The big to-do

Your checklist before you walk down the aisle

We all know great weddings are as unique as the folks they're celebrating, but a few stock tips can help most couples get a good start. Take this list with a grain of salt, of course, and pare it down to suit your tastes.


Share the good news.

Make a loose plan. How formal, casual or quirky is your dream wedding? Do you and your beloved want a religious ceremony, and will your folks melt down if you don’t have one? Would you rather dress as Storm Troopers or country people? (Circle one.) Should you elope? This first conversation matters. A lot.

Talk finances. Some couples foot the whole bill themselves, while others are happy to accept help. Know that whoever pays probably expects a vote as far as the guest list, ceremony and so on.

Want a flashy ceremony or reception venue? If it’s popular, you’ll need to pick a distant date or act very quickly, especially for a Saturday-night event, as even church calendars fill up fast. If a family lake house or backyard is more your style, you’ve got some wiggle room.

Once your venue is set, you can pick your wedding date.


If you already have a wedding party in mind, call the main players. If you’d rather skip having bridesmaids and groomsmen, say so. Don’t leave old friends waiting and wondering.

Draw up a rough guest list. This is easier said than done, but estimating the number of attendees goes part-and-parcel with your food and alcohol budget.

Book a caterer, and see if the same company can handle bar service. At this point, your stated headcount can be vague, like, “more than 100 people,” or “maybe 20 close friends.” Bear in mind you’ll be charged for every single freaking thing, from salt-and-pepper shakers to martini olives and trash removal.

Feeling stressed already? Consider hiring a wedding planner, if only for your own mental health. A friendly pro can work within your budget, and may even offset his or her fees by saving you money in the long run. If you’re buying a $3,000 dress and a $2,000 cake, but you can’t afford help, you’re doing it wrong.


Settle on a band or DJ, or if you’re on a shoestring, research a sound system and playlist you can rig up yourself. Remember to make a “no-play” list, too, and to specify whether you want radio edits.

Find a good photographer.

Finalize details with your venue and vendors, including minutiae like chair covers. These bland but important add-ons often aren’t included in initial quotes.

If you’re going on a honeymoon, be sure you’ve booked any relevant flights, hotel rooms, tour packages and so on. Same goes for any out-of-town bachelor and/or bachelorette parties.

Get yourselves an officiant, whether a clergy person, local judge or favorite uncle. Anyone can be ordained online in a few minutes, if it comes down to it.

Finish your guest list and send save-the-date notices. Insensitive or not, the best way to cut costs is to pare down your invitations. If you’re worried, draw up lists of people who’re loosely categorized per your relationships, e.g., “Alabama cousins,” “Daddy’s colleagues,” “incarcerated,” and all the rest. That way, if you have to cut an entire network, no one will be too hurt—should they even catch on.

Stay in regular touch with your vendors, including the venue manager, caterer and equipment-rental company. Deposits are due now or soon, and credit cards usually won’t do.

If you want a custom wedding band or are altering heirloom rings to suit your tastes, you’d best find a good jeweler. If you’re relying on a jewelry store, start shopping.

Build your gift registry. Gauche as it can feel to ask for presents, a list is helpful to folks who’ll give you something no matter what. It’s not customary or polite to reference the registry in your invitation, however, and it’s damned near criminal to send it to someone you haven’t invited.


Meet with your DJ, if you’ve hired one, and remember that he or she is probably onboard to steer and emcee the whole evening. Talk details.

Ensure the bride(s) and any bridesmaids have their dresses and shoes, as well as an initial dress fitting. If you’re triaging time and money, you can hold off on any tux rentals for now.

Send invitations and set a firm RSVP date that’s no less than two weeks in advance.


Rent tuxes, if you haven’t already. Places like Men’s Wearhouse are virtually identical nationwide, so you can often be fitted in one store and pick up the garment in another.

Schedule any men’s haircuts, taking care to have them done at least a week or two before the wedding so any razor burns or bad shave-jobs will have time to fade. Women should schedule salon appointments, too.

Check in again with all vendors, especially caterers, as they’ll probably want firm menu decisions by now. Your final headcount is due in the coming weeks.

Talk a friend into picking up your bouquet(s) on the big day, and ask for help with any DIY flower arrangements and décor.


Do any last-minute teeth whitening, hair coloring, sunless tanning, and what have you. If you’re getting a spray tan, know you’ll have to wear minimal clothing afterward and probably go without underthings for the rest of the day.

Have a final dress and/or tux fitting, and don’t try crash dieting at this point. It just might work, and then your bra could slowly slide down to your abdomen during the ceremony (I would know).

Ensure all your bases are covered, especially if you don’t have a planner or day-of coordinator in your corner. Has someone agreed to sign for alcohol and food deliveries? Should you bring a curling iron to your dressing room? You get the idea.


Now’s the time for manicures, pedicures, and anything else that’ll help you feel polished. Men: If you’ve always had a beard, don’t suddenly shave as a surprise. It rarely goes over well.

Get your marriage license.

Find out exactly where your rings are, and who’s keeping track of them.

Take time to unwind at the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. You’re almost legal!

Sleep, if possible.


Eat breakfast. This isn’t optional.

Take a hot bath, have a mimosa, go for a run, or do whatever else will keep you relatively calm for the next few hours.

Hairstyling and any professional makeup application should obviously be underway at this point. Your photographer will probably arrive right about now for make-ready shots.

Freaking out? Ask anyone in your radius for help. If your little cousin is staring at his phone, for instance, make his ass carry some chairs. If your caterers are MIA, give your aunt their phone number and wash your hands of it. She’ll find ’em.

Take a deep breath. If you’ve neglected something at this point and are plumb out of time, forgive yourself and move on. You’re surrounded by people who love you and want only to see you happy.

Have fun!