Wedding vs Elopement

Beth Fernley wedding photographer

How to Have Your (Wedding) Cake and Eat it Too

So you’re getting married! Congratulations! You’ve found The One! Or maybe you’re just keen on wedding planning and have decided it’s time to get some of the ducks in a row, significant other TBA. If so, that’s ok too. This is a safe space.

Whether you’ve always planned a big wedding, or have forever dreamed of eloping overseas, as soon as there’s even a possibility of a wedding on the horizon, it seems like everyone’s got an opinion. While elopements have come a long way since the Elvis-assisted Las Vegas chapel imagery that we all know and love, you can safely assume that others will expect you should/must have a wedding. (For them, obviously – weddings are AWESOME).

Everybody loves a wedding

As much as everybody loves a wedding (and having their two cents worth about yours), it’s worthwhile taking a step back and thinking about what you – the people getting married - actually want (gasp). A wedding day can quickly become about pleasing others, from managing your in-laws’ extensive international guest list, to politely declining that family heirloom, to accommodating small children in numbers that virtually scream mutiny.

South Coast Family Elopement
Mutiny at Seacliff House - Jon Harris Weddings

Expectations from family and friends can be overwhelming, and in an age ruled by social media, it can be hard for couples to cut through allllll the #weddinginspo. With an ocean of wedding vendors and services available, the line on wedding must-haves and lust-haves can quickly become a little blurry.

After all, who can say no to an epically Instagrammable venue, hand-made invitations, or to that dream long-sleeved lace wedding dress. With custom overskirt. Or to the Louboutins to match – after all you’ll absolutely wear them again. Of course, you also need the perfect bridesmaids’ dresses in contrasting yet complementary tones. 

It’s all so worthwhile and completely justifiable. Your wedding is the biggest party of your life and will be captured forever in the photographs. By that cutting-edge wedding photographer that you’ve been casually following for the last two years. Who only has two available wedding dates remaining in the next 12 months.

Beth Fernley Weddings and Elopements
The biggest party of your life - Beth Fernley Photography

Are weddings the new avocado toast?

Before you can Google “perfect yet reasonably priced Sydney wedding venues”, the wedding juggernaut can well and truly get away! With the average cost of an Australian wedding reportedly at the $53,000 mark, a wedding is accepted as a significant financial commitment.

An increasing number of couples, especially millennials - forever tarred by the stigma of financial planning in units of avocado toast - are questioning traditional wedding concepts and formulaic wedding spending. That money could potentially otherwise amount to a good chunk of a house deposit.

Destination weddings: the fence-sitters of the wedding world

More accessible air travel has resulted in an increase not only of activewear as acceptable (cough) flight attire, but also in the prevalence of destination weddings. Many couples are happy to up the honeymoon component of their trip and invite a small circle of close family and friends to witness their vows and join in on the holiday.

Of course, this concept applies as much to domestic destinations as it does to international locations. Beaches, mountains, wineries and adventure locations (think rock climbing, hiking, music concerts, boats and helicopter rides) are great choices for local elopements, allowing for a romantic, individualised experience, epic photos, and a holiday, all in one!

South Coast destination weddingDestination Wedding in Kiama - Peter Izzard Photography

Let’s elope!

Although elopement purists out there (and obnoxious sticklers for definitions - we all know at least one) may be wrinkling their nose at the suggestion of an elopement with any guests, the notion is quickly gaining traction. Many of our very own wedding celebrants specialise in bespoke elopements, including Josh Withers of Married by Josh and The Elopement Collective. The focus is on the celebration of the marriage over the hosting of a wedding, with core elements of a beautiful location, an intimate and meaningful exchange of vows, and stunning photography to capture the memory.

Married by Josh
Sunset elopement in Wanaka - Married by Josh

This modern concept of an elopement-plus-guests gives couples significant freedom in planning their day to include as much or as little formality as they desire with little pressure to conform to others’ wedding expectations (because Auntie Sharon, it’s an elopement and to be honest, you’re lucky to have an invite).

Of course, an elopement can also remain as Auntie-Sharon-free as you’d like. In cases of competing or unreasonable expectations from families, it’s the ultimate free pass, allowing you to merrily disregard other people’s menu preferences. As most married couples who have made it to the flipside of a traditional wedding can attest, the wedding planning process can take on a life of its own, leading to the occasional cross word, testing of friendships or episode of rocking in the corner while breathing into a paper bag.

Planning an elopement

Eloping can be as romantic and intimate as you’d like it to be. For your Australian marriage to be valid, you’ll need to have two witnesses (hint: your photographer may be also be happy to be your witness), but the rest of the guest list (or complete absence one) is up to you. There is incredible intimacy in exchanging vows without an audience present, allowing you and your partner to relax, focus and exist completely in the moment together. There's none of the  ‘pressure’ that some people may feel in a traditional ceremony format in front of their gathered loved ones.

Josh Withers Elopement"Weddings should make you smile.  Here's an example" - Married by Josh

Of course, elopements are only one option and the concept doesn’t suit every couple. If you’ve always dreamed of a big white wedding, then your wedding day is absolutely the full-princess moment you’ve been waiting for. Gather up your five metre train and get on it! You only get married once (in statistical likelihood).

Wedding traditions

Weddings also offer many opportunities for those moments of celebration that we’ve often been conditioned to look forward to during our lives – the bridal preparations, hens’ and bucks’ nights, dress shopping, first dances, speeches and of course the opportunity to publicly declare your love to your partner with the exchanging of vows. If you’re a natural-born planner (show of hands, please), you and your A-type personality may thrive on the huge and exciting project that comes with planning a wedding and (ahem) organising everyone and everything around you to match your vision. All of this is ok. If you and your partner are on board for some serious wedding palooza to rival the royal nuptials, you do you, hon! And make sure you send us the pictures!

If your family heritage encourages big weddings, this alone might sell you on the concept of a big family wedding as a rite of passage. A snap decision for an elopement could potentially create discord within the family or leave you dealing with feelings of having missed out down the track, so always carefully examine your motivations and expectations if you’re feeling excited but apprehensive about the idea of an elopement.

Equally, many couples pause to re-examine some of the historical concepts behind some customary wedding goings-on, and choose to modify or omit some parts of traditional wedding proceedings. We’ve seen an increase in couples walking down the aisle together in line with changing societal views about gender equality. Weddings are evolving, and almost every aspect of a wedding day is negotiable.  

Erin Shanley elopement
You do you! Erin Shanley Hair

Is an elopement the right choice?

Some ways to test the waters concerning your feelings about an elopement is to have an open conversation with your family about your plans, and to examine how you feel during and after the conversation. Some couples decide to let their parents or immediate family know in advance about their intentions to elope. It can soften the impact of a sometimes shocking “Surprise, we’re married!” announcement after the fact. 

Wedding decision angst (it’s a thing)

The good news here is that ultimately, you don’t have to choose between a wedding and an elopement. The two concepts are best viewed as ends of a sliding spectrum to find the sweet spot at either end (or right in the middle) where the couple are comfortable.

It’s very much a case of being able to have your cake and eat it too. Whether you choose to have a registry wedding, ‘pure’ elopement or legals-only ceremony, you’re still entirely able to host a big, all-in celebration, renewal of vows or formal celebration as well. On a different date or even on the same day. Some couples even choose to have a close friend or much-loved family member ‘officiate’ at a larger ceremony after a legal ceremony has been conducted in private, given that the couple are therefore already officially wed.

Planning a destination wedding

Some couples strategically choose a destination wedding that ticks boxes on their travel bucket-list, also knowing that only a handful of their nearest and dearest will attend. This also allows for variations on the elopement concept such as inviting family or parents only to join the couple for particular dates, including the ceremony, but also allowing the couple to effectively already be on their honeymoon and enjoy time together in their preferred destination both before and after their ceremony. A further attraction of this approach for travel-loving couples is an almost-compulsory trip back to where it all began for an anniversary celebration or family tour in years to come. 

Elopement Wedding Reception
South Coast Elopement - Jon Harris Photography

Planning a wedding or elopement: where to start

Wedding or elopement, the single most important consideration is to make decisions that are true to what you and your partner really want for your day. A simple exercise is to each write down a few key desires and considerations for your celebration and see where they overlap.  Once you have big picture agreement on what’s important to you both, it’s easy to start browsing locations to fit your concept, and watch your big day come together.

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