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Originally published Saturday, April 10, 2010 at 7:00 PM

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Seattle author Ariel Meadow Stallings offers tips for offbeat weddings

Ariel Meadow Stallings' book "Offbeat Bride: Creative Alternatives for Independent Brides" and the Web site offbeatbride.com offer tips for engaged couples looking for something a little out of the ordinary.

Special to The Seattle Times

Inquiring brides want to know

OFFBEAT BRIDES AND GROOMS face questions that traditional wedding planners don't (and many variations on ones they do). Ariel Meadow Stallings and her readers have weighed in on many, including these conundrums from the archives at www.offbeatbride.com:

Is it OK if my "flower girl" is a grown man?

How do we seat guests at a circle ceremony?

How can I make my own bird-cage veil?

How do I walk down the aisle with two moms/two dads/alone?

Is a potluck wedding tacky?

Where does a transgender bride find the perfect dress?

How do I go about getting dreadlocks extensions?

Is it a good idea to get a new tattoo for the wedding?

How do I craft wedding-invitation wording that doesn't make me barf?

What software should I use to design my DIY invitations?

How do I convince my family that a wedding with zombies can be truly touching?

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When Sarah Hirsch and her husband, Caleb, set about planning their wedding two years ago, "two things were important for us: money and meaning," she says now. "We didn't have much money, and we wanted our wedding to really mean something to us, to reflect who we are as people. And we're pretty unique people in our daily lives."

She wore a homemade dress, and his "magical tux" came from Red Light, a Seattle vintage clothing shop. They were married at Seattle's Gas Works Park, which gave them nice scenery without the cost of a private venue. A friend who officiated wrote the ceremony himself.

The rite included "all of our guests lining up by size and one by one coming up to talk to us about marriage and life. None of our 11 guests had been expecting it, and it was so, so freaking cool to get that moment of personal connection in the middle of our bigger ceremony," Sarah Hirsch says of a memory that still brings happy tears.

Engaged couples throughout the Northwest are ramping up for summer wedding season, planning one of life's biggest — and potentially most expensive and stressful — moments.

But some couples are bucking recent trends toward elaborate weddings, pushing aside traditions that don't fit their personalities or budgets.

This is where Seattle author Ariel Meadow Stallings comes into the picture.

Stallings' book, "Offbeat Bride: Creative Alternatives for Independent Brides" (2007), sprang from her own experiences as a tattooed Seattle bride who incorporated her love for both nature and all-night raves. The spinoff Web site www.offbeatbride.com is now a full-time job for Stallings, who daily adds photos (she calls them "wedding porn"), stories of offbeat couples and advice for brides. Lots of advice, on topics from dealing with parents who don't share your values to homemade steampunk cake toppers.

With 250,000 unique page views a month, the Web site is also a vast forum for brides to commiserate and share ideas. A post on first-dance songs elicited pages of suggestions ranging from classical to punk. Questions about whether to shave armpits or cover tattoos generate heartfelt personal stories and musings about beauty standards.

Stallings has seen roller-derby weddings, Dia de los Muertos weddings decorated with edible skulls, and even zombie weddings. Among Stallings' favorites: A lesbian couple's elaborate celebration based on computer games ("there was a lot of video-game geekery, but obviously so much deep, deep care that went into it") and a couple who celebrated a love of theater by putting on "Wedding: The Musical" ("I don't think weddings have to be showy, but if you're theater types, why not?").

While the site exists to support brides, Stallings worries that it might spark a new kind of competition: who can be most quirky. "The goal of your wedding day is that you enjoy it, and if you're so stressed that you can't enjoy it on the day, you've reached your goal of being crafty, but you missed the larger goal," she says. "Ultimately, what I care about is the ways wonderfully weird people have of expressing their love for each other and sharing that with their loved ones."

Offbeat wedding how-to's

Thinking about taking your own unique path down the aisle? Here are some tips:

Ask for help. Stallings and other offbeat brides say something wonderful happened when loved ones agreed to help with their weddings: a creative synergy they wouldn't have found on their own. Getting everyone involved early on also helps unite those with divergent views (and gives them a heads-up about the nontraditional nature of the event). During Hillary Kleeb's five-day summer camp-out wedding in 2008, she was "amazed at how everyone pitched in to make our wedding exactly what we wanted, without us defining [it] specifically," Kleeb said. Find local and online vendors (the craft site www.etsy.com is an offbeat-bride favorite) who support your vision, too.

Get creative. Self-described "nerd" Caitlin Wasley is making centerpieces based around books with sentimental value for her upcoming wedding. "We'll be seating our nerdy friends at tables with books that we know they love (or absolutely cannot stand!), so it'll be special for them, too," she said.

Scout unique locations. Nina Forsyth was looking for an unusual venue for her wedding last summer when her then-fiancé Tom "was bragging about how cool Chicago is because you can rent the 'L' train." She discovered she could rent the South Lake Union streetcar and had her ceremony in a guest-filled trolley. Afterward, the wedding party climbed aboard its own Ride the Ducks tour. "Most of our guests were from out of town, so I thought a tour of Seattle would be the best way to spend the afternoon. Everyone loved the tour, especially the kids," Forsyth said.

Register with care. Many offbeat couples have already set up households, so they don't need traditional wedding gifts. Wasley has " 'registered' for a nonprofit and for the international flights for two of our best friends so that they can come to and participate in the wedding." Be forewarned: She and other offbeat brides have found that some guests bristle at nontraditional gift registries.

Build on things you love. Leanna Harter's wedding will incorporate many of her favorite things, including squirrels, the "Twin Peaks" TV series, fake mustaches, Rat Pack music and broccoli bouquets. "Some of the most valuable memories I have in the planning process are us driving hours to pick up one vintage dish, or searching through hundreds of Web sites for the perfect lights for our lanterns, and having our artist friends create amazing décor," Harter said.

Ditch meaningless traditions. Do you really need a ring pillow? Do you have to wear white? These customs may suit some, but not all. Neither Molly Metz nor Laurie Cox likes cake, so for their 2008 ceremony on Guemes Island, they decided not to get one. (Even so, a determined guest "made a cake for our Friday-night dinner and then infiltrated that cake into the wedding reception," Metz said. "It's intriguing what people need to hold onto, regardless of what the brides wanted.")

Meghan Smith is having her upcoming wedding at a dance and music hall, Ballard's Tractor Tavern, but she doesn't like to dance — so she won't. "I am trying to view it more as a huge party with people that I love versus Barbie princess dream-house wedding," she said.

"We have been told that if our bridesmaids' shoes weren't matching our photos would turn out awful; if we didn't do a bouquet toss for singles they would rebel; using an iPod for our music is going to result in catastrophe; and so on," Harter said. "But none of it matters."

Christy Karras: christykarras@gmail.com


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