As the words “new normal” have quickly rooted themselves in our 2020 vocabularies, actually living them out has been much harder to adopt, especially when it comes to weddings. Days that bring people far and wide together – that start with kisses, hugs and handshakes and end with a packed, steamy dancefloor – suddenly don’t fit into our current “new” lives. So, what’s a soon-to-wed couple to do?

“It’s important to separate the wedding from the party,” says Toronto- and LA-based celebrity event producer Melissa Andre, whose work includes Cassie Ventura’s wedding and Drake’s birthday bash. “Obviously parties can’t happen right now, but weddings can – and that’s a great thing.” Much as we’ve turned to Zoom and other virtual platforms for team meetings, cocktail hours and game nights, a large wave of couples are getting hitched virtually, too.

While saying your vows before a grid of faces on a screen might not be what you dreamed of, it doesn’t mean you have to settle for a second-rate wedding. “You are part of this very special set of couples that are getting married at home in this short span, and once we’re out of this, it will be a special thing that only a few people actually did,” says Andre. “Embracing that can be special. Focus on how you get to do this rather than what you’ve lost the ability to do.” That can mean having more devoted time with your partner on your special day, receiving a video tribute compilation from your guests or reallocating your budget to deck out your house in flowers. For more ideas and tips, Andre shares a full rundown on how to make your Zoom wedding smooth, fun and, of course, magical.

Build Anticipation All Day Long

Whether you and your partner decide to get ready in separate rooms or to help each other prepare for the day, what matters is that you treat it as part of the celebration. “Rather than just being casual like any other morning, you should still have some plan to make it feel formal,” says Andre, who suggests creating a wedding-morning playlist and ordering in a special breakfast from your caterer or a favourite neighbourhood restaurant (also, set everything up the night before to minimize stress that day). “It’s very common for couples to exchange gifts or letters that morning,” she adds. “You don’t have to cut that piece out.”

Capture the Details

“Think about the photos you want to keep and put thought into how you style them,” says Andre. Consider a customized hanger for your wedding dress, a vintage tray for your rings or a pretty vase for your bouquet. Whether you’re able to have a professional photographer or it’s all on you and your iPhone, you’ll appreciate having more than Zoom screenshots to look back on over the years. And if your province’s physical distancing measures allow you to have a few people from your family or bridal party, don’t forget to take those pictures too, even if you are in masks or spaced out.

Video-Call on the Pros

Feeling uneasy about doing your own hair and makeup? Explore ways to work with the artists you had originally booked. “You can do a virtual trial before your wedding or have an online Zoom tutorial for hair and makeup, where they walk you through the steps that morning,” suggests Andre. You could also consult them on which products to use, and even get their help ordering professional-grade ones, if needed. If you want to give your skin some extra TLC in advance, several brands, including Dermalogica, Caudalie and Province Apothecary, are now offering virtual consultations. Or, take it up a notch with an at-home chemical peel via Calgary-based facialist and product formulator Annie Graham of XO Treatment Room. Customized kits can be picked-up or delivered across Canada, and then Graham will walk you through each step of the treatment via video call.

Say Yes (Again) to the Dress

“I often counsel brides to choose their venue before their dress,” says Andre. “Typically, when people pick their dress, it’s based on this image they’ve had in their mind for years, and then when they find themselves actually planning the day, they realize they are not at a castle in Ireland.” That type of mismatch is even more likely to happen when you shift to an at-home virtual wedding. “If you’re not going to be photographed in the same way and with the same skill, maybe you want to save that for when you can,” adds Andre. A streamlined silhouette might suit your setup more than, say, a billowing princess-style skirt, but of course, it’s all about what makes you most excited, says Andre: “If you want to wear your gown with your train in your living room, go on, girl!”

Don’t Skip the First Look

“If you get ready in different rooms, you can still plan a reveal in another part of the house or outside on the sidewalk,” says Andre. “I’ve seen people in buildings come down in different elevators to meet in the lobby – you can still make it adorable.” If you have a photographer booked, they can capture the special moment from six feet away, or you can set up a camera to record the whole thing yourself.

Support Your Vendors if You Can

Just because you’re shifting your approach doesn’t mean you have to step away from all the plans you had originally made. Talk to your vendors to figure what alternate arrangements are possible. For example, reallocate some of your floral budget from bridesmaids’ bouquets to a beautiful bloom-filled backdrop for your mantle or patio. Or, get cupcakes delivered to your bridal party instead of that triple-tiered cake you had planned. Not only does it give your day a professional touch, but you’ll also be supporting businesses that are suffering during the pandemic. “Wedding vendors aren’t ones that can pivot as easily as other industries,” says Andre. “If you can support your wedding vendors, you should.”

Check the Laws

A small but oh-so important detail: “Don’t forget to check on your local marriage laws,” reminds Andre. Start by confirming both the legal and physical distancing measures in your province. For example, Ontario requires for the couple, officiant and two witnesses to all be present during a ceremony to make it a legal marriage, which is doable while following the province’s physical distancing measures. Next, check with your city about the availability of marriage licences, and with your religious leaders for any faith-based specifications, if applicable. Remember, even if you can’t make your marriage official during the ceremony, it doesn’t mean you can’t still exchange vows and celebrate your commitment over Zoom, then sign the licence as soon as it’s possible to do so.

Go Deep with Your Invitations

“For several years now, I’ve been saying that I love digital invitations, but now, in this situation, I would go back to a formal mailed invitation if you can,” says Andre. “Everything will be so digital; it’s nice to have that juxtaposition and to keep something from the day.” Whichever format you choose, make sure you equip your guests with tons of info: login information with step-by-step instructions, key contact for technical troubleshooting, an itinerary and who’s-who chart so guests can follow along on your day and any dress code details. On that note, be mindful when making requests from guests that they’re going through a lot themselves during the pandemic: “Saying, ‘I’d love everyone to dress up’ is reasonable but suggesting everyone make a 10-course meal themselves is not really fair,” says Andre.

Set the Scene for Your Ceremony

“Look for an area that has natural lighting because that’s what your photographer would do,” says Andre. Whether that’s in your house or outside, don’t hesitate to move around furniture to make whatever space you need – and the same goes for clearing out any clutter, too. “When I go into a celebrity’s home to do, say, a Grammy part, the first thing I do is take away most signs of life,” says Andre. “So, anything you’d normally leave out because it’s easy and accessible—you’ll want to put all of that away.” Also be mindful of any mirrors or TV screens that can cause weird reflections. Once your space is cleared out, bring in a backdrop (whether it’s from your vendor or DIY) and stands for your devices so you can be hands-free during the ceremony.

Test Your Technology

Nothing ruins the vibe like technical difficulties, so Andre recommends a virtual rehearsal to work out any kinks. For your most reliable connection, you’ll want an ethernet cable instead of Wi-Fi, and it’s worth investing in a Bluetooth mic (or your AirPods can work too!) seeing that most laptops only pick up sound from a close range. If you have an audio-visual vendor booked, they can help you get set up with top-notch equipment and multiple camera angles. Either way, you’ll want a designated virtual support that day – pick your most tech-savvy friend – that can help guests work out any kinks, and also mute and unmute them on cue.

Structure the Ceremony

“Having the groom greet all the guests and the bride tucked away is still a beautiful tradition to observe,” says Andre. You can also have your officiant or an MC act as host and let everyone know you’ll start in five minutes. Consider having guests unmuted for hellos as they sign in or ask your DJ to play music to cue the beginning. “It all depends on the level of formality you want to have,” says Andre. From there, you can have a procession, readings (you might want to keep them on the shorter side), vows, the exchange of rings, your first kiss, a recession – whatever is meaningful to you. Just make sure it’s all laid out in your itinerary and your officiant/MC/tech support/DJ (whether these roles are played by pros or friends) all know – and have rehearsed! – the plan.

Involve Your Guests

With so few guests physically in attendance, it could be easy to forget your duties as host. “I do really remind people that the wedding celebration is actually about your guests – and that has not changed,” says Andre. “The point of the wedding, really, is to have your nearest and dearest celebrate with you  not to have a lot of people staring at you or to get gifts.” With that in mind, Andre recommends including your guests as much as possible, whether that’s asking them for song requests upon RSVP, sending out mini bottles of champagne for them to partake in a toast, asking them to send a short video tribute that a videographer can then edit together or shipping them confetti poppers so they can get in on the fun. The bonus? “The more you include your guests, the more you can do on your wedding day without it feeling like a burden,” says Andre.

Don’t Skip the Reception

Yes, it is possible to still include several elements of your reception via Zoom. Consider using the feature for breakout rooms to let guests mingle while sipping a cocktail or eating a light meal (as the meeting host, you can hop between rooms to chat with these smaller groups). You can also have speeches, toasts, a first dance and even have an afterparty with a DJ. As a general guideline, you’ll most likely want to cap your event at three hours from start to finish, which may sound short for a traditional wedding but keep in time that a lot of lengthy elements won’t be involved virtually, such as waiting for 200 people to be served dinner. “Ultimately, I’d give any couple the A-OK to do what they want but balance it with what makes sense for you guests,” says Andre.

Wrap it Up Intentionally

For in-person weddings, usually the crowd thins out gradually during the dance party, but a Zoom wedding needs an end point and it’s something Andre recommends sharing on the itinerary to avoid those awkward Zoom goodbyes. “Try to have a finale to the night, whether it’s a last dance, toast, cake cutting, or the bride and groom thanking everyone for coming.”


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