Planning The Off-Season Wedding

Ten years ago, if you told me I’d get married on a beach in the Caribbean and my sister would get married back home in New Hampshire, I’d have laughed. And yet in the last year, that’s exactly what we both did.

We had actually both started out on the opposite track, but that’s not how things turned out. For me, it turned a planned family vacation into a wedding, which gave me a whole lot less guilt about taking two weeks off from work. For my sister, it was about convenience. Our dad uses a wheelchair, as does my new brother-in-law’s mom. Between them and some elderly relatives, the closer the wedding was to home, the better for all.

No one really cares whether or not it’s cold outside when the first dance is inside anyway.

So Mom and Dad got the best of both worlds within about seven months. We did a small and private ceremony on the beach, with a reception among our friends when we got back in town. My sister opted to go the more traditional route. She gathered family and friends for a short ceremony, a grand entrance, and a formal reception with a catered dinner and a disc jockey spinning all your favorite wedding standards.

My sister had also opted for something that, while it poses its own risks, has a lot of payoff in the long run. She went for the off-season wedding.

Wedding season, at least as declared by the vendors and venues that make weddings possible, runs somewhere between May and October. It’s the time when the weather is most predictable, settings are at their most beautiful, and prices are at their highest. But if you’re not necessarily sold on getting married in a gazebo while 200 of your closest friends and family watch from chairs arranged on the lawn, a lot of opportunity awaits in looking into the forbidden months from November to April.

Sometimes it seems that we and our friends “mature” in phases. The long-term couples start moving in together, then they all decide it’s time to get married, then they start buying houses and talking about having kids or pets. For Kristen and me, the last five years have been full of weddings of all sorts, usually a few a year. Some have been in-season. Quite a few have been out-of-season. And there are plenty of reasons why an off-season wedding is well worth considering.

The challenge of outdoor photos: “Let’s get this before the sun goes away…and before the bride freezes.”

Reap the off-season discount.

Sometimes, weddings seem like they’re only expensive endeavors because they’re expected to be. Between the venue and catering and bartending and linens and all the other things that you thought were part of the package, it’s easy to spend upwards of $10,000 for a “modest” ceremony. If you have your heart set on a popular venue, add another $5,000 at least. And if you don’t want to pay it, there’s someone in line behind you who will.

It’s supply and demand. Every wedding season has a limited number of Saturdays to offer. If you’re a venue, you might as well make hay while the sun shines.

But if you look into the off-season, those premium venues become a lot less expensive to rent, sometimes by half. Better yet, many waive the minimum guest requirements that they enforce during the popular months. Suddenly, a venue that was out of reach might be a little more realistic.

You’ll have less competition for vendors.

Granted, many venues have a short list of “preferred” vendors they work with exclusively, so you may not have a lot of choice. But in the event that you do, again, Saturdays are limited in wedding season. It might be hard to pin down the photographer or DJ or cake baker that you had your heart set on. But outside of wedding season, you’ll get the pick of the litter (and you might even save a few bucks, too).

You’ll have less competition for your guests.

In 2014, we were invited to seven weddings throughout the year. Three of them fell on the same day, all in different states! Deciding which one to attend (and, therefore, which friends to disappoint) was a challenge. If you have different social circles that never interact – even as simple as “his” and “her” friends – there’s always the chance for a conflict. And in the summer, the competition isn’t limited to other weddings: there are planned vacations, family trips, weekends at the summer home, and sporting events you’ll need to contend with. When we ultimately planned our reception, we had to dodge another few big-group parties to lock down a weekend.

The fall and winter offer a lot of opportunity and a lot less competition. It’s probably wise to steer clear of the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Regionally, it’s also smart to see when the NFL playoff games and the “Big Game” are scheduled, and avoid those with a wide berth. (My sister’s wedding was the weekend of the Pro Bowl.) But even that gives you a few weeks in November, a couple weeks in January, and the majority of February, March and April. And in that timeframe, you can have any weekend you like.

The “harvest wedding” approach my wife’s best friend took was perfect for a November afternoon.

It’s easier to dress off-season.

This is a small consideration, but one worth thinking about. And it mostly affects the men. That’s because, whether it’s ten below and freezing or ninety and humid, there’s one acceptable way to dress for a traditional wedding: suit, pants, long-sleeved shirt, and necktie. It’s fine for an indoor wedding in the summer. It’s not so comfortable when you’re under a tent on a hot June Saturday afternoon. Granted, getting married in the cooler months will necessitate shawls or cardigans for the ladies, or if you’re especially unlucky, a pair of snow boots. But it’s easier to dress warmer than it is to try and cool off in long sleeves and pants.

It gives your guests something to look forward to.

The fall and winter can be a challenging time. It’s not so much the buildup: you get the excitement of the waning days of fall and the days approaching the December holidays. But after that, you hit a plateau where, if you don’t ski or watch football or hockey, it’s a long time to wait for sunshine and warmth and baseball or whatever excites you. We had two January weddings to attend this year, and frankly, it gave us something to look forward to amid the inconvenience of snow.

No matter how hard you try, you’ll never get colors like this in July.

It gives your guests something different to remember.

Weddings have become a bit of a Pinterest-fueled arms race, everyone trying to out-cute and out-decorate the last one while not blatantly ripping anything off from a friend’s wedding. But there’s a certain amount of each ceremony, right down to the DJ’s song selections, that feels like it came directly from John Beckwith and Jeremy Grey’s playbook. Some of that may only be apparent when the professional photos show up on Facebook six months after the nuptials.

An off-season wedding guarantees something a little different. I have a friend who shares a photo or two every Halloween from the time she and her husband attended a friend’s wedding in the middle of that year’s October blizzard. Maybe it’s that, or maybe it’s the pleasant glow of peak foliage in November. Maybe it’s celebrating at that chic winery that you’d never be able to afford in August. Ultimately, it’s all about you, but what helps the moment live on in your friends’ memories will help it live on in yours.

So if you’re planning your own wedding, or if you’ve been recruited to plan one for someone, don’t hesitate to open up the calendar the rest of the way. Lurking just beyond Columbus Day are several months of pure opportunity.

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