Weddings today are like fingerprints or snowflakes: no two alike, and each intriguingly, uniquely styled.
There are only three rules: that it be a highly personalized event that reflects the couple, an experience that guests will remember…and that there are no rules. All of these apply for every wedding, but they are especially relevant to LGBTQ+ weddings.
“A lot of traditions are kind of out the window,” says wedding planner Roger Spinelli of RJS Event Designs in Watertown.
Things to consider include where you marry, and that location’s history. You’ll also want to figure out the size and scale, who to invite, and how you invite them. For the ceremony itself, you’ll want to consider what you call it, who takes part, menus, and even how much trash is created. These are things couples care about, Spinelli says.
What they don’t care for are bouquet and (especially not!) garter tosses, outdated gender roles, or anything cookie-cutter.
It looks like COVID-19 will have a lasting influence on wedding planning. “Micro-weddings”, sometimes followed by larger parties, may stick around, as couples find they enjoy having the people who mean most to them share the ceremony itself.
That doesn’t mean large weddings are over. Saybrook Point Resort & Marina is again consistently seeing guests sizes up to 175, says wedding sales manager Danielle Bailey.
One Covid adaptation likely to remain is live streaming. Castella Copeland and Chris Smith of Windsor are inviting 110 people to their wedding this summer at The Society Room in Hartford and expect at least 100 more to attend online. It’s a great option for those who live far away and those at higher risk from Covid. Copeland, a math teacher, says, “If I’ve learned anything from being a teacher and being remote last year, it’s how to do things online!” Copeland, who identifies as pansexual, adds that she’s seen her gender non-confirming friends come out, and “it’s a relationship ender.” So, she feels especially blessed with Smith, who is straight.
Weeknight weddings are another pandemic by-product. “Before Covid, if you couldn’t book a Saturday night, it was devastating! Now couples have learned you can have a stunning wedding on a Thursday night,” says wedding planner Lisa Antonecchia of Creative Concepts by Lisa in Hamden.
For traditional, in-person weddings, there are more venues to choose from than ever in Connecticut, and that’s good for couples like Sinéad Miller and Phoenix Hoang of Windsor, who chose Historic Events & Banquets (in the Hilliard Mills building in Manchester, where wool was spun for George Washington’s inaugural suit). “We chose it because it’s gorgeous—that’s the main thing. Plus, it’s LGBT-owned,” says Miller. Hoang adds, “We really researched the places we were looking at,” dismissing one that once held slaves. “We want a history, but a good history,” she says.
Drew Angelo, owner of Historic Events & Banquets, plans weddings for all kinds of couples, but says LGBTQ+ weddings “feel different – the intimacy is different. The couple’s chosen family is there. And they’ve been through more. There’s more of an appreciation for the ability to marry.”
THE LGBTQ+ INFLUENCE STATEWIDE
It will come as no surprise to many that the wedding business boasts many out, proud LGBTQ+ professionals.
Chatham Hollow Inn in Killingworth is owned by Ken Metz and his partner Forrest King. Spinelli of RJS Designs has been married to husband Steve since 2013. Highly renowned photographer Carla Hernández Ten Eyck identifies as queer. The list of Connecticut LGBTQ+ wedding vendors is growing.
Priam Vineyards in Colchester is a member of the CT Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and its tasting room manager, Christopher Barone-Flemke, married his long-time boyfriend (retired NASCAR racer Ed Flemke, Jr.) last October. The vineyard also holds the state’s largest outdoor pride event every June, with a weekend of vendors, food, live music and drag shows.
When Halley Gmeiner, owner of Rose and Baldwin event planning, married her wife several years ago in New York state, she says, “I was sad we didn’t have wedding vendors who were more attuned.” So-called simple things, like forms asking for the “bride’s” and “groom’s” names, were so hetero-based that “I found in my wedding experience, my wife and I were not in the equation. Fluidity is missing in the wedding industry–every couple is different.”
Word also gets around about who in the business is an ally, people like Shiran Nicholson, owner of The Knowlton in Bridgeport. It’s an historic building where the first hybrid car, the Armstrong Phaeton, was built in 1896. When Nicholson renovated, he was so intent on being welcoming to all that he spent many thousands extra to provide gender neutral bathrooms. (State building codes say “separate facilities shall be provided for each sex,” meaning that gender-neutral bathrooms must be additional.)
Planner Antonecchia is straight but has been immersed in the gay community since she was a very young girl taking dance lessons from gay teachers. Now, as a planner and justice of the peace, she says, “I get choked up, knowing how hard people have fought for that right and opportunity.”
IT’S ABOUT THE COUPLE
Every professional we spoke with had the same answer to the question, “What do couples care most about when planning their wedding?” All said: that it’s unique and reflects the couple.
“They’re creating weddings based on who they are and how they experience life,” says wedding planner Chelsea Suddes, owner of Pearl Weddings and Events in West Hartford. “One of the most creative weddings I was able to work on was at Chatfield Hollow Inn, for a couple that travels all over the world.” There was a Turkish lounge, a lemonade stand, and alpacas, and every table represented a location the couple had visited.
Chatfield Hollow owner Metz says that wedding was memorable, as was a summer camp-themed one, with picnic tables, food trucks, and a chandelier that the groom made with a canoe and stringed lights.
Spinelli recalls, “I did a Halloween wedding where the grooms dressed as a ghoul and zombie, and their guests came in costumes.”
Suddes remembers an exceptionally beautiful outdoor May 1st wedding of a nature-loving couple. The bride was barefoot, the band played country-folk, and the tent was clear-topped.
Miller and Hoang will have two flower-bearers: a girl of almost three, and a 6-foot-tall man who Hoang says is “an amazing makeup artist. I know he’s going to come in glam, and vogue it up in style.” The couple will also have a pre-wedding tea ceremony to honor Hoang’s Vietnamese ancestry.
Priam Vineyards had a wedding with 400 guests, plus elephants. Couples can stomp grapes for engagement or save-the-date photo shoots, but some choose to do it at their wedding.
Weddings don’t need to be elaborate to speak for the couple, though.
Merrily Connery, who with husband Michael owns Saltwater Farm Vineyard in Stonington, says “Some keep the ceremony and décor extremely simple. Others are much more elaborate. But they’re all looking for something unique.”
Couples usually start by choosing a venue with an atmosphere where they feel comfortable, a place with a character that suits their character.
LOCATIONS WITH CHARACTER
Most ceremonies take place at the same site as the reception. Few are held in houses of worship anymore. A high priority for many couples are venues with both indoor and outdoor areas. There are many options in Connecticut, and here are those planners say are most popular:
Rustic chic: more working farms also host weddings, and some offer farm-to-table catering. Family-owned barns are also popular.
Industrial chic: these include Saltwater Farm Vineyard, which combines a refurbished airplane hangar with vineyard and water views, and The Knowlton, the refurbished Armstrong Manufacturing Co., with views of the Housatonic River.
Mansions and estates: “Lord Thompson Manor – that’s my absolute favorite. It is stunning!” says photographer Hernández Ten Eyck.
Vineyards and breweries: “Breweries especially have taken off,” says Antonecchia.
Inns: for most inns, weddings aren’t their sole business. Chatfield Hollow Inn only hosts weddings in May, June, and September – and it is booked far ahead. A look at their gardens gives you a clue why it’s so popular.
Shoreline: coastal locations like the Saybrook Point Resort & Marina are popular, but there are very few venues in that part of the state. Antonecchia warns. “If you’re looking for a wedding on the Long Island shoreline, you better book it far ahead.”
The beach: if you can find one (most likely a municipally owned beach), it will be beautiful, but remember it will also be windy, and possibly hard to hear the ceremony.
Hartford City Hall: popular for elopements, and its architecture makes for fantastic photographs, says Hernández Ten Eyck.
Backyards: always popular, but especially so during a pandemic.
Riverside: there are serene views of the Connecticut River from venues like The Lace Factory in Deep River and the town-owned Glastonbury Boathouse.
Parks: Wickham Park in Manchester, Elizabeth Park in Hartford, and state parks like Kent Falls offer a wide range of atmospheres.
Historic ballrooms: these include Hartford’s G. Fox Ballroom and The Society Room of Hartford, Copeland and Smith’s choice for what Copeland calls its “old-fashioned romance.”
Museums: remember they aren’t just for art. Photographer Todd Fairchild of West Hartford shot a wedding in a hangar at the
New England Air Museum: The groom was a pilot, and the museum houses a plane just like the one his grandfather flew in World War II.
SOCIAL MEDIA IS PROMINENT
Also not surprisingly, an online component has become important to wedding planning. Beyond registries and and sites, couples are increasingly organizing their events entirely online, including sending invitations electronically. Copeland and Smith are doing this on the site With Joy. “It keeps cost down, and it’s very efficient,” says Copeland.
Couples look for planners, vendors, and venues on sites like The Knot. They join Facebook groups specific to their locality, or to similar-minded interests like zero-waste weddings.
PLANNERS AREN’T JUST FOR BIG WEDDINGS
Suddes has planned weddings for as few as nine guests. “Truly, people are looking to hire planners more often than ever to eliminate stress so they can really enjoy the wedding.”
Antonecchia has planned elopements. There are even planners who specialize in them.
It isn’t about the size, she says. It’s about “creating an event that really speaks to them.”
Hernández Ten Eyck shot a wedding with more than twice as many vendors as wedding members. There were two brides and two friends, and: an event designer, photographer, cinematographer, florist, lighting designer, DJ/officiant, caterer, and a hair and makeup stylist.
A MOVE TO GENDER NEUTRALITY
Even at many straight weddings, bridesmaids and groomsmen aren’t a thing anymore. More are mixed-gender “wedding parties”, and couples come up with their own names for the roles they want their closest friends and family members to play.
“Person of Honor” is the new Best Man or Maid of Honor.
Especially at LGBTQ+ or ally-owned venues, you won’t find gendered terms. “We have bathrooms. We state pronouns. We don’t have bridal suites, we have VIP suites” says Historic Events & Banquets owner Angelo.
As for what those in the wedding parties wear, tuxes have been replaced by suits, ranging from blue to pink. Hoang will have a suit custom made by a tailor who is familiar with masculine-presenting women. She and Miller will be the only ones wearing color at their wedding; they’re asking guests to wear black.
Lookalike dresses are also less common now. Instead, women are wearing shades of the same color, in different style dresses or pantsuits that suit their body type and own tastes.
INSISTENCE ON SUSTAINABILITY
Planners say that many couples today are insisting on green weddings. Hiring companies to manage composting and recycling at the reception is just one part of that.
Suddes says couples ask for products that are biodegradable or recyclable. They want every item that’s used from seating charts to welcome signs to be rented, or able to be reused or recycled. “We’re always trying to be really creative so that every single detail has an intention, including its outcome.
Graphic designer Kendra Meany of Lebanon, owner of Whole Weddings, designs custom invitations and every type of print material a couple might want, using plantable seed paper made from recycled paper, and printed with water-based ink. And people do plant them; they send her photos of the wildflowers and herbs they have grown with the paper.
Plantable seed paper is available online as well, but couples willing to spend a little more for customization seek out Meany – like the couple who met in math class and ordered a geometric-designed invitation for their Pi Day wedding.
Rabbis and ministers still occasionally officiate, but the most common officiant is a best friend. “It’s such a lovely personal touch,” says Nicholson of The Knowlton.
The content of a ceremony is highly personal as well, with handwritten vows and readings from poems, books, lyrics or the Supreme Court’s Obergefell vs. Hodges decision. That was read at journalist Ernest Owens’ wedding (as he wrote in “The Year of the Black Queer Revolution” in Rolling Stone magazine).
“FOOD WORTH TALKING ABOUT”
“Food worth talking about; that is so important now,” says Antonecchia. That includes drinks: you need a full-fledged bartender up for any request.
At Saltwater Farm Vineyard, Connery increasingly sees “roaming” weddings where guests don’t sit for dinner.
Food trucks are replacing the buffet tables at many outdoor venues. At indoor venues, food stations are the thing, and they are hugely varied and can include anything from raw bars to mashed potato bars.
Wedding cakes are still a cherished tradition… kind of. Many couples have a small “cutting cake”, and they don’t stop the dancing to slice it. But a “cake” might actually consist of dozens of cupcakes or cookies. At Barone-Flemke’s Priam Vineyards wedding, it may have looked like cake, but was really cheese, which makes sense for a pairing at a vineyard.
Dessert stations are popular, and don’t be surprised to find a wall of donuts. “Donut walls are the best!” says The Knowlton’s Nicholson.
WELCOME TO “WEEDINGS”
Now that it’s legal for recreational use, marijuana is making its way into weddings. This January, Hemp Mountain CBD of Vermont was at the Connecticut Bridal Show, showcasing marijuana products for wedding couples and their guests to enjoy.
Miller and Hoang plan to incorporate marijuana into their day, with a “unity smoke” right after the ceremony. Miller says it’s their version of smashing a glass, lighting candles, or jumping the broom. “Cannabis has been important for us for health reasons, and it’s part of our culture.”
They’re calling it both their wedding and weeding.
Entertainment is as important as good food, says Antonecchia. She has arranged for roaming magicians, aerial scarf artists, jugglers, drag queens, and strolling human champagne-and dessert-tables.
“Rarely do you see a DJ alone anymore,” as they’re usually accompanied by a sax player or singer, she adds. “And today bands that play weddings are truly magnificent musicians.”
The Knowlton offers an aerialist who hangs from a chandelier, dispensing champagne.
BUT THE MOST IMPORTANT MEMBER OF THE WEDDING …
… is the dog. Well, after the marrying couple. Sometimes dogs are Ring Bearer or Flower Dog, but more often Best Man or Best Woman. After all, who’s your best friend?