Your Step-By-Step Guide to Planning a Non-Traditional Wedding

Bride and bridesmaids on a wedding busPhoto: Bella Bridesmaids Raleigh Erin L. Taylor

If you’re reading this, chances are, you want your big day to be slightly different from all the weddings you’ve attended. And we’re totally here for it!

Thinking about skipping the white dress in favor of a colorful gown?

Considering throwing a cocktail reception rather than having a buffet or sit-down dinner?

Curious if you should say your nuptials in an art gallery instead of a church?

There are all sorts of ways to throw a non-traditional wedding!

Are you looking for ideas on how to throw in some unique wedding twists? Or wonder if it’s better to elope with just a few close friends?

No matter what you envision for your big day, this is your step-by-step guide to planning a non-traditional wedding!

5 Ways to Break Wedding Tradition

You can make your wedding day one of a kind in many ways!

Here are a few non-traditional wedding ideas to take your entire day and turn it on its head:

1. Change Up Your Wedding Ceremony

Two dogs at wedding

Photo: Bella Bridesmaids Knoxville / Abigail Malone

Wedding ceremonies are pretty straightforward. You walk down the aisle, say your vows, and then kiss. But you can make yours less traditional just by changing an element or two.

Instead of having relatives read excerpts from a religious text, have them read a passage from a book or a movie that has special meaning to you and your beloved.

The “moon of my life” lines from Game of Thrones, anything Noah said to Allie in The Notebook, or lyrics from your favorite band are all fun options! You could even work some of your favorite quotes into your wedding vows.

Give Mom and Dad different roles to play. Have both the bride’s and the groom’s parents give them away, or let each family accept the other person instead.

Get your dogs and cats involved in your special day as ring bearers, flower girls, or even as your best man or maid of honor!

Get creative with your unity ceremony. Rather than lighting a candle, light a bonfire or pop a bottle of champagne and toast!

2. Have a Different Kind of Reception

You don’t have to throw a party in a ballroom after a cocktail hour if you don’t want to.

Take an unconventional, offbeat approach to your reception and leave your friends and family talking about it for years.

If you want something fun for all ages, take your guests bowling, mini-golfing, or to an amusement park.

Want your reception to be sophisticated but unexpected?

Turn it into a wine tasting with charcuterie boards aplenty!

You can also change up the order of things. For example, you could say your nuptials at night under the stars and then host a wedding reception brunch at your favorite restaurant the next morning.

3. Make It a Surprise Wedding

There’s nothing more unexpected than a surprise wedding! Yes, it might shock your best friends, close family members, and parents, but you can pull it off if you’re good at keeping a secret!

Secretly hire an officiant, then invite your wedding guests to “celebrate your engagement.” Once all of your loved ones are there, pretend like you’re going to give a welcome speech and then bring out the officiant! In an instant, your engagement party will become an unconventional wedding celebration.

Just imagine the looks on their faces when you say, “Surprise! We’re getting married right now!”

4. Live-Stream Your Wedding

While plenty of couples have live-streamed their weddings in recent years, it’s still a pretty non-traditional way to celebrate.

But it’s also a practical solution if you’re planning a destination wedding that some guests can’t attend. It’s also a smart option if you want to keep your reception small and intimate but want lots of people to see you say, “I do!”

5. Elope

An elopement is the original way to hold a non-traditional wedding ceremony. And for some couples, it’s exactly the type of wedding they want.

If you and your beloved are feeling it, get married!

Drop by a courthouse. Head to a drive-thru Vegas chapel. Get married on a dinner cruise if the captain is willing to officiate.

Just be sure to have your marriage license on hand for the officiant to sign. Otherwise, it won’t be legal.

For more information about eloping, check out our blog post: Your Elopement Checklist (Before, During, and After)

How to Plan a Non-Traditional Wedding

Bride playing guitar with bridesmaids dancing near her

Photo: Bella Bridesmaid Greenville / Angela Zion

It doesn’t matter if you’re sticking to the traditional wedding framework and changing up a few details or throwing a totally off-the-wall celebration. Weddings require planning, and that’s half the fun!

Here are some alternative wedding ideas to help you with the planning process.

Choose a Wedding Theme

Anything can be a wedding theme, so let your imagination run wild!

Want your special day to be full of whimsy and wonder?

Consider throwing a boho-chic wedding in the woods with an enchanted forest theme.

Love a vintage vibe?

Transport your guests back in time with an old Hollywood theme or turn your reception into a 50s-inspired sock hop.

Are you kids at heart?

Create a carnival theme with a cotton candy machine, classic games, and food trucks serving tasty treats!

And if a theme just isn’t your thing, that’s okay too. Create a minimalist and chic atmosphere, and focus on having a great time!

Find a Non-Traditional Wedding Venue

Bride and bridesmaids in art gallery

Photo: Bella Bridesmaids Scottsdale / Steph Wahlig

Ballrooms, barns, and beaches are popular wedding venues that many couples choose. But they are certainly not the only options! There are all sorts of establishments that rent space for weddings.

If you’re throwing a small wedding, renting a private room at your favorite restaurant is a great way to create a cozy, intimate vibe. Or, think about renting space at the place where the two of you met.

You could also let your hobbies help you decide where to say, “I do.”

Sports fans can get married at their favorite ballpark or football stadium. Most major stadiums have rentable space, and you might even be able to snap some wedding photos on the field!

Art or music lovers could host their big day in a theater, an art gallery, or a museum. Animal lovers may choose to celebrate at their local aquarium or zoo.

Love camping and spending time outdoors?

Consider turning your wedding day into a wedding glamping weekend. Or rent a boat and get married on a sunset cruise.

History buffs might want to marry at a historical site, public library, or local park with historical significance.

No matter what you’re into, unique, unexpected wedding venues exist all around the world!

Choose Unexpected Outfits

Your wedding dress is your shining moment. It should be something you absolutely love, and by no means does it have to be a white wedding gown.

What you wear on your wedding day is entirely up to you. Maybe that means wearing a white mini-dress instead of a gown. Or, maybe that means teaming a traditional gown with sneakers or cowboy boots.

For some brides, the ideal look is a black dress, a colorful gown, or one adorned with feathers or flowers.

Once you know what you’re going to wear, get creative! Put together complementary looks for the bridesmaids and groomsmen in your wedding party.

Bridesmaid attire comes in every color, style, and silhouette imaginable, so whether you want your girls to wear chic jumpsuits, flowing full-length gowns, or whimsical dresses, finding the perfect look is easy!

Choose Non-Traditional Food and Beverages

Small Patron bottles with straws on a tray

Photo: Bella Bridesmaids Charleston / Rachel Solomon

You can make your wedding non-traditional simply by serving some unexpected food and drinks. Or, you can serve traditional wedding dishes in unexpected ways.

Instead of a standard bar, set up a self-service tap wall with beer and wine on tap. You can also set champagne flutes on wall shelves rather than having servers pass them out.

Instead of a classic buffet or sit-down meal, host a cocktail reception with themed stations where guests can nosh on different foods throughout the night.

Rather than a tall, tiered wedding cake, choose a non-traditional cake. It could be a tower of donuts, tiers of cupcakes, or a huge pile of brownies — if that’s your thing!

Read How to Plan Your Wedding Day Timeline for a complete guide to your wedding day — from hair & make-up to hitting the dance floor.

There’s only one rule to wedding planning:

Your day = your way!

So whether you’re ready to toss all traditions by the wayside or just want to tweak a few elements to shake things up, do what feels right for you.

Whatever you decide to do, we hope your out-of-the-box plans turn into the wedding of your dreams!

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