By Jen Marie Wiggins
You’re in love, you’re engaged … and you’re lucky enough to be getting married on the Southern coast. Planning a Southern wedding means taking those special vows in a place steeped in history and tradition, but that doesn’t mean you need to rule out all the fun and creativity of a modern affair. Believe it or not, in this age of unconventional venues, wedding hashtags and an ever-evolving cache of fads, it’s still possible to find balance.
The good news is that the best new trends are all about regional touches and personalization, which means you can keep those traditional aspects that speak to your personality while still elevating your event with of-the-moment touches.
Still, it can feel a bit overwhelming, so we’re bringing you the inspiration, experts and a few great tips to help you mix and match your way to a day that’s uniquely yours.
The Right Dress
Saying “yes” to the perfect dress can take time and research.
This year, old is new again in the form of fresh embellishments, traditional palettes and statement details. Clean lines are back thanks to last year’s royal wedding and the simplicity of that now-famous bateau neckline on Meghan Markle’s wedding dress. Brides are still favoring traditional white or ivory gowns, while bridesmaid palettes are staying soft in hues of crème, rose gold, soft pink and subdued blue. As Aubrianna Brown, lead stylist at BleuBelle Bridal, puts it, “Classic elegance is back.”
“Go with what makes you feel beautiful,” says Nicole Mason, owner of Ivory & Beau. “It’s easy to get hung up on a certain style or trend, but on your day that’s what really matters.”
While matching bridesmaid dresses are no longer taboo, Katharine Josephson, owner of Bella Bridesmaids Savannah, recommends giving your bridesmaids at least a few specific guidelines beyond color. “Too many choices can be overwhelming. We love it when brides do their research before coming in,” says Josephson. “Photos or a Pinterest board can really help our designers maximize time.”
Defining Focus: Photography
Long after the big day, you’ll be savoring the pictures, so it’s important to give them some thought well in advance.
“Authenticity is key,” says Callie Beale of Callie Beale Photography. “Couples aren’t looking for forced poses anymore, they want their personality to shine through.”
Blame it on Instagram — Savannah photographers are fielding requests for a blend of styles that incorporate everything from documentary-style shots to candid moments to whimsical touches.
Even the picture content itself can add personal expression, says Nicki O’Connell, an accessories and shoe designer inside the Mary Elizabeth’s Bridal. “A little detail like a custom embellished high-top shoe can let the bride feel comfortable and become an unexpected photo highlight.”
With so much to think about on the big day, it’s no wonder many couples now opt to do a “first look” rather than wait until the aisle to see each other. “That quiet moment often helps calm any pre-ceremony jitters and for some couples, it can be the only unencumbered moment of the day,” says Beale.
Of course, scenery still plays a major role in any Lowcountry photography. “There is nothing more classic and stunning then a bride and groom under a beautiful live oak with the sunset shining through the moss,” says Beale.
The Invitation & Registry
When it comes to invitations, convention is still king. Even in this era of save-the-date videos and digital RSVPs, Savannah brides are still paying postage — usually on a formal invitation with traditional wording.
One way to add a hint of modern flair is a custom monogram, which allows couples to create a unique insignia drawing inspiration from their venue, family crest or personal interests.
“The invitation sets the tone for your wedding,” says Emily McCarthy, owner and designer of Emily McCarthy Shoppe + Studio. “Today’s couples are creating a custom brand with their monogram and carrying it through from the invitation and stationery to their linens and china.”
When it comes to registering for gifts, these days it’s the norm to do so both online and in person — and grooms are more involved than ever before.
“We find that men are often the chefs in the family,” says Beverly Reynolds of The Cottage Shop. “They are much more involved than ten or fifteen years ago, when registering fell only to the bride.”
Décor, Details & All the Feels
This year, the aesthetic of the royal wedding has had major impact on wedding décor as well. Savannah planners and florists have noted a shift from the minimalist trend of the past few years toward larger-than-life floral installations, dramatic chandeliers and floral archways.
“Peonies, ranunculus, garden roses and dahlias continue to be popular choices,” says Vicki Sepielli, owner and designer of Kiwi Fleur. “Many brides use garland or eucalyptus down the center of the table, but no matter what you choose, we always recommend seeing the flowers in person before placing an order.”
John Davis, owner of John Davis Florist, agrees. “Most wedding boards and Pinterest pages are staged sets, which is great for inspiration, but brides should consider their budget and venue and remember that flowers can look different in person.”
Bucking the long-held Southern style of informal seating and food stations, traditional seated affairs are making a comeback. Place settings for seated dinners are more formal, and favor a calm palette of white, blush and soft blue.
“One contemporary twist is that velvet accents are being incorporated year-round,” says Tara Skinner, owner and lead designer of Tara Skinner Weddings & Events. “From groomswear to table linens, touches of velvet add texture and interest.”
Custom crests are making a major appearance at the reception, too. From the band’s backdrops to cocktail napkins and runners, these monogrammed moments add a cohesive element to many aspects of the day.
Eat, Drink & Be Married
Whether you’re going for seated courses or station-style dining, regional classic comfort foods like shrimp and grits and fried green tomatoes remain as popular as ever, but caterers are receiving more requests to source homegrown foods and recognizable Savannah brands. “From local cheese to Savannah Bee Company honey, whenever possible, we go local because
it’s fresher and our couples ask for it,” says James Monahan, chef de cuisine of 22 Square at the Andaz.
According to Wendy Armstrong, chef and owner of Thrive Catering, Savannah’s only certified green caterer, “Couples are mixing regional cuisine with world cuisines that are part of their family’s culture.”
The addition of late-night snack tables or after-party munchies offer even more options for creativity. From build-your-own-burger bars to surprise food trucks, these modern touches keep the party going.
The signature cocktail has also gotten a face-lift. While the mint julep will always be a beloved Southern staple, ideas like “his” and “hers” cocktails highlight the happy couple’s personalities and preferences while limiting the bar tab.
“His might be a Jack and Coke and hers something sweeter like a Champagne cocktail with a splash of cranberry juice,” says Will Herrington, executive chef at Cohen’s Retreat.
Savannah’s many regional breweries and distilleries — like Ghost Coast Distillery and Coastal Empire Beer Company — are another way to fill your guests’ “go-cup” with local flavor.
The cutting of the cake represents the first partnered task a couple performs in their newly wedded life, and the traditional layered cake is still up to the task — though current cake trends lean toward a cleaner and more modern aesthetic.
When it comes to desserts, more is merrier, so brides are sprinkling in other sweet treats like mini-pies, cake pops and donuts. Later in the evening, a cookie station from a local staple like Byrd Cookie Company is a sweet regional touch.
Gift Bags & Goodies.
Gift bags have become more than just a way to welcome out-of-town guests or recognize your bridal party — they set the weekend’s first impression and are a great opportunity to introduce your guests to your locale.
Along with the necessary amenities like bottled water, maps and mints, adding special extras like an organic lotion from Nourish or a custom spice blend from the Salt Table lets you share a little local love that lasts long past the weekend’s festivities.
Customized bridal party gift bags are a hot trend right now because they give the couple a way to recognize their bridal crew. From customized “Will you be my bridesmaid?” champagne labels to koozies and T-shirts, custom gifts are a keepsake that will be long remembered.
One Lowcountry favorite for gifts is the leather goods shop Satchel. Their Betty clutch and Elizabeth wallet are go-to bridal party gifts and can be worn on the wrist or across the body. From the Savannah’s Candy Kitchen to personalized stemware at the Emily McCarthy Shoppe + Studio, a stroll through any of Savannah’s retail districts makes it easy to shop local and stay personal.
In the end, it’s all about choice. Marriage was created on a foundation of tradition but has evolved thanks in large part to modern inspiration. As you look ahead to your wedding day, remember that it should feel a little like love itself — so take a deep breath, trust your gut and above all, enjoy the ride!