Dec. 30 2015 09:45 AM

Clever themes and contemporary style add personality to weddings

A swing through Pinterest, the Internet’s premier site for wedding envisioning, shows that plenty of couples are still planning traditional black-and-white garb for their weddings. But dig a little deeper, and you find couples who are looking for something a little off the beaten path. From 1920s suits and vintage green dresses to tweed vests and floral gowns, there are plenty of ideas out there for couples looking to buck tradition.

Dawn-Marie Joseph, owner of Gracie’s Place, the Wedding Gallery, Vivee’s Floral Garden and Blue Button Bakery, has noticed that more and more couples are opting out of the standard tuxedo/wedding dress combo.

“A lot of grooms are wearing suits,” she said. “I think people like it because it’s a little more casual.”

Several trends have emerged that embrace this more casual approach to wedding attire. Barn weddings have become popular in Michigan, and many obsolete barns have been turned into rustic chic wedding venues. Some grooms take this theme a step further, pairing tuxedo shirts and jackets with cowboy hats and boots and denim pants. For destination weddings on beach locales, many grooms opt for light linen shirts with shorts or khakis. On the bride side, many are opting for an ivory gown over the traditional pure white.

To cater to this individualistic approach to wedding attire, the Wedding Gallery has developed a system for making custom dresses by mixing and matching elements from several gowns.

“It’s an affordable way to get a high-end custom look,” she said. “We can pull it all together with parts they like from different dresses.”

To Joseph, it seems like the expectation for traditional weddings aren’t as strong as they used to be.

“I think they want to incorporate their own style,” she said. “And more and more, they have the courage to do that. People are starting to loosen up the rules.”

Something old

And while many are going more casual, Rachel Burns and her husband, Thomas, drew inspiration from a time when culture was a little more buttoned up. The couple drew heavily from the Victorian era to create a steampunk-inspired ceremony.

The steampunk movement, at its core, embraces 19th century fashion mixed with mechanical, retro-futuristic touches inspired by the industrial revolution and late 19th century science fiction. For the wedding, Burns shied away from the technological side and focused on this historical side.

“My husband and I are drawn to the aesthetics of the Victorian Era,” she explained.

Burns, who lives near Holland, belongs to the Capital Steam Facebook group, which organizes steampunk events in the mid-Michigan area. For her, creating a themed wedding was a natural extension of her personality. She created the costumes for herself, her husband and her wedding party by hand.

“I am highly addicted to costuming,” Burns said. “I’ve been sewing since I was 7 and designing since I was 14. It took me eight months to do all the pieces. It was a labor of love.”

For her own gown, Burns had something special in mind.

“I’m a bit of a silk addict. I had to have a red silk dress,” she explained. “I did not want to wear a white dress.”

Burns also had historical reasons for choosing a non-white wedding dress. The tradition of white wedding dresses, she explained, is a relatively recent development.

White dresses became popular in the late 19th century, and before that, brides would wear the nicest dress they owned, regardless of color. Brightly colored dresses, in fact, were a sign of wealth because it indicated the family could afford expensive dyed clothing.

“The color schemes were really bright,” she said. “If you had money, you had color.”

Burns also sells custom dresses and costumes. Her projects have included a floral wedding dress for a backyard wedding and ribbons for handfasting, an ancient ritual in which the couple is bound together at the wrist with rope or ribbons. (“It’s a literal tying of the knot,” she said.) Burns has noticed more and more couples are interested in non-traditional wedding garments.

“Within the last five to 10 years, it’s been a pulling away from what has become tradition,” she said. “These things have become less and less something people are set on.”

Something new

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state gay marriage bans in June, same-sex couples in Michigan finally gained the right to marry in their home state. Greater Lansing residents Jordan Lett and Heather Bailey got engaged in May, a few months before the Supreme Court decision. They planned to travel to Chicago to get married, and then have some sort of reception in Michigan later. The Supreme Court decision changed their plans.

“It was so nice to realize we didn’t need to go somewhere and that the people we love will be able to be involved in our wedding,” Lett said.

As the couple began to plan their wedding, they needed to make a decision about what they would wear. Many same-sex couples opt for matching garments, with both in tuxedos or both in wedding dresses. That wasn’t going to work for Lett, who describes her style as “tomboy-ish.”

“I’ve never been someone who wears dresses,” she said. “Heather went back and forth, but for me the decision was pretty quick.”

Bailey is opting for a white wedding dress, while Lett is putting together an outfit that includes charcoal dress pants and a dress shirt that matches their wedding colors, but she is also trying to find accent pieces to “feminize” the look. Lett said her family initially tried to change her mind, but eventually came to accept her decision.

“They all knew I wasn’t going to wear a dress, but they were still giving me opinions,” she said.

In the end, Lett isn’t sure that being a same-sex couple affected the style of the wedding much.

“We aren’t traditional people,” she said. “I don’t think our wedding would look much different if we were a heterosexual couple.”

Something borrowed

For Lansing couple Ray Kurtis and Melody Teodoro-Kurtis, a themed wedding was more than just an expression of their personalities — it was a way to side-step some potential problems. Kurtis, who was raised Catholic but describes himself as “not Christian,” knew there would be people expecting a traditional church wedding.

“There were family expectations of what a wedding would be, especially in terms of religion,” he said. “By doing a themed wedding, we were able to sidestep those expectations.”

The couple also wanted a wedding that would allow for cultural inclusion. Teodoro-Kurtis is Filipino, and they wanted to incorporate her culture into the ceremony.

“We thought it would be cool to have a themed wedding,” Teodoro-Kurtis explained. “We tried to do something where we could incorporate a variety of traditions.”

The couple settled on a Medievalthemed wedding, but with Filipino culture sprinkled in. Teodoro-Kurtis’ dress, for example, was made from piña cloth, a fiber made from pineapple tree leaves traditionally used to make Filipino wedding dresses. In a nod to Kurtis’ Italian heritage (he’s half Italian), Kurtis wore an outfit based on early Renaissance Italian clothing, and Teodoro-Kurtis rode into the ceremony at Grand Ledge Opera House on an Italian gondola. The ceremony also drew on folkloric traditions, including a handfasting ritual.

The couple, which are heavily involved in local theater, are working on props and set design with Riverwalk Theatre and Lansing Community College. As they planned the ceremony, they included theatrical elements, including a choreographed swordfight in which Kurtis had to defend his right to wed.

“People are still talking about the wedding,” Teodoro-Kurtis said.

“We wanted it to be fun,” Kurtis added. Despite going all-out for the ceremony, the couple estimates they only spent $7,000 on the entire wedding. They took two years to plan the wedding, using the time to make their own décor, grow their own flowers, make mead and wine for the reception and even build the gazebo they would be married under.

The couple also asked guests to dress in either Medieval attire or the attire of their cultural background. Of the 220 people in attendance, Kurtis estimates that only 10 were dressed in contemporary dress cloths. In addition to Medieval dress, attendees came in traditional clothing of Mexico and Africa, and one guest even wore a Utilikilt, a modern take on the traditional Celtic garment.

“Even my grandparents were in Renaissance garb,” Kurtis said. “Our guests became mobile decorations.”

"It added to the festiveness of the atmosphere,” Teodoro-Kurtis said.

Something you

Lynn Lucas, president of Bath-based wedding planning business W.E.D Inc., has noticed that more couples are finding ways to inject their own personalities into their ceremonies. One trend in particular has really caught her attention.

“The trend is definitely toward ‘geek chic,’” she said.

Geek chic covers a wide range of interests, from fantasy novels and comic books to sci fi films and actual science. As geekiness has become more culturally acceptable, elements of it have seeped into wedding design.

One recent wedding Lucas worked on featured a “Harry Potter” theme, complete with parchment scrolls, owls, lanterns and “floating” cupcakes suspended over the desert table. Another “Star Wars”- themed wedding included tables named after planets from the movies and action figures in the centerpieces.

Lucas finds that many couples still opt for more traditional garb, but embrace the theme with small details like socks, jewelry or cuff links. One groom even wore a boutonnière that included a celery stalk, a nod to BBC television series “Doctor Who.” Another groom wore a Hand of the King brooch featured in “Game of Thrones.”

“It’s become such an individualized society,” Lucas said. “Being geeky has become cool, and expressing that on the most important day of your life is natural.”