Modern weddings can feature pets, pals and less tradition

Published: Tuesday, June 11 2013 3:00 p.m. MDT

Some brides, like Rachel Romeo, let their bridesmaids choose their own outfits. Cowgirl boots, however, were not optional.

Kyle Ripley, Kyleripley.com

ATLANTA, Ga. — When Travis Vrooman and Rachel Romeo exchanged vows earlier this month, a pair of their best two-legged friends were accompanied by their very best four-legged friends.

The groom's brother walked down the aisle with Vrooman's golden retriever, Gerry. Romeo's golden retriever, Tristan, made the same short journey with a bridesmaid.

If you haven't been to a wedding in the past few years, there are other things that might strike you as a little different about the nuptials of this bride, 25, and her groom, 29: The guys in the wedding party were decked out in nice jeans and their favorite vests, while the gals wore dresses that reflected their personal styles, along with cowgirl boots. The song as the bride walked in was David Gray's "January Rain." Finally, the ceremony was conducted by a man she has for years called "Pops" because he's the father of Romeo's dearest-ever friend.

Take a bike ride, make a sandwich, have your dog escort you down the aisle. These are all elements of recent untraditional weddings, designed to celebrate a couple's joy in a way that reflects their personalities. When it comes to "I dos," you can be as traditional — or not — as you want.

June's a great time to look at what's going on with weddings. Who hasn't heard of a June bride? Forget that September is actually the busiest month for weddings. A national survey of nearly 18,000 American brides found that, in 2012, the average wedding cost $28,427. The sampling included those who hired a wedding planner. Many people execute their own weddings, recruiting friends and family to help them pull it off. For others, it's a hybrid effort.

Speak up

"I definitely see an increase in customized and more unique ceremonies," said Dianne M. Daniels, a justice of the peace and nondenominational minister in Norwich, Conn. She's adept at religious and non-religious ceremonies. With either, increasingly, she says couples want to write their own wedding vows. Usually, they want to speak them, too.

"Couples have ideas of their own, and they come in knowing they want to edit the ceremony as it stands."

She usually suggests they start with the standard versions of the vows, provided by the city clerk's office, and work from there to change them as they please. She's found that most of her couples talk more in the ceremony than was traditional, sometimes even telling stories during the service about how they met. That's just the beginning of the changes they make.

"Even when people don't have a big budget for a wedding, they still want it customized, reflective of their personalities, relationship, the way they live their lives. There used to be a stigma attached if one was not married in a church with the white dress and whole nine yards. Now they dress differently, from very casual to very dressy," Daniels said.

Her husband, Aaron Daniels, was a justice of the peace before she was. She used to go along and help when he did weddings. Now they both perform ceremonies. He's more likely to get couples who want a simple, even quick wedding. She gets theme weddings like the "roaring '20s" and other unusual requests because she thinks those are fun.

During one wedding ceremony, the groom read a poem he'd written to his bride's daughter to unite the entire family. There were no dry eyes that day, she said.

The Daniels' own marriage, 23 years ago, was pretty traditional. They married in the church where he grew up as high school sweethearts who found each other again after other marriages failed.

That reminds her of another nontraditional and fairly recent twist. "Quite often, members of previous relationships (ex-wives and ex-husbands) are there, part of the wedding: 'Our relationship didn't work, but I'm wishing you the best.'"

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