The Sulla Tips: 

Straightforward Rules for Keeping Wedding Planning From Sapping Your Common Sense, Squashing Your Sense of Humor, and Sucking the Joy Out of One of Life's Most Joyous Occasions

By Jennifer Mendelsohn




A little background on the Sulla Tips... The Sulla Tips grew out of my experiences as a regular on the Knot's message boards while planning my 2002 wedding. Each day, the boards were littered with posts from brides beside themselves over wedding planning issues that didnÕt even have to cross their radar screens in the first place, from the woman who needed confirmation that it was ok that her wedding colors didn't include her favorite colors, to the one who worried whether serving New York strip at a rehearsal dinner is "somehow wrong?" ("I'm pathetic for worrying about this, but I'm needing your opinions," confessed the strip steak bride.) There was the bride who was seriously concerned about whether she could still order white chair covers if she wore an ivory dress (the horror! The horror!) and the one who asked in all earnestness whether her cake needed to match the interior or exterior of her reception site.


There's such an overload of wedding info out there - they don't call it the "wedding-industrial complex" for nothing! -- that it's easy for women who've been prepped since childhood for "the most important day of their lives" to worry and obsess about the trappings...moreso than they obsess about what it actually means to get married. Bridal tunnel vision, it seemed, had spiraled completely out of control...and so, the Sulla Tips were born. And here they are.


My best piece of wedding advice?


Its a party, its a party, its a party.


DonÕt let your obsession with making sure you do and buy all the stuff youÕre ŅsupposedÓ to suck the joy out of your very joyous day. Just let it roll and make sure that your wedding is, at heart, a celebration, not a staged production. WeÕve somehow gotten so crazed about all the stuff weÕre supposed to do and have and buy, that IMO, too many weddings have lost that carefree sense of celebration that the old-fashioned, simple VFW Hall events had in spades.


In other words, itÕs all about feeling, not stuff. (One of my favorite weddings ever was in a backyard and planned in about three months.) If you want to make your wedding better, make it richer in feeling, not in stuff.


Let me say that again.


If you want to make your wedding better, make it richer in feeling, not stuff.


Too much ŅstuffÓ can actually sometimes bog it down and make it less enjoyable and meaningful. Plus, youÕre front-loading your day with anxiety if you must have every single little thing controlled and coordinated and (God I hate this word) perfect. You really donÕt have to obsess about matching the bridesmaidsÕ earrings and hose, or coordinating the groomsmenÕs ties to the frosting and the bow on the flower girlÕs dress. Do not give so much as a second thought to your uneven bridal party (this isnÕt a military parade, itÕs a wedding!) and think about throwing a great, memorable party to mark your marriage.


Why? Because itÕs really not about whether the sash on your dress matches the favor boxes and the ink on the save-the-date cards, or about finding the absolute perfect cake serving set to match your theme. (We didnÕt even have favors, STDs, a serving set or a theme.) ItÕs about the look on the face of the woman wearing the sash dress and cutting the cake, even if she uses a rusty old knife someone found in the back. As my caterer likes to say, your bridesmaidsÕ dresses do not need to match the linens unless you plan to use the bridesmaids as centerpieces. (Hey! It could cut your flower bill.)


Ponder this for a second: why are second weddings almost always so much fun? Because their metaphorical hearts are in the right place. Second-time brides seem much more willing to dispense with all the wedding-y ŅstuffÓ and focus instead on throwing a meaningful, relaxed celebration - a party. So try to plan your wedding like itÕs your second...even if itÕs really your first.


IÕm not saying itÕs intrinsically wrong to match everything and obsess about the details if that really makes you happy and thatÕs a natural instinct for you. But it seems like IÕve seen far too many brides make themselves miserable trying to match everything and make all the little details perfect because they think theyÕre supposed to, like the Knottie who was worried about what color limo would look best against her dress. (Puh-leeze!) Or they think that the skies will rain fire and their wedding will suck if they donÕt get crazed about having the font on the save-the-dates match the cocktail napkins. It wonÕt. If itÕs something you donÕt care about, but youÕre all uptight that youÕre supposed to care about it, or worried that you see other people caring about, itÕs probably not something you should care about.


IÕm also most definitely NOT saying that elaborate, fancy weddings canÕt be wonderful ones. (As a matter of fact, I had a pretty elaborate, fancy wedding.) But if youÕre going into it thinking that itÕs the fancy, elaborate stuff thatÕs going to make the wedding a good one, think again. Wonderful weddings are the ones that feel wonderful, regardless of how much or how little ŅstuffÓ is involved. ItÕs a question of emphasis: if you make sure youÕre aiming for a great feeling wedding first and foremost, you can have as much or as little matchy matchy ŅstuffÓ as you want. But the problem I see so many brides encountering is that they seem to have their priorities backwards, and theyÕre investing the ŅstuffÓ and the details with way too much importance, thinking that the only way to have a great wedding is to make sure all the ŅstuffÓ is perfect. But they end up shooting themselves in the foot because the obsession with detail becomes so overwhelming and anxiety-producing (totally understandable, btw, given what we all see in the magazines and tv shows and on the web) that they get tunnel vision and completely forget the joyous celebration that this is all supposed to be about. ItÕs a party, itÕs a party, itÕs a party!


My brother, a very well-regarded wedding photographer, very smartly says there are only two kinds of wedding, regardless of size, budget, location, style, or anything else: fun weddings and stressful weddings. Aim to make yours fun and the rest will fall into place.


In short, nobody ever leaves a wedding saying, ŅYeah, it was soooo great! The mother of the groomÕs dress was the SAME EXACT SHADE as the bridesmaidsÕ shoes and the writing on the matchbooks!Ó People leave a wedding thinking it was great because it felt great - because the bride and groom were in love and happy, and the party felt appropriately joyous, even if thereÕs not a single Martha Stewart-ish detail anywhere in sight.




v    Psst! YouÕre in charge. Not the wedding industry. IÕm so tired of brides asking ŅCan I do this?Ó or ŅWould it be ok if I did this?Ó When it comes to your wedding, YOU are the ultimate authority, not Martha Stewart, and not a chorus of anonymous women on the Internet. Of course there are protocols to help guide you, but thatÕs all they are: guidelines, not legal doctrines written in stone. DonÕt be afraid to deviate from them and follow your gut. The only way to make your wedding truly memorable is to make it truly yours, not to make it a carbon copy of every other brideÕs.


v    While weÕre at it, this also means that asking ŅIs [insert wedding detail here] worth it?Ó is kind of a meaningless question. We all have a budget, and you have to assign priorities within that budget. If having the most fabulous Vera Wang or Monique LÕHuillier gown is the most important thing in the world to you, and you are willing to serve your guests on paper plates to achieve it, then itÕs worth it to you. (Of course, I canÕt really condone that one in good conscience, but IÕm just trying to make a point!) Maybe having the worldÕs best live band is more important to you, and it means you canÕt have a couture gown. Whatever the specifics, I see this getting asked all the time on the Knot and the answer is that there are no absolute values assigned here: wearing a couture gown (or having a live band, or engraved invitations, or a video, or whatever) is ŅworthÓ something very different to every woman, so no one can make those decisions for you. Sure, get some input. Find out how others made these choices. But know that ultimately, you need to trust your gut and your budget.


v    DonÕt let the reception planning overshadow your ceremony planning. ItÕs really what the day is about. And besides, nothing puts guests in a better mood to party than witnessing a meaningful and personal wedding ceremony. I remember a very very fancy over- the top country club wedding that must have cost $100,000. But they had an incredibly mediocre, Ņinsert-bride -and-groom hereÓ kind of ceremony. And to be honest, when I think back on that wedding, what I remember most is the crappy ceremony, not the vodka shot bar.


v         This is tough, but I believe that money does not equal control. Just because your parents (or whoever) are paying, does not give them the right to steamroll you. That means that if you want a small intimate wedding, your mother doesnÕt get to invite 100 people just because she pays for it. Your husbandÕs grandfather does not get to have a polka band just because he pays for it. (By the same token, if your mother is paying, and she wants an all broccoli menu, thatÕs her right, right?) Think about if you were going to throw your parents an anniversary party. And you picked the menu that YOU liked, the flowers and music YOU liked and a guest list of all YOUR friends. YouÕd be a pretty thoughtless host, right? Well, though itÕs controversial, I believe the same is true of hosting a wedding. Your parents already were the bride and itÕs your turn. They donÕt get to go again.


v    Remember that itÕs all good. Wedding stress is undeniably real. ThereÕs no getting around it. Believe me, IÕve been there. Weddings hit many uncomfortable hot button issues, and weÕve all had moments where we just want to kick it all. But youÕre planning a wedding, not a funeral or a fundraiser to help your dying child get a new heart. Which is to say that itÕs really hard to feel sorry for someone overwhelmed by planning a wedding, and thereÕs nothing, and I mean nothing, more unattractive than a bride who whines her way through what should be an exciting, happy process. Because in truth youÕve done the truly stressful part already: youÕve survived the dating scene and found the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. And youÕre stressing over planning the ceremony that will bond the two of you and the wonderful party that will celebrate that bond and perhaps even the fabulous vacation you get to go on when itÕs all over? Poor you. I donÕt want to get too maudlin here, but I just had a 35-year-old friend with three little boys under the age of five die of cancer. His wifeÕs website about their daily battle with his illness and her attempts to keep it together for the boys should be required reading for every bride whoÕs complaining about how stressful it is to plan her wedding. Sometimes it helps to take a step back and remember why youÕre a wreck: YouÕre planning a joyous occasion, and if youÕre letting it make you miserable, youÕre doing something wrong.


v    Guests only see whatÕs there, not what isnÕt. People will never know that you didnÕt choose the most expensive entrˇe, or that you opted for the trio instead of the quartet to save money. I desperately wanted the ridiculously expensive Chiavari chairs for my wedding, but ultimately realized I couldnÕt stretch our budget to fit them. And I stressed and stressed over it. We had plain white wooden folding chairs instead. Do you think anyone came away from my wedding saying, ŅIt was nice, but she should have had better chairsÓ? If you focus on making the most of what is there, nobody will ever be the wiser about the options you turned down.


v    YouÕre having a wedding, not a photo shoot. A wedding is an event involving real people that will also be photographed and often, filmed. YouÕre not staging an event just to be photographed and filmed or costuming actors to play a role. Which means that you really shouldnÕt stress about whether your father-in-lawÕs ivory tie will clash with the bridesmaidsÕ champagne dresses in the pictures or if your fiancˇÕs shirt needs to be the exact same shade as your dress, unless you have a Raggedy Ann and Andy theme in play. YouÕre having a party for people to enjoy, not a photo shoot with models. Make it your priority to focus on doing whatever it takes to make the actual event wonderful, and the pictures will reflect that. If you find yourself asking, ŅBut how will it look in pictures?Ó, think again. ŅIs this what I want for my wedding?Ó is a much healthier question. In other words, aim for a great wedding, not just a perfect-looking record of one. Besides, you should banish the word ŅperfectÓ from your wedding vocabulary unless youÕre talking about your spouse. (And a special footnote about the eternal white shirt/ivory dress ŅcrisisÓ: a man in a crisp white tuxedo shirt can never, ever be out of style, no matter what the woman standing next to him is wearing.)


I think part of the Ņphoto shoot syndromeÓ is that too many brides think their wedding will take place in a fantasy zone that bears no connection to their day-to-day lives. You think you will arrive, butterfly and princess-like, on the wedding morning, to discover your friends and family will somehow be more attractive and caring, your own manners will be better, and all normal human impulses will be stifled. You think you will be whisked from moment to moment on a sugarcoated cloud of good will and tulle, as if the wedding zone exists outside the space/time continuum. Annoying Aunt Edna will miraculously be transformed into your cool best friend and mosquitoes wonÕt bite and you wonÕt sweat when you dance or snort when you laugh.


As special and important and meaningful and remarkable and splendid as your wedding day is, itÕs really just a day of your life, the one after the day before and before the day after. I would recommend you donÕt have expectations that it will be this fantasy perfect day that has nothing to do with your real life. ItÕs this fantasy expectation that can breed bridezillas who wonÕt allow pregnant bridesmaids or uneven bridal parties or (I am not making this up) a bridesmaid in a wheelchair because of how it might look. I think the best weddings are those that reflect, respect and celebrate the reality of your life, even when that reality is a little imperfect, not those that feel completely removed from reality, like youÕre watching a perfectly scripted movie. YouÕre a bride, and thatÕs very special, but youÕre not a Stepford wife or a Kabuki performer. Keep it real.


Having now survived the entire wedding planning process, I also now heartily recommend that you donÕt get stressed out about what anyone else but you is going to wear to your wedding. That means no dictating your mother-in-lawÕs dress, or picking shoes or hairdos for the bridesmaids unless theyÕre asking you to. Whoever it is youÕre worried about could wear a Hefty bag and a lampshade and I promise you you wonÕt notice because you will be so blissfully happy that day. All the people involved in your wedding are presumably adults and what they wear reflects on no one but them. ItÕs just not worth it, because the net result (bridesmaids in matching shoes, for instance) will really not make your wedding more enjoyable or memorable or special, but bridesmaids who are happy and relaxed and feel good about what theyÕre wearing really will. Just my .02. I guess I understand the matching bridesmaid dress is very important to some people, but I have a general rule of thumb that no one over the age of, say, six, should have their footwear chosen for them.  


v    LetÕs talk about photography. If your preference is for that very natural photojournalistic look, I urge you to use a REAL photojournalist, not a wedding photographer who shoots a few candids and calls that a Ņphotojournalistic style.Ó How can you tell? Real photojournalists will have worked for wire services, newspapers or magazines. If you donÕt hire someone with that kind of background, chances are your wedding pictures will not look that way because they havenÕt been trained to shoot that way. When people ask what the difference is, I say that traditional photographers create perfect ŅmomentsÓ - not necessarily ones that actually happened—and capture those: they fan out the brideÕs dress in a perfect half circle. They stop the bride and groom in the middle of the cake cutting and tell them when to smile. They have the mother and father stand a few steps away and gaze lovingly. In general, they direct the action. Photojournalists are trained to shoot news, not set up shots ...they capture the day as it unfolds, good, bad, ugly, (well hopefully not too ugly), but most of all...spontaneous. War photographers donÕt head into battle with a Ņmust takeÓ list, and neither do sports photographers going to cover a game. They just shoot what they see. So you wonÕt get a parents-gazing-lovingly shot from a photojournalist unless that moment actually happened.


This doesnÕt mean that photojournalists wonÕt take some beautiful posed portraits for you, or wonÕt get the obligatory picture of you with your parents. But their posed portraits just tend to be much more natural looking, and they will probably be less willing to do the 900 different family constellation photos. (HereÕs Bob and Jane with Mom. HereÕs Bob and Jane with Mom and Dad. HereÕs Mom and Dad with just Jane....) Photojournalists tell the story of your wedding in pictures. Period. (And for the record, that has nothing to do with pictures of your shoes!) I also laugh when people say photojournalism is just a ŅtrendÓ; tell that to Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, whose battlefield photos can still rip your heart out 140 years later. Timeless, beautiful photography will never, ever be out of style. Trite, contrived pictures will look dated almost immediately.


While weÕre on the subject of photography, nothing irks me more than people who say they want really unique pictures...and then ask other brides to post theirs so they can copy poses. The only way to have really unique pictures is to have pictures that capture what happened at your wedding and your wedding only. And once again, after many years as a regular on the Knot message boards, I donÕt think IÕve EVER seen a bride say her favorite wedding photo was one she copied from someone elseÕs album. TheyÕre almost always something that captured a unique moment that could never be replicated. Please, please, please, just stop with the Ņmust takeÓ picture lists - especially when so many of the pictures youÕre trying to copy are candids and therefore really un-duplicatable. ItÕs almost embarrassing to think your wedding album is going to be filled with pictures you Ņborrowed,Ó copying what happened naturally at someone elseÕs wedding. What should you do instead? Hire a photographer you trust whoÕll have creative, imaginative ideas of their own. I beg you. ItÕs fine if you want to show your photographer a few pictures you like to give them an idea of the style that appeals to you, but replicating them exactly? Yikes. If youÕre somebody who wants and needs all the ŅtraditionalÓ poses, by all means, use that checklist they give you on the Knot, but this whole idea of recreating creative poses is, to me, (as someone whose completely candid photos have appeared in othersÕ bios on the must-take list) bordering on, um, creepy.


IÕve also heard it (incorrectly, IMO) said that the bride and groom somehow need to be camera savvy to be properly captured by a photojournalist, or that not every wedding is a good bet for photojournalism. I heartily disagree. Do you think before publications send photographers out to shoot a feature story, they first investigate whether the subject is Ņcamera-savvy?Ó It doesnÕt matter who you are or where your wedding is or what you look like: every single wedding - a sacred event where two people in love commit their lives to each other in the presence of friends and family and (often) God—is going to be filled with countless beautiful, inimitable, heartwrenching moments ripe for capturing, as long as you have a photographer who knows how to do it. You shouldnÕt need to ŅborrowÓ from anyone.



SullaÕs Wedding Day advice

After all my months and months of planning everything in meticulous detail, one warm summer morning I woke up and it was actually my wedding day. I had done everything I could to make sure it went off as seamlessly as possible. Now all I could do was actually enjoy the fruit of all my labor. The day was going to unfold as it unfolded and it was basically out of my hands at that point. The only thing I could control was making sure I got down the aisle, said the vows, and got the ring on my finger.


My take on the wedding day? You wonÕt remember 20 years from now if they messed up and served broccoli quiche instead of spinach, but you will remember it if you freak out over it and cause a scene and hide in the bathroom in tears over the quiche, the wrong flowers, the wrong chairs, the missing organist, or whatever it is. Just let it all roll off your back that day, no matter what. You can deal with suing your baker when you come home from the honeymoon, but nothing kills a party more than watching the guest of honor be demanding and/or stressed, barking orders and snapping at everyone. (Think of some of those Bridezillas from the Fox show. Shudder. Shudder.) Guests take their cue from you, and you should be the happiest guest of all.


In other words, you set the tone of your own wedding and that IS something you can control, even if every single one of your vendors flakes out on you. Which wonÕt happen, by the way. The wedding isnÕt in the flowers or the linens or the cake or the DJ. ItÕs in the feeling. So even if none of the ŅstuffÓ is right, it can still be the best wedding ever.


Just in case, DO assign someone to deal with snafus. Under no circumstances should you be involved with figuring out why the hors dÕoeuvres are late coming out or the cake has a bash in it. You should do nothing but laugh and drink and dance because you just got married, which should make you happy regardless of what kind of flowers are on the tables or what color the rosettes on the cake are. IÕm not saying you have to be superwoman and you wonÕt be disappointed or shaken if things go wrong, but you have to deal with them appropriately. Which means AFTER your wedding. YouÕll never get that day back, so why ruin it pouting and complaining? IÕll confess that I got a little bit upset when I realized that the light-strewn trees I had paid extra for as a ceremony backdrop had been put all around the room instead, and our ceremony backdrop was going to be an ugly screen that my brother had specifically told me I should cover. But when I began to make a little fuss about it, I could see the unflattering way people were looking at me, and I could tell I was becoming that bridezilla I swore I wouldnÕt be. I immediately backed off. What-ever with the trees! Were they there? Were they not? I couldnÕt even tell you. Look in my bio and tell me if my day was ruined by the placement of the trees.


You know what else happened at my (August) wedding? The air-conditioning wasnÕt working in the cocktail hour room. What was I going to do about it? I donÕt know how to fix air conditioning. (Besides, I was a little dressed up to doing hard labor.) I knew the venue was trying to fix it, and making a big thing out of it wasnÕt going to get it fixed any faster or better. None of my guests was going to assume that I was somehow responsible for the broken air conditioning. So I just pretended it didnÕt happen. The guests were, well, probably a little warm. But they didnÕt complain to me. And they didnÕt form a posse to find the bride who had allowed this Terrible Thing to Mar Her Perfect Wedding. Everyone had a great time because they were celebrating the fact that my husband and I had just married each other, a fact whose worthiness of celebration was not dependent on whether they were in an air conditioned room, or anything else for that matter.  I have mentioned this fact to several guests and I swear that not one of them actually remembered that the AC wasnÕt working. Now had I made a big deal and confronted the caterers angrily or run off to a private room in tears, IÕm sure they would have remembered that.


HereÕs what one Knot bride had to say about her wedding. I saved it because I thought it was such an important lesson. ŅThe only thing I regret [about my wedding] is not being able to enjoy myself,Ó she wrote. ŅI was TOO worried. TOO stressed. TOO everything. I pretty much was a nervous wreck and didnÕt enjoy my party.  Everyone told me it was the best one they ever been to but I was too stressed to enjoy it.Ó Could there possibly be a worse ending to the months and months of planning? DonÕt let it happen to you.


My take is that youÕre allowed to be particular - but not neurotic -- about as many wedding details as you want throughout the planning process. ItÕs a big job and not one to be taken lightly. But the morning of her wedding, as soon as you open your eyes, you must let it all go. Stop. Basta. Enough. YouÕre there. You made it. Have fun. As long as you end up married to the right guy, the day was a success. Everything else is just details...Got it?


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