Local wedding traditions like second line parades and cake pulls are part of what make New Orleans unique. To an out-of-town couple planning a destination wedding here, the city can be a theme in itself, especially when it's all decked out for Carnival. But couples don't have to follow a formula to make a themed celebration work. The city's architecture provides a wonderful backdrop for all kinds of weddings, whether they're based on Carnival-inspired masked balls, The Great Gatsby-style blowouts, garden parties or a night at the circus.
"A themed wedding is an idea or something that the couple loves, whether it's a color, or the outdoors, or an era. It can be anything," says Merideth Reed, a wedding planner for Belle Soiree. "The theme is the glue that binds everything together, from invitations to table settings."
Themed weddings set a certain look, and they're perfect for couples who desire nontraditional parties that reflect their personalities. Many themed weddings incorporate guests into the aesthetic, as they're often encouraged to dress in a certain style.
The most important thing to remember when planning a themed wedding is to be genuine, Reed says. If the style is forced, the wedding can be kitschy rather than glamorous, romantic or fun.
Reed helped one couple express their gothic style by organizing a traveling circus-themed wedding complete with costume-inspired outfits, a red and black-and-white striped color scheme and vintage props such as antique couches, a globe and an old trunk.
The props came from Mrs. Vintage, a rental boutique in New Orleans that specializes in furniture and period pieces for vintage-style weddings and other events.
"It definitely created a darker ambience in a fun way instead of the glitz and glamour that a wedding can have," Reed says about the circus theme. "It had a more mysterious feel than a typical, sparkly-type wedding."
The right clothing was essential to creating the ambience of an old circus, Reed adds. The bride wore a corseted dress and a headpiece with a short black lace veil and carried a burgundy parasol. The groom wore a burgundy vest, a pocket watch and an ascot. For a boutonniere, he wore a cockade, a style of pin popular in the 18th century.
Male members of the wedding party wore suspenders and bowties, and the flower girl wore a black, white and red leotard and a lace, pearl and feathered fascinator.
The second line included a baton-twirling dancer.
"I think it helped define them because they were a different couple," Reed says. "This theme reflected on their personal style, which I always recommend. If the theme is pushed too hard and doesn't feel natural, I don't recommend doing it."
For Niki Walker, owner of Niki Walker Salon, period clothing was imperative to pulling off her 1920s-style wedding. Although several planners say the style became popular after the latest The Great Gatsby film, Walker says she has been infatuated with the Art Deco style for decades.
"We're 1920s people at heart," Walker says of herself and her husband, fashion photographer Chip Kennedy. "We're old souls."
"The 1920s fashion, to me, is a lifestyle," Kennedy says. "It's every day."
Walker wore a dress custom-made for her by designers Falguni and Shane Peacock, complete with leather, feathers, metal studs and a trailing skirt. She and Kennedy asked their guests to come dressed to the nines in 1920s fashions, too.
In fact, it was so important to them that they considered rejecting people at the door who weren't wearing some element of vintage style.
"A themed wedding is a team event," Kennedy says. "It's every team player that makes it a success. It's not about us — it's about our people."
Their guests arrived with flapper hairstyles, feather boas, long pearls, bowties and top hats. Other Art Deco elements of the after-party, held in the French Quarter's Hotel Maison de Ville, included a Champagne fountain, an old typewriter prop and a table setup inspired by the varied angles of the Manhattan skyline.
But not every theme has to be so intricately staged, says planner Aimee Barousse of Plan B Weddings. She often bases themes on the wedding's location, whether it's in a garden or the courtyard of an old building.
One of her weddings, held in City Park, utilized oversized Jenga and dominoes, hula hoops and a croquet set, which added a fun element to the setting.
For garden-themed weddings, her clients usually choose alternatives to traditional flowers, such as baby vegetables, succulents in burlap sacks or potted plants as centerpieces, she added.
"It's all really small nuances," Barousse says. "It's really sweet."
For a more abstract approach, planner Robin Legendre says she's designed whole weddings using the color scheme of favorite objects, such as magnolia flowers and peacock feathers.
To emulate the color scheme of a peacock, Legendre hung blue chandeliers and worked with floral designers to recreate the colors of a peacock tail out of flowers.
"Mine are usually high-end, and I try to keep it classic," Legendre says of the weddings she plans. "I'll take an element and work off that, like peacock green and blue, but you wouldn't walk in and see this explosion of peacocks."
Tips for planning a Themed Wedding
Choose a theme that reflects your personality as a couple.
Encourage guests to dress the part by wearing costumes or period fashions.
Incorporate vintage furniture and props to set the mood.
A theme-appropriate color scheme (e.g., green and blue for a peacock-themed wedding or red and black for a circus theme) keeps things unified.
Consider a signature cocktail that reflects the theme (for example, a Prohibition-era cocktail like a sidecar at a 1920s wedding).