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35 Non-Traditional Wedding Ideas You May Not Have Thought About

A potentially overwhelming aspect of sharing your non-traditional wedding ideas with others is judgment.  Some do not realize 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 your uniqueness!

Bride in tennis shoes thinking about non-traditional wedding ideas. She's sitting in the dirt by a barn.

For those reasons, you do not have to follow tradition unless you want to. You could even do something else instead of a wedding. Or hold your event at a unique non-traditional wedding venue. Ideas are here.  

Here are some non traditional wedding ideas to help you plan the alternative wedding, or “anti-wedding,” that reflects you. This post is long, and you’ll likely want to return to it. So pin it to your Wedding Ideas or Wedding Planning board now. Then when you want to scroll to your favorite section, here’s the breakdown:

Contents

And if that isn’t enough, here are more unconventional wedding planning ideas if you are on a budget!

Contrast the Unconventional to the Traditional Wedding Ceremony

The idea of a couple getting married in church isn’t too different from other religions. Traditional weddings are old and are rooted in traditions from Western European culture. But, the specifics of the ceremony and reception have changed a lot over time.

What, exactly, does a traditional wedding ceremony look like in the U.S.? Let’s imagine together:

Traditional Church Wedding Ceremony with Floral Pew Decoration in focus

Excited guests twist around to peer toward the back of the church. Organ music begins. That’s the cue for action to start.

Mother of the Bride leads and then sits in the front pew on the left. That’s the bride’s family’s side. The groom appears at the altar.

As the procession continues, bridesmaids and groomsmen walk in pairs. There is a single man and one woman each as they solemnly walk arm-in-arm down the aisle.

They split at the alter. Women on the left, men on the right. No mingling allowed.

A little flower girl fumbles rose petals from a basket—a small boy holds the ring bearer pillow.

The organ music intensifies. Here comes the bride!!!

She is demure in a white wedding gown. A veil covers her face.

The bride’s father is waiting to give her away 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.

Alternative Wedding Wear

Wedding attire is one way to make your wedding stand out. Tradition dictates a long, 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:

Unique unconventional bride in short dress and bright pink tights standing with groom in front of old brick wall

1. Wear pants instead of a gown

Or go with other alternative wear. See the bridal jumpsuits shopping section for inspiration.

2. Do opposite colors

Buy a wedding gown in your favorite color and put the bridesmaids in white.

3. Let your bridesmaids wear cocktail dresses

You choose a color or style theme rather than those made specifically as bridesmaid dresses.

4. Expand the dress code

Let the guys wear suits, or shirts and suspenders without a jacket instead of renting tuxes, for example.

Non Traditional Wedding Ceremony Ideas

Tradition might be a part of your family’s history, a style you have always admired, but it doesn’t have to be the only part of your wedding. It has also been influenced by different cultures and traditions outside of Europe, especially as people are now more exposed to alternative cultures. You can create a hybrid wedding that blends traditions, or you can have a non-traditional, non-religious wedding that is all your own.

Man and woman dancing at a Balarusian wedding

If you do not get into the formality of a church ceremony and regular reception, 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.

5. Celebrate a family wedding

Instead of the couple only, include the children in the vows, with hugs and kisses.

6. Have both parents give you away

Have each set of parents give away their son or daughter to the bride(s) or groom(s).

7. Parents take-in the new son or daughter

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.

8. Carry something besides a typical bouquet

Boho bride carrying an alternative bouquet made from dried flowers, grasses, and other fillers

The bouquet may simply feature non-blooming plants. Like this Boho vibe bouquet from Anna (Etsy ad.)

You could also make the bouquets from buttons, brooches, or paper. Or carry something else that reflects who you are. A local couple here once held flowers made from pizza. Not my thing, but hey, if your life is pizza, why not?

9. Hold the ceremony someplace besides a church

At a loss? Here are 76 Unique Non Traditional Wedding Venue Ideas. Choose one of those instead!

Black bride and groom outdoors on a rooftop with city in the background.

10. Play music and have everyone dance

Picture the wedding party jigging down the aisle or guests foot-stomping as they leave the venue.

A wedding party in blue doing an unconventional dance on a bridge.

11. Exchange something besides rings

Anything can have special meaning. It doesn’t have to be a ring, but some couples opt for tattoo rings.

You could also give each other a lock or locket necklace. Or exchange the physical hand-written vows.

12. Have grooms-people and brides-people instead of -maids and -men

Mix genders according to friendships or relationships.

13. Skip the kids

If there are no obvious choices for a flower girl or ring bearer, omit them from the ceremony. Or include the pets instead!

Dogs dressed in wedding tuxedos with an I Loved Her First sign.

For dog lovers, this one must be near the top of unique non traditional wedding ideas list. Olivia has your pooch covered in these dog wedding tuxedos (Etsy ad)

14. Arrange the wedding party in other ways

Have the wedding party face the guests during the ceremony, for example.

Alternative Wedding Reception Ideas

The next non traditional wedding ideas have to do with the wedding reception, with its set of expectations. Here are some quirky twists to throw into the mix:

15. Go sans-champagne

Toast with something else instead. Like a signature drink, wine, grape juice, or your favorite beverage.

16. Get an unconventional guest book

Skip the traditional guest book and opt for a creative way to remember your guests. 

Acrylic letter alternative wedding guest book

This acrylic letters guest book alternative is on Etsy (ad)

More ideas are in the Guest Book Alternatives section.

17. Have guests help themselves

Set up a self-serve drink station instead of a full-service bar. Or set out loads of appetizer plates instead of a conventional buffet.

18. Share best stories

Instead of best man and maid of honor speeches, have those in the wedding party share their best stories.

19. Ditch the isolation

See each other and spend quality time together before the wedding.

20. Throw things

Toss something fun, like bride and groom bears or candy, instead of the bouquet and garter.

21. Go smashless

Who likes to have cake shoved into their face?

Bride in wedding gown smashing face in husband's face

Feed each other something besides cake–another dessert or favorite entrée, for example.

22. Skip the cake

Have an ornate cake table with several single-layer versions or other desserts.

23. Go for alternative wedding favors

See 37 Cheap and Unique Wedding Favor Ideas for Guests for ideas.

24. Make the centerpieces the dessert

You could have a mini dessert station at each table instead. For inspiration, see this Mini Smore’s bar centerpiece.) 

25. Switch up the dances

Have son-mother-in-law and daughter-father-in-law dances. Or go with father-son and mother-daughter.

Wedding Alternatives: 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.

Bride in a white dress running away down the beach

Eloping is a time-honored solution. 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 took photos and let close family choose which prints they’d like. We also had a video made for the digitally challenged to watch once we returned home.

There were some unhappy campers among the 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 an excellent place to address who exactly can legally marry you. The last thing you want is to find out years later that you are not really married.

First, check your state marriage officiant laws, plus the laws in your county or city. These will cover who may get married and the requirements to marry a couple. In Missouri, where I live, for example, there are three different officiant categories. The law reads:

  1. Marriages may be solemnized by any clergyman, either active or retired, who is in good standing with any church or synagogue in this state.
  2. Marriages may also be solemnized, without compensation, by any judge, including a municipal judge.
  3. 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 to include other government personnel. County clerks, for example. New York City officiant eligibility is an example. Otherwise, a religious officiant must sign.

Notice the problem 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. Have a better second ceremony

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. Do you 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

The alternative of a different organization may be for you if you are uncomfortable 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 suitable 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. Get a friend or family member to officiate

They can become ordained online. Several online churches will ordain regardless of religion. The Universal Life Church (ULC) and American Ministries (AMM) are two examples.

Your state must recognize the organization. All states except Virginia, for example, accept AMM-licensed officiants. The ULC website has a state-by-state look-up.

Laws vary. So, ensure your officiant checks with the local authorities to see if there are any additional requirements.

29. Opt for a short-term civil officiant license

Have a friend or family member get a short-term civil officiant license if your municipality allows it. Massachusetts, for example, has an official one-day marriage designation. California has the Deputy Commissioner for a Day program, and Vermont allows temporary officiants. At least one other state, New York, has a bill in the works to allow this as well.

Anti-Wedding Ideas

One of those people who wants a non-wedding wedding? Here are some things to do instead of a wedding reception.

30. Simply 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 their 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 officiant to a restaurant reservation.

Rent a private room at a restaurant and be wed over a meal.

32. Do a small-group wine tasting

Skip a full-on reception. 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 later, after a private ceremony of your choice, host a backyard BBQ or another type of party. Call this event the first public occasion as a married couple, whatever you want.

34. Go bowling or golfing

Or do another group sport. The point of the reception is for people to have fun. So, instead of the formality of an official after-ceremony dinner thing, do an after-ceremony activity thing. So they can bring their balls, clubs, etc., or a change of clothes. Be sure to communicate this to everyone ahead of time.

35. Do a paint and sip party

 Book a private party and have a blast. Facilities that hold wine-drinking painting events are opening all across the country. 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 grounds and your group size, you may be able to rent eating space or snag discounted ride tickets.

Or come up with your ideas to create a ceremony and reception reflecting who you are as a couple. Any aspect of the wedding is optional or open to your interpretation.

Unconventional Wedding FAQ

How do you do a non-traditional wedding ceremony?

Any aspect of the ceremony is available to change. Such as who participates, the location, and what is said during the ceremony. Ideas 5-14 are unconventional wedding ceremony ideas.

How can you have a more memorable wedding?

Any piece of your wedding outside of the expected will make your wedding more memorable. Have an offbeat ceremony or wear an alternative wedding outfit, for example. You can also change up the reception or even have an anti-wedding. Read ideas 1-4, 15-25, and 30-36.

Can you get married without an officiant?

An officiant performs the religious ceremony. If you have a civil union, you are free to be married within the laws of your state without an officiant. See 26-29 for some specific ideas.

What can you wear instead of a white wedding dress?

There are many options, ranging from different colors to something besides a dress. Read 11-13 for some ideas.

More Non-Traditional Wedding Ideas

Read on for more inspiration for your unique or unconventional wedding.

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Saturday 31st of October 2020

Hi! Would you mind if I share your blog with my twitter group? There's a lot of people that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Thanks

Bobette Kyle

Saturday 31st of October 2020

Yes, that's fine. Thanks!

Shaylee Packer

Tuesday 19th of May 2020

I liked how you mentioned getting married in Vegas to save on the stress of planning the wedding. Live streaming the wedding is also a good idea for those friends and family who cannot be there. I will have to remember this if I ever get married one day.

Audrey Couture Maria

Monday 10th of February 2020

When it comes to wedding planning, Normally couples acts upon their family traditions and heritage. But, weddings are sole events and they should be planned in unique way, being a professional Miami wedding planner (Haute Couture Events), I loved your guide on non-traditional wedding ideas, especially your tips on Contrasting the Unconventional to the Traditional Wedding Ceremony. Thanks for sharing useful content.

Eileen Benson

Tuesday 14th of January 2020

I like your suggestion to personalize the ceremony by having a family wedding and including our children in the vows. My partner and I have two kids together and are planning on getting married over the summer. We plan on hiring a live event artist to memorialize the ceremony, so having our entire family in the painting should be even more special!

Monday 6th of January 2020

As we all know that nowadays there are lots of Non-traditional Wedding Ideas varying from place to place. Surely, One of the most overwhelming aspects of making wedding decisions is the judgment that comes from others. Your all of 36 non-traditional wedding ideas are much operative according to current situation. Thanks for providing guide to assist in our profession related to wedding planning, thanks.