(Credit: Chris Devlin)

Wedding Season in Southeast Connecticut

(Credit: Chris Devlin)

June is not the time to try and write a story about weddings. Venues are frantic, photographers barely eat, hairdressers are on the move, bakers are chained to their ovens — it’s the middle of wedding season and wedding vendors have been preparing each event for almost two years. So, who was I to get some of their time with just a day’s notice?

“It used to be about a year engagement, and then it was a year and a half then two, we are already seeing bookings for venues in 2021” said Keith Padin, director of communications for A Thyme to Cook, a thirty five year old catering business in North Stonington. “I think it is because the venues are so spectacular that if you really want the wedding date that you want, well there are only four Saturdays in September.”

May and June are well known as wedding months, and every vendor I spoke with is booked every Friday, Saturday and Sunday this month, but fall weddings have become increasingly popular across the United States, particularly in Connecticut.

A Thyme to Cook catering at Saltwater Farm Vineyard (Credit: Julia Jane Studios)

“People like the fall, people like the colors, people like everything pumpkin spice. It’s not hot. You’re not going to get any snow. It’s a pretty safe season to get married,” Padin said.

According to Wedding Wire’s survey of over 18,000 couples, four of the top five most popular wedding dates are in the fall: October 19, September 14, May 4, October 12 and October 5.

“Really we see September, October, then August and July and poor June is falling to the wayside,” Padin said.

But while May until October might be wedding season, increasingly, the rest of the year is no vacation for vendors.

“Weddings are now all year. My last wedding this year is December 21 and my first is the end of January, that’s barely a month off,” said Chris Devlin, a wedding photographer with over 25 years of experience, based in Old Lyme. “I’ve had more January, February and March weddings than ever before these past couple years.”

(Credit: Chris Devlin)

Every vendor said that longer engagements are the most noticeable change.

“Sometimes the weddings are planned way, way in advance,” said Lisa Argilagos, the owner of You Take the Cake bakery in New London. “It gives me a lot of time to get to know the couple, and I like to have a little bit of connection to the food I’m making.”

Argilagos is not alone. Many vendors emphasized the importance of getting to know the couple, forming a personal relationship and making the bride and groom’s day unique.

“We have a relationship with people for these two years,” Padin said. “Our event coordinators are getting birth announcements, Christmas cards. It’s like we are part of the family.”

For photographers, a longer engagement – including a 2-hour engagement shoot — helps to ensure that the couple won’t be nervous around them on the big day.

“Becoming friends with the couple is huge,” Devlin said. “Being at ease with the person who is holding the camera can make the pictures.”

More time, more things

Longer engagements not only lead to better relationships with vendors, but also to more events.

“We host a lot of bridal showers and rehearsal dinners,” said Maggie Henderson of Silver Oak Mystic, a smaller venue in Old Mystic. “It’s interesting to see the progression of all these things, there could be four related events just for one engaged couple.”

Engagement parties, bridal showers, Jack & Jills, rehearsal dinners, bachelor and bachelorette weekends — the list goes on.

“I honestly think we had a bridal shower this past Sunday that was like a mini wedding itself,” Henderson said. “They rented all matching gold wear, brought in specific wine glasses. It’s mind blowing because it’s just a bridal shower.”

Engagements are not only longer, but couples are getting older.

According to Wedding Wire, the average age of a couple to get married is 33. Couples are waiting longer to get engaged, are having longer engagements, and have more to spend on the event.

The average cost of a wedding in Connecticut in 2018 was $35,702 — that’s more than $10,000 higher than the national average.

If not a destination, at least outside

“It’s our busiest weddings season yet,” said Tosh Urbowicz, who arranges events at the Bee and Thistle Inn in Old Lyme. The lawn behind the inn, which stretches down to the Lieutenant River, is a particularly popular spot in the region for weddings.

Wedding venues across Connecticut are feeling an increase this wedding season — all venues, that is, except churches.

In 2018, there were 18,561 weddings in Connecticut, but only 937 in a catholic church in the archdiocese of Hartford. That’s just five percent of all weddings in the state. Since 2015, the number of weddings held in the archdiocese has dropped by 16 percent.

“The number of weddings in churches here has declined, but some of that is because people are getting married somewhere else,” said Father James Shanley of the archdiocese of Hartford. “Before if you had 50 parishioners, you’d know they’d get married in your church, now things are different,” Shanley said.

Overall in the United States, only 25 percent of weddings take place within a religious institution, according to Wedding Wire.

According to Shanley, even if couples do get married in the Catholic Church, they are often opting to get married in a church that’s not their home parish. With parents and grandparents often living out of state, places like Newport or Florida can seem more attractive.

Couples are often on the move as well, making marriage preparation through the Catholic Church, known as pre-cana, a challenge.

“Between geography and movement things have become complicated,” Shanley said. “We are doing everything over the internet as couples do their wedding preparation in one place and get married in another.”

More couples want to have both the ceremony and reception outside and the church has caught on to that.

“We are trying to open up different options,” Shanley said. “We are looking at opening an outdoor chapel that might be more attractive to couples. It would be beautiful and neutral, not attached to any one parish.”

Beyond the cupcake tower

Instead of two or three menu options included with an invitation, the big trend in wedding catering in 2019 is to put all the options on each plate.

“We see a lot of paired plates now. Two proteins on the same plate that gets served. It eliminates the need for doing all the RSVP cards,” Padin said.

And it’s not just dinner that is served, there will be a cocktail hour, “interactive food stations,” — and more commonly now — late night snacks.

“People want an abundance of things and to try lots of different foods and desserts,” Padin said.

(Credit: You Take the Cake Bakery)

All these add-ons mean that couples are shortening guest lists, but adding extras like hors d’oeuvres based on the food they had on their first date.

“It was trending 150 to 200 people, but now we see a lot more 100 to 125 guests,” Padin said. “People are limiting themselves.”

In terms of cakes, it’s all about the trends, said Argilagos, who has been in the business for 17 years.

“Thank god cupcakes are almost gone,” Argilagos laughed. When a trend like cupcake towers is really popular, Argilagos will see nearly every wedding in a season ask for the same style.  “Today we are seeing less fondant. It used to be it had to be a fondant cake. Now people want buttercream. Stucco-iced cakes with flowers is very popular right now.”

You never quite know what the next trend will be, Argilagos said, but when it hits, it’s everywhere.

In terms of style, this season the color is blush, Henderson said. And in terms of makeup the trend is natural.

“Mostly brides want to stay natural with bold lips,” said Denita Phillips, a makeup artist based out of Hartford. “And what’s really big right now is highlighting.”

In past years it was common for the bride to pay for all her bridesmaids to have their makeup and hair done, but Phillips said that’s not the case anymore.

“Nowadays a lot of brides are leaving it up to the bridesmaids on what to do with their makeup and bridesmaids are paying for themselves,” Phillips said.

Price Point

Although with an average wedding cost of more than $35,000 it may seem like no bride is cutting corners, once you factor in an average cost of nearly $7,000 on catering, a middle-of-the-road photographer charging $3,500 and a cake priced at more than $6 a slice, it’s easy to see how things add up without even factoring in the venue, the dress and the music. Adding in hair and makeup for a handful of bridesmaids could push a couple’s budgets over the tipping point.

Phillips said she tries not to put added pressure on the bride as many makeup artists and hairdressers are doing these days.

“I see a lot of people charging differently for the bride versus everybody else,” Phillips said. “People do it for the money, I get it, but at the same time have a little bit of customer service in there somewhere. This day is not your day, it’s their day.”

With thousands of wedding vendors in Connecticut, couples have the chance to be picky. They can compare prices and quality – especially now that nearly all vendors have easily accessible photos and reviews.

Photos, Phillips explained, can make all the difference.

“I make sure to include a photo of all ethnicities on my website,” Phillips said, because on multiple occasions she’s found out later that someone didn’t book her because they thought she couldn’t do make up for a white bride.  

(Credit: Denita Phillips)

“I’ve been asked if I do makeup on white people. I get it. A black woman might opt for a black woman because they think they’ll understand their skin more,” Phillips said. But a good makeup artist, said Phillips, can do makeup on anyone. It’s just about matching colors.

Other vendors are also employing similar tactics — not only in terms of ethnicity, but also age — wanting older couples and second marriages to feel just as welcome as twenty- and thirty-somethings.

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