How To Choose Your Wedding Timeline
Written by Kirstin
September 30, 2021
Click on images to see photo credit.
Want to wake up at 5:00 am on your wedding day?
Neither do I!
Today I thought I’d get down to the nitty gritty of planning timelines.
Planning times for everything to happen on your wedding day can be a stressful job. You want to make sure that there’s no awkward gaps in the day for your friends and family….we’ve all been to those out of town weddings with nothing to do for an entire afternoon.
At the same time, you want to make sure you have plenty of time to finish each event without being rushed. The week before I got married, I kept having this dream that I was in my wedding dress finishing the decor in the church while all the guests were starting to arrive. Thankfully, I woke up and everything was OK. But it stressed me out so much that I still remember it vividly over a decade later!
Here are my top tips for planning your perfect wedding day timeline…I’ve used this system over and over again and the only time a bride ran late was the time I didn’t follow my own rules!
You’ll need to start by choosing an overall flow for the day. Here are the basic options. Choose one you like and make it work for you!
By far the most common way to schedule your day is an early afternoon ceremony, followed by a photo session, and then a dinner/evening reception. This flow is great for the couple. You can spend your whole morning taking your time getting ready. If you like the tradition of not seeing your spouse until the momentous walk down the aisle, then this works perfectly.
The only real con is that your guests have a big break in the middle of the day. Since it’s so common, most people don’t think twice about it anymore, but it really is rather awkward for your friends and family. Local people have to dedicate an extra several hours of their Saturday to sitting around in their wedding clothes. Out-of-towners have to try to find something to do in an unfamiliar town in those same uncomfortable wedding clothes. Maybe I just need to buy more comfortable wedding clothes!
2. LATE WEDDING
There’s something extra romantic about a late wedding. Have your wedding late in the afternoon, then flow right into a supper reception. Or you can combine them all into one event with an evening dinner ceremony. This timeline works out great for your guests as well since they can move right from the ceremony into cocktail hour. You will need to have your longer photo session earlier in the day (or even another day entirely!). An intimate first look session fits really nicely.
3. EARLY WEDDING
Brunch and lunch receptions have been gaining popularity the last several years as a great alternative to dinners. I could go into all the reasons for that, but that’s another post! Your guests can move right from the morning ceremony to the reception with no awkward waiting. You still get to save your first look for the ceremony. You do have to get ready early in the day, which can be tough if you’re not a morning person. Oh, and beware of the dangers of eating before photos!
Now that you know the general flow you want your day to have, it’s time to set some specific times for your ceremony and reception. The other specifics can wait, but before you can send invitations you’ll need some times to put in them!
Here are a few things to help you know what time will work best.
Add An Hour (at least!)
Figure out how long it should take for things like hair and makeup, photos, or a round of golf with the guys…then add at least an hour to your time. Something will always come up to throw you off, and this way you never have to feel rushed. Your makeup artist wants 45 minutes per person? Add it up, then give an extra hour. Your photographer thinks it will take 2 hours to do the main session? Give yourself three. If you finish early, you’ve got extra time to spend with your wedding party! Plus you never know if someone might be running late, if you find a stain on someone’s dress, the limo doesn’t start, or any number of things that can throw your day off.
Plan for Photos
Even if you’re not one for getting a lot of ‘getting ready’ shots, you still need to allow some amount of time. You’ll probably want a few shots with all your girls once everyone’s hair and makeup is done. Plus a few of getting the dress on, your mom pinning in your veil, or a first look with your dad. Same goes for the groom’s party.
If a certain look for photos is really important to you, ask your photographer if they need specific lighting to achieve it. Since most ceremonies are in the early afternoon, taking photos afterward allows photographers to avoid working with the dreaded noon hour light. With an early wedding, your photographer can take as long as they like to work with the beautiful lighting that comes later in the day.
Add It Up
Now that you know how much time you need to allow for each part of the process, add it all up to find out what time you need to start each event. For now, pencil in getting ready in the morning, the ceremony, photo session, and reception start times.
Adjust as needed. If your math says you need to wake up before the sun (or any time earlier than you want to!), shorten your morning by asking your hair stylist and makeup artist to bring along an assistant or two. You can cut time in half by allowing two people to get styled at once. And it usually doesn’t cost any extra to have two stylists for half the time instead of one for the whole morning.
Inform Your Tribe
Let your wedding party know well in advance when you’re going to need them. They’ll need to make travel plans and find babysitters in order to be there for you, so give them as much warning as possible.
And that’s it! Follow these tips, and you’ll have a day that flows smoothly with lots of time to enjoy being with your favourite people.
Want a free printable timeline planner?
Lay out the perfect timeline for your wedding, and keep track of what time all the important things need to happen.
Join the monthly newsletter to get access to all the free printables and more!
You May Also Like…
It is completely overwhelming to get engaged. The joy. The excitement. The questions… As soon as you start showing off...
You're almost there. Just a few more weeks and it will actually be here! There's a lot of details to bring together...
Your wedding caterer is a big deal. The food basically sets the tone for the whole reception. Today I'm going to walk...