In a normal year, we'd be heading into peak wedding season. After last year's bans on most big gatherings lead to mass cancellations, there was an expectation that the 2021 wedding season would be back and in full force. But sentiments have changed, and wedding industry as we once knew it may not be ready to return—at least not yet.
“People are really rethinking their weddings post-shutdown," says Cameron Hardesty, owner of Poppy, a DC-based wedding flower startup. “While couples are certainly excited to celebrate with friends and family, there is a massive recalibration about how they want to celebrate and what that celebration looks like. Couples are asking themselves if they really want to invite all twenty of their second cousins and father in-law's poker club, or if that money might be better spent on a delicious cake or live music."
Zoe Mendenhall, event details specialist with the Madison Event Center, a boutique wedding destination in Covington, Ky., is seeing couples prepared to adjust and adapt to things they might not have been flexible on before. “This includes the number of guests at their wedding, seating and dance floor configurations, type of menu, food service, and numbers of bars," she says.
As weddings are finding their new normal, trends are emerging. Here's what you can expect if you are planning or attending a wedding in 2021.
Jess Drawhorn, a Colorado-based photographer that has specialized in high-end elopements since 2017. “We've seen a huge rush of interest in our services over the last year," she says. “Some couples are exhausted by all the postponements and unwelcome changes to their wedding and are choosing to elope just to get it over with."
Nicole Miskelley, owner of Marion Bridal in Marion, Ill., is also seeing a surge in elopements and last-minute weddings, which changed her business model. “Most of my sales have been off the rack despite having many sample gowns available to order," she says. “We have been working to accommodate those brides, allowing them to purchase active sample gowns to fit their timeframes and simply re-ordering the gowns to restock."
Couples are also getting a new perspective on what truly matters to them, says Drawhorn.
“We're seeing so many people choosing intimacy and privacy over lavish displays, even when they do invite a few guests," says Drawhorn. “We have eloping couples come to us with budgets ranging from under $1,000 to over $50,000, and the common theme with all of them is a desire for intimacy and an experience that they can cherish and remember every moment of."
Woody Miraglia, managing partner at Big Fun Disc Jockeys located in the Bay Area of California, says the events that he and his team have played over the past two months were noticeably smaller.
“Weddings have fewer guests from out of town or out of state, and there has been a distinct shift to a younger demographic," he says. “We hope to see more parents and grandparents at weddings going forward, but that might not happen until well into 2022 or later."
Tiered guest lists
As weddings get smaller, the invitation process for couples is changing, says Mendenhall.
“Couples must be comfortable sending out invitations in waves because, unfortunately, timelines and state restrictions are ever-changing," she says, adding that the Madison Event Center recommends an A list and a B list. “We suggest a wedding website to quickly inform guests of any updates or changes to the wedding day plans."
Couples are choosing outdoor venues unlike at any time we have ever seen in our 32 years of business, says Miraglia.
“We are playing way more outdoor county parks, wineries, and private estates, and significantly fewer hotels and indoor community centers," he says. “This is not only for the second half of 2021, but also well into 2022."
How wedding businesses are surviving
To survive the pandemic, several wedding professionals expanded their offerings. For example, Miraglia added streaming to his DJ services.
“This has proven very popular at micro-weddings during the pandemic, but also for couples hosting wedding receptions later in the year," he says. “About half of the streaming events we do have remote guests viewing from outside of the US, demonstrating to us that long distance and overseas guests are staying home for the time being."
Wedding photographer Jeff Kolodny, Jeff Kolodny Photography, Inc., pivoted to other types of photography.
“I shifted my SEO campaign from weddings to corporate, elopements, and portraits," he says. “Some of the hotels and event planners that used to refer weddings to me, started to send me small corporate type projects and tiny weddings."
And Hardesty added new products. “From the first weekend of the shutdown in March 2020 we began to shift gears, beginning with a micro-wedding package: a custom bridal bouquet and boutonniere for couples want to go the micro-wedding route, or even just elope at the courthouse," she says. “Everyone deserves to have gorgeous, customized florals, and most florists don't have the capability to service small orders like this."
Drawhorn believes many couples will eventually return to large celebrations at venues. “But the demand for a new kind of wedding is absolutely here to stay," she says.
"My best advice is to stay positive," says Mendenhall. “We tell couples to make the best out of the situation and remember the importance of their wedding day: the unity of you and your fiancée."