COVID-19 has changed the way we do things for the foreseeable future, and this includes wedding plans. Many couples that were scheduled to get married in 2020 were determined not to let the pandemic stop them from making things official. Instead, they found creative ways to go through with their nuptials. And as we head into 2021, the same goes for couples that have wedding dates reserved into the new year. But let’s face it: Getting married in the midst of a worldwide viral outbreak means doing things a bit differently.
Roberta Correia, editorial director of Brides, say 81 percent of the publication’s followers have said that the pandemic has changed their expectations for their wedding. And while the trends are constantly shifting, what Correia can confirm is that weddings for the remainder of this year, and heading into next, will definitely look different than the packed reception halls, 200+ person guest lists, and action-packed dance floors that many of us are used to.
2021 Wedding Trends
1. Going virtual
With travel restrictions and social distancing requirements, many loved ones haven’t been able to make a bride and groom’s special day. Thus, having a virtual wedding with a livestream broadcast has been a great way for couples to say their “I do’s” and still have their nearest and dearest watch. And a lot of couples doing smaller in person weddings are still having a virtual component so that guests can tune in from afar. “Zoom weddings were an initial reaction to the pandemic and suggested quarantine, but even as new safety measures have been developed, people are traveling less,” says Los Angeles/New York-based event planner Jason Mitchell Kahn. He explains that most 2020/2021 couples are having guests attend both in person and virtually for those who cannot make it.
2. Micro weddings
“We are seeing many more intimate dinner events of immediate family and friends. This includes a first dance and parent dance—only as ‘dancing’ is still not allowed in our county,” says Jessica Kuipers, owner and creative director of Onyx and Redwood, a wedding and event-planning firm based in Santa Barbara, California. “This year, we are seeing a rise in the micro wedding, AKA an intimate wedding with fewer than 50 guests,” adds Correia. According to Bride’s American Wedding Study, 47 percent of those surveyed are now planning on downsizing their guest lists.”
3. Special instructions inside of invitations.
“In order for guests to feel comfortable RSVPing yes, we’re seeing many couples share details of the wedding in advance,” says Kahn. The type of information shared, he adds, includes if the venue will be outdoors, if guests will be asked to wear masks, and if socially distant seating will be enforced.
4. Re-imagined floor plans.
One of the biggest new trends that Kahn has been seeing is in reception seating. “Rather than large tables with lots of space, couples are seating their guests only with their plus one, families or identified safe pod,” he says. “This is creating many more deuces and four tops in the dining area.”
5. Branding Opportunities.
Wedding hashtags have been a thing for a while, but 2020/2021 brides and grooms are now starting to stamp hashtags and monograms on new guest accessories: masks and hand sanitizers. “These two items are considered a must-have now and vendors have show enormous creativity and range in what is available,” Kahn explains.
6. Smaller cakes.
Kuipers says guests at the weddings she’s been a part of are opting for COVID- friendly mini personal wedding cakes, which are being distributed to each guest. Correia notes that people are either serving these cakes at a guest’s individual place setting or sending them home for attendees to later enjoy.
7. The focus on the ceremony.
This year, Tanya Pushkine, (AKA The Vow Whisperer) says she’s seen a movement away from the accouterments surrounding the day and a focus turned towards the actual “getting married part.” “The spoken word has more impact and importance. There are no sweaty dance floors or lines in a buffet. It has become a streamlined, elegant celebration for the right reasons,” she explains. Pushkine adds that in the past past, religion mostly dictated the ceremony, leading people to put it at the bottom of their preparation list. But today, everything is personalized—customized by the bride and groom by incorporating religious obligations, family traditions and new realities. “It’s something that now needs to go to the top of the list,” she explains. “With COVID-19, people can’t party but they can virtually attend your ceremony. The ceremony has now become the most important element of the day.”
8. A pop of color.
Couples have adored the bohemian trend for years, says Kylie Carlson, CEO of The Wedding Academy, but 2020 is the year of what she deems “the MOHO concept—introducing contemporary elements in the way of bold colors, textures, and more.” This mainstream look, per Carlson, is look is being dressed up with fun accents, incorporating materials like pampas grasses, and jute. “Paired with shades of grape compote, saffron, and cinnamon stick, MOHO showed couples what reinvention can truly do to elevate something outdated with an edgy, urban feel.”
9. Wedding planning gets higher tech.
Long gone are the days of email as a primary communication method when planning a wedding. Carlson says with the introduction of so many immersive apps and programs that bring collaboration to new heights, it should act as no surprise that COVID only intensified the need for accessibility and automation. “Zoom meetings have taken over, and WhatsApp is the new normal when it comes to being in touch with vendors and couples alike,” she explains.
10. A wedding at home.
Carlson says that at-home weddings were once thought to be a more budget-friendly alternative to the traditional wedding venue, but with postponements and cancellations, they’ve certainly shown their value in 2020. “Downsized guest lists were the catalyst for this move, and couples that opted for close friends and family opened their doors to bring in luxe decor, overgrown florals, and backyard ceremonies that were more gorgeous than ever before,” she reveals.
11. Weekday Weddings.
“At this point, vendors and venues have slim availability for 2021,” says Correia. Thus, she says, couples are turning to the weekdays. “A weekday wedding may allow a couple to get married at their dream venue and hire their preferred vendors. Not to mention: There are often cost benefits with a weekday wedding—and it’s also an opportunity to support the professionals in this industry, who have been hard hit by the pandemic.”
12. A sequel wedding.
Some couples marrying this year are opting to do it again post pandemic with an extended guest list. These, says Correia, will be larger-scale events focused on celebrating their love with loved ones who couldn’t attend this year. “We’ve heard of couples saving some wedding elements and traditions, such as writing their own vows or doing the first dance, for the second wedding to make it more special,” she explains.
13. Transformative wedding attire.
“According to our survey, 87 percent of followers say they’re sticking with their original wedding attire. But at Bridal Fashion Week and at micro weddings, we are also seeing transformative attire—dresses that are two looks in one, a change into a mini dress or jumpsuit for the reception, and, for both brides and grooms, sneakers,” Correia says. Couples want to be comfortable, and for many, that means more casual attire.
14. Sustainable attire.
Sabina Ali, director/founder of UK-based dress company, Sabrina Motasem, says she’s been seeing a push towards “a dress and brand that has good eco credentials, zero waste or vegan dresses. Brides are choosing to be less wasteful as the pandemic makes consumers think about their choices to help the environment,” she says. Another trend she’s seen is that a bride will buy a dress for their micro ceremony that they can later wear again and style-up for a second and more elaborate post-pandemic wedding.
15. Domestic destinations.
Correia says there has been a rise in destinations that are a car or train ride away. “This prioritizes guest safety and makes travel easier for everyone involved—no passport required,” she explains.
16. Celebration care packages.
Whether they’re marrying on Zoom or with a downsized guest list, couples are not forgetting about guests not physically with them. Correia says many brides and grooms are mailing celebration boxes to guests and asking them to toast from afar with a custom cocktail kit or mini bottle of champagne. “Some are even sending treats like a mini wedding cake, cookies, or, in some cases, the full wedding meal,” she adds.
17. Artificial flowers.
“A huge trend for the coming year is faux florals,” says event-planning company, Social Studies‘ CEO/Co-Founder Jessica Latham. “There are some beautiful faux choices out there now, and with pandemic-related shipping delays, getting real florals can be tricky, and expensive.”
18. Virtual bridesmaids.
In pre-COVID times, a bride might assign a bridesmaid the role of point person – the one person in charge of making sure all vendors know where they need to go and when they need to be there. But in the virtual space, Latham says she’s been seeing brides assign roles for a livestream celebration. “More than one bride has assigned someone the role of Zoom producer—a tech savvy wedding guest to man Zoom and ensure no one is stuck in the waiting room while the couple is saying ‘I do,’” she explains.
19. Useful gifts.
Move over lavish gifts. Latham says practical gift giving is becoming the norm. “With more people staying home and cooking, I’ve seen gift-giving trends that make staying home feel special and elevated. Two favorite gifts of mine: any cookware by Our Place—they make the most beautiful pots and pans that double as a decor piece on your dining room table, and a subscription service like Winc, which delivers wine to your door, for a surprise and delight element that keeps on giving months after the big day,” she explains.
Related: How Much to Spend on Wedding Gift
20. Action-packed Zoom weddings.
“Couples are going far beyond simply saying their vows virtually. They are getting elaborate with their Zoom weddings, from having multiple cameras set up to capture different angles or detail shots for their stream, to having their wedding processional over Zoom with wedding party members each ‘walking down the aisle’ in their homes, to doing ceremony readings and reception toasts over Zoom, to even using Zoom breakout rooms to serve as reception ‘tables,’ so that the couple can virtually make their rounds and speak to all their guests,” explains Katie Brownstein, director of communications for wedding planning company Joy.
21. Virtual DJs and MCs.
Since the pandemic began, Rob Corrall and Ralph Bracamonte, with Los Angeles-based Second Song, have been hired to make a livestream ceremony and reception extra special. “While guests get married in their living room, we DJ from our garage or studios, and guests tune in remotely from all around the world,” says Corrall. The duo offers a “Wed Zoom Package,” which involves them bringing a large TV and stand to smaller in person weddings to broadcast to guests that can’t be there in person on the big day. “Right after the ceremony, we can get guests at home dancing, and it brings energy to the few guests in attendance. We then bring the bride and groom to the TV for speed speeches and go through their guests online by spotlighting, and unmuting, and letting them share a few words with the couple,” he says. Per Corrall, the duo has seen everything from a friend officiate on a screen from a whole other state to a fully virtual bouquet toss, and tons of pets dressed up and joining in.
22. Live performance is being added to wedding fun.
“Given that social distancing will be mandatory on the dance floor, I am recommending to my clients that wedding entertainment that can be watched and enjoyed by all will be common at wedding celebrations,” says Lynne Goldberg, a wedding planner in Boca Raton, Florida. Maya Holihan, founder and CEO of EWedded, agrees, noting that “instead of dance floors look for other forms of entertainment like live performers, caricaturists, aerialists, psychics, cotton candy spinners, and interactive cocktail hours with a mixologist, both pre and post ceremony.”
23. Eco-conscious efforts.
“COVID has caused us to spend more time outdoors and gain a greater appreciation for our planet. Due to this, we’re going to see more eco-conscious weddings,” explains Holihan. She says that fresh flowers are being replaced with herbs (even cannabis), plants, dried flowers or a real departure from tradition like fruits and veggies or a sweet treat like lollipops and donuts. “Brides will search for ethically sourced or repurposed decor and in lieu of favors, we’ll see more couples opting to donate to a nonprofit organization,” she says. Food is also being scaled back. Going forward, Holihan predicts more seated two to three course dinners over buffets, which will help to minimize food waste.
24. One day only.
“Due to travel restrictions and COVID still looming, multiple day affairs will be put on pause in 2021 and we’ll see a decrease in destination weddings,” says Holihan. She notes that we there may even be the elimination of the rehearsal dinner. “We’ll see most couples opt to having the only large festivity be their wedding day,” she adds. “Respecting the sign of the times couples will put their money and emphasis on making their wedding day spectacular yet safe.”
25. More elopements packages.
William Rademacher, general manager of The Wayfinder Hotel, says with travel and gathering restrictions still in place, couples will need to consider making major cuts to their invite lists. “Keeping the nuptials to just the bride and groom or leaving room for their tribe, hotels are creating elaborate elopement packages to give couples options,” he explains. He highlights the following as an example: “Newport’s newest boutique accommodation, The Wayfinder Hotel, launched three distinct elopement packages – ranging from an intimate 20 guest affair aboard a sailboat to a completely customized event for up to 125 guests. After experiencing an increase in inquiries for in-suite ceremonies, the hotel was inspired to offer up the spacious suites for couples seeking a charming, private ceremony followed by a socially distant reception catered by the hotel’s on-site restaurant concept, Nomi Park, which serves up New England classics with a craveable twist.”
26. Useful wedding favors.
Practical favors might become the new norm, says Karen Norian of Simply Eloped. “Safety and practicality will ultimately steer more couples to choosing to gift their guests with items that they can use during your wedding day,” she says. Norian is seeing things like custom face masks and hand sanitizer replace less functional favors like succulents or candles to make guest safety the highest priority.
27. Drive-by reception parades.
“Couples can accommodate guests who are younger, or guests with little kids, and elder guests by organizing a drive-by parade for local guests who can’t otherwise participate in wedding events due to immunocompromised or other health concerns,” says Ivy Summer, an on-demand wedding consultant with Voulez Events.
28. Elaborate wedding-day photo shoots.
“Couples are taking more time for glamorous shoots on their wedding day to get gorgeous moments to share with family and friends who couldn’t make it,” says Feyisola Ogunfemi with Statuesque Events. Newlyweds are also having fun with the circumstances by taking pictures with “bride & groom” face masks and jokingly social distancing for photos featuring the two of them.
29. Buying Local.
With a focus on the family and with the shrinking of our world to a five-mile radius, so has the opportunity for couple to include local businesses in their special day. Keith Willard, president of Keith Willard Events, says this can include everything from the baker down the street creating the wedding cake to a family friend creating the invites from paper they made themselves, or a local deli that hand cuts the proteins. “This can even include local caterers who pivoted their business to provide weekly meals for the local market. Not only will the couple have a real stake in the pieces and parts involved in their wedding, they may just be responsible for keeping a local business alive,” he says.
Related: Face Masks for Bridal Party
30. Ultimately, love being the message.
“The most important thing I am seeing is that now, perhaps more than ever with the heightened insecurities we are facing as a world, is that love always wins,” says Jenn Johnson, owner of boutique design and planning company Epic Presentations. She notes that during the time of the pandemic, she and her colleagues have truly been seeing the importance of cherishing relationships more than ever. “People are not going to avoid getting married altogether, we are just coming up with new and innovative ways to do things, just as we are in general right now.”