Update for 2023 – Been getting 😒 when discussing non-traditional wedding ideas? To that, I say, “🙄.” Alternative wedding planning flourishes in this age of individuality. Let your uniqueness shine through!
You only have to follow tradition if 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 non-traditional wedding ideas to help you with alternative wedding planning, or “non-wedding planning,” that reflects you. (Tip: This post is long, so pin it to your Wedding Ideas or Planning board now.)
Table of Contents
And if that isn’t enough, here are more unconventional wedding planning ideas if you are on a budget!
How to Plan a Non-Traditional Wedding – A Love Recipe
Planning an alternative wedding is like becoming a Love Chef. Mix vision with the right mix of ingredients. Then bake for a fabulous finale!
Here is a recipe for you to customize.
- 1 cup creativity
- 2 cups personalization
- 3 tablespoons uniqueness
- 4 teaspoons fun
- a pinch of tradition (add to taste)
- 2 cups love
- a dash of humor
- Preheat your creative mind.
- Start brainstorming personalization. Think of alternative and untraditional wedding touches you love.
- Fold in your personality and uniqueness.
- Mix in fun elements to keep the day lighthearted and entertaining for you and your guests.
- Include the traditions that are important to you.
- Stir in a generous amount of love, as this is the main ingredient to make your wedding day unforgettable.
- Finally, add a dash of humor to keep things light and remind everyone that this is a celebration of your love for each other.
Serve with a side of joy, laughter, and happy memories that will last a lifetime. Most importantly, enjoy your special day!
Alternative Wedding Wear (#1 – 5)
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:
1. Plan alternative wedding wear 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 over those made specifically as bridesmaid dresses. Bonus: this will also allow the ladies to show a bit of their heritage in their outfits.
4. Expand the dress code even more
Let the guys wear mismatched outfits, for example. To keep the alternatives from getting too wild, set a common element they must wear, such as a tie or suspenders.
5. Get graphic with the wedding gown
If you or your friends are the creative types, design a custom fabric. (Quality check 3/19/2023: As of this update, John’s shop has 2929 reviews, with an average of 5 stars. Looking through the ratings, you can see he is happily collaborative and answers most reviews personally with some personalized thank you. We are an Etsy affiliate who makes a commission from sales.)
Use the fabric for a bespoke wedding gown or bridesmaids’ dresses. You will need to work with an experienced dressmaker to plan and create a masterpiece.
If you are like me and are a bit too faint of heart to risk creating a dress, you could also use custom fabric for tablecloths, backdrops, or another décor.
Non-Traditional Wedding Ceremony Ideas for Alternative Weddings (#6 – 14)
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. Culture, tradition, and preferences outside of Europe have influenced an alternative wedding ceremony. Especially now, as exposure to more alternative cultures has increased.
You can create a ceremony that blends traditions or have a non-traditional, non-religious wedding that is all your own.
Keep scrolling if you do not get into the formality of a ceremony followed by a regular reception. You will find some things to do for your anti-wedding wedding under “What to Do Instead of a Wedding.”
Read below if you plan to have a ceremony with some contingent of family and friends present. Here are some non-traditional ideas to get you started.
6. Non-traditional way to write custom wedding vows: AI as an assistant
As of this writing, artificial intelligence is on the verge of becoming ingrained in our everyday lives. AI can help with wedding planning ideas, too!
As an experiment, I asked ChatGPT to be my writing assistant and develop ideas for custom wedding vows. Parts of the actual chat are screenshot above. IRL, Tim, and I have been married since 2006. But, the process is a legit starting point for anyone wanting to personalize their vows.
7. Celebrate a family wedding
Instead of the couple only, include the children in the vows, with hugs and kisses.
8. Hold the ceremony on a rooftop
At a loss? Here are 76 Unique Non Traditional Wedding Venue Ideas. Choose one of those instead!
9. Play music and have everyone dance
Picture the wedding party jigging down the aisle or guests foot-stomping as they leave the venue.
10. Exchange something besides rings
Anything can have a 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.
11. There are alternatives to maid-to-man, maid-to-man matchups!
Mix attendant genders according to friendships or relationships.
12. Skip the ring and flower kids
If there are no obvious choices for a flower girl or ring bearer, omit them from the ceremony. Or include the pets instead!
This one must be near the top of the unique non-traditional wedding ideas list for dog lovers. Include your doggies in the nuptials dressed in dog tuxedos for the wedding.
13. Arrange the wedding party and guests in unexpected ways
The typical wedding ceremony configuration is far from your only option. Choose an alternative that feels true to you as a couple and reflects your personality and preferences. Some ideas are::
- Have the wedding party face the guests during the ceremony.
- Perform an outdoor ceremony surrounded by, instead of in front of, guests.
- To create a more informal atmosphere, arrange sofas, chairs, and cushions for guests to sit on during the ceremony.
- Take it outside, where any platform is a potential alter, and any surface can be a seat.
- No seating is an option as well. Plan a short ceremony where guests gather round the wedding party.
You are limited only by your imagination.
14. Ditch the isolation
If you want to avoid each other before the nuptials, that is perfectly fine. But don’t do it only because of tradition. You can get ready together or enjoy other activities. Here are some ideas:
- Enjoy a relaxing luxury breakfast.
- Open small gifts to each other as keepsakes for your big day.
- Get away for a few minutes. Take a walk in a nearby park.
- Book a couples spa treatment before hair and makeup.
- Write short notes to exchange during the vows.
Alternative Wedding Planning Ideas for the Reception (#15 – 24)
The following non-traditional wedding ideas have to do with the wedding reception and its expectations. Here are some quirky twists to throw into the mix:
15. Invent a wedding theme signature cocktail with ChatGPT
With ChatGPT, you can get ideas for a signature cocktail unique to you. It will even draft a recipe for you to refine!
I asked it to create a signature cocktail recipe for a Boho-themed wedding. It quickly wrote a Boho Blossom drink with gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, hibiscus tea, and edible flowers, among other ingredients.
16. Get an unconventional guest book
Skip the traditional guest book and opt for a creative way to remember your guests. 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 traditional 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. Throw things
Toss something fun, like bride and groom bears or candy, instead of the bouquet and garter.
20. Find an alternative to the cake smash
Who likes to have cake shoved into their face? Feed each other a favorite treat instead of doing a cake smash–another dessert or favorite entrée, for example.
21. Serve mini wedding cakes instead of one creation
Skip the big, expensive wedding cake and opt for mini cakes instead. Arrange one or two on each table, or create individual cupcakes for each guest. This way, you can skip the cake-cutting ceremony altogether. Plus, it’s easier to serve different flavors or accommodate dietary restrictions.
22. Go for alternative wedding favors
A snack to take home or other fun activity is much more fun than something random that will end up in the trash or junk drawer. See 37 Cheap and Unique Wedding Favor Ideas for Guests for more ideas.
23. Make the centerpieces the dessert
You could have a mini dessert station at each table instead. For inspiration, see this Mini S’mores bar centerpiece. (I’m embarrassed to say it isn’t nearly as elegant as the one above, but it is what it is.)
24. Switch up the dances
Have son-mother-in-law and daughter-father-in-law dances. Or go with father-son and mother-daughter.
Alternative Wedding: What to Do Instead of a Wedding (#25 – 28)
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.
Eloping is a time-honored solution. But this option is so obvious I didn’t even give it a number!
Non-Traditional Wedding Ceremony: 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 legally married.
First, check your state marriage officiant laws, plus the laws in your county or city. Cornell University has links to the marriage laws in each state. These will cover who may get married and the requirements to marry a couple.
Be aware that your local requirements may differ slightly from your state’s. The definition of a Civil Servant may vary, for example.
Non-traditional wedding ideas 25-29 cover possible non-traditional wedding ceremony options that may fit your personality and the laws where you live.
25. Have a better second ceremony
Once you have the legal aspect of the wedding covered, the rest is your choice. Do you want your goldfish telepathically conduct a ceremony as friends watch from the sofa? Go for it!
All that’s required is that, at some point, you have a certificate-signing procedure conducted by a legally-sanctioned person. And that they file the autographed license within a designated timeframe.
26. 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.
Ethical organization leaders are humanists that can perform wedding ceremonies. They qualify as “religious societies or institutions” as long as properly registered.
Find out if there is an ethical community near you through local research. Also, check officiant laws in your state. American Marriage Ministries (AMM) has summaries and links by state here.
(Quality check 3/20/2023: As of this update, The AMM has been Better Business Bureau accredited since 2015, with an A+ rating. See the organization’s current BBB profile here.)
27. Get a friend or family member to officiate
AMM has training as well as online ordination. FAQs are here. (Quality check: See above.)
Again, laws vary. So, check your local county clerk for guidance and to see if there are additional requirements.
28. 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. Check with your local city hall.
Non-Wedding Ideas (#29 – 35)
Are you one of those people who wants a non-wedding wedding? Here are some things to do instead of a wedding reception.
29. Wedding Alternative: city hall and a meal
Alternative wedding planning can be as simple as a stop at City Hall and a restaurant 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.
30. Bring your officiant to a restaurant reservation.
Rent a private room at a restaurant and be wed over a meal.
31. 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.
32. 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.
33. Go bowling or golfing
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. Be sure to communicate this to everyone beforehand so they can bring their balls, clubs, etc., or a change of clothes.
34. 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. Check around; you may be surprised by what you find.
35. Go as a group to a theme park
Depending on the grounds and group size, you can 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 6-14 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, change up the reception or even have a non-wedding. Read ideas 15-24, and 29-35.
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 25-28 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 1-5 for some ideas.
More Non-Traditional Wedding Ideas
Read on for more inspiration for your unique or unconventional wedding.