How to throw the ultimate alternative wedding


If you’re like most couples planning a wedding this year, booking a church and reception hall, finding a florist, and inviting 400 of your parents’ closest friends isn’t on the top of your to-do list. Although wedding trends continually change, the trend for 2017 weddings is simply to not follow a trend.

Planning your own “alt-wedding” in Washtenaw County? Check out our compilation of local venues and services that are sure to match your style and budget, and hear from one local couple how they planned their own alt-wedding.

The Venue

Straying from the traditional church ceremony is the original alt-wedding trend – but is significantly more popular in the last few years. Lucky for the alt-wedding-bound couple, Washtenaw County residents have an assortment of parks, nature preserves, and recreation areas within a short drive.

Ypsilanti residents, Chelsie and Connor Armstrong, held their ceremony and reception in a weekend getaway fashion at Camp Linden – just 45 minutes from Ann Arbor.

“Connor and I are not religious, so we definitely didn’t want to get married in a church,” said Chelsie. “We both love the outdoors and spend a lot of time together outside, so getting married at a camp was just a natural fit for us. There were so many benefits to having our wedding take place at camp. We really wanted our wedding to be an experience more than an event- so the thought of being able to have family and friends stay overnight with us the entire weekend was exciting.”

Matthaei Botanical Gardens of Ann Arbor has recently seen growth in the wedding market. “We continue to attract more people than ever who seek a romantic, flower-filled, intimate, and low-key al fresco wedding,” says Joseph Mooney of Matthaei. “A wedding at Matthaei Botanical Gardens is a wedding made by nature. Guests can choose from several spaces that all feature amazing views of flowers, gardens, water elements, and vistas. We also offer a conservatory packed with tropical plants for winter weddings.”

And after vows are exchanged and the rice is thrown, where will the party continue?

“Our private spaces each have a unique character and personality, from exposed brick and stone walls to an actual wine cellar,” said Cindy L. Alonzo, Events Manager of Ann Arbor’s Vinology. “They are romantic and rustic alleviating the need for additional decor like the typical banquet hall requires… Couples are enjoying an independence from tradition and are embracing the venues that offer that. From the savings of having a smaller wedding, to the flexibility of being able to have a strolling affair to a seated three course dinner, they enjoy being unique and offering their guests a new experience.”

The Ring

The standard yellow gold band with a square-cut white diamond is far from the only option for 2017 engagements as couples display permanent symbols of their lifelong commitment with birthstones, tattoos, and custom, contemporary rings.

Business like Urban Jewelers and Abracadabra, custom jewelry staples of Ann Arbor, have seen decades of wedding trends in the custom jewelry community, but nothing like the alt-wedding.

“We’ve enjoyed the recent uptick in alternative weddings as couples realize they don’t have to play by anyone else’s rules,” Mary Simkins of Abracadabra says. “The rise in alternative weddings is an indication that people more than ever are celebrating their own unique preferences and idiosyncrasies rather than adhering to traditional formulas.”

“For couples who start their engagement or wedding ring search at big box stores, our eclectic collection and laid back attitude are a breath of fresh air,” says Simkins. “The highest compliment we receive from customers is that they’ve never seen anything like our jewelry anywhere else.”

The Dress

Let’s face it, not everyone looks fabulous in a floor-length white gown. Until recently, it was not only a standard but a requirement of the bride to don this virginal facade. Not in 2017! Knee-length (and shorter), teal, black, and even devil-red are popular styles seen strutting down the aisle on many alt-brides.

Many brides that feel the itch to try a billowing gown are finding ways to give traditional bridal attire an alternative flair. Boutiques such as The Brides Project in Ann Arbor offer brides to be the opportunity to purchase designer and off the rack gowns affordably, and for a good cause. According to its website, The Brides Project’s mission is “to provide brides with a socially conscious, budget and eco-friendly option for purchasing a bridal gown, and to use these proceeds at The Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor for people touched by cancer.”

The Flowers

If you have flora at all, a new trend is to go with a living and potted version. With a plethora of farmer’s markets at your fingertips in Washtenaw County, it is easy to meet the need. Another benefit? Potted plants can be purchased weeks in advance and kept alive by simply watering.

Not a floral person? Alternative items such as succulents and even rescue puppies are growing in popularity with alt-wedding couples. What could be better than your bridal party saving a few fur-baby lives on the happiest day of your life?

Armstrong explains that her bridal and bridesmaid bouquets were simple. “I didn’t have many flowers. My (bouquet) and my bridesmaids bouquets were just baby’s breath and eucalyptus. Centerpieces were also eucalyptus, baby’s breath, and a variety of flowers from a friend’s garden. I just wanted something organic, not too arranged, and as much green as possible. Friends and family helped put together the bouquets and centerpieces the day before. Putting them together yourself helps to save a lot of money, too!”

The Photographer

Finding the right photographer is more important than people realize, as capturing the memories will allow you to revisit one of the most important days of your life.

“You want to choose an artist who is still as in love with working weddings as they were when they first began,” Amanda Lauchu of Amanda Mae Photography in Saline says. “Seasoned professionals are great for their ability to be flexible in all situations but you want to make sure they still are passionate about their subject.”

And alt-weddings are no mystery to Lauchu. In fact, she is well-versed and adores them. “As the wedding industry has shifted to alternative weddings I have seen an explosion in couples willing to do more awesome things photographically.”  

The Cake

Three-tiered chocolate cake with white frosting and pink fondant flowers? Not likely at an alt-wedding. If there is a cake, it’s probably in the shape of a seahorse or festooned with neon orange frosting. The trend for 2017? Doughnuts. And plenty of them.

According to The President of Washtenaw Dairy, Mary Raab, the Ann Arbor go-to for morning doughnuts and after-dinner ice cream has experienced the change first-hand with wedding doughnut orders of up to 200.

“We have an order or two every month and already have a couple for the summer,” says Raab. “It is an interesting phenomenon. We have doughnut holes that we call our minis and people are starting to do Sundae bars with ice cream… The same with the minis with toppings. (You can do) a lot of interesting things. We love working with the couples and the wedding planners to find what’s right for them.”

Looking for something a step away from the fryer? Armstrong highly recommends having a selection of pies. “Connor LOVES pie! We had strawberry rhubarb, apple, and key lime pie… and some others.”

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