For quite awhile, I've been meaning to share some of the trends that I've noticed have been changing over the past 11 years I've been a wedding DJ. Some of these trends have changed quickly, others have been more gradual. If you're planning a wedding, here are some things to consider!
First and foremost, the biggest takeaway from this is that wedding traditions -- like any other traditions -- are never carved in stone.
Sure, there are certain elements of your wedding ceremony required by law -- like having a marriage license, a legitimate officiant to perform the wedding (not just a friend or relative who spent $50 to get ordained online - those actually aren't legal in New York!) and witnesses to sign said license.
But pretty much any other element of your wedding day is optional. Just because it's something you've seen in movies, on TV or at other people's weddings -- or something your parents (or future in-laws) insist on -- that doesn't mean you must include it in your own wedding. Your wedding day should be 100% what YOU want it to be. Here are some examples of changing traditions and trends I've noticed in my "view from the DJ booth" over the years.
Fading out: Bouquet and garter tosses
For a short time after I officially opened my wedding DJ business in 2010, most couples did both a bouquet toss and a garter toss. And afterwards, we'd often have the winners dance, or in some cases, the guy who caught the garter might put it on the woman who caught the bouquet.
Over the past several years, this tradition has largely fizzled out. Most couples skip the tosses altogether -- or just do the bouquet toss only.
In my opinion, the disappearance of the tosses is not such a bad thing -- they often happened later in the evening, when the dance floor has some good momentum going. It was often awkward to clear-out a perfectly good dance floor, just to have a dozen single people -- if that -- step forward, especially when you can tell most people didn't really want to participate anyway.
In: Unplugged Ceremonies
Quality wedding photographers often run at least 2 or 3 thousand dollars. When you look through your wedding ceremony photos, the last thing you want to see is a random guest and their camera, standing in the aisle, blocking your highly-paid professional's view of what would have otherwise been the perfect "first kiss" shot.
Or a shot of everyone in the crowd, except instead of smiling faces, all you see are phones, because everyone thinks they're "doing you a favor" by recording the entire ceremony. (I've even seen people holding up iPads... full-size iPads!)
Many couples are now requesting that guests honor their wishes for an "unplugged" ceremony. This usually requires some classy-but-unavoidable signage, placed where guests will enter. It directs them to keep their phones and cameras stowed away during the ceremony.
There are always going to people who miss the signs (or pretend they did), so it's also a good idea to have your officiant or the DJ get on the mic to reinforce the policy, just before the ceremony begins.
Definitely out: Dollar Dances
In some parts of the country, dollar dances remain a pretty strong tradition, but in and around Central New York, the dollar dance is virtually extinct. Over the course of 11 years, I can probably count on one hand, the number of times I've had couples request dollar dances -- and the last one was more than 4 years ago.
When couples book me, I give out lists of song ideas for things like their first dance, parent dances and cake cutting. I used to give out a list of "dollar dance" suggestions, but stopped doing it several years ago because it was used so rarely.
If you're not familiar with the dollar dance, you're not missing much. It made better sense many years ago, when it was more common for couples to marry much younger (like, right after high school or thereabouts) with little in the way of money or assets to their name.
But many of today's couples have already been living together for awhile before they get married. Since they're likely already set for towels and silverware, most gift-giving guests are already putting a check in a card. It's borderline tacky to stage an event focused on enticing guests to hand over even more cash.
Not to mention, with the growing acceptance of electronic payment methods (Apple Pay, Google Pay, Venmo, etc), people don't carry as much cash on them as they used to.
Emerging trend: Shorter formal dances
Here's one that's become more common in just the past year or two: couples asking me to shorten-up their first dance, and/or the dances with their parents. Sometimes, they explain they "aren't big dancers" or they "don't like the spotlight." Hey, no problem -- I'm no expert dancer either, so I understand the concern!
My only issue is when couples request that I "fade out" at a certain point. Guests who are watching this dance will not realize it was intentional -- they'll assume I'm "the awful DJ who messed up the first dance."
My solution: As long as you share your plans in advance, I'll gladly custom-edit the song(s) so that we get it close to the length you want, but we still retain the song's natural ending. By removing a verse here, a chorus there, and seamlessly mixing the remaining parts of the song together, I can shorten those songs while also avoiding the awkward looks that a basic "fade out after 1:45" often bring.
And... the timeline I provide to other vendors will indicate if a song is shorter than usual. That signals your photographer and/or videographer to get those key dance shots sooner rather than later... so they aren't caught off guard when the song ends sooner than it did at other weddings.
Tuxedos: An Endangered Species?
Part of my wedding planning process involves asking each couple whether the men of the wedding party will be wearing suits or tuxedos. As a matter of respect for the event, I will dress myself accordingly.
During 2020 and 2021, there wasn't a single wedding where the groom or groomsmen wore tuxedos. And it's not just a "pandemic thing" -- even in 2019 and 2018, I was wearing my tuxedo much less often than I had in previous years.
Is it because tuxedo rental places are getting too expensive? Has it reached a point where grooms and their groomsmen are deciding it's worth paying just a little more to own a suit they can wear again in the future, rather than renting a tux they'll have to return after the wedding? Or are today's couples just viewing tuxedos as maybe being a little outdated, too stiff, too formal?
I'm not entirely sure of the reasons, but it'll be interesting to see if tuxedos are disappearing from weddings for good... or if they'll make a comeback.
On the Bubble: Cake Cutting
This one's been about a 50/50 lately: the formal cake cutting, complete with me as the DJ/MC making an announcement that it's happening, asking guests for their attention, to gather 'round with their cameras as the newlyweds cut their wedding cake and feed each other a slice.
Back in the early 2010s, the cake cutting was a staple of almost every wedding. But as we've rounded the corner toward 2020 and beyond, some couples are opting to go with alternatives such as:
- Doing the cake cutting quietly -- with just their professional photographer. No announcement, no fanfare, no special songs. They just discreetly step aside at an arranged time and get it done. A great solution for couples that still want the photo op, but might not want dozens of guests swarming around them to watch.
- Having a cupcake tree and/or a "dessert station" featuring various types of pastries (mini cannolis, cookies, brownies, tarts, pre-sliced pies, etc.). You can't have a cake cutting if there's no cake to cut! And you can offer guests a variety of choices (including gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan, etc.), rather than offering everyone a single type of cake that some people might not like.
- One of my personal favorites, an ice cream truck parked just outside the door for an hour or two.
The "dessert station" idea is also nice because guests can just help themselves "whenever," they don't have to wait until the cake cutting or some other formal "permission" to begin enjoying the sweet treats.
Emerging Trend: Ceremony and Reception at Same Venue
Talk to older relatives or look back at old photos, and chances are your grandparents got married at a house of worship. For most couples of their generation, that was how nearly all weddings were conducted. Your parents probably got married in a house of worship as well.
While church weddings are still alive and well, many of today's couples are instead opting to get married right at the same venue where their reception is taking place.
This arrangement can offer some advantages:
- Guests (especially those traveling from out of town) don't have to worry about finding their way from the church to the reception, or figuring out how they're going to "kill the time" if there's an hours-long gap between them. That means you don't have to worry about giving directions, coordinating carpools or offering shuttle buses!
- The reception can flow seamlessly and immediately into the reception. Guests enjoy cocktail hour while you and the wedding party tackle the post-ceremony photo shoot. If you plan ahead and keep it running smoothly, you might have enough time to partake in the cocktail hour, too!
- If you and your future spouse aren't of the same religion, and religion isn't that important to you, getting married at the venue allows you to hire a nondenominational officiant who won't require either of you to convert or go through special classes or any of the other "stuff" some churches require.
In: Social Media Hashtags
Everyone's got a camera in their hand these days. You know guests will be snapping photos and shooting video throughout your wedding, but how do you find all those photos amid all the other stuff people are posting? Create a wedding hashtag. Then, place signs around the reception hall, encouraging guests to include your hashtag on any photos or videos they post on social media. You can put signs on each table, the bar and other strategic locations -- even have the DJ announce it.
Just make it something easy to remember and easy to spell -- you're expecting people to type this out when they post anything to their socials... and in order for this to be most-effective, people need to spell it correctly, every time. When you go on Facebook, Insta or whatever, you just search for your hashtag, and all the photos will be there in one place!
Back In: Larger Gatherings
After 2 years of COVID putting us through restrictions for travel, event sizes, social distancing, masking and so forth... people are ready to get back to "normal." People are ready to see friends and relatives they haven't seen in a long time. People are ready to party!
In New York State, we're well past the days of "50 guests max, and no dancing." As of March 2022, weddings are basically back to business as usual. No more "vax or mask" requirements. Venues are open just as they were before the pandemic -- you can fill the ballroom to the posted capacity and have a full dance floor just like before the pandemic.
Of course, it all depends on your personal comfort level. If you don't feel comfortable packing the ballroom, you don't need to. You're always welcome to implement your own limitations and policies -- it's YOUR wedding. If you want to require guests wear masks or to show proof of vaccination, you can. Just make sure guests know in advance, so they can have an opportunity to decline the invitation if they can't or don't want to comply with your requirement.
Also In: Outdoor Weddings
Adding to the previous item: moving your wedding outdoors can let you invite more guests without the concerns of being "packed" into an enclosed, indoor space. Look for more weddings in 2022 to be held outside, under giant party tents.
As long as you don't install the walls on every side of the tent, you'll enjoy fresh air constantly circulating, courtesy of Mother Nature. Even if bad weather forces you to deploy the side walls, it won't be completely airtight, and most party tents have a lot more ceiling room than an indoor venue.
Some pointers for renting a party tent:
- When selecting a size, don't go by guest count alone. You'll need room for the bar and the line leading up to it, as well as the dance floor, the DJ, the cake table and any other special displays you might be planning.
- Make sure there's enough flat land at the location you intend to place the tent. You don't want to have six tables of guests displaced because the ground under their tables always gets muddy (or forms a puddle) when it rains.
- Tell the tent company you'll also need a dance floor. They'll recommend an appropriate size and their crew will set it up and take it apart for you as well. Your guests will appreciate it, and so will your lawn.
- You may need to rent lights. The tent rental should include its own internal lighting, but what about the areas between the tent and wherever the guests will be parking?