50 Clever Ideas to Make Your Wedding Stand Out

From eye-catching inspiration to only-in-the-DMV opportunities, consider this your guide to getting creative with your wedding day—and wowing guests in the process.

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1. Hire a roaming raw bar.

Photo by Jodi Miller Photography

Occasions Caterers and A. Dominick Events brought Eastern Shore flair to Christine Donnelly and Dan Spadacino’s cocktail hour with waiters proffering Chesapeake Bay oysters paired with mignonette sauces.

2. Surprise guests with an end-of-the-night food truck.

Photo by Diane Rice

A few favorites: The Big Cheese (grilled cheese), DC Slices (pizza), Captain Cookie & The Milk Man (ice-cream sandwiches), CapMac (mac & cheese), and Pepe (Spanish-style sandwiches).

3. Pick an unexpected backdrop for your engagement session.

Photo by Audra Wrisley Photography

Like the “Every Day I See Something New” mural in Adams Morgan, for example. For more unique portrait spots in the DMV, go to washingtonian.com/photoops.

4. Show ’em some #Natitude.

Photo by Eli Turner Studios

Lindsay Rhodes did it by wearing this Bella Diva Couture garter at her Hay-Adams wedding to Sean Garci.

5. Guide guests to their seats with take-home wine stoppers.

Photo by Jeff Elkins

$4 for hand lettering by Meant To Be Calligraphy. For more creative escort card ideas, grab a copy of the Winter/Spring 2016 issue of Bride & Groom!

6. Frame the scenery.

Photo by Eric Kelley

The backdrop was so picturesque at Andrea Narrow and Jeff MacDonald’s Clifton Inn wedding that Amaryllis and A. Dominick Events turned it into a living painting with a custom life-size frame.

7. Forget the flower baskets.

Photo by Kate Headley

If your venue doesn’t allow petal scattering, give the flower girls pretty ribbon wands to wave down the aisle, as Atrendy Wedding did for Valerie Schuster and Jonathan Beck’s wedding.

8. Pack welcome bags with Washington-made goodies.

Photo by Kate Headley

Some suggestions: Ted’s Bulletin pop tarts, Baked & Wired’s “Hippie Crack” granola, Georgetown Cupcake cupcakes, Fleurir chocolates, Capital Kombucha bottled drinks, Confluence Coffee cold-brew coffee, Gordy’s Pickle Jar pickles, and The Capital Candy Jar flavored marshmallows.

9. Put your love story on display.

Photo by Nessa K Photography

For their Meridian House wedding, Carmela Clendening and John Fernandez enlisted Atrendy Wedding and Pretty Mail Calligraphy to design an illustrated journey through their relationship.

10. Address one invite to the White House.

Chances are slim the first couple will show up, but if you send the invitation six weeks or more in advance and fill out the Greetings Request Form, you’ll receive a printed congratulatory note from FLOTUS and POTUS.

The Address

The President & First Lady
The White House Greetings Office, Room 39
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500

11. Play putt-putt.

Photo by Amelia Johnson

Corn hole is great, but we love that Events in the City helped Caitlin Dean surprise Todd King with this unique twist on lawn games at their preppy-in-pink Dumbarton House wedding.

12. Borrow those bridesmaid dresses.

Gather up the girls, book an appointment at Georgetown’s Rent the Runway showroom, and pick out designer gowns they won’t have to worry about wearing again. dc@renttherunway.com for appointments.

13. Suspend flowers from the ceiling.

Photo by Abby Jiu Photography

For their Weddings by Ridgewells launch party, Ridgewells Catering partnered with Syzygy Events International and Philippa Tarrant Floral Design to create this stunning top-of-tent decor. Hang something similar above the reception area you want all eyes on (the dance floor, for example) for the biggest impact.

14. Gift the groomsmen something collegiate.

Bethesda-based Smathers & Branson offers needlepoint belts, wallets, flasks, and more with the logos of 90 colleges and universities.

15. Invite an a cappella group to perform.

Photo by Jodi Miller Photography

Elizabeth Duncan Events helped Washington & Lee sweethearts Daphne Trainor and Andrew Bahl delight guests during their ceremony with a performance by their alma mater’s singing group Southern Comfort. Find an a cappella group for your wedding at washingtonian.com/acapella.

16. Think outside the urn.

Photo by Ira Lippke Studios

You don’t have to confine flowers to vessels! For Nora Dweck and Michael McMullen’s Ritz-Carlton wedding, Amaryllis covered a custom swan frame with thousands of button mums and gladiolus petals.

17. Commission a watercolor portrait.

DC’s Elena Fay uses paint and ink to beautifully recreate photos of couples, brides, and wedding parties ($160 and up).

18. Decorate something other than tabletops.

Photo courtesy Sweet Root Village

When cycling enthusiasts Brittany Byrd and Mark Kalenak tied the knot, Sweet Root Village adorned a vintage tandem bike with eucalyptus leaves, garden roses, and dahlias, then parked it at the entrance of the cocktail hour as a photo prop for guests.

19. Bury the bourbon.

Photo by William Walker Photography

Want extra help in the good weather department? This Southern tradition dictates that a full bottle of bourbon be buried upside down exactly one month before the day at the wedding site in order to prevent storms, as Molly Schmalzbach and Enser Cole did for their Early Mountain Vineyards nuptials. Rain or shine, dig it up post-ceremony and share a swig with your beloved.

20 – 23. Make Metro part of the day.

Photo by Sarah Bradshaw Photography

Pose for portraits in a nearby station, like Sam Arora and Jaime Bugaski did at Judiciary Square.

Photo by Kate Headley

Make it the icing on the cake, à la Andrew Marshall and Kristen Lloyd, who attempted a date at every Metro stop.

Photo by Kate Elizabeth Photography

Turn paper tickets into escort cards. Bella Notte worked with Paperzest to create these lookalikes for Miriam Schwedt and Amit Magdieli’s wedding.

Photo by Armin DeFiesta

Use stop names instead of table numbers. A. Dominick Events dreamt these up for Elizabeth Tysse and Michael Bracken.

24. Define your relationships.

Photo by Eli Turner Studios

Before his Park Hyatt Washington wedding, Orlando Florez and his groomsmen posed for portraits holding signs explaining how they met.

25. Let someone else handle the social media.

Image courtesy Tweet the Bride’s Facebook page

A Tweet the Bride social media artist will launch Twitter and Instagram accounts for your wedding, take DSLR photos the day of, and upload at least three snaps an hour. It’s a fun way to share more intimate moments (like the wedding party getting ready!) with the rest of your guests. $700 and up.

26. Hire a live painter.

Photo by Katelyn James Photography

Three of our favorites: Jamie Peterson of The Painted Lens, Brittany Sims (pictured here), and Wed on Canvas.

27. Stop by The Great Republic for cuff links.

Photo by Jeff Elkins

We’re in awe of this Americana-inspired CityCenterDC store’s collection of shirt fasteners. From hand-painted quarters from his home state to baseball leather thrown during a real Nats game (pictured here), they have something sentimental for every kind of dad, brother, and groom.

28. Build a boutonniere bar.

Photo by Jodi Miller Photography

Karson Butler Events made every guest at Danielle Lee and Aaron Hare’s nuptials feel like a member of the wedding party by including wearable florals from Holly Heider Chapple with their escort cards. Calligraphy on banner and escort cards by Meant To Be Calligraphy.

29. Bring in a bar.

Photo by Elizabeth Fogarty

“Try a Peking duck presentation. Whole roasted ducks are the focal point, and a chef can serve pieces of meat together with mini pancakes, hoisin, and shaved scallions. We’re also doing a lot of waffle bars with red velvet or funfetti waffles and various toppings.” – Erin Fernandez of Spilled Milk Catering

30. Turn dessert into decor.

Photo by Kurstin Roe Photography

“Suspend the table with the wedding cake on it as a focal point.” -Blythe Swift of Ridgewells Catering

31. Incorporate edibles from your hometown.

Photo by Kurstin Roe Photography

“Couples are asking for “what we grew up eating” on their menus. DC is a melting pot, so the opportunity to spotlight your heritage is big.” – Ginny Reed of RSVP Catering

32. Give servers themed uniforms.

Photo by Erich McVey Photography

“Forget standard tuxedos! Try white dinner jackets and a gray bow tie, or suspenders with T-shirts and jeans to match the style of your event.” – Stacy Carroll of Design Cuisine

33. End on a savory note.

“Plated savory dessert options might include a lemon-fennel panna cotta or a poached Seckel pear with herbed ricotta and honey.” – Andrew Gerstel of Windows Catering Company

34. Get ready in rompers.

Photo by Natalie Franke Photography

Like Caitlin Grasmick and her bridesmaids did at her Kirkland Manor wedding! They’re unfussy and infinitely easier to move around in.

35. Book Michelle Obama’s personal makeup artist.

Photo by Dustin Lilley courtesy Carl Ray

Currently working out of DC’s One80 Salon, Carl Ray is as well known for his glowing-from-within bridal looks as he is for polishing up the First Lady.

36. Monogram a memento for your ’maids.

Monogrammed Tommy bracelet, $40 at Fornash

Arlington-based Fornash is our go-to for enamel bracelets and preppy jewelry, while DC’s Tuckernuck is a one-stop shop for quality totes, bags, and travel accessories.

37. Make a map your guest book.

Photo by Kurstin Roe Photography

Samina Vieth and Micah Lemons commissioned this map of the District from Cherry Blossom Creative and displayed it during cocktail hour for guests to inscribe their well-wishes. They plan to hang it in their home.

38. Go “wild” with your bouquet.

Photo by Jodi Miller Photography

The loose, overgrown look is a relaxed yet elegant departure from the more rigid stylings of years past. This Holly Heider Chapple arrangement includes jasmine vine, plumosa fern, and red piano roses.

39. Design your own jewelry.

Step right up to the Color Bar at Bethesda’s Kendra Scott jewelry store, where you can mix and match 23 shades of stones in earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and more to perfectly coordinate with your wedding colors. Your baubles will be assembled immediately in-store, and if you book a Color Bar party for you and your bridesmaids, the shop will provide sips and sweets for the occasion. 240-743-2428 for appointments; additional locations in Reston and Fairfax.

40. Customize your cake.

Photo by Ralph Alswang

Bridget Walsh and Stuart Chapman met while working on Capitol Hill, so it was only fitting for the couple to work with Bella Notte and A Piece of Cake to amaze guests with this too-good-to-be-true Capitol building confection.

41. Take the chill off with a cider station.

Photo by Abby Grace Photography

Emily Wren and John Kos opted for an outdoor ceremony in November, so Atrendy Wedding created this serve-yourself hot cider bar to keep guests warm during the vows.

42. Have #DCPride for dessert.

Photo by Jeff Elkins

How cute are these cookies by District Desserts? From $3.25 each.

43. Put the photo booth in a private cabana.

Photo courtesy Bash Booths

Bash Booth’s covered environment allows for more controlled light and sound, helps guests loosen up, and looks awesome at any reception.

44. Forgo favors.

Photo by Justine Ungaro

Instead of handing out trinkets or treats at their Hay-Adams wedding, Jessica Larson and Todd Bowers donated to non- profit organizations in honor of their guests. Karson Butler Events named each table for a different charity.

45. Ask the Racing Presidents to make an appearance.

Photo by Love Life Images

Email mascot@nationals.com for rates and availability, and be sure to include the date, time, and location of your wedding, as well as any special requests for Teddy, Abe, and the rest of the gang. From $325 an hour; more information here.

46. Wear a cherry blossom dress.

DC’s signature bloom feels playful and elegant on this Spring 2016 Romona Keveza ball gown.

47. Add local flair to your registry.

Photo courtesy Mintwood Home

From brushed-gold bar carts to striped marble cheese boards, DC’s Mintwood Home has quickly become a favorite for Pinterest-perfect home decor and entertaining accessories. Their easy-to-create registry option means you can make your favorite items part of yourwedding-day wish list—don’t miss the design- your-own-pillow section!

48. Have a pop-up wedding.

Photo by Maggie Gaudaen for Pop! Wed Co.

Husband-and-wife team Maggie and Steven Gaudaen of Pop! Wed Co. scout unique locations around the DMV (pizza joints! breweries! vintage furniture stores!) for equally unique weddings and elopements. She photographs, he officiates, you get married without the hassle of planning a whole shindig. Ideal for adventurous couples who don’t have a long guest list. From $2,500.

49. Use life preservers as a chair signs.

Photo by Abby Jiu Photography

Lauryn Prattes purchased foam rings online and decorated them with vinyl letters and anchor decals for Allison King and Jeffrey James’s Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum wedding.

50. Hire a top-notch photographer.

Photo by Stephen Mallon/Getty Images

Special thanks to the ones who contributed to this story: Abby Grace, Abby Jiu, Amelia Johnson, Armin DeFiesta, Audra Wrisely, Eli Turner, Elizabeth Fogarty, Eric Kelley, Ira Lippke, Jodi Miller, Justine Ungaro, Kate Headley, Kate Triano, Katelyn James, Kurstin Roe, Love Life Images, Natalie Franke, Nessa Kessinger, Maggie Gaudaen, Ralph Alswang, Sarah Bradshaw, and William Walker.

Angie Hilsman contributed to this article.

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