These days, there are many different types of weddings as couples shake up tradition and create amazing wedding experiences that are authentic to them. But with all these options, you may be wondering what the difference is between types of weddings. This guide will help you better understand some of the most popular wedding options so you can find the best fit for you!
Weddings used to be one-size-fits-all. Everyone was forced to get married in the same way: buy a giant white dress or shimmy into a black suit, and walk down the aisle of the family’s church while the father of the bride tried not to cry and Great Grandma told everyone about the good ol’ days. After that, there were the formal photos, a grand entrance, a giant cake, mandatory first dances, bouquet tosses, and greeting hundreds of guests who the new couple may or may not even know. (If you are wondering why weddings involved such specific traditions, check out the history of these traditions here.)
Unfortunately this old-school version of a traditional wedding was never appropriate for many couples. Not every couple fits a bride-groom dichotomy, not every couple wants to invite 300 guests, not every couple wants to have a religious marriage, and not every couple even wants to get legally married. There are so many reasons why a couple may not want to have a traditional wedding, and lucky for us, there are now so many more options!
Now, you can get married in an authentic way that speaks to YOU.
Recently, we’ve seen an evolution in the wedding industry. Options now range from traditional weddings to micro weddings, to commitment ceremonies, intimate weddings, and elopements. We have seen weddings on top of mountains, on ski slopes, or in intimate settings with only the couple. The truth is, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to getting hitched. Each type of wedding caters to a different type of person. And that, my Amores, is a beautiful thing.
So with all of the options on the table, what style of wedding works best for you? The first step in answering this burning question is understanding all the different types of alternative weddings. So let’s dive in: what are the options, how to plan them, and what type is right for you.
In the end, my hope is that you have a wedding that celebrates your unique love in the way you (and not society!) have always imagined. Ready? Let’s do this thing.
What Are the Different Alternative Weddings?
There are four main types of weddings – Traditional, Small or Intimate, Micro-Wedding, and Elopement. Each one serves a different purpose. The beauty of all these options is that there’s something perfect for everyone. Your ideal way to get married is possible. Read on to learn about the different types of alternative weddings.
What is a Traditional Wedding?
Traditional Weddings follow a very rigid structure, designed in such a way that can accommodate different religions, guest counts, and traditions. A traditional wedding generally consists of the following, in this order:
- Getting Ready
- Ceremony, where the couple commits to each other
- Reception to celebrate the marriage
This structure almost never changes, and the biggest difference between a traditional wedding and most other forms is the guest count. Traditional weddings have no upper limit to guest counts, meaning you can have 300, 400, 500, 600, or even 1,000 guests.
Most traditional weddings include the usual traditions – first look, bouquet toss, toasts, first dance, parent – child dance, cake cutting, etc. Because traditional weddings have the same structure, you can swap different cultural or religious traditions, such as jumping over the broom or breaking the glass.
Most often, receptions occur in some form of a venue hall. Catering is usually hired to feed however many guests are in attendance.
What is a Micro Wedding?
Generally speaking, micro-weddings follow the same layout as a traditional wedding, but within a condensed format and are oftentimes much shorter.
- Typically up to 50 people
- A shorter ceremony
- Many traditions are excluded
- There may not be a reception
A micro-wedding usually incorporates some elements of a traditional wedding, but is typically a much shorter affair. Whereas a traditional wedding can easily be 8 hours or more, a micro-wedding can be just 1 – 2 hours.
Micro weddings do NOT include:
- An experience-based activity, such as a hike or star gazing
- An extended ceremony in multiple locations
- A focus on the outdoors or nature
(This is what elopements are for, but we will get into that, later!)
What is a Small Wedding or Intimate Wedding?
Small weddings and Intimate weddings are essentially the same thing, and follow the same structure as a traditional wedding, except they have far fewer guests.
Small Weddings and Intimate Weddings include:
- Up to 25 guests.
- The same structure as a traditional wedding
- Can have a reception
The main benefit of a small wedding or intimate wedding is that the day is shared with far fewer people, and is therefore both small and intimate.
What is an Elopement?
An elopement is a uniquely crafted day that is focused on just the wedding couple. The couple determines the structure and what to include. It can be as adventurous or low-key as the couple desires.
- A unique experience (think jeep rides, helicopter rides, star gazing etc.)
- No rigid structure
- Fewer than 16 guests
- Include whatever you want
Elopements are truly anything goes. There are no expectations of the traditional wedding structure, so the couple can truly craft the exact experience they desire.
Comparing Types of Alternative Weddings:
Why You Might Want a Traditional Wedding:
Do you want to have that classic wedding look and celebrate with 200 people? Have you researched wedding costs and are unfazed by the budget required? If so, a traditional wedding may be for you. This is going to be the most recognizable wedding. Almost all wedding vendors and guests are familiar with this structure. They know what to expect, they know how to plan, they know how to celebrate within these confines.
Why You May Want a Micro Wedding
If you want to have a more traditional structure, without all the bells and whistles, guests, and time commitments, a micro-wedding may be for you. A micro-wedding timeline can look like this:
4:00 pm – Meet at Ceremony Location
4:15 pm – Ceremony
4:30 pm – Family photos
4:45 – 5:30 pm – Couples photos
5:30 – 6:00 pm – Cake cutting & drinks
You’d be saving a tremendous amount of money, be able to celebrate with the people closest to you, and still get some of the ‘classic’ traditions.
Why You May Want a Small Wedding or Intimate Wedding
Let’s say you want a full traditional wedding but without all the guests. You want to have the walk down the aisle, the toasts, the first dances, but not with 200 people watching. Maybe you’d prefer, say, 20 people – just your closest family and friends – watching. Then an intimate wedding may be for you!
Why You May Want to Elope:
If you want a day just focused on you and your partner, doing exactly what you want how you want, then an elopement is for you. When you elope you get to craft your own day, meaning you do your own activities and celebrate however you want. It’s total flexibility.
How to Decide Which is Right for You?
Sit down with your partner and get comfy. It can be in your bed, your couch, your favorite park, beach, or mountaintop. Bring paper and a pen – we’re about to have some fun!
Close your eyes, and start talking about what your wedding day feels like. Write down all the words that come pouring forth. What’s the time of day, what’s the weather, what’s the season, who’s there, and what are you doing. Go through all the possibilities and figure out what it feels like. See what commonalities you share.
If you find yourself envisioning a big party where the two of you are celebrating in the center of all your friends and family, then you know a traditional wedding is for you!
If you find yourself dreaming of a day spent on top of a mountain, or at a beach, cuddling just the two of you as the sun sets, then you should consider an elopement.
If you aren’t sure after all your brainstorming, write down your values, your budget, and what you think you’ll want to look back on. After doing this, you’ll maybe find yourself gravitating towards one option.
At the end of the day, my biggest recommendation is that you make sure the day is focused on the two of you. No matter how you celebrate, it’s about you and all decisions should be based on that 😀
Why You May Prefer an Adventure Elopement
Sure, I’m biased, but hear me out. Your wedding day is one of the most special and meaningful days of your life. You are in a unique relationship with a unique person. What are the chances that such a meaningful day is going to be EXACTLY like someone else’s? I think, pretty slim. I love going to traditional weddings, I really do. But I know I’d never want one. I don’t want the stress of trying to please 200 other people, paying for them, and focusing on their pleasure and their entertainment, as opposed to celebrating my commitment. Ultimately, this day is about you.
Of all the options for alternative weddings, personally I think elopements are the best.
So Why Choose to Elope?
Elopements allow for Authenticity, Customization, can be Nature-based, and all while saving you a ton of money.
Right off the bat, with an elopement the focus is on you and your boo. You are going to craft a timeline and day, or multiple days, that fits you. You can take a helicopter ride to a hidden waterfall in Hawaii, or take Jeeps through epic red rock canyons in Utah. You can cuddle as the sun comes up over the mountain ridges in Colorado.
You can also include your family and friends in your elopement! Whether they are included during the ceremony, or during an after-party, you get to decide. One of the best parts of eloping is that you can spend the whole day celebrating with you and your boo, and then throw as many parties as you want afterwards. Haven’t seen a friend since you got married? Celebrate your marriage with them!
How to Elope
If you are thinking of eloping, I’ve got some really helpful free resources for you that can help guide you on how to elope.
No matter what your ideal day looks like, the following steps are key:
- Ideas & Inspiration: The first step in planning is to write down what your dream day would look like if there were no limitations.
- High Priority Decisions: The second step is to make a few key decisions: Date, Photographer, Location.
- Create a Plan: The next step is to create an actual plan, turning your dreams into reality.
- Fill in the Details: The fourth step is to hire remaining vendors, finalize a timeline, plan out logistics, finalize attire, legal requirements.
- Last Touches: The Fifth step is to make sure everything is ready, your vendors, your attire, pick up marriage license, etc…
- Elope!: Have the best day of your life 🙂
- Relive the day: Relive the day through printed photos and albums
Making Your Big Day Special
I’ll scream it from every rooftop, sing it in the shower, and preach it to anyone willing to listen: your wedding day, whether that be a traditional wedding, a micro wedding, or an adventure elopement, should be about you. A celebration like this has no room for societal or familial pressure. It should not have any pressure at all.
I encourage every one of my Amores to take a tried and true look at what is important to them on one of the biggest days of their lives. This day must be authentic to their story and desires because let’s face it, traditions and style may change, but what you celebrate together as a couple will stay constant.
Meet Your Adventure Elopement Photographer
I’m an adventure elopement photographer because I love crafting a truly unique day for the couple, not bound by expectations. If you are ready to start creating your dream wedding day with an elopement, check out my elopement packages for more details. If you see something that stirs your soul, gets ya moving, and you want to chat with the best elopement photographer for you, send me a note, and let’s have a free consultation. I can’t wait to hear from you.