Non-traditional Wedding Ideas

Some couples are looking for something a little different when it comes to their wedding. If you’re one of those people, this is the blog post for you!

Couples often wonder what they should do for their wedding and will usually go in one of two directions: traditional or non-traditional. If you want to have a non-traditional wedding, there are many different things you can do!

The idea of a traditional wedding can be daunting. It may seem like you are expected to dress up in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, and the food is often not what you want.

However, many non-traditional wedding ideas will make your day special while still being yourself. For example, you can add personal touches to the ceremony or reception hall, so it feels more like home than someplace unfamiliar and impersonal.

What if you wanted to have a beautiful wedding but didn’t want the traditional bride and groom outfits? Ever thought about bringing your pets down the aisle with you as ring bearers or flower girls? How about having a non-traditional ceremony on top of a mountain or in an abandoned warehouse? These are just some of the many ideas that might suit your tastes.

One idea could be to incorporate your favourite colour into your theme; another is to use a venue that’s not typically used for weddings, like an art gallery.

There’s no need for everyone attending your event to wear formal attire if they don’t want to! This blog post has tips on how to plan an amazing event without feeling pressured into doing anything that doesn’t feel right for you.

We hope this blog post has inspired you to find something that suits both your and your partner’s needs.

1. Contrast the Unconventional to the Traditional Wedding Ceremony

To decide what is unconventional, let’s first talk about tradition. What, exactly, does a traditional wedding ceremony look like? Let’s imagine together…

Excited guests twist around to peer to the head of the church aisle as organ music begins. It’s the cue the procession is about to begin!

The bride’s mother leads the way, then sits in the front pew on the left, the bride’s side. Meanwhile, the groom has materialized at the altar.

Bridesmaids and groomsmen appear in pairs, one man and one woman each. They are solemn, arm in arm, walking down the aisle.

Each pair splits at the altar, lining up on the side assigned to their gender.

Woman = Bride = Left

Man = Groom = Right

Then cuteness. A little flower girl fumbling rose petals from a basket. A small boy child is holding a ring bearer pillow.

The organ music rises to a crescendo. Here comes the bride! She appears. Demure in a white, flowing gown. The long veil covers her face.

It is time for the father of the bride to give her to another man! He escorts her down the aisle and hands her off to the groom.

The religious leader of the church conducts the ceremony. Vows, rings, blusher folded back, kiss.

The new couple, a man with his wife, walks back up the aisle. Guests congratulate them at the door as they leave. The couple leaves the church, peppered with thrown rice.

2. Non-Traditional Wedding Ceremony Ideas

Chances are, since you are reading this, at least some of the details above are not your thing. The good news is you can change any piece of it you wish as long as you stay within your state’s law.

If you do not get into the formality of a church ceremony and regular reception at all, keep scrolling. You will find some things to do for your anti-wedding wedding under “What to Do Instead of a Wedding.”

If you plan to have a ceremony with a full contingent of family and friends present, read below. Here are some non-traditional ideas to get you started.

  1. Have a family wedding—instead of the couple only—by including your children in the vows, with hugs and kisses all around.
  2. Have each set of parents give their son or daughter to the bride(s) or groom(s).
  3. Instead of “giving away” the bride, have each set of parents “take in” the future spouse. (Not literally, of course. They don’t want you living with them! LOL.)
  4. Carry ferns instead of flowers. Or make the bouquets from buttons, brooches, or paper.

Or carry something else that reflects who you are. For example, a local couple once brought flowers made from pizza. Not my thing, but hey, if your life is pizza, why not?

  1. Play music and have everyone dance as you come out of the church instead of guests throwing rice or bird seeds.
  2. Go bare-headed instead of wearing a veil or hat.
  3. Hold the ceremony someplace besides a church. Remember those non-traditional venues we linked to above? Choose one of those instead!
  4. Have grooms-people and brides-people instead of -maids and -men, mixing genders according to friendships or relationships.
  5. If there are no obvious choices for a flower girl and ring bearer, omit them from the ceremony.
  6. Have the wedding party face the guests during the ceremony.


3. Non-Traditional Wedding Wear

Wedding attire is another way to make your wedding stand out. Tradition dictates a white gown for the bride. Bridesmaids in the wedding colour, with matching dresses. Groomsmen in neutral-coloured tuxes.

Wear bridal pants or other wedding dress alternatives instead of a gown. (See the bridal jumpsuits shopping section for inspiration.)

  1. Buy a wedding gown in your favourite colour and put the bridesmaids in white.
  2. Let your bridesmaids wear cocktail dresses with a colour or style theme rather than those made specifically as bridesmaid dresses (some of the pins on the Bridesmaids Ideas pinboard can inspire you).
  3. Let the guys wear suits, shirts, and suspenders without a jacket instead of renting tuxes.

4. Alternative Wedding Reception Ideas

Next up is the wedding reception, with its set of expectations. Here are some quirky twists to throw into the mix.

  1. Toast with a signature drink instead of champagne.
  2. Skip the traditional guest book and choose a creative way to remember your guests–a thumbprint wishing tree or wishing rocks, for example (more ideas are in the Guest Book Alternatives section).
  3. Set up a self-serve drink station instead of a full-service bar.
  4. Instead of best man and maid of honour speeches, have those in the wedding party share their best stories.
  5. See each other and spend quality time together before the wedding.
  6. Toss something fun, like bride and groom bears or candy, instead of the bouquet and garter.
  7. Feed each other something besides cake–another dessert or favourite entree, for example.
  8. Skip the tiered wedding cake altogether and have an ornate cake table with several single-layer versions or other desserts.
  9. Provide an empty, food-friendly favour box and let guests choose their own treats from a candy or food buffet.
  10. Make your centrepieces mini dessert stations and forgo separate desserts and favours.
  11. Have son-mother-in-law and daughter-father-in-law dances.

5. What to Do Instead of a Wedding

If you do not get into the formality of a church ceremony and regular reception, this section’s for you. An “anti-wedding” may be the thing for you and your partner.

Eloping is the time-honoured solution. This option is so obvious we didn’t even give it a number! A couple planned a trip to Vegas and told a few people the night before they left. Then, they streamed the private ceremony online for people to watch live.

They also had photos taken and let close family choose which prints they’d like. And had a video made for the digitally challenged to watch once we returned home.

There were some unhappy campers among the family. I’m sure there would be with yours as well. But, hey! It’s your wedding, and it should make you happy.

6. Non-Traditional Wedding Favor Ideas You’ll Adore

There are many options for unconventional wedding favours, some with added benefits.

Some can save you money by serving dual purposes.

For example, edible favours can also serve as centrepieces, desserts, or decorations. Even flower arrangements can be disassembled later into smaller bouquets and passed out to guests.

DIY Candy Wedding Favours

It’s easy to take a simple gift and make it elegant if you DIY. One idea that is becoming more popular is to have a ‘candy buffet’ type table for your guests with small personalized take-home bags.

But if you want something more refined, why not make little personalized packages for your special guests. For example, you can buy bulk candy and containers such as these Sweet Endings Acrylic Favor Boxes and fill them up before sealing them with a personalized label.

Popcorn Wedding Favours

If candy is a little too sweet for your taste, why not make popcorn wedding favours for the reception instead? Bill and Peggy make cute mini customized popcorn boxes with everything you need. Just add the popcorn!

You could have them made and displayed on a table ahead of time, but a unique idea would be to have a popcorn cart with fresh popcorn and have them boxed and bagged for guests as they leave.

Or make Blessed Beyond Crazy’s Festive Popcorn Balls for your wedding guests to munch.

DIY Cookie Favours

Who doesn’t love a fresh-baked cookie? The great part about this idea is you can have as many varieties as you want.

There are even options for those who are on a more restrictive diet. Set up a self-service table or have someone available to package them into these custom, lined cookie bags from Kendra and Tara. They have many designs you can choose from.

Hot Chocolate Favours

If you are having a fall or winter wedding, why not give your guests the gift of a warm mug of gourmet hot cocoa?

The hot, modern way to cocoa is with a hot chocolate bomb! You can make your own with chocolate bomb moulds, of course.

Or buy them already made. Heather makes and sells the ones pictured below in several flavours. Learn more or purchase through this link.

Or go the most traditional route done unconventionally. These custom-labelled hot cocoa pouches made by AnnualDelights will display perfectly at your wedding and taste delicious once prepared.

DIY S’more Favours

Nearly everyone loves s’mores, and they are so fun to make! They are natural for outdoor dessert stations.

We have a great, simple tutorial on how we made s’more favour ‘kits’ as a centrepiece display that doubled as a wedding favour. Or buy bags, tags, and ties from Merry.

Maple Syrup Bottle Favours

Whether you love breakfast or just want a sweet gift for your guests, real maple syrup might do the trick. Lyle and Martina bottle pure Michigan maple syrup into little glass nip bottles to create an elegant and tasty gift your guests will love.

I think they would look amazing with custom engraved wooden maple leaf tags (like the ones made by Alicia at WeddingAppeal) attached to the neck of each bottle.


Mini Liquor Bottle Favors

A great alternative to the classic wedding “open bar” would be an assortment of mini liquor types that can be displayed instead of having a bartender. Another idea is to choose your favourite liquors as favours on the guest tables.

Either way, you can dress up the bottles with custom tags like these, made by Brandy at BrandyWPrints.

You can even completely DIY these favours. First, buy empty miniature bottles here. Then get custom mini-bottle labels from Ana and Natalia of WrapItUpWrapper.

Little Jars of Honey Favors

Something about pure natural honey can elevate just about any food or drink. So forget the store-bought commercial brands. Instead, Annette jars several flavours of honey and adds a burlap topper, personalized label, and raffia ribbon. The cute little wooden dipper makes this guest gift extra special.

Authentic Greek Olive Oil Favors

Olive oil can be found in just about every kitchen, but there is still a way to make a unique gift from something common. Alice from TheGreekPantry fills cute little bottles with Olive Oil from their own grove in Greece. She even offers over 20 different flavour infusion options!

Loose-Leaf Tea Mix Favors

Teabag wedding favours have been popular for a while. But, if you want an exquisite gift, consider a handmade mix of loose-leaf tea for your guests. CustomFavours makes these unique tubes filled with loose-leaf tea that look amazing laid out on the guest tables.

DIY Coffee Bean Favors

Do you know a great local coffee shop? Or maybe know where to source an exotic blend? Sterling makes these simple but beautiful custom bags to fill with your own choice of coffee beans. Need little sealable plastic bags for freshness? She has you covered for those, too.

Infused Sea Salt Favors

Salt, the most common food additive. But it doesn’t have to be boring! Find some small glass jars or tubes and fill them with a teaspoon of exotic sea salt or an ‘infused’ gourmet salt, and you have a gift your guests will go crazy for!

Sean at OldTownSpiceShop has some flavour options that sound amazing. How about saffron salt or roasted garlic salt? Maybe an assortment of different flavours for your guests to choose from.

To finish these DIY favours, bottle the infused sea salt in ThreeTwo1’s personalized cork jars.

DIY Chocolate Favors

This is another opportunity for an easy DIY project. Rosy makes these small boxes in clear or matte that you can customize.  Complete the elegant look by filling it with your favourite gourmet chocolates, like the Lindt truffles.

7. Non-Traditional Wedding Officiant Alternatives

Here is a good place to address who, exactly, can legally marry you. Because the last thing you want is to find out years later, you are not married.

First, check your state marriage officiant laws, plus the laws in your county or city. These will cover who may get married as well as the requirements to marry a couple. In Missouri, for example, there are three different officiant categories. The law reads:

  • Marriages may be solemnized by any active or retired clergyman who is in good standing with any church or synagogue in this state.
  • Marriages may also be solemnized, without compensation, by any judge, including a municipal judge.
  • A religious society, a sacred institution may also solemnize marriages, or religious organization of this state, according to the regulations and customs of the community, institution or organization, when either party to the wedding to be solemnized is a member of such society, institution or organization.

These choices are pretty typical: religion-based clergy and judges. But your local requirements may be looser or stricter.

Some municipalities expand the civil servant definitions. This may include other government personnel, such as county clerks. Otherwise, you do need a religion backing the signature on your marriage certificate.

Notice the problem if you want to have a non-religious ceremony. And do not want a government official to preside. But, again, non-traditional wedding ideas cover possible options for you.

  1. Jump through the legal hoops by going the government official route. Then have your “real” ceremony officiated by whomever you want.

All that’s required is a certificate-signing procedure conducted by a legally sanctioned person. And that they file the autographed license within a designated time frame.

Once you have that covered, the rest is your own choice. Want to have your goldfish telepathically conduct a ceremony as friends watch from the sofa? Go for it!

  1. Have a legal ceremony through an ethical society. This is an option for you if you are not comfortable with the church defining your marriage boundaries.

Those New York City statutes allow leaders in the Society of Ethical Culture to officiate. A similar group in my area is the St. Louis Ethical Society.

Ethical organization leaders are humanists that can perform wedding ceremonies. Therefore, they qualify as “religious societies or institutions.” As long as they are properly registered.

These non-theological religions build their congregations around ethics. Their activities revolve around doing what is right for society and individuals. There is no reference to or need for religious beliefs. You are welcome regardless of your religion or church affiliations.

Find out if there is an ethical community near you through the American Ethical Union.

  1. A friend or family member can officiate your wedding by becoming ordained online. Several online churches will ordain regardless of religion. The Universal Life Church (ULC) and American Ministries (AMM) are two examples.

Your state must recognize the organization. The AMM reports on their website they are registered in all states except Virginia. The ULC website has a state-by-state look-up.

Also, make sure your officiant checks with the local authorities. They may have to register in your state. Laws vary.

  1. Have a friend or family member get a single-day civil officiant license if your municipality allows it. For example, Massachusetts has an official one-day marriage designation. California has the Deputy Commissioner for a Day program. Vermont allows temporary officiants. At least one other state, New York, has a bill in the works to allow this as well.


8. Anti-Wedding Ideas

One of those people who wants a non-wedding wedding? Here are some things to do instead of a wedding reception.

  1. City Hall and a Meal. My daughter and son-in-law had a justice of the peace perform the ceremony. Then we treated them and their immediate family to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant.

It’s a way to have an upscale, intimate event without the expense of a wedding. Per person cost versus a reception: very high. Total cost versus a reception: minimal.

  1. Bring your own officiant to a restaurant reservation. Rent a private room at a restaurant and be wed over a meal.
  2. Skip a full-on reception and bring a small group to a wine tasting. One winery near us offers a group tour and tasting with snacks. Or have a tasting followed by lunch or dinner.
  3. Have an official non-reception. Sometimes, after a private ceremony of your choice, host a backyard BBQ or another type of party. Call this event the first public occasion as a married couple, whatever you want.
  4. Go bowling. Or golfing. Or whatever group sport you are into.

The point of reception is for people to have fun, right? So, instead of the formality of an official after-ceremony dinner thing, do an after-ceremony activity thing. Be sure to communicate this to everyone ahead of time. So they can bring their balls, clubs, etc. or a change of clothes.

  1. Do a paint and sip party. Facilities that hold wine-drinking painting events are opening all across the country. Book a private party and have a blast. Pinot’s Palette and Painting with a Twist are two that may have locations near you.
  2. Go as a group to a theme park. Depending on the playground and your group size, you may be able to rent eating space and snag discounted ride tickets.

Or come up with your own ideas to create a ceremony and reception that reflect who you truly are as a couple. Any aspect of the wedding is optional or open to your own interpretation.

9. Alternative reception venues may need to be made event-ready

Some locations may be prepared to handle an all-inclusive wedding. Others may require you to arrange vendors and decor yourself. It’s essential to include all expenses when comparing costs between venues.

You may need equipment, furnishings, etc., to make these event-ready. Consider if you will need any of the following:

  • Furnishings: Tables, Chairs, etc.
  • Shelter: Tents, Canopies, etc.
  • Electricity: Portable Generators or Access to Electricity
  • Lighting & Sound System: Lights and a Sound System (Including Microphones, Speakers, etc.)
  • Insurance: You may need specific insurance. Coverage could be for you, your guests, or your vendors and equipment.
  • Permits: Some locations may need a license for the event to be held. There might also be special considerations or restrictions on music/noise, lighting, etc.
  • Security: This will depend on the size of your wedding and the number of guests. Smaller weddings that are away from the public might not need much or any particular security. However, larger weddings may need more protection to keep everyone safe.
  • Extra Vendor Fees: Vendors may charge additional fees for travel and set-up. Check with the caterer, photographer, and DJ, for example.

Some locations may not usually host catered events. In that case, request an informal walk-through as part of the planning process.

During your walk-through, mentally go through the steps of setting up. Try to focus on the services you will need for each stage. For example, check for adequate access to electricity, water, refrigeration, etc.

10. Unconventional Wedding FAQ

1. How do you do a non-traditional wedding ceremony?

Any aspect of the ceremony is available to change. Such as who participates, the location, and what is said during the ceremony. Ideas 1-10 are unconventional wedding ceremony ideas.

2. How can you have a more memorable wedding?

Any piece of your wedding outside of the expected will make your wedding more memorable. Have an offbeat ceremony or wear an alternative wedding outfit, for example. You can also change up the reception or even have an anti-wedding.

3. Can you get married without an officiant?

An officiant performs the religious ceremony. However, if you have a civil union, you are free to be married within the laws of your state without an officiant.

4. What can you wear instead of a white wedding dress?

There are many options, ranging from different colours to something besides a dress.

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