Winning at Wedding Planning after age 50

By Crissy Neville

It reads like a television fast-food commercial: Have it your way. Sometimes you’ve got to break the rules. Think outside the bun. 

But wait. There are no golden arches or yappy dogs in this script. A quite happy 50-something bride and her tradition-be-darned attitude are the stars of this show. And why not? It is her wedding day, after all. 

Wedding planning is a lot easier for those who are a bit older than for their younger and greener counterparts, asserts Fayetteville event planner Jasmine Lyon Ridgway of Lyon Legacy Events. According to Ridgway, the best part of having a wedding over 50 is that “no rules apply” because “the bride and groom are no longer trying to people-please” in these seasoned years of life. And, after waiting for Mr. or Mrs. Right a fair portion of their lives, that only seems fair.

This is not to say to abandon all traditions, emphasized Lyon, but to let go of the ones that cause undue stress. Younger couples often make choices based on age-old traditions, parents’ wishes, finances, or in an attempt to accommodate guests they barely know. In trying to create the perfect day, memories sometimes get lost in the hustle and shuffle. Weddings after 50 are no holds barred — invite who you want, drink what you like and wear what you love — even a white dress, said Lyon.

What about a gift registry? That is open for discussion, too. While it may seem like midlifers have everything and the kitchen sink, that is not always the case. Older couples combining households when marrying do often double their number of toasters or blenders, but registering for new items or things can help with ideas for friends and families who wish to give gifts. Honeymoon registries and money trees are new trends for those wishing to gift experiences over things, but traditional household checklists still work for brides and grooms of any age.

Amazon is the country’s most popular wedding registry site, with Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, Crate & Barrel, and Zola close competitors. A bride-to-be in her 50s may not want china or crystal, but new sheets, towels, or small appliance upgrades may be enticing. 

When it comes to wedding planning, Lyon said another consideration is of previous marriages. Often the couple over 50 will forgo having a large wedding because they had that in the past, but that’s not to say they can’t still go big if they want to. It is simply just a matter of choice, said Lyon, who has seen bridal parties of later marriages as large as the couple’s entire family, including children, grandchildren, with many guests, and other weddings with much smaller numbers. There is likely to be some blending of families to factor in, too, noted Lyon, and being inclusive, or exclusive, of ex-spouses and previous family members are again about prerogative. Some throw large, lavish parties with many attendees while others choose intimate, smaller events, including destination and beach weddings. 

According to the popular wedding planning website The Knot, 81% of all destination weddings last year took place in the continental U.S. in places like California, Florida, Michigan, and New York. Nineteen percent of the destination weddings were overseas celebrations, with couples choosing places like the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, and Europe. The site surveys couples of all ages in its annual Real Weddings Study. For traditional, non-destination weddings, the study showed breweries as replacing wineries as the trendiest wedding venues. Also popular are barns, lofts, distilleries, ranches, and greenhouses, too.

A self-described non-traditionalist, 53-year-old Suzanne Nagel is engaged to be married to her boyfriend of six years, Tony Harrison, in Fayetteville Feb. 15. Engaged since March 2019, the pair has taken the party-style approach and plans to skip the customary garter toss, cake cutting, and first dance traditions, with one exception: the dress.

“This is my second marriage, and Tony’s, too,” said Nagel. “I had a traditional wedding before, but the last time, my mother picked out the dress for me. It was the only dress I tried on, and it fit, so I got it. But this time, I took my mother, sister, godmother and best friend dress shopping with me. I wanted the feeling you hear about all the time, about finding ‘the’ dress. It is perfect – ivory and champagne, off the shoulder, along with sequins and a train. At 53, I do not want to look too young or spend a fortune. This dress was just right.”

The other non-negotiable for the couple concerned the music. Harrison is a guitarist with the popular Fayetteville band Rivermist, as well as a music store owner and instructor. Nagel enjoys singing, and as she did not have live music at her first wedding, she wants it this time. Envisioning their reception as more of a “jam session of band friends” than a formal affair, the couple booked Catlett Farm, a farm and wedding venue in eastern Cumberland County, for the wedding and reception. The wedding, minus formal invitations, a wedding planner, or bridesmaids and groomsmen, is about “keeping it simple,” she said, “and expressing who we are.” That may include a duet from the music-minded pair or having Harrison hop on the stage with his band brothers for a set. 

One way Nagel is simplifying is through technology – Facebook, to be exact. Explaining they will likely only send out online wedding invitations, she joked that “anyone with a problem with the lack of formality doesn’t have to come.” 

She is also cutting back on flowers, incorporating reusable wooden bouquets instead of the usual fussy flora. “The details and handiwork are incredible,” she said, “and my arrangement has hues of pink, burgundy, and blush. I love it.” 

“We thought back on our previous weddings and realized a lot of the traditions we carried out for family reasons or the sake of traditions themselves were not even memorable. It is easy to get so caught up in the plans that you lose what is important. All the rituals can make your wedding day crazy and stressful, and I want to have fun and remember it all. I go against the grain anyway; I am just as likely to have spaghetti for Christmas instead of turkey.”

Another motivator, according to Nagel, is experience. “At my age, I feel like I should be able to do what I want. I am old enough to know all the frivolous things are not necessary to have a good day. Plus, I followed all those traditions the first time, and the marriage did not work, so there is something to say for being opposite the second time around.” 

Nagel and Harrison’s out-of-the-box wedding plans are in line with others marrying later or for the second time. The way they first met was, too. While modern-day online dating gets the credit for bringing the two together, the result is a tale as old as time. It goes to show that there is nothing wrong or odd with falling in love and getting married again when you’re a bit older, and there are no right or wrong wedding days, either. 

In the theme of “make it your own” and “do it your way,” wedding cake traditions are going far beyond classic tiers of vanilla and buttercream. Though there will always be room for traditions, many couples are choosing to forgo the wedding cakes of the past and opt for alternative styles that reflect their particular tastes and time in life. 

Here are 5 On-Point Wedding Cake Trends for 2020 and Beyond

Black Cakes

A popular trend in recent years, the black wedding cake bucks tradition and is as elegant as it is dramatic. Paired with a classic design, the black wedding cake can be decorated with flowers, edible gold leaf or other appliques. The black creates a blank canvas from which to work and adds a touch of flair to the special day. 

Lace Cakes

On trend, lace-decorated cakes are certainly having “a moment.” From lace patterns created using “brush embroidery” to patterns outlined in gold (particularly lovely against a white backdrop), a lace pattern is elegant, sophisticated and classic while adding nuance and detail to any wedding cake. 

Semi-Naked Cakes

Semi-naked wedding cakes are the epitome of “less is more.” Rather than layering buttercream on the outside of cakes, bakers are focusing on the filling in between layers. This look is a fresh, modern take on the traditional layered cake and is a welcome addition for many guests who eschew traditional amounts of frosting. However, semi-naked cakes may dry out faster than their fully-frosted cousins. It’s best to have them baked as close to the big day as possible. 

Metallic Cakes

For a glamorous twist on the wedding cake, metallic cakes continue to be popular as we ring in a new decade. Metallic layers can be paired with nearly any color, including white, for drama and decorated with all the usual suspects: flowers, fondant, piping, etc.  Metallic also stands alone as its own decor, giving it a timeless yet modern appeal. 

Non-Cake “Cakes”

Growing in popularity for many couples is the non-cake “cake” – including towers of donuts, macaroons, waffles, pies and even cheese. Layering large wheels of cheese and decorating with grapes and other assorted fresh fruit continues to grow in popularity as do donut towers, multi-level displays of pies or tarts, and cupcake towers. Even tiered rice krispy treats have been turned into wedding cakes.