Weddings Aren’t Going Back To Normal In 2021—Here Are The Trends To Expect

By now, we all know COVID-19 just like, majorly sucks. And while everyone was all “2020 is the worst,” things aren’t going to magically improve as soon as the new year hits. Distributing a safe vaccine will take a while, and experts agree: Unfortunately, 2021 weddings aren’t going to look like the weddings of the past. In fact, according to lead wedding pros, it’s time to reframe your mindset.

“Change is never easy, especially when it comes to altering one’s visions for a big milestone like a wedding. The idea of ‘normal’ weddings [like the ones we had] pre-COVID is unfortunately not what we will be seeing at weddings in the near future, but that doesn’t mean that they will be any less special—they’ll just be different,” Editor in Chief of The Knot, Kristen Maxwell Cooper, tells Betches. 

While that’s just about the worst news ever, there is a glimmer of hope: The projected 2021 wedding trends are actually things past brides will be jealous of. Here’s how the top wedding experts suggest making your 2021 wedding the talk of group texts, but not in a “does she not realize there’s a pandemic” kind of way. 

1. Welcome Boxes & Send-Off Kits

Image: Liz BanfieldLovestruck Events 

It looks like welcome bags are a thing of the past, especially now that there are more essentials needed for guests attending weddings. “We anticipate seeing couples lean into fun and functional items that guests can use throughout the evening, like customized, beautiful face masks and personalized hand sanitizer that tie into the couple’s overall aesthetic and theme for the evening,” Jeffra Trumpower, senior creative director at WeddingWire, tells Betches. “With health and safety being top of mind, we also suggest couples take the presentation of favors into consideration and package them individually for each guest rather than have them in a communal basket.”

In addition to health essentials, adding personal touches to the boxes is a great way to make guests feel included. Think things like symbolic snacks, small games, and (of course), alcohol. Have the boxes waiting for guests in their hotel rooms or at their reception seats as a reward for not bailing on your wedding. Shade intended.

2. Tented Spaces

Images: SMS Photography; Trenholm Photo

Couples have to face the reality that indoor venues miiiiiight not be the best move for the foreseeable future, so one of the most romantic and adaptable solutions is utilizing tents. Open-air but still covered, experts agree tented ceremonies and receptions will basically become the new must-have. “Couples are leaning into nature and fresh air in ways they did not in the past,” planner and designer Jove Meyer told The Knot. “In 2021 and moving forward, outdoor weddings will be on-trend as they’re also safer for guests and vendors. Tented weddings are the new ballroom.” Extra bonus: With lighting, drapery, twinkly lights, and maybe even some fog if you’re feeling that dramatic vibe, tented events are easily some of the most stunning to attend, and that was a fact even prior to COVID.

3. Elevated Virtual Components

 

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The fact that the term “virtual wedding” is a thing is something no one would have predicted a few years ago, but in the time of coronavirus, virtual components are pretty much the bread and butter of modern weddings. Pre-pandemic, couples were leaning more into tech-based elements such as online invitations and RSVPs, as well as decked-out websites and purchased domain names. Now, things are even more extreme. As for how to make your Zoom wedding a little more celebratory and a little less like another meeting people have to attend, both pros suggest leaning on your vendors to come up with ideas. A few of their faves, however, are to send guests a cocktail recipe or mixing kit for celebratory toasts everyone can do together or a dessert they can munch on throughout the celebration. Additionally, consider adding some ways to allow virtual guests to interact with each other, like an online cocktail hour. 

“Add a virtual waiting room or lounge for guests to mingle prior to the start of the festivities or ask guests to stay on at the end to share well wishes for you to listen to after the celebrations,” suggests Maxwell Cooper. “With a video conferencing platform, couples can also task some guests to participate in readings during the ceremony or to offer toasts at the start of the reception.”  No, it’s probably not what you dreamed about when you were little, but it’s an easy way to make those who can’t attend feel included (and will guarantee you more gifts).

4. Tiny Toasts

With smaller guest lists filled with your ultimate VIPs, there’s more time and capability to allow for more wedding day toasts. While speeches are usually just reserved for the maid of honor to cry and the best man to make some awkward comments about the groom’s dating history, the wedding pros at The Knot predict that “tiny toasts” will be a thing. Which is basically just more people talking. If you plan to implement this at your event, consider getting toast requests ahead of time and/or capping them at a time limit you feel comfortable with to avoid potential droners who just wanted an excuse to hold a mic. 

5. Single-Tier & Mini Cakes

Images: Erin Hannum; Jenny Fu

Since the idea of everyone crowding around a cake, breathing their gross germs all over it while the couple awkwardly feels forced to shove bite-sized pieces into each others’ mouths was kinda gross even before corona times, experts expect this tradition to change slightly in 2021. While the faux cake fight might still be a thing, serving guests from one giant pastry probably won’t be. Instead, expect to see mini cakes which will be served to guests just as cake slices would be, brought directly out from the kitchen. These cakes can range from ornate with multiple tiers or more minimalist and single-tiered depending on the budget. Either way, one thing’s clear: Mini cakes are not only hella cute, but it looks like they’re the new trend that’s here to stay. 

6. Bold Decor

Image: Irina Ventresca Photography

With fewer guests in attendance, the pros are expecting couples to go even bigger by way of details and utilizing things like exaggerated floral arrangements, lighting displays, and even in the outfits themselves. “Big, bold decor and fashion choices will be front and center for couples and their guests in 2021 weddings,” explains Trumpower. After scratching off 3/4 of your guest list, there’s a good chance you’ll have room in your budget for something absurd you would have had to pass on before, like a custom neon sign, ice sculpture, or horse-drawn carriage. While it might not be the best use of the money you saved on having a smaller wedding, the fact that the photos will make everyone jealous is totally worth it.

7. Mismatched Seating & Living Room Vibes

Image: Koby Brown

Considering more and more couples will be scaling back their events, having a wedding at their/their parents’ homes is not only less stressful, but it perfectly leans into new trends. Mismatched seating and ~living room style~ aesthetics are becoming all the rage for 2021 weddings, so things like couches, lounge furniture, pillows, and throw blankets are expected to be mainstays for future celebrations. This style not only looks bomb in photos but makes the event feel even more intimate and romantic. Plus, if you picture a boho wedding (real talk: who isn’t picturing a boho wedding in 2021?), there’s a good chance you already had this look saved in some random Pinterest board, so win-win.

8. Unique Venues & Activities

 

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With smaller guest counts, couples are now able to get more creative with not only the venues they choose, but also the course of the event. Expect more weekend-style retreat weddings, where the ceremony takes place outside a large cabin and the celebration includes things like a welcome event, pre-wedding s’mores around a fire, and maybe even a day-after group hike. If that sounds like your own personal hell, the options are pretty much limitless since microweddings are much more adaptable. “Couples are having, in particular, ceremonies at unique places that traditionally could not host a larger crowd or event. Take advantage of the smaller guest list and consider scenic and beautiful locations that were out of the question for 100 guests, but are now perfect for your party of 10.” Which means a mini castle tucked away in an isolated town is now totally fair game.

9. Cocktail Hour for One

Passed apps, buffet-style dining, and station meals are less likely to be seen due to safety advisories, and in their place, plated meals and seated cocktail bites are expected to become the norm. While part of me doesn’t like the idea because there’s no way my individual charcuterie board will have enough cheese for my liking, at least people won’t be silently judging you as you head to the hummus table for the fourth time. Plus, just like mini cakes, mini cocktail bites will most likely be super cute and perfectly plated for a photo op.

In addition to limiting the trips to a buffet, eliminating milling around at the bar is another important factor for a Covid wedding. In place of lines at bars, couples will likely opt for things like “grab and go” stations where cans of wine, beer, and White Claw will be waiting, or have servers bring drinks to the tables much like a restaurant (just hopefully without the bill at the end).

10. Restaurant Vibes & Performances

Image: Eve Rox Photography 

Another win for changes made during Covid weddings, the days of having a set number of people at a table and pairing together random folks to fill seats is officially over (praise be). Experts agree weddings are going to start looking less like a sloppy nightclub with a strange mix of attendees to more of a performance event—which will b e a good thing if grandparents are no longer subjected to the vocal stylings of Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz in their rendition of “Get Low.” Pairing friends, couples, and people who live together in bistro-style seating and hiring alternative entertainment like comedians, singers, or dancers instead of having a packed and not-so-safe dancefloor is going to be much more popular.

11. Nostalgic Elements

Image: Dezirae Webster of Dez’s Golden Moments

With more and more weddings taking place in family homes and peoples’ backyards, it makes sense couples would ditch the stuffy elements and lean into their own personal histories (which is much better, IMO). From showcasing memorabilia or pictures from their childhoods to ditching tiered cakes in favor of childhood treats, there are a lot of ways you can make nostalgia work for your wedding. “A fun spin we’ve seen couples put on dessert is to give a nod to nostalgic treats, like mini elevated homemade Pop-Tarts in a seasonal flavor or a fun—again, elevated—spin on personal Dunkaroos,” notes Trumpower. Nostalgic elements are only going to gain popularity, so now’s the time to burn your most embarrassing baby photos before your wedding planner gets his or her hands on them.

12. Bright Colors & Fierce Florals

 

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The days of seeing wedding party after wedding party in pale pinks and neutrals are coming to an end, and in its place, bold colors are going to be front and center for upcoming nuptials. “We’re seeing a general 1960s and 1970s nod to mod aesthetics from event decor all the way to attire. Couples are moving away from neutral color palettes, and we’re loving the ‘60s-inspired hues like chartreuse and peach and ‘90s rainbow-inspired color schemes,” explains Trumpower. In addition to colorful events, both pros agree florals are going to become even bigger for weddings (if that’s possible?), as their colors, scents, and overall “wow” factor will help fill out spaces and make any venue feel extra special.

13. Weekday & Brunch Weddings

With lots of 2020 couples choosing to reschedule their weddings to 2021, there’s 1000% going to be an uptick in weekday and Sunday weddings. While you might initially think “f*ck that,” there are some pros to opting for a weekday as opposed to a weekend. First of all, it’s way cheaper to have an event on a Monday than it is to have it on a Saturday. Secondly, while your A-list peeps will probably take off work to attend regardless, the B-list people probably RSVP “no,” which is what you hoped would happen in the first place.

As for how to pull off a non-weekend wedding, a mid-week dinner party-esque celebration or a Sunday brunch reception are a few of Trumpower’s favorite ways to do a wedding on less traditional days. While it might seem like a hassle, with a little extra planning (something 2020 couples are more than used to, unfortunately), the events will be just as great as weekend ones. “Those who are planning a weekday wedding shouldn’t be afraid to play around with the format of their events as the typical format (rehearsal dinner followed by the ceremony and reception the next day) may not work during the week,” notes Maxwell Cooper. “We recommend couples work with their wedding planner or venue coordinator to figure out the format that works best for them. The same goes with timing; if guests attending the weekday wedding will have work the next day or will have to travel long distances following the celebrations, having the festivities carry on late into the evening may cause some to head out early. By scheduling the celebrations a few hours earlier, they may be able to avoid this.”

At the end of the day, couples will need to be flexible when planning their 2021 weddings. Both pros suggest couples grieve their original plans but try not to be resistant to the way weddings look nowadays—the changes aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But as Maxwell Cooper says: “These new visions, complete with hyper-personalized details, wow-worthy decor, unique entertainment, AND health protocols will keep loved ones safe and will generate excitement.”

While these changes might not be what you initially envisioned, it’s the whole “getting married” thing that matters. And besides, this just means everyone’s gonna have some majorly lit baby showers down the road which is something I, personally, could not be more excited about.

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Images: Victoria Priessnitz / Unsplash; Liz BanfieldLovestruck Events; MS Photography; Trenholm Photo; Erin Hannum; Jenny Fu; Irina Ventresca Photography; Koby Brown; Eve Rox Photography; Dezirae Webster of Dez’s Golden Moments; Giphy (3)