You'll have to sort through a lot of options in the months to come—here's how to keep the big picture in mind.
by Lauren Kay (On The Knot)
Settling on an overarching concept and sticking to it is the easiest way to plan a wedding that feels unified and looks like you—and trust us, it will make your life a lot easier as you weed through all the options in the weeks and months to come. So, before you start trying on dresses, booking your band or sampling a bite of cake—look at the big picture and determine the vibe you want to set on your wedding day.
Step 1. Think Big
The beginning of the process is the dreaming phase, so don't worry about how something will work or how much it will cost. And don't even consider what your parents will think.
Picture your dream wedding. What do you see? Here are a couple of questions to consider while everything is coming together in your head.
Big (everyone you know) or small (close friends and relatives)?
Outdoors or indoors?
Home (one of your hometowns or your current city) or away (hello, destination wedding!)?
Modern, classic, romantic, vintage, rustic or all-out glam?
Fancy, casual or somewhere in between?
Spring, summer, winter or fall?
Step 2. Gather and Save Inspiration
To get a better idea of what you want (and definitely don't want), spend some time checking out bridal magazines, books, blogs and real wedding photos. But don't limit yourself to browsing just the obvious sources. Something as unlikely as a wallpaper pattern or a pretty perfume package design can spark an idea. Fabrics, color chips, stationery and trinkets are all great starting points too. Collect your ideas on an inspiration board—it's one of the best ways to keep everything organized. It will also help you identify common threads and visualize how various elements will look together.
Step 3. Figure Out the Formality
How fancy or casual do you want to go? Do you want to see your guests all dressed up at a sit-down dinner? Or will it be more casual with informal seating and stations? The setting of your wedding can also dictate the vision—a beach wedding calls for a more laid-back vibe, while a ballroom may require a more classic and elegant wedding. And don't forget about your own personal styles and the kind of atmosphere that best speaks to you two as a couple. Do you like hosting intimate dinner parties, getting decked out and partying until dawn, or throwing a low-key poolside picnic? Whatever you decide, you'll want to carry your chosen formality through every aspect of your wedding, from the stationery to the parting favor.
Step 4. Narrow in on Your Style
The more specific you get with your vision, the easier it will be for you to choose your details and convey your ideas to your pros—the tighter your theme, the better. Instead of stopping at "glam," decide whether you want art-deco glam or old-Hollywood glam. Your theme can be anything from a favorite era, hobby or place to your heritage or culture. To help shape the style, think of interesting hobbies you and your fiancé have in common. Maybe you both love golf or share an appreciation of art. Or perhaps there's a place you two hold dear, like the mountaintop where you got engaged or the vacation locale where you fell in love.
A word of caution: Don't load up on too many ideas. It's great if you love Broadway musicals and your spouse-to-be is into drag racing, but trying to combine both on your wedding day will likely lead to a weird, disjointed affair. Do your best to compromise on one concept and stick to it.
Step 5. Pick Your Colors
Color is a unifying factor among all your wedding elements, from the invitations to your bridesmaid dresses. Take a look at a color wheel to determine which shades you're drawn to. The easiest way to make all of your wedding elements come together is to stick with one main color and an accent color, or two equally prominent complementary colors (colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel, like green and pink or yellow and purple) for a bright contrast. But don't feel limited to just two colors—adding neutral or metallic accents will make your palette robust. You could also choose an analogous scheme—putting together three colors that fall side by side on the color wheel, like blue, periwinkle and violet, to bring out the subtle nuances of one color family.
Step 6. Master the Motif
A motif is the last flourish that can tie together the overall look of your wedding—it can show up anywhere from the invitation to the cake. It's typically a pattern, shape or insignia that conveys your style (think: monogram, family crest, toile pattern or leaf icon). Whatever you choose should reinforce the mood you're trying to create. Use your motif sparingly—three or four places max. Any more than that will feel forced or look too matchy-matchy.
Step 7. Don't Forget the Vibe
As you're planning, remember that the theme obviously affects the look of your wedding, but it can also set the tone. An evening wedding in a gilded ballroom meant to conjure the roaring twenties will ramp the chic quotient up a notch, while a clambake on the beach will have guests kicking off their shoes and enjoying a beer right out of the bottle. Either is great, as long as it feels right to you. You want your personalities and passions to shine through, which is what ultimately makes your wedding stand out and feel special.