Wedding Planner Chat with Laura Weatherly, Thursday, January 17 at 11 AM

Planning a wedding? Want free expert advice? Thursday, January 17, we're hosting a chat with local wedding planner Laura Weatherly. Submit your questions now, and you may be one of the first to get an answer when we kick things off.

Laura Weatherly started her company, Engaging Affairs, in 1996. In addition to doing about ten weddings a year, she finds time to speak at wedding conferences nationwide, has taught a wedding-planning course at George Washington University, and is developing a series of seminars for people who want to become wedding planners. She also writes an award-winning mystery series about a DC wedding planner. (Find it under her pen name, Laura Durham.) That's all the time Laura has for today, unfortunately. Check back in next Thursday at 11 AM for another expert wedding planner chat!
For the full archives of wedding chats, click here.

Baltimore, MD
We are planning a dinner reception, but neither I nor my fiance enjoy dancing. Do you have any ideas for after the meal?
I haven't done too many weddings without dancing of some kind but the ones I have done made the dinner the complete focus of the evening so the meal was very relaxed with multiple courses and toasting between courses. You could also create a jazz club atmosphere for after dinner and serve cordials alongside an elaborate dessert buffet and have music that is more of a performance.
Sterling, VA
Hi Laura, My fiance & I are marrying this August and we could use some advice on finding an officiant. We are looking to have our ceremony & reception together at the Lowes Island Club. We would both like a non-religious ceremony, however, with my Persian family background, I would like to incorporate some of our traditions. I would prefer poetry readings over a religious sort of ceremony, but I am not sure who & where to find someone that would be able to provide a service that blends our cultures together. Any ideas? Thanks so much!
One thought is to have a friend or family member get ordained to marry you. In many counties, anyone can perform the wedding ceremony as long as they are ordained and nowadays anyone can get ordained over the internet.  I recently did a wedding on the Eastern Shore where the bride's brother got ordained and performed the ceremony.  The couple was able to really customize the ceremony, blending their two cultures and backgrounds to create a personal ceremony.  If that doesn't appeal to you, try the Washington Ethical Society for nondenominational officiants at
What should I consider in deciding on morning, afternoon, or evening ceremony/reception? So far I can think of guest travel, type of food and drink, formality of clothing, travel for us (ability to get away that day), and possibility of outdoor photographs. Would cost factor in? Anything else?
You've thought of most of the major factors involved in selecting a time of day for your wedding. Depending on where you are having the wedding, a daytime wedding can absolutely be less expensive. If you aren't set on a Saturday evening, you can get better deals from hotels and venues.  The available light for outdoor photos is definitely something to keep in mind.  If you plan to do all of your pictures after the ceremony and want to get some outside shots, plan for a daytime ceremony.
Capital City
From a friend: Although her father is alive, her parents are divorced, and there was some kind of abuse and alcoholism way back when. The bride (in her late 30s) has no contact with him and doesn't know where he lives, although other family members do. Does she have to invite him? She's not sure she even wants to mention this dilemma to relatives.
She doe not have to invite him.  If he isn't a part of her life and would only bring back bad memories, it would be inappropriate to have him at this special occasion.
arlington, va
Hi! I'm getting married in mid-April and envisioned cherry blossoms as my center pieces for the reception. However, because of the price I find myself looking for different flowers. Do you have any suggestions for other flowers/plants that would get a similar branch/spring effect? Thank you!
Forsythia branches are quite lovely (especially if you like yellow).  Weather can play a big part in what branches are available and even a couple of weeks one way or the other can make a difference so I'd recommend talking to florists about what they can get from their growers.  I've even had florists create the look of cherry blossoms by wiring flowers to branches!
Chantilly, Va
Hi Laura, We are parents of the groom, and the wedding is Sept at the Ronald Reagan Bldg. What are the best places for a rehearsal dinner in DC or Va for 50-75 people? Thanks, Deb
There are lots of great spots.  In that area, try Old Ebbitt, Occidental Grill or Red Sage.  One of my personal favorites (a little further away) is Acadiana.  Also, Tuscana West, Chef Geoffs have nice private space.
Falls Church, VA
I'm really hoping you'll take my question even though I have finished planning my wedding. It's been two months, and my very dirty wedding gown is still sitting in a heap in our guest bedroom. Can you please recommend a place to have my dress cleaned? I have no idea where to take it. Also, for anyone looking for a great reception locale, I can't say enough good things about the staff at the Capital Hilton. We also loved our photographer, Michael Bonfigli. Thanks so much!
I send my brides to Parkway Custom Cleaners in Chevy Chase.  They specialize in wedding dresses and do a great job.  Don't forget the option of a "Trash the Dress" photo session, either.  You put on your dress and go out with your photographer to take pictures that you would never have taken on your wedding day (like sitting in a field of flowers or running in the ocean).  The dress doesn't actually get ruined (usually) and afterwards you take it to the cleaners.  It is one of the hottest wedding trends right now!
Bride to be in DC
I am getting married in Sept. I'd like to incorporate browns/chocolates/mochas (possible bridesmaids dresses color), creams, pale pinks, reds, maybe light blue into the my wedding palette. What do you think? Any specific colors you recommend to go along with creams and browns? Also, I'd like a motif that I can use throughout my wedding, any recommendations? Something classic, European, and somewhat traditional. Thanks!
I love browns and mochas as a base color to build a color palette around! I would only work in one or two other colors, though (unless you want a truly multicolored look). Mocha, cream and pale blue look great together or you could do mocha with tone-on-tone pinks (going from pale pink to a fuchsia).  Or keep it very clean and just do mocha and cream. For motifs, you can always have a monogram designed to carry throughout the wedding.  Or you can choose a motif with some meaning.  I had one couple have an artist design a custom motif using the eternity symbol and another couple use the Mayan symbol for a knot on programs, menus and invitations. The fleur de lis is a classic, European look.
washington, dc
Hi Carol, I am looking to purchase my wedding dress from a sample sale. Can you offer the names of any bridal shops that usually have sample sales. Also do you think this is a good idea? b2b
Hitched in Georgetown has sample sales (and just had one recently), as do many other stores.  Be prepared to take the dress as it is and get alterations on your own.
Washington, DC
Good morning. I'm having an outdoor wedding this October in Leesburg, VA and my fiance and I would like to find a caterer that can grill on site. We're looking for something a little more classy than a hotdog-and-potato chip-plastic plate-BBQ. Do you know of any caterers who can accomodate? Thanks!
Try R& R Caterers.  I know they do a lot of work in Leesburg.  If you want an upscale version of a cookout, focus on serving familiar food in creative ways. Serve French fries in paper cones.  Have the caterer make mini versions of hamburgers with some gourmet toppings. Instead of hotdogs have mini pigs in blankets wrapped in puff pastry. Make the event more of a cocktail party where people can walk around with small plates and socialize while they eat.
Which are the best DC area locations to hold an outdoor wedding?
Try Meadowlark Gardens or River Farm in Virginia.  Evermay and Meridian House in DC are stunning, and Woodend in Maryland has beautiful grounds.
Washington, DC
I'm looking for a fun band for my November 2008 wedding. It's here in DC, and the reception site limits the number of musicians to 4. My fiance and I are fun, upbeat people looking for a mix between bon jovi and alicia keys. Any good suggestions? And what would the typical cost for a band be?
If your site limits the band size to 4 people and you really want the sound of Bon Jovi, I'd recommend getting a fabulous DJ instead.  A good, small band will start at a few thousand dollars while a good DJ will be a thousand or less.  A band agent like Bialek's Music can help you with a small band if you are set on it but four pieces will have a hard time sounding like the great artists you love.
New York, NY
Can you help me find a hairstylist who is reliable and will show up on my wedding day in Washington DC? Thanks!
Elegant Hair by Giselle specializes in wedding hair and is wonderful.  The Andre Chreky Salon has a lot of talented wedding hair specialists, as well, and can coordinate makeup and other spa treatments.
Rockville, MD
What is an inexpensive way to have flowers that look great and not cheap?
The key to using inexpensive flowers and getting a high-end look is to use one flower type in mass and in one color.  Carnations or even baby's breath can look fabulous grouped in big bundles.  Also, get creative with non-floral elements and containers.
Washington, DC
Should we pay extra to upgrade the alcohol at our wedding?
It is all a matter of what is important to you.  If your guests will be wine experts or only drink top shelf liquors, then it may be a priority.  But if not, I wouldn't spend the money on something your guests may not notice.  Instead, serve a fun specialty drink like chocolate martinis or Kir Royales along with your bar.  Guests will remember the fun touch.
Potomac, MD
Do we have to have a cake? Most venues serve dessert and then the cake. I feel like no one ever eats the cake at the wedding and it ends up being a waste. Can we just have a small cake to cut for symbolic purposes that we don't serve?
I have had several weddings with no wedding cake at all.  If you don't want a cake, don't have one!  I've even had couples have a tower of mini tartlets or even donuts because they didn't like cake.  If you don't want to forgo the cake cutting ceremony, get a small cake or have a baker decorate fake layers and have only a small real layer for you to cut into.
Washington DC
Which one or two elements should couples choose to spend their wedding budget on, to get the most impact? Food, flowers, music, other?
That is such a matter of opinion.  I would say that the music does a lot to set the mood of the party.  A great band can make a wedding memorable (as can a lousy one.) If you can't afford a good band, hire a great DJ. Décor-wise, lighting makes a huge impact because if you can't see the flowers, they are a waste of money.  Spend a little less on flowers but get them lit properly.  Regarding food, have two great courses and then wedding cake instead of trying to serve lots of courses and spreading yourself too thin.  Skip the sorbet and upgrade your entrée instead. Don't have champagne if you don't love it.  I see more champagne poured down the drain!  Have guests toast with what they have in their hands. I would say that guests remember inconveniences the most-if they have to circle for an hour to find parking or if they have to sit in the boiling sun for a long ceremony.  Think of what touches will make the overall event experience a good one for your guests (and these don't always cost a lot).
Sterling, VA
Hi, I am planning a wedding in early August at a local country club. My fiance & I are on a tight budget since we're both new graduates & have big student loans to pay off. I've thought about doing the flowers myself, yet I've seen pretty disastrous results of flowers dying overnight! Any recommendations as to how to save a little on the flowers? I'm not too concerned about having huge floral arrangements, but of course, a wedding does need some flowers there…is it feasible to think I can do it myself? Thanks for your advice!
Don't try to do the flowers yourself.  Those horror stories are not fairy tales! Get creative and think non-floral for your décor. See what décor the country club has, if any, that you can use. Then look around and see what you can use (or borrow or find cheap). I had one bride spend months wrapping various sizes of boxes in holiday paper (for a December wedding) and used stacks of these throughout the wedding.  Fill glass vases (you can get them very inexpensively at IKEA) with non-floral items like coffee beans or various candies in your wedding colors.  Bowls or square glass containers filled with candy can make fun centerpieces and can double as the favors if you include small scoops and bags so guests can fill them at the end of night.  But get a florist to do your bouquets (these are hard to make on your own if you aren't trained) and supplement flowers that you might need for the church.
Washington, DC
My daughter and I are planning a wedding for September are looking for caterers in the area that have Cuban and/or South American food. Have any suggestions?
Lots of caterers have multicultural chefs so finding Latin food is not a problem.  I've used Design Cuisine, Occasions and Well Dunn for weddings with a Latin flair and they all can incorporate the flavors very well.
Herndon, Virginia
My fiancee and I are planning a wedding for Fall of 2009 and are interested in holding it at one of the many Virginia wineries. Do you have any suggestions on which one to choose? Also, are there any pros or cons with having it at a vineyard? Thank you!
Vineyards are great options for weddings.  They are great backdrops and the cocktail hours can be fun for guests because they often can sample several vintages.  I did a gorgeous wedding at Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia last year and can recommend them highly.  When you have a wedding at a vineyard, you have to serve their wine so be sure you like it!  Also, some only permit beer and wine.
Reston, VA
This one is about the bridal shower. Who should I put on the guest list? It is just my closest and dearest female friends and family members? Where is the line drawn among friend
You can invite your friends but if anyone is invited to the shower they should also be invited to your wedding (office showers are an exception).
Washington DC
What florists do you recommend in the DC area?
I love lots of florists depending on style and budget.  Multiflor is wonderfully creative, as is Yellow Door.  Petal's Edge has great style and pricing. Distinctive Floral Design does amazing English garden arrangements.  Jack Lucky creates the wow factor with flowers and lighting.  Philippa Tarrant and Ultraviolet are both modern and cutting edge.
Arlington, VA
Hi there! I'm getting married this June in the Outer Banks and need some advice on my color scheme. I chose turquoise and coral for my colors, however my bridesmaids will be wearing black, floor length strapless dresses (I wanted them to be able to wear it again). I am having trouble deciding how to incorporate the other two colors into items for the girls (flowers, sashes on the dresses, etc). I can easily work it into the reception, but the bridal party color coordination is giving me nightmares! Although we are getting married at the beach, we are trying to keep it classy/formal (i.e. no palm trees, no shells, no Jimmy Buffet t-shirts). Any help you could provide would be greatly appreciated!
Regarding the bridesmaids, don't worry too much about centering the color scheme around them.  I'd pull in the colors with the flowers and then focus on the color in the reception and ceremony decor.  You could do a colored sash, alternating colors with each girl but it might look a bit hodge-podge and take away from the elegance of the dress.  I'd keep it simple and use the bouquets to tie it all together.  Remember, a few girls in a group of a couple hundred won't impact the look of the wedding reception (unless you plan on sitting your bridesmaids in the middle of the tables)!
Leesburg, Va
My fiance and I are getting married in late June of 2008. We *and our bridal party* are in our mid twenties so we are looking for youthful, light, summer, yellow/lemon color bridesmaid dresses. Everything we've seen thus far is shimmery and doesn't look like it could be worn again to a non-wedding function. Any ideas as to where to look besides J. Crew??
Try Hitched in Georgetown and Promise in Bethesda.  Both have some great, non-traditional dresses that I would wear in a heartbeat!  Also, Nicole Miller in Tysons 2.
Vienna, Va
I've been watching Tim Gunn's Guide to Style a lot lately and am in LOVE with their lingere stores? Any good ones around her that are hip/cute/fun/youthful…
Sylene in Chevy Chase has a great selection. Not sure if anything here can be as hip as Tim Gunn, though.  I just love him!
Is there anywhere in the DC area to buy used couture gowns? What jewelry stores, if any, allow brides to borrow jewelry?
I Do, I Do in Rockville sells used designer gowns.  Regarding jewelry, if you get married at The Four Seasons, the Tiny Jewel Box will let you borrow some fabulous jewelry.  Otherwise, try approaching your favorite jewelry store.  Also, keep in mind that there is really exquisite fake jewelry available now that is so realistic that you have to be a trained jeweler to tell the difference.
I just got engaged and dont know where to begin with finding a location for the wedding.  I have some ideas about what I would like: an outdoor wedding, not too far from DC….  I have looked at some wedding websites, but there are so many options it is overwhelming.   Where do I begin and how do I look into options without spending hours and hours of time just looking for locations???
It is overwhelming!  If you have found all the online sites and magazine lists of sites but are still confused, consider hiring a wedding planner to help you find a site.  Some will offer this service alone or will customize a package for you.  It can be worth its weight in gold to have someone save you the time and find sites that you might have missed.
Washington, DC
My fiance and I don't really like cake. Do you think it would be okay to have a display of pies instead? We were thinking of having fruit tarts on cake stands with flowers arranged around them. Would it be okay to cut the pie or do you think we need to order a small cake so we have a cake to cut?
I have done exactly what you are thinking of before!  Do the arrangement of pies and just have a slightly larger one on top to cut into.  I also love pie so I think it is a fun idea!
Washington, DC
My wedding reception is being held in a DC hotel next August. Several things I was told I would have within a week of signing my contract (a hotel-based wedding website for guests to reserve rooms, my room block contract, etc) either took much longer than I was promised or are still not available and I signed the contract 3 months ago. Also, the events coordinator never returns my e-mails or phone calls. Is this normal because the wedding is still so far away? I understand my wedding is not his top priority right now but I don't think wanting a phone call returned is asking too much given the amount of money I'm spending in their hotel. Thoughts? I thought of calling the hotel manager but I don't want to have a strained relationship with the event planner since I'll be working with him more as the date approaches.
Good question.  I agree that going above the catering manager's head might make the process strained in the future. Sometimes hotels get extremely busy due to time of year (the holidays are usually packed with parties) or the work flow (January brins lots of wedding inquiries) so try not to take an unreturned call personally.  You are right–he is probably putting out fires for events much closer than yours. I have learned over the years that people who complain a lot might get what they are asking for but won't get one thing extra whereas brides who are more easygoing are prone to get perks and upgrades.  Approach the subject calmly and without being aggressive and the catering manager will also be more eager to speak with you. Perhaps saying that you understand that he is busy but you would like to get your room block finalized by a certain date so you can order Save the Dates.  Also ask if there is a room block contact you can work with directly to take the work off his plate. You certainly deserve good service but make sure you approach things so that you get the hotel staff on your side and excited about working with you.
Arlington, Va
I'm getting married in November and am starting to look into wedding cakes. I love the look of fondant but not the taste. I've heard you can use marzipan in a similar way, and I love marzipan but know that lots of people don't. Do you have any thoughts, or experience with this? Thanks!
If you love marzipan, go for it! Keep in mind that most people the fondant off and eat the buttercream layer underneath (needed to hold the fondant on the cake), so tak to a baker about what medium will work best with your ideal design.
Columbia, MD
Hi! I"m so glad that you all are taking questions. I need help planning a wedding for 400+. Our concern is that, as history would have it, uninvited people are likely to show up. Is there a tactful way to make sure the invitees know that they are not to bring others with them? For example, a playful "admit one" ticket or something of that nature that let's them know that we do not expect them to bring people that they think we "surely forgot to invite"?
Unfortunately, an "admit one" ticket would send Emily Post into a wedding etiquette coma.  The best way to ensure uninvited guests is to eliminate any area on the response card for "number of guests." They should write the names of the attending guests on the line provided.  Asking for a number count just encourages add-ons.  If people write in extra names, it is perfectly proper to contact them and explain that due to guest list constraints you can't accommodate extra people.  At weddings with high security or the concern about crashers, I've had guests lists that are checked off as people arrive.
Washington, DC
My mother and I are in a heated debate about sending out a "Save the Date" notice. I think it is helpful and a courtesy to send a Save the Date so people can put our wedding date on the calendar and make travel plans and hotel reservations in advance. My mother thinks that friends and family will get word about the date through the grapevine and sending an official "Save the Date" puts people in an uncomfortable position if they want to decline the invitation. If they know well in advance of receiving an invitation of when the wedding is going to be, their "excuses" are far more limited. I don't think we should be inviting people who we think would prefer to decline, but that is another issue… 🙂 What do you think about "Save The Dates?"
Save the Dates have become more necessary in a society where people plan their lives so far in advance. Also, many people expect them!  I don't think it makes it harder for people to make excuses because rarely do people write excuses on response cards. If they can't come, they can't come.  I think they are a good idea if you are getting married on a holiday or during a time where people take vacations.  Lots of people do prefer to be able to plan ahead.  I know if I got a wedding invitation 6 weeks prior, chances are very slim I'd be able to attend.
Washington, DC
My fiance and I are foodies. We enjoy all types of food and will eat virtually anything. Our reception will be a cocktail hour with stationary and passed appetizers, followed by dinner with table assignments and four food "stations." We'd like to go crazy with various ethnic foods represented, but understand that not all of our 150 guests are adventurous eaters like we are. What should we keep in mind at our tasting as we attempt to balance our taste in food with our guests preferences?
Keep the most adventurous food during the cocktail hour so guests can opt not to eat something the don't prefer it and keep the seated meal more traditional.  You can still be creative with the dinner but make it accessible to everyone.
Washington, DC
Do you have any advice on good places to register for wedding gifts–and what to register for and not? It's so overwhelming figuring out what we might need–when we live in an apartment right now–and how much to ask our guests to buy and spend.
Check out to see a wide range of stores.  Be sure to select enough gifts in all price ranges so your guests have options.
Washington, DC
Are there common mistakes you see brides make when it comes to planning a wedding?
Not starting with a plan or a budget!  If you just run out and start booking vendors, you will end up over budget, stressed out and second guessing decisions that were made too quickly.  Take the time to establish your priorities, budget and timeline before starting.
Washington, DC
Any advice on staying calm on your wedding day? What do you tell brides and grooms to do to relax?
First, hire someone to run the wedding day that isn't you or your mother (or even your friend, ideally).  That will take a lot of stress off you. Then, make sure to touch base and finalize details with every wedding vendor and get cell phones (or your wedding day planner will do this). Finally, relax and don't let the little glitches (and there will be some) bother you.  If you are determined to have an amazing time even if the band gets stuck in traffic or the cake design isn't what you envisioned, then you will have a great wedding.  If you obsess over everything, you will be miserable even if the wedding is gorgeous.  It is all in the attitude (and a wedding day massage can't hurt)!