Once you’ve popped the corks, shared the news with friends and family, and got used to losing hours of your day staring at the very sparkly thing on your left hand, it’s time to start the business of actually planning your wedding. And at this point, lots of couples can feel the flickers of overwhelm creeping in. My advice at this point is to familiarise yourself with the most important wedding accessory of them all - not a veil or a pair of fabulous shoes, but a wedding planning timeline.
THE ULTIMATE TO-DO LIST
Yes, it may sound dull, but creating yourself a timeline document as early as possible into your wedding planning adventure is important. I guarantee you will walk down the aisle with much more of your sanity intact. Breaking the elements of the wedding down into smaller chunks spread across the months from question-popping to vow-making will make the planning and organisation so much more manageable. You’ll also get regular satisfaction from ticking things off your to-do list (I know it’s not just me who loves that feeling!), and you’ll feel confident that everything is under control, leaving you time to enjoy your engagement rather than getting lost in a wedding-planning whirlwind.
My guide for the key things to include in your timeline is below, but before you jump in, here are my two biggest timeline tips:
Flexibility is the key to happiness when planning any event. Don’t stick too rigidly to your timeline once you’ve created it - things will get added as you go, as brilliant ideas or absolutely-spot-on suppliers cross your path. Be prepared that some timings may have to slip a little or get pushed into another month.
Once it’s written - take a step back and look at it as a whole. Is it actually doable, or have you made certain months so busy that you’ll have to sacrifice sleeping and eating in order to get everything done? You need to strike a balance between what’s going on in your personal life and your planning.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
The first jobs aren’t the fun jobs I’m afraid. Before you do anything else you need to decide your budget. You’ll find it impossible to move much further forward until you do this – the type of venue, suppliers, choices on styling will all stem from this.
Next up is your guestlist. You don’t need a totally final list of names, but a pretty good estimate of guest numbers. Do you want everyone with you for the whole day, or will you plan a more intimate ceremony and a bigger party in the evening? Remember that most venues will have capacity restrictions, so knowing how big your party is likely to be will have an impact on lots of your other decisions.
BIG TICKET ITEMS
The question of ‘when to start planning your wedding’ is a good one. My answer is between 18 to 12 months out and it will depend on factors like how complicated your wedding plans are, across how many days, do you have guests coming from abroad who will need to book flights...? As a general rule, if you plan to wed in the peak summer months I would book your big ticket items first - 18 months out if you can. These are the things that get snapped up quick and, once you’ve secured them, you can sit back for a few months and pick up your planning again nearer the 12 month mark.
To make it simple, the below assumes a 12-month engagement. If you have longer to play with, then these first bookings can be done anywhere from 18 months to 2 years out!
AT LEAST 12 MONTHS TO GO….
Now it’s time to select and book your key suppliers. For me, top of this list should be
Ceremony ceremony date and time (note for civil ceremonies bookings may only open 12 months out)
Venues and excellent photographers in particular are often fully booked months in advance. If you’re planning a Saturday wedding in a summer month, you need to be contacting your ideal venues and photographers at least 12 months before your wedding, and ideally a bit longer than that.
NAIL DOWN THE PERSONALITY OF YOUR WEDDING: 12-11 MONTHS TO GO...
Once you’ve got a date set, a venue booked and someone to capture your wedding pictures, my next biggest tip is to turn to the styling. This might seem bonkers when there are so many other elements to consider, but again so much flows from it. For example, think about your stationery – if you are sending save the dates, you’ll want to be able to decide the look and feel of these quite far out and this will mean having an idea of styling. My clients receive their initial moodboards for the overall wedding aesthetic, colours, textures and atmosphere at roughly 11 months before the big day.
Most weddings that I plan are an international affair. If you know that you’re likely to have guests travelling from far flung places, then talking to your venue for recommendations of accommodation and pre-booking rooms is a wise idea at this point as well. This is especially important if there is no accommodation on site or you are marrying in a remote area, or in a popular area in the height of holiday season.
THE DRESS: APPROX 12 MONTHS TO GO…
Take your time with the dress hunt but before you begin make sure you’ve got your venue and overall wedding style sorted as this will have a huge impact on how you pick your gown. Not only will you know how many pennies you’ve got to play with, but you’ll have a much better steer on the type of dress you want. If you’ve chosen all-out opulence for your wedding then something boho and beachy won’t quite cut it, while a classic A-line and cathedral length train might not be quite the thing for an intimate woodland blessing. Visiting a select few boutiques at around 12 months from your wedding will give you ample time to source the perfect dress, and to make sure any alterations or bespoke additions can be done in good time.
BOOK, BOOK, BOOK! 11-10 MONTHS TO GO...
Get ready for a supplier sourcing frenzy! At this point, I am selecting and booking several other key suppliers, who are likely to get snapped up and need locking in early. I’ll share the agreed look book for the day with them and begin bouncing ideas around. These suppliers include:
The stationery designer (I’ll also be commissioning the save the dates at this point)
The hair and makeup artist(s)
Essentially, you want to have anyone who will be present on the day of your wedding to be booked and secured for your date nice and early. These suppliers will have a limited number of weddings they’re able to take on per year - make sure yours is one of them!
SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED: 10 MONTHS TO GO…
Invitation etiquette is a tricky one, and it’s something that’s changed over the last few years, as engagements get longer, and weddings get larger. It used to be the case that invites were sent a couple of months before the event. Now, with more and more couples choosing to marry further afield from their family home, or designing weddings that span a weekend and require accommodation and more complicated logistics, I tend to recommend sending save the date cards at around 10 months out, and then following up with a fuller, more detailed invitation suite and RSVP card around 5-6 months before the wedding.
CAKE, PROPS AND PROMISES: 6 MONTHS TO GO
With half a year to go until your wedding, you should have a clear idea of how the event will come together. You’ve got your styling ideas, you’ve booked your big hitter items, you know who you want to be there. Things are rolling along nicely.
Time now, then, to select the smaller but still important elements. First and foremost, that most delicious of items, your wedding cake.
If you’ve chosen a blank canvas venue, now is also the time to source your larger hire items - tables, chairs, linen, cutlery and other tableware. You can leave the ‘prettying’ until later - the candles, table numbers and other items that make up your tablescape - but these ‘must-haves’ should be secured now.
5 MONTHS TO GO...
It’s sometimes easy to get swept up in the organisation and forget the romance at the heart of all this ‘wedministration’. I advise my couples at this point to take some time out and think about what marriage means to them. If you’re having a civil ceremony or a humanist blessing, now is an excellent time to start thinking about your vows and what you’re going to promise to each other. These words matter - they’re not to be rushed! THE FINAL COUNTDOWN; 3 MONTHS TO GO…
You’re so nearly there! The last three months of the wedding planning journey tend to be the busiest. I like to make sure all of the big stuff is done and dusted before this point, so you’re free to focus on (ready for this?)...
Tracking RSVPs and putting together your table plan
Working out first dance options
Cake and menu tastings
Hair and makeup trials
Putting together your wedding day timeline (yep, another one, and one that’s just as important and one I've written a separate piece about here) and sharing this with your suppliers
Working out your on the day stationery (menu cards, place names, order of service etc)
Ordering all the other styling items (candles, matches, table numbers, favours, other lighting...)
Sharing final numbers and dietary requirements with caterers
Agreeing the shot list with photographers
Settling final balances…
I know this looks like a lot. And, frankly, it is a lot. Planning an unforgettable wedding party is a huge undertaking, but it’s so, so worth it for the memories that really will last a lifetime. Taking it month by month and a bit at a time, with your trusty timeline at your side will help things to run so much more smoothly. Trust me.
3: Joe Short