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Kyle Ripley, Kyleripley.com
Some brides, like Rachel Romeo, let their bridesmaids choose their own outfits. Cowgirl boots, however, were not optional.
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. —Dianne M. Daniels

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.'"


The Knot and the Wedding Channel each year collect wedding facts. They know, from surveying, that Manhattan was the most expensive place to marry in 2011, while West Virginia weddings were the least expensive. December is the most popular month to get engaged and 14 months is the average engagement. One-fourth of weddings are "destination weddings," such as a cruise. When brides choose their colors, they often include blue (30 percent), purple (25 percent) and green (24 percent).

They also track regional difference, such as the tidbit that Hawaii has the oldest brides and Utah the youngest, on average. Weddings in Iowa feature the most guests, while fewer people are invited in Hawaii and Nevada. And nearly every bride in central Illinois registers for wedding gifts.

Amber Ambrose owns Blue Sky Ceremony in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. It's not uncommon, she said, for weddings to be booked a year out so friends and family can plan to attend not just the wedding in an exotic locale, but also spend time together before or after. "The most popular change I see is the addition of unity ceremonies that unite not only the bride and groom, but also their friends and families into this new family," she said. "The next popular trend is to have the entire group participate in the ceremony itself, often led by a family member rather than an officiant or religious officiant."

Something different

"I think the people who seek me out are by and large people who don't want the traditional," said DonnaMarie SanSevero, an ordained nondenominational reverend in Queens, N.Y.

Still, she said, "there are always traditional elements in the weirdest weddings — vows, rings, walks down the aisle. I just see many more people looking for a funner, looser framework."

Besides conducting weddings, SanSevero is a paramedic and member of a band. When she married Ricky Gonzalez, a fellow musician, in 2010, they chose a rock club as their venue, and her band performed. Their wedding cake was a recreation of the scene at the end of the movie "Ghostbusters." For the reception, instead of flowers on the tables, they had vintage games. Guests played "Operation" or "Rock-em, Sock-em Robots" during the reception. They just couldn't resist.

One wedding she's officiating soon has a sandwich ritual, where the couple will build a sandwich, explaining what each bit represents in terms of their life together. Then it will be eaten. Another couple will honor a symbolic exchange of coins, traditional in Mexico. She's overseen "ring warmings," where the rings are passed and each person says a silent blessing for the couple. In July, a pair of attorneys have asked her to preside as the "judge" in a mock civil suit/real wedding.

Kristen Ley works for a company that manages wedding venues in the metro Atlanta area. At "Something New for I Do," she said they help with a lot of very traditional weddings, with couples who marry in a church or at least before clergy, then turn the reception into something less traditional.

Brides are choosing all kind of dresses, different friends or relatives to perform their ceremony, even a new take on the reception menu. "I see a lot of girls who do dessert bars — candy, pies or cake pops," Ley said, "A lot of people have a small, two-tier cake, then bite-sized pies, cobblers, cake pops." They're trading the tradition of the groom not seeing the bride until the ceremony for a "first look," an intimate moment before the wedding captured by a photographer.

The wedding survey found guest "entertainment" is on the rise, including photo booths and comedians. One couple, for instance, had guests show up for an unexpected bike ride. They pedaled to a picnic and then had ice cream treats at a nearby shop. Photographer Rachel Thurston chronicled the whole thing.

Daniels said sometimes, a couple will pick up the license and have a "laser" wedding at the top of a nearby hill with a small group of friends. Some use a municipal park nearby with rose gardens and gazebos.

The day before Vrooman, Romeo and their dogs made the trek down the aisle, the bride, her mom and a friend bought wildflowers at a farmer's market to make simple bouquets and boutineers. Romeo admitted that "my mother was not overly excited about how unorthodox our wedding was, but it was just what we wanted. We had our dogs, our favorite people, a comfortable environment and I got to say 'I do' to my very best bud!" she said.

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