Wedding Planner Chat with Jen Stiebel of SoCo Events, Thursday, June 19 at 11 am

Planning a wedding? Want expert advice? Every Thursday at 11 AM, we'll host a live online chat with a different wedding expert.

Jen Stiebel's event-planning career took off at the tender age of 5, when she hosted a tea party, complete with invitations, centerpieces, and menus. Stiebel grew up, got a degree from the University of Maryland, and started Rockville-based SoCo Events. Jen confesses she wishes she could plan her wedding all over again every year (marrying the same husband, of course). Who better to answer your questions than a real-life wedding addict? Submit your questions now, and she'll tackle them on Thursday at 11 am.

Washington DC
Any suggestions for cute—but not cheesy or cliche—DC-themed items to put in a welcome bag for out-of-town guests?
I love to tie in the city to the welcome bags, especially for those guests who have never visited DC.  Monument shaped chocolates are always fun.  Apres Peau has great candy bars with Washingtonian themes, that are not only clever, but delicious! Try going to some of the souvenir shops, you will be able to pick up some great DC items as well as a ton of election items this time of year.  For one bride and groom, I put two metro tickets along with a metro map that indicated some of the couples favorites places to go.  The guests loved being able to get on the metro and go!
Which bakery does the best wedding cakes?
There are so many to choose from!  Fluffy Thoughts in McLean uses all natural ingredients and their cakes are beyond delicious and so artistic!  Fancy Cakes By Leslie is always coming up with creative new designs that are sure to be a crowd pleaser!
Arlington, VA
When it comes to who to invite what are the "and guest" rules?
It is always nice to allow your guests to bring someone, but completely not necessary, especially if they will know plenty of other guests at the wedding.  My rule of thumb is that if your guests lives with or is engaged to their significant other, then you should include them.  Also, if you know their significant other well, and see then regularly then it might be best to give them an invite.  If you are inviting a guest that will not know many of your other guests, consider allowing them to bring a date so that they will not feel awkward attending the event alone. 
Arlington, VA
What do you think is the easiest place to cut cost without looking cheap?
This all depends on what is important to you!  If your guests are not big drinkers, than consider doing a lower level alcohol package or even just serving beer and wine.  Another place to save is by incorporating less expensive centerpieces, but use lighting in the room to give the "wow" factor.  I would also consider skipping favors.  I do not believe in having favors, just for the sake of having favors, and by eliminating them, you can trim something off your budget.  Of course, hiring a wedding planner can pay for itself and allow you to get more for your money and help you to shave in other areas!
Arlington, VA
Do you have to pick a color theme for a wedding?
Hi!  You do not have to pick a color as your theme, but you should avoid incorporating too many colors into your event (I usually limit to 3 colors).  Your theme can be anything, I am planning a wedding using Paris as our inspiration, because that is the city the couple got engaged in.  We are going to choose the colors with this in mind, and you can do the same.  Think about where your wedding is, what time of year and things that are special to you and your fiance or your families to decide on the feel that you would like your wedding to take on.  Often, the colors that you should use will fall into place and become obvious once you narrow down the direction that your wedding will be going!
Washington, DC
You sound like someone who's always had a vision of your wedding. I have not! Do you think this will be a problem when I go to plan my own wedding? Any tips for getting inspired?

If my mother and husband read that statement they would have a good laugh (so what if I changed my entire decor 2 months before the wedding 🙂

Do not worry at all about a vision, sometimes I think that brides put too much pressure on themselves to come up with "the vision" from the start and end up stressing themselves out!  The vision and "theme" will come, just give it time.  Often, your space will dictate the direction you should go, or the time of year.  Start by focusing on the big decisions of the wedding (when, where, etc) and then narrow in on the details.  I hate to see brides waste money on details that end up not fitting into the wedding, because they focused on these details to early.  Definitely, look at magazines and books to get ideas of colors and decor that you like.  So many brides come to me with no idea what they want, and together we uncover what will be perfect for the couple.  Good luck!

Arlington, Va
Numbers make a big difference in planning a wedding. When you invite guests without an "and guest" but they reply with one, how should a budget-conscious bride handle that?
Numbers can definitely make or break your budget.  Try to be pro-active, by not putting a space on your reply card for guest to fill in the number attending…there will always be those that think this means they can bring whomever they want.  If they do reply with a guest, first look at how your numbers are coming along and see if you have room for the "and guest."  If you do not have room in the budget or in the venue, assign someone (it should not come from the bride or groom) to politely call the invited guests and let them know that unfortunately guests are not invited.  I have called guests before and let them know this, but I always end by saying that if we have room closer to the wedding, we will be sure to let them know.
In your experience, do men or women take the lead more often in music selection? Live band vs. DJ?

Grooms love music and food!  I love it when and bride and groom spend a significant amount of time together focusing on the music.  Music plays a huge role in the vibe of your wedding and good music can make a wedding!  My favorite quote from a groom once about a friend's wedding was "The bride wore white, the vodka was clear, and the band was  bumpin'"  Take time to choose how you want the music to flow, but don't micro-manage your band or dj, you don't want to have the entire play list memorized and know every song before it comes on!  Work with your vendor to choose the types of music, but definitely let he/she know of certain songs or bands that you must have, as well as things definitely not to play!  

As far as the question of band v. dj, there is nothing like live music to get a party started, but it will take a bigger chunk of your budget.  A good DJ will not only cost less, but you will also be able to get the real Madonna and Bon Jovi!  If you can, I love to have a band for after dinner dancing and hire a great DJ, for a late night dance party! 

Washington, DC
What are the top bridal gown styles of the season?
I am seeing a lot more straps in dresses (before everything was strapless).  Fabrics are really expanding, no more just satin.  Textures are really showing up in gowns both off and on the runway, which is nice because it adds such depth to the gown.  I always go to Carine's Bridal,, when I want to see the latest and greatest.  I am actually planning the Carine's wedding this year, can't wait to see what she is wearing!!!
How much time do you think is necessary to successfully plan a large wedding and reception?
Honestly, it depends on all the different aspects and details that you incorporate.  An average wedding takes 350 hours…wow, right?!?!?  A larger wedding can go into 500+ hours, it really can be a full time job!
Washington, DC
What are you seeing in the way of non-traditional weddings? Are couples straying from traditional ceremonies and parties or sticking to the norm?
I LOVE this question!  I am seeing a huge trend of moving away from the traditional weddings that everyone is used to.  Several of my brides want to branch out from the formal sit down dinner, followed by dancing and focus on the party!  I just did a wedding that did not have a sit down dinner at all.  We set up a rooftop lounge with heavy stations and passed food and the band went all night long.  We then moved into  a different area where we had a complete night club vibe with a DJ and late night food passed…people had a blast!  All the guests raved that this was the most fun they have had at a wedding, but you have to remember that you sacrifice a few things by doing this, as long as you are up for being different…by all means do it!
Washington, DC
Do you have any advice on how to really make the big day your own?
My best piece of advice is to ignore what everybody else is doing!  I find that so many brides get caught up in what their friends are doing for their weddings, and try to "out wed" each other.  If you keep it true to you and your fiance, guests will notice and appreciate.  The little things that you add, are often what people notice, and don't be afraid that it is not what is "in" or "usually done."  I had a groom who loved beer, and seriously wanted a keg at his wedding.  I thought the mother of the bride would have a heart attack, so we used this and created a complete beer bar with all different types of brews.  We used frosted pilsner glasses and got very cool taps.  It was such a hit at the party!
mclean, virginia
hi, i I recently got engaged and i really don't know where to start and am feeling overwhelmed. any suggestions about what I should do first??? sincerely, overwhelmed in virginia
It is overwhelming…right!!!  Start by getting the bridal bug out of your system…read magazines galore!  I like to plan in phases, so start with phase one: Talk to all involved in the budget and determine what there is to spend.  Then you need to focus on the vendors that can only do your wedding at that time (venue, wedding planner, photographer and band/dj).  Book these vendors early to ensure that you have the vendors that you gel with the most for your day.  I think it is really important to take breaks in your wedding planning, so that you do not let it take over your life and so that you don't end up hating your wedding (trust me I have seen it happen)!  Don't get too ahead of yourself, because you will end up wasting both time and money on decisions that you made too soon or rushed.  Of course, hiring a wedding planner helps with not only keeping you on track, but also with your sanity!
Arlington, VA
Hi! I want to hire a make up artist and hair stylist for myself and my entourage (bridesmaids, mothers, grandmothers, flower girl, sponsors). Do you recommend anyone that will do a great job but also isn't very expensive (since there will be so many of us!)? Any suggestions will be very helpful! Thanks!
I have tons of great suggestions…email me at
Bethesda, MD
I really want to do something special to surprise my soon-to-be bride on our wedding day, but don't want to do anything to mess up the big day. Any suggestions????
What a keeper you are!!!!  I would buy her a present and write a beautiful card telling her how excited you are to marry her.  Have a groomsmen deliver it to her room when she is getting ready, trust me, she will swoon!  Another option is to dedicate a special song to her at the wedding and have the band call the two of you to the dance floor.  My favorite surprise is to decorate the honeymoon suite, so that she is swept off her feet when she walks in!  A couples massage the next morning, will never go unnoticed!
washington, dc
1. If you have limited funds, where can you cut corners? Better to spend money on flowers or photos? 2. What's the most romantic venue for a small wedding in DC right now? A big wedding?

I never advise to skimp on photos, there is no point in spending money on a huge centerpiece and not have any photos to remember them by!  You can get super creative with centerpieces and menus to save money, but a skilled photographer that can tell the story of your day is worth it's weight in gold!  

Romantic venues…..I love the rooftop of the Hay Adams….so DC!  I am also very obsessed with Halcyon House, it is modern and traditional all at the same time!  For large venues I love Andrew Mellon and the Newseum is very cool!


Thank you everyone for writing in…I can't believe how fast the hour went by!!  I so enjoyed answering all of your questions and welcome anyone to email me or call with any questions,, 301-467-5585.  Good luck with all of your planning!