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Wedding Wondering

Essential decisions to make before the big day.

Pick up any modern wedding guide, and there will inevitably be a lengthy checklist of tasks and decisions that need to be completed before the end of the ceremony — from picking out a tux to tipping the wait staff.

Below are some essential questions that every couple needs to answer before their big day:

<ro>How Many of Our Parents' Friends Must We Invite?

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No doubt, as the dust settles from popping the "big question," it's a guarantee that parents and future in-laws are already networking the news to friends, enemies and perfect strangers. As we all like a good party, deciding on the right number for wedding festivities can be tricky business.

Monica Kelson, a wedding consultant from Midnight Sun Special Events in Chantilly believes the answer boils down to budgeting the greenbacks.

"I think the budget is the first decision and it is a very important first step," she said. "The guest list is tied to the budget but its a big issue and a lot of problems come with that."

While Kelson said that there are one-stop shops that can even accompany big numbers for smaller prices — she believes couples should invest in the day, not look to cut corners.

In short, pick a reasonable number within financial boundaries and stick with it.

<ro>Going To the Chapel?

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Deciding whether to take the midnight train to Vegas for a classy-quick ceremony with a handful of Elvis' and a few drunken tourists as witness is entirely up to the bride-to-be — at least that seems like a safe bet. While Kelson has never encountered a couple who canceled her services in favor of a McWedding — for which she and her purse are thankful — she has heard many stories of stress levels peaking, resulting in a frantic desire to get the whole thing over with as fast as possible.

Possibly more along the norm, Kelson often encounters couples who flew to a destination wedding with little or no guests; married, and returned home to plan a big celebration in the following weeks. This apparently allows the couple a chance to escape the stress of planning the wedding. Even more, the less stressful "after-party" planning still gives the couple's respective mothers something to do.

<ro>Is a White Wedding Necessary?

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For decades, the decision to wear white — or opt not to — carried some uncomfortable connotation with it in the eyes of wedding traditionalists.

According to Katie Zaiteshyna of White Swan Bridal in Vienna (425 Maple Ave.), modern brides are more concerned with looking their best than with meeting the virtuous principles of a white wedding. "A bride no longer cares about the tradition about stark white. [They want to] look good in a dress," she said.

The No. 1 selling color in her Zaiteshyna’s shop is ivory, which she said is just off-white enough to flatter a variety of skin tones but can still resemble a time-honored gown. "A lot of makers do a very light ivory. People who will not have comparisons at the wedding will not know it’s ivory — it will be something a little bit softer than white," she said.

Other trends include brides who are wearing gold dresses, as well as brides who are using different means for bringing color into their white or off-white dresses.

"Brides might have an extra [colored] sash, or details in an accent color," said Zaiteshyna. "You can incorporate those colors with the bridesmaids’ dresses and the colors of the wedding."

<ro>Should the Wedding Party Receive Personalized Gifts?

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It’s one thing to have gifts for a groomsman or bridesmaid personalized with their names on them, but a the general rule is to give something that your best friends can reuse in a non-wedding situation.

In other words, skip the personalized gifts that have your wedding information prominently displayed.

One trend in bridesmaids gifts avoids personalization altogether. Lorrie Scattergood, who works at Today’s Cargo in Alexandria (315 Cameron St.), said her jewelry and women’s fashion store has housed entire bridal parties for pearl fittings. She said from brides to Presidential First Ladies, pearls remain a classic accessory and a bridesmaid gift that works on the wedding day and for events in years to come.

Strands of pearls at Today’s Cargo range from $6 to $500.

<ro>"The Wedding Singer" vs. The Electric Slide?

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Face it: Weddings aren't a venue for artistic revue — sometimes it's better to set the scrutiny aside and go with what's fun. Couples that met at swing dance class should look into big bands; others who met during a dance floor grind-session at a southeast nightclub should look into the "two-turntables and a microphone."

As most issues eventually boil down to this common denominator, Kelson believes this is another issue that sides with cost. Live bands traditionally are more expensive, however some will pay the extra-buck for the real thing. For couples tangling with this question, Kelson noted that there are a number of agencies located in the country that offer both live band and DJ services. These can easily be found through the yellow pages or a quick search on reliable Google.

<ro>Pigs At the Trough?

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A part of the planning that potentially offers unlimited options is the food. Buffet, banquet or bar-b-que, money can be a hurdle but satisfaction can be had dining on gold platters or hiring your favorite neighborhood eatery as the official caterer — this ensures, based past experiences, that the food will be great and there will be one less item left on the "to-do" list.

While traditionally, buffets are less expensive than the sit-down banquet style dinners, there are still other options outside of the box. A recent trend Kelson has seen when dealing with potentially ravenous guests, she noted "some people chose to have the reception in the afternoon at a cocktail reception — but that goes back to the budget."

<ro>What Do You Mean, I Owe You A Favor?

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Receiving a favor for attending a reception isn't like asking The Godfather for charity on his daughter's wedding day. However, there are some pretty interesting and inexpensive ways to give back to those who came in support of a union between a loving spouse and their new ball-and-chain accessories.

According to Kelson, this is another category that often promotes creative, outside-the-box thinking. Kelson once saw a bride who dealt with rescue dogs hand out information packets raise awareness for the plights of a rescue K-9.

While being wacky or overly creative can be fun, Kelson stresses to her clients that couples should "get something that guests will appreciate."

<ro>Relaxing Honeymoon or Exotic Vacation?

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Many couples are deciding not to choose between a honeymoon that recharges the batteries and one that sends a newlywed couple on a whirlwind tour of an exotic locale.

"A lot couples are taking a small trip after the wedding, and then go to Europe in three or months after that," said Nancy Converse, manager of the leisure department for Quality Travel Service in McLean (7921 Jones Branch Drive). "The whole wedding process is exhausting."

She said destination weddings are also altering honeymoon plans. For a couple getting married overseas, following up with an international honeymoon could be either anti-climactic or arduous. These couples will typically wait a few months for a lengthy honeymoon, she said.

In addition, the traditional schedule for a wedding weekend has been altered over the years. Converse said couples used to leave for their honeymoons on a Sunday; now, in deference to out-of-town guests, she said many couples will hold a Sunday brunch and depart on a Monday.

Italy and Greece remain the most popular European destinations, according to Converse.