!
Given that traditional elopements are just the couple and having guests present at your elopement is a newer trend, most people have never attended a wedding this small. Most of us in the industry (including myself as a photographer) classify an elopement as 20 guests or less. “Elopement” mostly refers to the intentions that are being set, and the shying away from tradition and societal requirements — but they’re still generally small events. If you’re one of the lucky ones to be in attendance at an elopement of this size: CONGRATS! You are loved, you are valued, and you are an important piece of the equation for this couple.
There is no “typical” piece of an elopement day because they’re all different — but there are some general things you can expect to happen.
The first is obviously a ceremony. It’s important to note that most of the time, elopements do not have a traditional ceremony setup. There are no chairs, altar, aisle, music, etc. This is what makes it so special! The magic is brought by the couple and their guests.
The second is that there is usually some sort of meal that takes place afterward. This is a great time to get to know other guests and grab a drink with your date while you’re dressed up in a new town.
There may be a break so that the couple gets photos at the best time of day as well. Sometimes, parents and relatives feel like it’s bad etiquette for a couple to leave their guests for a few hours to get their photos done. But if that’s happening — the photos are likely one of the most important pieces to them!
So you’ve been invited, you know what’s going to go down…but now what? First things first: put your phone on silent, put it away, and don’t pull it out until after the ceremony. I promise I’m not a crotchety photographer saying this — but no photo you can take on your iPhone will be better than the ones their photographer takes. Plus, you’re one of the very few people who have been invited to this day. The best way to honor the couple is to be fully present and engaged with them as they say “I do!”
The second piece of etiquette that I get questions about relates to the ceremony itself. Are there sides? What if they don’t walk down an aisle, is that awkward? What do we do after they say I do? Typically, guests will stand wherever they want! I always ask to leave a figurative aisle for me to move around and have photos be centered, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to walk down an “aisle”. Every ceremony begins differently. Sometimes a bride will walk herself down; other couples will walk to the altar together. I encourage guests to be excited and cheer the couple on! That’s one of the most important things wedding guests should know: clapping and a little bit of cheering are always welcome.
You can expect the ceremony to be different than others you’ve been to. There are no rules, so I’ve seen couples kiss mid-ceremony, ask to repeat their vows to really take it all in, or take a few minutes to let a jet pass or baby stop crying. The beauty of the elopement space is that it’s honest, and we are stripping away the expectations and necessity for things to be perfect. Elopements allow for a level of authenticity to exist that you can’t find in many other events.
Something that is almost always an absolute no-no (if you’re in nature) is throwing any sort of confetti, rice, flower petals, etc. An eco-friendly alternative is bubble guns, though. So if you want to shower them with something, look into getting some of those!
The last piece but sometimes the most daunting, is what do you wear to an elopement? First of all, ask the couple if there are any colors they’d like you to avoid or aim to include. I usually encourage couples I work with to send a general color palette to their guests. I did this for my elopement and I love that our photos were cohesive because of it! Beyond this, though, here are three suggestions:
Choose something comfortable
Wear GOOD shoes (more on this below)
Don’t wear any super bright/vivid colors that might draw attention away from the couple
Seriously, don’t neglect your shoes. Understand that we will likely be walking through the woods. Sometimes it involves a little bit of snow, sometimes it involves an incline or descent. You’ll need good shoes that you can balance easily in, move around in, have good traction in, etc. Flimsy sandals, heels, and slippery dress shoes are fine to change into once we get there, but you need to have a good set of sturdy shoes to get to the ceremony site most of the time.
The last thing I want to re-iterate is that you’ve been invited as a very small group of people to witness this day. It can be tempting to give unsolicited advice, share opinions, and make suggestions. But what’s most important is doing your best to empower the couple to do what they want — even if it’s non-traditional or unconventional. As an elopement photographer, I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of countless beautiful ceremonies. Each one was different, and I’m excited for you to experience that uniqueness too. You’re going to have an amazing time as a guest and I hope you love every bit of it!
If you have any further questions regarding elopements of any kind, don’t hesitate to contact me. Thanks for reading!