One of the most overwhelming aspects of making wedding decisions is the judgment that comes from others. A common line of reasoning is “do it this way because that’s the way it’s done.”
Well, times change and different types of weddings flourish in this age of individuality. Plus, you are unique and should have a wedding that reflects who you are and what you care about!
For those reasons, you do not have to follow tradition unless you want to. In fact, you could even do something else instead of a wedding.
Here are 25 36 non-traditional wedding ideas to help you plan a wedding, or “anti-wedding,” that reflects you.
This post keeps expanding. So if you want to scroll to your favorite section, here’s the breakdown:
1-10: Non-Traditional Wedding Ceremony Ideas
11-14: Non-Traditional Wedding Wear
15-25: Alternative Wedding Reception Ideas
What to Do Instead of a Wedding
26-29: Non-Traditional Wedding Officiants
30-36: Anti Wedding Ideas
Contrast the Unconventional to the Traditional Wedding Ceremony
To decide what is unconventional, let’s first talk about tradition. What, exactly, does a traditional wedding ceremony look like in the U.S.? Let’s imagine together …
Excited guests twist around to peer to the head of the church aisle as organ music begins. It’s the cue the procession is about to begin!
The mother of the bride leads the way, then sits in the front pew on the left, the bride’s side. Meanwhile, the groom has materialized at the altar.
Bridesmaids and groomsmen appear in pairs, one man one woman each. They are solemn, arm in arm, walking down the aisle.
Each pair splits at the altar, lining up on the side assigned to their gender.
Woman = Bride = Left
Man = Groom = Right
Then cuteness. A little flower girl fumbling rose petals from a basket. A small boy child holding a ring bearer pillow.
The organ music rises to a crescendo. Here comes the bride!!! She appears. Demure in a white, flowing gown. The long veil covers her face.
It is time for the father of the bride to give her to another man!!! He escorts her down the aisle and hands her off to the groom.
The religious leader of the church conducts the ceremony. Vows, rings, blusher folded back, kiss.
The new couple, a man with his wife, walks back up the aisle. Guests congratulate them at the door as they leave. The couple leaves the church, peppered with thrown rice.
Non-Traditional Wedding Ceremony Ideas
Chances are since you are reading this, at least some of the details above are not your thing. The good news is you can change any piece of it you wish as long as you stay within your state’s law.
If you do not get into the formality of a church ceremony and regular reception at all, keep scrolling. You will find some things to do for your anti-wedding wedding under “What to Do Instead of a Wedding.”
If you plan to have a ceremony with a full contingent of family and friends present read below. Here are some non-traditional ideas to get you started.
1. Have a family wedding—instead of the couple only—by including your children in the vows, with hugs and kisses all around.
2. Have each set of parents give away their son or daughter to the bride(s) or groom(s).
3. Instead of “giving away” the bride, have each set of parents “take in” the future spouse. (Not literally, of course. They don’t want you living with them! LOL.)
4. Carry ferns instead of flowers. Or make the bouquets from buttons, brooches, or paper.
Or carry something else that reflects who you are. A local couple here once carried flowers made from pizza. Not my thing, but hey, if your life is pizza, why not?
5. Play music and have everyone dance as you come out of the church instead of guests throwing rice or bird seeds.
6. Go bareheaded instead of wearing a veil or hat.
7. Hold the ceremony someplace besides a church. (See 76 non-traditional wedding venue ideas for inspiration. The ceremony can be held at all of these as well.)
8. Have groomspeople and bridespeople instead of -maids and -men, mixing genders according to friendships or relationships.
9. If there are no obvious choices for a flower girl and/or ring bearer, omit them from the ceremony.
10. Have the wedding party face the guests during the ceremony.
Non-Traditional Wedding Wear
The wedding attire is another way to make your wedding stand out. Tradition dictates a white gown for the bride. Bridesmaids in the wedding color, with matching dresses. Groomsmen in neutral-colored tuxes.
Here are some alternative ideas for wedding party wear …
11. Wear bridal pants or other wedding dress alternative instead of a gown. (See the bridal jumpsuits shopping section for inspiration.)
12. Buy a wedding gown in your favorite color and put the bridesmaids in white.
13. Let your bridesmaids wear cocktail dresses with a color or style theme rather than those made specifically as bridesmaid dresses (some of the pins on the Bridesmaids Ideas pinboard can give you inspiration).
14. Let the guys wear suits, or shirts and suspenders with no jacket, instead of renting tuxes.
Alternative Wedding Reception Ideas
Next up is the wedding reception, with its set of expectations. Here are some quirky twists to throw into the mix …
15. Toast with a signature drink instead of champagne.
16. Skip the traditional guest book and opt for a creative way to remember your guests–a thumbprint wishing tree or wishing rocks, for example (more ideas are in the Guest Book Alternatives section).
17. Set up a self-serve drink station instead of a full-service bar.
18. Instead of best man and maid of honor speeches, have those in the wedding party share their best stories.
19. See each other and spend quality time together before the wedding.
20. Toss something fun, like bride and groom bears or candy, instead of the bouquet and garter.
21. Feed each other something besides cake–another dessert or favorite entree, for example.
22. Skip the tiered wedding cake altogether and have an ornate cake table with several single layer versions or other desserts.
23. Provide an empty, food-friendly favor box and let guests choose their own treats from a candy or food buffet.
24. Make your centerpieces mini dessert stations and forego separate desserts and favors.
25. Have son-mother-in-law and daughter-father-in-law dances.
What to Do Instead of a Wedding
This section’s for you if you do not get into the formality of a church ceremony and regular reception. An “anti-wedding” may be the thing for you and your partner.
Elope. This option is so obvious I didn’t even give it a number! Tim and I planned a trip to Vegas and told a few people the night before we left. We streamed the private ceremony online for people to watch live.
We also had photos taken and let close family choose which prints they’d like. And had a video made for the digitally challenged to watch once we returned home.
There were some unhappy campers among family. I’m sure there would be with yours as well. But, hey! It’s your wedding and it should make you happy.
Non-Traditional Wedding Officiant Alternatives
Here is a good place to address who, exactly can legally marry you. Because the last thing you want is to find out years later you are not actually married.
First, check your state marriage officiant laws, plus the laws in your county or city. These will cover who may get married as well as the requirements to marry a couple. In Missouri where I live, for example, there are three different officiant categories. the law reads:
“a. Marriages may be solemnized by any clergyman, either active or retired, who is in good standing with any church or synagogue in this state.
b. Marriages may also be solemnized, without compensation, by any judge, including a municipal judge.
c. Marriages may also be solemnized by a religious society, religious institution, or religious organization of this state, according to the regulations and customs of the society, institution or organization, when either party to the marriage to be solemnized is a member of such society, institution or organization.”
These choices are pretty typical: religion-based clergy and judges. But your local requirements may be looser or stricter.
Some municipalities expand the civil servant definitions. This may include other government personnel, such as county clerks. New York City officiant eligibility is an example. Otherwise, you do need a religion backing the signature on your marriage certificate.
Notice the conundrum if you want to have a non-religious ceremony. And do not want a government official to preside. Non-traditional wedding ideas 26-29 cover possible options for you.
26. Jump through the legal hoops by going the government official route. Then have your “real” ceremony officiated by whomever you want.
All that’s required is a certificate-signing procedure conducted by a legally-sanctioned person. And that they file the autographed license within a designated timeframe.
Once you have that covered, the rest is your own choice. Want to have your goldfish telepathically conduct a ceremony as friends watch from the sofa? Go for it!
27. Have a legal ceremony through an ethical society. This is an option for you if you are not comfortable with the church defining your marriage boundaries.
Those New York City statutes allow leaders in the Society of Ethical Culture to officiate. A similar group in my area is the St. Louis Ethical Society.
Ethical organization leaders are humanists that can perform wedding ceremonies. They qualify as “religious societies or institutions.” As long as they are properly registered.
These non-theological religions build their congregations around ethics. Their activities revolve around doing what is right for society and individuals. There is no reference to or need for religious beliefs. You are welcome regardless of your religion or church affiliations.
Find out if there is an ethical community near you through the American Ethical Union.
28. A friend or family member can officiate your wedding by becoming ordained online. Several online churches will ordain regardless of religion. The Universal Life Church (ULC) and American Ministries (AMM) are two examples.
The organization must be recognized by your state. The AMM reports on their website they are registered in all states except Virginia. The ULC website has a state-by-state look-up.
Also, make sure your officiant checks with the local authorities. They may have to register in your state. Laws vary.
29. Have a friend or family member get a single-day civil officiant license if your municipality allows it. Massachusetts has an official one-day marriage designation. California has the Deputy Commissioner for a Day program. Vermont allows temporary officiants. At least one other state, New York, has a bill in the works to allow this as well.
One of those people who wants a non-wedding wedding? Here are some things to do instead of a wedding reception.
30. City Hall and a Meal. My daughter and son-in-law had a justice of the peace perform the ceremony. Then we treated them and immediate family to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant.
It’s a way to have an upscale, intimate event without the expense of a wedding. Per person cost versus a reception: very high. Total cost versus a reception: minimal.
31. Bring your own officiant to a restaurant reservation. Rent a private room at a restaurant and be wed over a meal.
32. Skip a full-on reception and bring a small group to a wine tasting. One winery near us offers a group tour and tasting with snacks. Or have a tasting followed by lunch or dinner.
33. Have an official non-reception. Sometime after a private ceremony of your choice, host a backyard BBQ or other party. Call this event, the first public occasion as a married couple, whatever you want.
34. Go bowling. Or golfing. Or whatever group sport you are into.
The point of a reception is for people to have fun, right? So, instead of the formality of an official after-ceremony dinner thing, do an after-ceremony activity thing. Be sure to communicate this to everyone ahead of time. So they can bring their balls, clubs, etc. or a change of clothes.
35. Do a paint and sip party. Facilities that hold wine-drinking painting events are opening all across the country. Book a private party and have a blast. Pinot’s Palette and Painting with a Twist are two that may have locations near you.
36. Go as a group to a theme park. Depending on the park and your group size, you may be able to rent eating space and/or snag discounted ride tickets.
Or come up with your own ideas to create a ceremony and reception that reflect who you truly are as a couple. Any aspect of the wedding is optional or open to your own interpretation.