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Expert Advice

Got Awkward Wedding Planning Questions? We Can Help With That.

André Wells to the rescue, people.

By Sarah Zlotnick Photo courtesy of André Wells.

It's a good thing getting married is a grown-up activity, because wedding planning can come with a whole host of sticky grown-up issues to tackle. For every fun decision you make (Blue or pink for the cocktail napkins?), there's an equally uncomfortable one (Can I leave my bridesmaid's terrible boyfriend off the invite list?), and figuring out what to do isn't always clear-cut.

We know you have questions (Seriously, who are the people that don't have questions?), and we want to help you find the answers. Which is precisely why we've tapped André Wells of Events by André Wells as our new go-to guru of wedding etiquette. With 4,000 special events under his belt, Wells is one of the top events specialist in the DC area, and as a full-service wedding planner he has helped couples tackle everything from policing the guest list to designing the perfect peace-keeping seating chart. His client list also includes Vanessa Redgrave, Patti Labelle, and Aretha Franklin, so you know he's handled bigger divas than your new mother-in-law.

So what things wedding are keeping you up at night? Is it deciding which co-workers to invite? Or perhaps figuring out how to keep your mom from dominating every decor element when she's the one funding the day? No situation is too big or too small to discuss. Let us know your troubles in the comments below, or find us on Twitter, shoot us a Facebook message, inbox us on Instagram, or send an email to realweddings@washingtonian.com. We'll round up the questions, and Wells will provide the counsel. You'll see his insights here on the B&G blog in a helpful new feature called "Ask Andre", in which he'll weigh in on everything from dealing with overbearing family members to keeping unruly groomsmen in check. He is a seasoned siphon of real deal advice, and we can't wait to pick his brain with you.

Find the vendors that will make your wedding dreams come true with Washingtonian Bride & Groom's preferred vendor list!

Expert Advice

Expert Advice: Shopping for Engagement Rings Online vs. In Store

With Mervis Diamond Importers chief growth officer Jonathan Mervis.

By Caroline Cunningham Image via Shutterstock/Syda Productions.

The Mervis Diamond Importers brand has a long history in Washington, with roots in South Africa that go back to the 1930s. Jonathan Mervis has grown up with the brand and now serves as the chief growth officer for the family business’s three area locations. But after his years experiencing the Mervis method for selecting high-quality stones, he has seen first-hand the dangers of thinking purchases from giant online retailers and in-store diamond purchases are one and the same.

Every diamond in a Mervis Diamond store has been hand-picked.

"We go overseas, and we’ll look at hundreds of diamonds to pick ten that we like. We invest millions of dollars into product that we think is the best and that we can be proud of," says Mervis.

Buying a diamond online leaves it up to your own discretion—buying in a store leaves it up to the experts.

"Many shoppers are buying a diamond for the first time," says Mervis. "You can do your own surgery, or you can get a doctor to help you. Take advantage of the guidance of an expert that has done this for 20 or 30 years that can teach you to get the most bang for your buck—or as we joke, the most bling for your buck."

Even if two diamonds online have the same grading, the certificates don’t tell all.

"Having hundreds of options that look good on a computer screen because they have the same color and clarity lettering grades is fool’s gold," says Mervis. "In our industry those that are knowledgeable know that certificate is legitimate—they’re not lying when they say something is a G color or SI quality—but even if it's a GSI, not all GSI are the same. There are the intangibles of the sparkle and brilliance, and ultimately what you derive value from is the sparkle and the brilliance and everybody saying, 'Wow!'"

Treat your diamond buying experience like a relationship.

"If you met someone online, you wouldn’t just agree to marry them without ever meeting. That’s sort of what it’s like if you buy a diamond online," says Mervis. "The certificate tells you the color and clarity, and like a driver’s license will tell you the hair color, eye color, and height, but it doesn’t tell you everything about the person. It doesn’t tell you if they’ve got a sparkling personality or if they’re a little bit dull. And even if you see a picture of them, it doesn’t tell you if they’re fun to hang out with or if you couldn’t stand them after a week."

Shopping for a ring is supposed to be an emotional experience, not just the click of a mouse.

"It’s a romantic endeavor and part of the journey—it’s not just about delivering the product," says Mervis. "It’s the experience that is so important to us, which is why I sometimes put out chocolates or champagne—I want people to feel comfortable and excited."

Mervis Diamond Importers:

1900 Mervis Way, Tysons; (703) 448-9000

1700 K St., NW; (202) 293-0600

1775 Rockville Pike, Rockville; (301) 231-0030


We are always thankful for the support of our sponsors! Thank you to Mervis Diamond Importers for sponsoring this content.

Expert Advice

Q&A: How to Create Your Wedding Theme with the Owners of Sweet Root Village

Wedding experts Rachel Bridgwood and Lauren Anderson give their two sense on themes, flowers, and Pinterest.

Owners Rachel Bridgwood (left) and Lauren Anderson (right). Photography by Sarah Bradshaw Photography.

Q The name of your company, Sweet Root Village, suggests there’s more to it than just floral decor for a wedding.

A Lauren: I have a love for all things floral, and Rachel studied graphic design and photography— we are both artistic. So it made sense five years ago to start a company that offers a few wedding services—photography, floral design, and day-of coordination—not just one. A lot of clients will book us for one service, but most will book us for two, if not all three.

Rachel: We get to be involved in more aspects of the wedding day, which we feel provides a more cohesive aesthetic to the event—and we have more opportunity to get to know the couple.

Q You’re known for creating unique and nature-inspired bouquets and centerpieces.

Photograph courtesy of Sweet Root Village

A Lauren: We are committed to sourcing local flowers. While there are amazing flowers we can get from all over the world, we have lots of farmers less than 100 miles from us who grow flowers with impeccable quality; they work tirelessly to nurture those blooms just for your wedding. There’s something magical about holding a bouquet of flowers that were grown from seeds just for you.

Q What’s the most important issue a couple should tackle in terms of creating an environment or theme for their wedding?

A Rachel: I would say the first thing would have to be the venue. Seems obvious, but the venue really dictates the true vision for the day; it’s the canvas that you build the rest of the wedding upon. After that, I would suggest thinking about textures and colors. Tactile fabrics, patterns, color elements—those take designing the event to the next level. Deciding these elements early on will help a couple be more decisive as they move through the planning process.

Q With so many visuals to consider, how do you help clients narrow their focus?

A Rachel: We definitely use Pinterest, which is extremely helpful at times, but it can also cause issues when it comes to expectations. We love to be inspired by life, more than by other weddings, so we always work best face-to-face with a client. We find happiness in seeing what inspires them, and then we run with that to build a comprehensive concept.

Sweet Root Village:




Expert Advice

How to Feed Your Picky Wedding Guests

The secret to pleasing the dietarily demanding at your wedding.

By Leslie Milk Illustration by Britt Spencer.

The groom is a foodie who wants the menu to be locally sourced. The mother of the bride has gone vegetarian. And her mother insists that it isn’t a wedding without those little pastry-wrapped hot dogs.

It’s enough to give a bride heartburn.

Thankfully, there are solutions to most reception dining dilemmas. If the groom wants field-grown tomatoes in January, he’ll have to go pretty far afield. But there are enough chicken raisers, cheese makers, vintners, and other purveyors close to Washington to give your reception a home-grown ambience. Your caterer can help you devise a farm-to-table menu, and even serve it family style.

The vegetarian mother? She isn’t an obstacle. Special-menu requests are on the increase—low-fat, gluten-free, vegan— and customizing your menu may be as easy as changing the ingredients of a sauce or offering a wild-rice pilaf instead of a potato gratin.

As for Grandma and any other family member with a very specific request—my son-in-law staked his claim to steak—that’s why God invented hors d’oeuvres. Cocktail hour is also the place to indulge the couple’s passion for food that run-of-the-mill palates might eschew. Bring on the eel sushi—as long as it’s one of several choices.

Many brides ask their guests to mention special dietary restrictions in their RSVP, and some invitees on a restrictive diet will tell you even if you don’t ask. Your unflinching caterer should be able and willing to make accommodations. She also will know not to hide the nuts or bury the shrimp in any dish she prepares—there’s nothing like a case of anaphylactic shock to ruin a good reception.

And the guest who shows up and makes on-the-spot demands? You can’t expect the kitchen to instantly produce a kosher meal, but there should still be something on the menu that can fill in. If all else fails, the troublesome one can eat the garnish.

One question wedding couples should ask, but rarely do: How much food do we need to serve? Menus can be unnecessary budget-busters, so keeping an eye on the length of the guest list and on portion size is a smart move.

You do need to offer enough food with cocktails so that guests don’t stagger drunkenly into the reception, and after all those canapés, you may not need to provide an appetizer. And assuming your wedding cake tastes as good as it looks, an additional dessert isn’t required. All the recent hoopla over dessert bars and candy corners—even cupcake food trucks—doesn’t mean guests are expecting anything beyond the traditional tiers.

A bride and groom should go above and beyond in accommodating their guests, but there is a limit when it comes to pleasing unreasonable people. One couple stated specifically on their wedding invitation that the affair was adults-only. A wedding guest brought her children anyway, and then complained about the lack of kid-friendly food at the reception. My advice for that astonished bride: Suggest that the mother and her offspring head to the nearest fast-food establishment with all deliberate speed.

And ignore the counsel of a certain French queen: Don’t let them eat the cake.

Expert Advice

15 Must-Have Detail Photos From Your Wedding Day

At the end of the night, it’s all in the details (and whether or not you have photos of them).

By Caroline Cunningham Photograph by Abby Jiu.

You’ve spent months planning and preparing, picking fonts for your invitations, gifts for your welcome bag, accent plates and flatware for your table settings, bouquets, centerpieces, canapes--the list could go on and on. But though you’ve invested all of these hours (not to mention dollars) in planning the perfect celebration, at the end of the night, all you’re going to have are the memories and the photographs.

That’s why it’s essential that you and your photographer are on the same page when it comes to your must-have shots. Of course, a professional photographer will have you covered, and you need not worry about them capturing all the moments of your special day. But it never hurts, especially on a day that will fly by in a blur of joy, to think and plan ahead with your photographer about the photos that matter the most to you.

As bridal editors who’ve poured over thousands of images, we’ve got an idea of some of the must-have photos from a wedding. Here are 15 detail photographs that we think are important to walk away with from your wedding day.

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Expert Advice

Must-Have Registry Items and Other Pro Tips from Macy's Registry Team

Macy's Erin Gannon shares insider advice on how to put together your wedding registry.

By Caroline Cunningham Karen Atchison, Charese Carter, Erin Gannon, Barbara Choice, Veleke Brown and Ashley Lasky from Macy’s showcase their registry items at Unveiled. Photograph by Rodney Bailey.

In January, Washingtonian Bride & Groom hosted Unveiled, a showcase of the area’s top wedding vendors with a fabulous Oscar de la Renta bridal fashion show. Representatives from Macy’s registering team joined us at the event, providing couples with the chance to talk to some of the store’s registering pros.

What’s a necessity? What’s a good price point for gifts? How many items should be on a registry? Erin Gannon, events manager for Macy’s Wedding & Gift Registry, shares her top tips for couples putting together their wish list of a lifetime.

How has Macy's changed its approach to wedding registry with the popularity of online shopping and wedding websites?

Today’s bride is always on the go and convenience is key in the registry process. We offer a registry manager through our mobile app that allows couples to add gifts to the list and track purchases; it also features a thank you card manager. Additionally, Macy’s has introduced kiosks and tablets into our gift registry departments to accommodate the tech-savvy bride during her registry process.

What are five things every couple needs on their registry?

Dining necessities, like our Kate Spade Charlotte Street China and Lenox Tuscany Stemware; kitchen essentials, like our Macy’s exclusive KitchenAid Architect Stand Mixer and Analon Advanced Bronze Nonstick Cookware Set; luggage, like our Delsey Helium Shadow Luggage; bedding and bath items, such as luxurious high thread-count sheets and like our Hotel Collection Egyptian Cotton Sheets and MicroCotton Luxe Bath Towel Collection; and cleaning tools, like our Dyson V6 Motorhead Cordless Vacuum.

What’s a good gifts-on-the-registry to guests ratio?

Our magic rule of thumb is to have twice as many gifts on your registry as you do gift-givers.

What's the hardest part of registering, and how can couples make it easier?

Couples that are not sure where they may move next (small apartment or new home?) or couples that have already been living together are sometimes unsure of where to start. Our advice? More is better! Register for anything you think you may need or want in the future. You can always store gifts you are not quite ready to use yet. Macy’s also offers Dream Fund--essentially a group gift card where your wedding guests can add funds to be spent on anything you may have forgotten to register for after your wedding!

What’s a good price point to stick around when registering?

Be sure to register for items in a wide range of price points: under $50, under $100, under $200, and beyond! This allows your guests to easily find affordable gifts and also allows for group gifting. Include kitchen essentials in the under $50 range that would make for great shower gifts, but don’t forget to register for the stand mixer that your bridesmaids can collectively gift you!

What's something couples often forget to register for?

Couples often know to register for the standard kitchen and dining items, but may not think to register for a new sectional to upgrade from the futon they have had in their apartment. Macy’s has a wide of array of big tickets items (think sofas, love-seats, rugs, mattresses, and more) that couples can add to their registry.

What’s a good insider tip for couples starting their registry?

The registry process continues even after your big day. Macy’s offers a registry completion where registered couples receive a 15 percent discount on gifts remaining on their registry, as well as new home items they choose to add (receive ten percent on furniture, mattresses, and rugs or floor coverings) for 180 days after their wedding. And last but not least, have fun! Registering should be an exciting couple experience where you merge your styles to make the home of your dreams as you start your happily ever after.

Expert Advice

The Best Processional Music for Your Ceremony

Perfect Harmony String Ensemble share their top requested ceremony songs.

By Caroline Cunningham Photograph by Justine Ungaro.

Ceremony music is what sets the tone of your wedding—it's one of the first things your guests will encounter before the wedding begins, and it's the last thing they'll hear as you parade down the aisle with your newly wedded spouse. But for those who are not classical music aficionados, selecting the songs you and your that the bridal party are going to walk down the aisle to can be overwhelming.

That's why we checked in with the pros, Perfect Harmony String Ensemble, a local professional musical group that has performed hundreds of ceremonies since they first formed in 2007. While they are able to play any classical music requests, they also specialize in taking a pop song or movie soundtrack and transforming it into a beautiful piece for a quartet.

For a couple that's interested in booking Perfect Harmony String Ensemble for their wedding, the group provides them with a music guide that offers song recommendations for every portion of the ceremony. Additionally, the Perfect Harmony String Ensemble is willing to arrange and perform pieces not among their repetoir, so even music written for other instruments can be transcribed for their group.

If you're planning your ceremony, here's a few of Perfect Harmony String Ensemble's most-popular pieces to get you started.

Classical Processional Selections:
Canon in D by Pachelbel
Air (from "The Water Music") by Handel
Sheep May Safely Graze by Bach
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring by Bach
Air (from Suite #3 in D Major) by Bach
Bridal Chorus
Trumpet Voluntary

Contemporary Processional Selections:
A Thousand Years by Christina Perri
At Last by Etta James
The Wedding (from "Legends of the Fall") by James Horner
Halo by Beyoncé
La Vie En Rose
A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes (from Cinderella)
Marry Me by Train

Recessional Selections:
All You Need Is Love by The Beatles
Starlight by Muse
Viva La Vida by Coldplay
Cantina Band or Throne Room (from "Star Wars") by John Williams
Marry You by Bruno Mars
Paparazzi by Lady Gaga
Moondance by Van Morrison
Love Story by Taylor Swift
A Whole New World (from "Aladdin")

To hear the group perform some of these pieces, head to their website to give them a listen. Additionally, check out Washingtonian Bride & Groom's Spotify playlist of the best 15 processional songs.

Expert Advice

5 Tips for Picking a Personalized Wedding Cake

RareSweets founder Meredith Tomason shares her insider tips.

By Caroline Cunningham Image courtesy RareSweets.

Among the influx of luxury retail opening left and right at CityCenterDC, there’s a new local bakery on the scene. RareSweets opened in CityCenterDC in December under the guidance of Meredith Tomason, a pastry chef with the French Culinary Institute and a stint at Magnolia Bakery among her credentials.

RareSweets is a traditional daily bakery, marketing plenty of delicious treats—seasonal glazed donuts, blondies, coffee cakes. “My concept behind our bakery was to bring classic American desserts and baked goods from the past into the present,” says Tomason. “Many of our recipes are based on flavors and desserts that have been forgotten. These Rare findings are what we are Sweetly bringing to our customers each day.”

Tomason is working to expand the bakery’s offering of wedding and celebration cakes, and after years in pastry industry, she’s an awesome resource for brides looking for unique ideas for their cake.

Meredith Tomason, a veteran pastry chef, opened RareSweets in December.

You can have your traditional cake—but be creative with it.

“Couples are trying to be a bit more forward thinking with the presentation and flavor. 'Naked' cakes seem to be popular, as well as a display of smaller cakes that all carry a similar theme but may have different flavors or decoration. I think people are finally realizing they can express their own creativity in cakes, and thus think outside the box of a white wedding cake. I think dessert bars are also increasing with popularity. There's definitely an added sense of guest interaction and playfulness that comes with a dessert bar. I think it's a fantastic idea.”

Think seasonal.

“I'm happy to see that a lot of couples are thinking more seasonally with their wedding cake flavors—pumpkin for the fall, cherries for the late spring. Our bakery is based around seasonality and half of our cake menu changes with the seasons. This trend is right in line with what we offer our customers every day.”

Use other parts of the wedding for inspiration.

“My favorite cake to date is one that incorporated details from the bride's dress. This was the dress that her mother-in law wore on her wedding day, and the flavor of the cake was the favorite flavor of the bride's family. I love the idea of tying generations and the two sides of the family together through the cake. It truly made for a memorable celebration.”

It’s possible to have a gorgeous cake and still be budget-friendly.

“If you are in love with an image of a cake, but you know its out for your budget, figure out what elements of that cake are really what your eye is drawn to. Ask your baker to try and incorporate those elements into a simpler version of the cake. Another tactic is to have a smaller cake on display that is exactly what you are looking for, and some cakes for service in the back. These cakes can be served to your guests. This way, you have the best of both worlds.”

You don’t have to make everyone happy.

“Don't be afraid to order the interesting flavored cake instead of the crowd pleaser. Don't be afraid to add personal touches to your cake. Remember, the cake or dessert is one of the last chances to make a memory for your guests at your wedding. Make it the sweetest memory of all!”

Stop in to visit RareSweets and try some of the delicious desserts. Mention that you read about RareSweets on Washingtonian Bride & Groom, and get a free cup of their fine La Colombe drip coffee with your purchase through the end of April.

RareSweets, 963 Palmer Alley, NW; 202-499-0077.

Expert Advice

Expert Advice: Syzygy Events International President Julie Shanklin

Custom events that bring dreams to life.

By Caroline Cunningham Images courtesy Syzygy.

Julie Shanklin started her own company over twenty years ago as a young florist looking to expand into all aspects of event planning. Today, after partnering with Vincent DiGiorgio in 2005, Syzygy is an internationally-recognized event design company. From the Naval Academy’s James Bond-themed soiree to a wedding with thousands of white butterflies strung overhead, Syzygy specializes in bringing your vision—no matter how extravagant—to life.

What’s something required to be event designer that most don’t know?

You need patience and to be prepared to do a lot of hard work. Its funny, our company’s blog is called “My O So Glamorous Life,” and everyone thinks you live this life of glamour. I do have to admit it has its perks, but hard work is the stepping stone to the glamourous part.

What makes Syzygy different from any other event design companies?

Our commitment and ability to make renderings into reality sets us apart from other vendors. We always deliver what we promise. We are extremely proud of our capabilities when our art team renders the event, and then we make that drawing come to life. The clients are thrilled to get exactly what they saw in the rendering. We also do custom design, so we don’t just do cookie cutter events.

What’s something custom that you created?

We’ve had the opportunity to create custom bars, backdrops, and stage sets for all types of events. We are currently designing a new bar that will feature an infinity mirror design that we are very excited about and another bar to represent Red Rock in Nevada that has rock walls and a water feature.

What are some event themes you’ve seen that are popular among Washington brides?

Urban chic and rustic style are big, and they’re created by using anything from wooden tables to a burst of color and metallics.

How do you transform a space?

We have our own graphic designers and fabrications department. They can transform a cafeteria to an Under the Sea experience by adding video and lighting elements mixed into all of the décor elements. We’ve also created rooms that feel like you are in the artic, by using fabrics and color and cold blast special effects. Nothing is impossible—whatever you dream we can do!

Expert Advice

5 Tips for Eloping in DC

Maggie Gaudaen of Pop! Wed shares how to plan the perfect flash wedding.

By Caroline Cunningham Photograph by Maggie Gaudaen.

For couples who aren’t sure they want 400 people surrounding them for their nuptials or wish they could say their vows in a venue that doesn’t technically host weddings or simply decide they want to buck traditional sit-down ceremonies, Pop! Wed has an answer: flash weddings.

Last January, photographer Maggie Gaudaen and her husband and business partner, Steven, a wedding officiant, hit on the idea of providing local couples with a way to elope that can still involve cake, a dress, and photos to remember the day.

“We wanted to offer the best parts of a big, fancy wedding with the most fun parts of an elopement—a brand-new way to get married,” says Maggie. “We thought about the kind of wedding we’d want to have—tiny, stress-free, unique—and then we built a package around it.”

Pop! Wed partners with the couple to create the small wedding they want, including a custom ceremony, cake cutting, photography, their look, and a location that suits their style. The very first Pop Wed! ceremony took place outside the gorgeous, rainbow-painted Blind Whino Arts Club, another featured a flash mob wedding at LeDroit Park, and yet another took place in front of the elephant at the Natural History Museum.

The flash weddings don’t have to exclude family and friends from the celebration. “Lots of our couples incorporate a Pop! wedding into their larger wedding plans,” says Maggie. “For example, one couple headed over to Darnell's after their wedding for a giant afterparty filled with family and friends. It's a great way to get married without the stress and then celebrate afterward with everyone you love.”

Admittedly, these spur-of-the-moment nuptials don’t always go as planned. “We got kicked out of the Natural History Museum and the Sculpture Garden so quickly that we were all laughing about it for hours afterward,” says Maggie. “It's just absurd that someone would interrupt the tiniest, least invasive wedding ever!”

But for the most part, Steven and Maggie have become pros at planning elopements. For couples who are interested in scheduling a Pop! wedding on one of the available dates, Maggie has some words of wisdom.

1) Clue your families into your plans. “If you tell them why you're eloping and share how excited you are, they'll hop right on board. When we got married, we also created a website where we shared our wedding photos, video, and updates about our lives so that even though our extended family wasn't invited to our wedding, they felt included in our plans.”

2) Prioritize your wedding traditions. “The awesome thing about eloping is you can incorporate any wedding traditions you want. You can bring a bouquet or ignore flowers altogether. You can wear a fancy bridal gown or a tux or your favorite pajamas. There's no pressure to fit into this predetermined wedding mold.”

3) Wear your wedding garb all day. “You should do this no matter how you get married. It's ridiculously fun, everyone wants to high-five you, and you just look awesome.”

4) Document your elopement. “I'm a photographer, so I'm fairly biased. But especially with elopements, you want to make sure you have photos to share with everyone who wasn't there on your wedding day. A wedding video can also be a great way to include people who aren't invited; they'll basically feel like they were there the whole time—right?”

5) Think outside the courthouse. “You can elope literally anywhere in the city. Well, a lot of places in the city. There are so many awesome options that you never have to go to the courthouse at all!”

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