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Wedding Themes

The Editors

When you got engaged, you felt like you were atop a fluffy cloud, blissfully drifting along as you showed off your ring to family and friends. But a few days have passed and you’ve suddenly landed back on earth with a daunting question on your mind: What kind of wedding will you have? Will it be large or small? Formal or casual? Contemporary or highly traditional?

Choosing a theme for your wedding eases the planning phase by steering you in a definite direction. If you’re leaning toward a Victorian-style wedding, you can bypass contemporary dresses and decorations and focus on period styles. For a seaside celebration, you’ll set your sights on breezy fabrics and refreshing foods.

But how do you decide on a theme? When he meets with brides-to-be for the first time, Julian Severyn, owner of Wedding Artistry, a wedding planning service in Broadview Heights, rattles off about 70 adjectives — from pretty to fanciful to offbeat — to describe various wedding styles. Based on the words that appeal to the women, Severyn gets a feel for the type of wedding they’d like to have. From there, he shows them pictures of wedding gowns, bridesmaids’ dresses, cakes and favors that fit a particular theme, and gives them options for halls, food and music. Together, these elements form a cohesive wedding ceremony and reception.

It’s OK to be different or dramatic on what should be the most magical day of your life. “I recently did an upscale Cinderella wedding,” Severyn says. “The bride and her father rode to the church in a carriage drawn by Clydesdale horses.”

Here are five exciting wedding themes, each with a distinctive atmosphere that will provide lasting memories for you, your fiance and your guests.

Victorian Tea

Imagine a church filled with daisies and roses wrapped in lacy bows. Hymns popular during the mid- and late-1800s flow from the organ pipes as your bridesmaids, holding nosegays, walk slowly down the aisle. Your betrothed waits near the altar, looking dapper in a traditional gray mourning suit with a cutaway back and striped gray pants. (If the ceremony is in the evening rather than during the day, he’ll probably be wearing a black suit with a tie and shirt in a matching piqué fabric instead.) Then, as the organist plays “O Life That Maketh All Things New,” you appear at the back of the church, beautifully outfitted in a vintage or carefully reproduced Victorian gown — perhaps a simple cut with lacy decorations around the neck, arms and hem — and calf-high, button-down boots.

After the ceremony, you and your guests retreat to a stately Queen Anne home. (There are several Victorian-era houses in the Cleveland area that are available for wedding rentals). A gentle breeze blows across the spacious veranda, where tables feature cloths with pretty flounces and lace overlays. Vases brimming with fresh-cut flowers center the tables. A small, silver-plated, conical holder filled with dried flowers and intoxicating lavender rests at each place setting as a wedding favor.

At the food table, tempting yet dainty canapes and petits fours rest on paper doilies. Tiny bow-wrapped baskets with filigree edges surround a cake decorated with roses and daisies. After dinner, you dance your first dance as husband and wife to the late-1800s love song, “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes.”

Check out the book “The Wedding Gown” by Maria McBride-Mellinger, which provides a history of the wedding gown and offers several examples of Victorian dresses. When choosing floral arrangements, keep in mind that bouquets from this era usually were rounded and packed with flowers from the garden, creating an elegant yet homemade ambiance.

If you’re thinking of a slightly rowdier Victorian-era theme, look into the Wild West style of dresses and tuxedos available from several manufacturers. The floral arrangements can stay the same, but dinner could become a barbecue. A piano player belting out lively songs from that era can add to the ambiance. And, of course, leave out the gunslinging and barroom brawls that are often associated with the Wild West.

Winter Wonderland

Crisp. Clean. Uncluttered. A winter-themed wedding in December or January brightens the eye as it warms the heart.

At the church and the hall, set the mood with white flowers — lilies
and miniature carnations, for example — and birch branches adorned with artificial ice. Use the branches for altar and pew decorations, bouquets, boutonnieres and corsages; place a few at the cake and dessert table, too. Keep arrangements sparse and add just a touch of
winter green in the form of scotch pine
or cedar.

Decorate tables with white cloths and dishes, juxtaposed with sparkling silverware. Select a gentle green, such as celadon, for napkins and decorative bows. This will provide a soothing accent color to the predominantly white tables. Warm and hardy fare such as soups and stews can be complemented by mulled cider and hot chocolate.

Italian ice cream served in clear glass dishes will be the perfect accompaniment to a wedding cake adorned with snowflakes made of pastillage (gum paste). Or try something truly unique: a five-tier cake, without separations between the layers, covered in buttercream icing that resembles drifts of snow. Sprinkle sugar crystals over the cake to give the impression that Jack Frost has just blown past the dessert table.

Silk shantung or a similarly light-textured fabric will make your gown shimmer like newly fallen snow. Bridesmaids can also dress in white, as long as their gowns are not as elaborate as yours. Have the bridesmaids carry muffs rather than bouquets (you can top the muffs with small clusters of flowers), and be sure that all of you have beautiful white capes edged in white fur to accessorize your dresses.

It is perfectly acceptable for the groom and ushers to don white tuxedos at a winter-themed wedding. The gentlemen might want to wear matching black overcoats for a handsome and uniform look while walking out of the church or into the hall.

You may select “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” for your first dance, or perhaps you’ll opt for a graceful Viennese waltz. At the end of the evening, send your guests home with a touch of winter elegance: delicate snowflake Christmas-tree decorations or small crystal jars filled with white mints.


Start spreading the news. You’re getting married today. And from start to finish, it’s going to be smart and sophisticated.

The obvious first step in planning a cityscape wedding is to book a hall or party room with a skyline view. Next, think about music. Frank Sinatra tunes and big-band melodies have a city feel, so you might consider a swing band. Or perhaps you’re thinking mellow and refined, in which case a string quartet would create the appropriate mood.

Arriving at the church and reception hall in a sleek black limo bespeaks urban style. But a horsedrawn carriage offers an elegant, gentrified air. Either way, you’ll look stunning as you step out in a streamlined gown — strapless, off-the-shoulder or fitted long sleeves; floor-length or sweeping chapel train; shimmering off-white satin or smooth white silk. A jeweled headpiece provides the crowning touch. Keep flowers simple yet exquisite. Carry a single white or red rose or a tightly gathered clutch of flowers wrapped in a grosgrain ribbon. Warm or steel gray, cinnamon and taupe are great choices for bridesmaids’ dresses. Make sure the color you choose is deep, not drab.

Tuxes for the groom, dads and ushers should enhance the streamlined appearance of the women’s gowns. Claiborne 2.0, a division of Liz Claiborne, has a tuxedo collection called “The Citi Lites,” featuring slightly longer-than-usual jackets with small lapels. Vests in the collection have a subtly undulating appearance.

Compose a city-at-night flavor in the reception hall by decorating tables with strings of battery-powered lights. For centerpieces, try tall square pillar candles or thin square glass vases teeming with flowers.

Treat guests to haute cuisine: herb-crusted chicken, medallions of beef tenderloin, asparagus with slivered almonds. Then surprise them with individual cakes, each in the shape of a skyscraper. If you’d rather have a cake table, you can ask your baker to produce a series of larger cakes in the shape of familiar tall buildings. (Imagine you and your fiance slicing into a chocolate-filled replica of the BP building!) Set the cakes on Lucite plates of varying heights to resemble a city skyline.

Favors can be fun. Wouldn’t your guests love plastic snow globes of the Empire State Building or, better yet, the Terminal Tower? Or tantalizing truffles in beautiful crystal dishes will remind them of this momentous occasion.

Summer Seaside

Are you planning to say your vows while standing barefoot in the sand at Edgewater Park? Will your wedding take place in the yard of a home overlooking the Gold Coast? Or do you want to add a warm, sunny note to your indoor wedding? Wherever your special day will be held, a seaside theme is a bright and breezy idea.

Water, sand and seashells lend inspiration to everything from the music selection to the centerpieces. Handel’s “Water Music” and impressionistic works by Claude Debussy and Joseph-Maurice Ravel have smooth, liquid sounds that set the tone for the wedding. If you’re thinking fun in the sun, have a disc jockey spin tunes by The Beach Boys and other surf-loving bands at your reception.

Keep tables casual. Buy yards of inexpensive polyester-cotton fabric with beach or underwater motifs and sew a hem to make colorful and fun tablecloths. Adorn tabletops with large handblown glass containers holding floating candles, starfish and flowers. Weave lines of sand around the vases. You can also scatter coral and sand dollars around the table. Pick colors associated with the sea for napkins and decorations: blue-green, salmon, coral. The hues you select should be soft and delicate but should not lean toward pastel.

Customize your dress by sewing tiny shells onto the bodice or the neckline. Carry daisies or a cluster of wildflowers to reinforce the natural, unstructured feeling of the shore.

The groom and ushers can wear white. Tuxes and gowns should be simple with few adornments. Gentle, barely there shades of sage and lilac would be ideal for bridesmaids’ dresses. Tuck seashells into boutonnieres, bouquets and corsages.

Depending on the time of year, the budget and your own tastebuds, you can serve a light and luscious menu of salmon on a bed of greens, seashell pasta salad and chilled vegetables or fun and hardy fare like hamburgers, hot dogs and barbecued ribs. Jell-O molds packed with berries make delicious and light pre-cake treats.

Colors and motifs from the sea also influence the wedding cake. An excellent example can be found in the book “Colette’s Wedding Cakes,” by Colette Peters. Smooth, light-peach frosting is embellished with a wavy piped edge and pastillage coral and starfish. On top of the cake, a large pearl sits inside a pastillage oyster shell.

All Angles

This idea is inspired by wedding consultant Julian Severyn, who says he “always wanted to do this theme for a wedding.” If you’re the kind of woman who likes to do things a little differently, this is right up your alley.

Severyn’s image of an angular-minded wedding begins with a custom-designed gown: a two-piece number with a V-neck, draped sleeves cut at an angle, a bodice that slopes from one hip to the other and a graduated hemline that is high in front and low in back (or vice-versa, depending on whether you want to show more leg in the front or back). “It would slash across the figure with wonderful diagonal shapes,” Severyn says of the gown. Complementing this unusual outfit would be a bouquet of birds of paradise and split-leaf philodendron.

Carry the theme over to the tuxedos. The clothing company Jean Yves Paris offers a tuxedo with satin-accented, angled notches on the lapels and double besom pockets (besom is a satiny piping that is ironed flat at the opening of the pockets).

Get your bridesmaids into the swing of things with gowns featuring contrasting areas of fabric such as velveteen and satin and back or side slits. Fill their bouquets with pincushion protea, a flower that has a decidedly angular look.

Design your own aisle runner and tablecloths (or have a friend make them if you’re feeling overwhelmed with wedding-planning activities): Purchase inexpensive cotton-polyester fabric and, using a ruler and a magic marker, make slashing lines in different directions all around the fabric. Center each table with birds of paradise spilling out of tall, geometric-shaped vases.

Let your imagination run wild when it comes to food. Cut sandwiches and pastries into diamond shapes; use pasta in various forms for main dishes and sides; serve roasted potatoes trimmed to resemble right triangles. Keep the mood going with a hexagonal cake outlined in contrasting colors of icing. If you’re feeling really daring, ask the baker to prepare the unusual cake shown in the book “Colin Collie Weddings,” by Colin Collie, a wedding and lifestyle consultant. “The layers are set at different, offbeat angles,” says Severyn. “It looks like something from the Mad Hatter’s tea party.” One layer is decorated with stripes, another with diamonds. Pastillage daisies share space with rolled fondant bows and calla lilies. Complete the angular theme by drizzling lines of chocolate on the cake plate.

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