Written by Stephanie Seija | Photography by Photography by Lauryn
When you begin the wedding planning process, one of the first things you’ll need to nail down is your aesthetic — the vibe, style and feel you want your day to exude. Since this is the first big event you will host together as a couple, it’s the time to let your personalities truly shine in front of your friends and family. It’s hard to move forward in your planning without a sense of the look you’re trying to achieve. But in a world chock-full of color palettes and visual inspiration, it can become overwhelming. How will you decide which aesthetic is meant for you? And once you’ve chosen your perfect vibe, where do you go from there? There are plenty of ways to incorporate that vision into the different aspects of your day. Here are a few things to consider in order to plan an aesthetic that is cohesive and “on brand” from start to finish.
First things first, gather inspiration. The right aesthetic for your big day will be a reflection of what you and your partner are naturally drawn to. There are countless possibilities when it comes to aesthetic, so your first step will be to narrow the playing field. Identify the elements that consistently catch your eye. When you scroll through Pinterest, do you notice any patterns among the kinds of photos you’re always pinning? What have you really loved (or really not loved) about the vibe of other weddings you’ve attended? When you flip through wedding magazines, what are some repeated elements that your favorite details have in common?
Start capturing screen shots of colors and patterns you like, whether it’s from a friend’s Instagram post or online shopping. And then go ahead — rip pages out of those catalogs or magazines if you are loving a featured pattern or certain style. As you add to your collection, you’ll be surprised at how quickly patterns and preferences emerge.
Make sure you are on the same page with your significant other. It’s natural to have different tastes (it’s true when they say opposites attract!) so it’s likely you may have conflicting opinions at first. Instead of letting that frustrate you, use this opportunity to work together in order to create a truly mutual vision. Even if you know that one of you will be taking the lead on most of your wedding planning decisions, agreeing on the aesthetic together will ensure a cohesive look and a happy couple. Try gathering inspiration separately first, so that you each have the freedom to pick and choose according to your instincts without judgment. Then come together and see if there are common elements that you both like.
Assign descriptive words to the things you like. While visual inspiration is necessary, words and phrases that set the mood can be extremely helpful as you clarify your vision. You might like “greenery” but there’s a big difference between the greenery you’d find in a tropical paradise versus an enchanted forest. Be as precise and specific as you can in just a few emotion-packed words.
Narrowing down your aesthetic not only helps you create a stunning look, but it can also reduce wedding planning stress. Limiting your options is actually helpful! A well-chosen wedding style will make the rest of your decisions a lot easier as you follow the guidelines you’ve set for yourself. The more clarity you have in your vision, the more cohesive your event will feel.
YOUR VENUE SETS THE STAGE
As you’re searching for venues, your desired aesthetic should be at the forefront of your mind. Most event spaces are not simply blank canvases — they have their own point of view and they will immediately set the tone for your aesthetic. For example, a barn with a wood-beamed ceiling and antique paint finishes is perfect for a rustic vibe, while a mansion with marble floors fits the bill for a vintage or an art deco-themed fête. For modern simplicity, a venue like an art gallery could be the perfect backdrop to highlight understated colors and natural elements. Classic romance can bloom on a lush garden lawn, while glitz and glamour will dazzle your guests in a ballroom filled with bold colors and sparkling accents. An industrial loft with exposed brick and metal rafters cultivates a “city” vibe, while an open- air veranda filled with lush fabrics and Moroccan patterns will convey boho chic. The best part? You can find all of these aesthetics throughout Chicago! Our city has so many options.
The foundation for your wedding day aesthetic rests on two things: your venue and your color palette. These two decisions go hand in hand, since every event space has its own unchangeable features that need to complement your chosen hues. You’ll need to make sure your potential venues work well with your color scheme ideas. For instance, if you’re set on featuring a bold color like pink or red, your venue should remain more neutral. Or maybe there’s a vintage hotel ballroom that you’ve been eyeing, but it includes a bold element like green carpet or patterned wallpaper. If that’s the case, you’ll have to constrain yourself a bit more as you finalize the rest of your color palette. If either a specific color or a particular venue is non-negotiable to you, start with that element and let the rest of your decisions follow. The key is to avoid visual competition between your venue and your colors, as you consider lighting, mood and style.
CHOOSE A COLOR PALETTE
When it comes to finding color inspiration, a great place to start is in your own home. Take a look through your living space and notice items, materials and artwork that you particularly love. Clothes are another indication when it comes to your favorite colors — are there clear preferences as you comb through your closet? Chances are, the hues you gravitate towards for your décor and attire are the ones that represent you the best and make you feel most happy.
Color affects more than just how things look — color creates a mood. The psychology behind color is powerful, and you have the chance to tap into that in order to curate the feelings you want your guests to experience. Pastels like sky blue or lavender are soft and feminine, while reds and bright pinks are bold and full of excitement. Orange and sunny yellow communicate cheerfulness and joy, while green is peaceful and earthy. Jewel tones like emerald and violet make a statement, while classic whites and creams allow other elements to shine. As you compare color palettes, think about the mood you’d like to set for your guests.
It can be tempting to include every color you like in your final color scheme, but choosing two to four shades is best. Anything more than that can become visually confusing, and your aesthetic will lack cohesion. If that feels limiting, remember that you can always enhance your primary colors by adding a metallic accent — just use metallics sparingly for optimum effect.
SHARE YOUR VISION
You will want to be sure that you communicate your aesthetic clearly to your vendors. One way to do this is to request several fabric swatches from your bridesmaid dresses or your table linens. That way you’ll have enough to share these samples with all of your other vendors, and any color choices they have to make on their own will be informed by your precise color shade.
It’s important to ensure that your vendors are all bringing the correct shades of your color. Your linen supplier and your florist might have different definitions of pale blue, so setting the record straight prior to your celebration is key. Colors should add to the magic of your day, not take away from it, and keeping things consistent is the best way to avoid unwanted color distractions.
Create both a physical and digital inspiration board. If you have a wedding binder, that’s the perfect place for a tangible inspiration display, including real swatches and paper samples. You can even use paint samples from a home improvement store to create your own color palette! Of course, you’ll want a digital collection of inspiration pics to send in email conversations with vendors or for whenever your friends excitedly ask you about your vision. The perfect mood board includes a few real wedding detail photos, some color samples and your descriptive style name.
What if you’ve spent hours in Canva and your digital inspiration board still doesn’t feel right? Don’t forget to call upon your vendors. Your wedding consultant might have the perfect shade of pink you haven’t been able to capture. Or maybe your florist has found a specific bloom that becomes the source of your inspiration. These vendors are professionals, so let them help you!
And when your wedding colors are finalized, your vendors may be able to take some of the finer details to the next level. Little touches like having the waitstaff wear bowties that match your colors can add a layer of sophistication and consistency to your wedding that otherwise might have been missing. Your vendors may have suggestions from other events that you haven’t thought of, so it never hurts to be open to hearing different ideas.
BRANDING BEGINS WITH STATIONERY
Just like a business develops a cohesive visual style, you have the opportunity to “brand” your wedding and carry that look and feel throughout your entire event. One of the first concrete pieces of communication that guests will see is your save-the-date or invitation. Your stationery will let your friends and family know what they can expect from your wedding, so you want to represent yourself well!
Your printed pieces create an experience for your guests from the invitations to the thank-you notes. Stemming from your chosen color scheme and overall vibe, your stationery should utilize fonts, design elements and patterns that support your vision. Do beachy watercolors coordinate with your destination wedding in the tropics? Will metallic stamping and art deco accents really highlight your Roaring ‘20s theme? These same design elements can be mirrored throughout the rest of your paper products, like table numbers, ceremony programs, menu cards and more. You can have fun with them!
Did you know that monograms are for more than just fancy plush towels or robes? Many couples choose to create their very own custom monogram to use on their stationery as well as other personalized elements like cocktail napkins, gift tags and thank-you cards. You can even have your monogram printed on your dance floor or projected on a statement wall.
TELL A STORY WITH FLORAL DÉCOR
Flowers are quite literally the “centerpiece” of your décor, so it makes sense that floral design is a huge component of your wedding day aesthetic. You don’t have to be able to name every single type of flower in order to speak to your wedding’s floral vision. When you work with a great florist, they will consult with you to really understand the look you’re going for in order to translate your thoughts into beautiful pieces of art featuring the most perfect blooms.
Ceremony Flowers: Consider the bouquets and boutonnieres for you and your partner, your wedding party and your close family members. Often called “personal flowers,” these make their first appearance during the ceremony so they definitely get a lot of attention (from guests as well as from your photographer’s lens). You’ll want to think beyond just your wedding party — oftentimes the parents and grandparents of the couple also get special flowers to wear as well. It’s up to you!
The vibe for personal flowers goes beyond color — style plays a big role as well. A loosely gathered bouquet with a variety of flowers tied with long flowing fabric sets a completely different tone than a rounded, tightly- gathered bouquet of all-white roses. Some people even attach or tie vintage details to their bouquet like a hand- me-down gold locket, a grandparent’s handkerchief or another family memento. Thinking outside the box when it comes to personal flowers not only can contribute to your unique aesthetic, but it can also be a meaningful way to incorporate family heirlooms or memories into your wedding day as you walk down the aisle.
Embellishing a ceremony arch with flowers is a gorgeous way to create a swoon-worthy photo moment as you say your “I do’s.” Ask your floral designer if they can create an arch that matches your aesthetic — the base can be made of anything from metal piping to reclaimed wood. Maybe an archway isn’t your thing, and you’d prefer a collection of smaller floral elements or candles cascading down the center aisle or adorning the chairs. Don’t forget that large ceremony arrangements (along with bridesmaid bouquets) have the ability to be repurposed for the reception as centerpieces and statement décor. Simply place the bouquets in vases or arrange your archway as a sweetheart table backdrop.
Reception Florals: Table flowers at your reception are an essential part of your wedding aesthetic. Going for a traditional feel? Round tables with gorgeous blooms in the center are classic for a reason! Planning for long rectangular “feasting” tables? Greenery garlands with flowers scattered throughout are lush and romantic when interspersed with lots of candles. There is no rule that says all your tables need to be decorated the same way — alternate tall and low arrangements for a staggered effect, or embellish rectangular tables differently than your round ones. Don’t forget to add small flower arrangements (or even just a few loose blooms) to elements like your escort card table, gifts table, the bar, draped on signage or even in the restrooms. These little touches have a big impact on carrying your aesthetic throughout of your event space.
Want to go for something a bit daring and dramatic with your floral design? Try elevating your floral elements by literally elevating your flowers above the tables! You could hang a variety of cascading vertical blooms or even construct a design that features glass globes with candles hanging from the floral structures. Statement walls are also impressive if you’d like to grab your guests’ attention with a striking showstopper. These can be covered in flowers, paper elements or even a custom neon sign nestled on lush greenery. These also make great photo backdrops for your guests.
For these larger-than-life design elements, make sure your venue and your florist are all on the same page. Just because your florist is excited to hang 100 strands of flowers from the ceiling doesn’t mean your venue manager feels the same way. These elements also take a lot of time to set up, so you’ll have to make sure your florist can arrive in time to create their magic.
(Still looking for a florist? Start your search here.)
CREATE A STUNNING TABLESCAPE
Your table décor will take center stage when your guests are seated for dinner. Have you thought about how your place settings can really shine? Charger plates made of wood, glass or metal immediately take the dinner table from generic to elegant. You can also add creative touches to your tablescape like colored glass goblets, unique silverware or vintage mix-and-match china plates. Maybe you’re envisioning your tables covered in candles to create a dreamy mood. Ask your florist or rental company about different ways to display your candles, from ornate candlesticks to glass cylinders to floating in water (check with your venue coordinator if you are considering open flame candles). You can also find inspiration for table décor by browsing vintage shops or visiting a few flea markets. Not only will you find one-of- a-kind items this way, but thrifting is perfect for couples who want to make sustainable choices.
Think about other items like escort cards, table numbers and signage. Who said these elements have to be made from paper? Give these small touches a twist by bringing in different materials — escort cards could be marble hexagons or jewel-toned geodes that feature names written in gold metallic calligraphy. Seating assignments could be written on the panes of glass in a large vintage window and hung at the entrance of your reception space. Table numbers can be etched out of wood or painted on acrylic slabs. Think of materials and textures that go along with your visual style and find unique ways to incorporate them throughout your space.
FOLLOW A THEME
In the planning process, friends and even Aunt Susie used to ask ‘what’s your theme?’ constantly. Now the question has been transformed into what are your colors? But that doesn’t mean a tropical luau isn’t an option if you want it to be! Your big day could take its cue from your favorite movie, a mutual hobby or a special vacation spot. Or maybe you really want to capture the specific vibe of vintage glam, outdoor bohemian or classic romance. Choosing a “themed” wedding doesn’t mean that every single detail needs to be overt. You can incorporate hints of your theme in smaller, subtle ways. Serve food and drinks that connect with the overall motif like rum punch and piña coladas for a tropical affair. Your cake or sweets table could feature a custom cake topper or themed decor. Or you could name your tables with themed phrases instead of numbers, like each of the places you’ve traveled together or the names of your pets. The most important factor to remember is that your theme feels meaningful to you and your spouse.
KEEP IT COHESIVE
Choosing your wedding aesthetic helps you develop a cohesive vision for every element of your big day, from music to florals to food. You really can’t go wrong, because the perfect style will be the one that reflects you and your partner in a personal way. So take this opportunity to throw the party of a lifetime with a vibe that tells your unique love story.