This style book provides ideas and inspiration for every aspect of the reader's wedding, from initial concerns to attire, decor, flowers, table design, invitations, ceremony, music, menus and gifts.

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This style book provides ideas and inspiration for every aspect of the reader's wedding, from initial concerns to attire, decor, flowers, table design, invitations, ceremony, music, menus and gifts.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316246613
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 2/28/1998
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 813,925
  • Product dimensions: 9.50 (w) x 12.12 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



Erin Malloy and Dutch Edwards, a couple whom I had known for several years, asked for my help in creating an unusual wedding celebration for a group of close friends. Erin and Dutch were adamant that they didn't want a typical "catered affair" in a hotel, club, or restaurant. Their own apartment was too small for the group they had in mind. But in a stroke of good fortune, dear friends had just finalized the purchase of a spacious loft apartment in the heart of the city, which they planned to renovate. Since the space was temporarily empty, they offered it for the celebration. What could be better?

The apartment was only available for a month before the construction crews were to begin work, so Erin and Dutch had to move quickly. They decided to limit the wedding to just twenty-eight of their closest friends. They planned to schedule a party with their families, both of which lived out of state, at a later date.

The apartment had been vacant for several years and needed renovation, but it was an ideal space for entertaining, with a large living dining room, expansive city views, hardwood floors, and high ceilings. Erin and Dutch both loved the apartment's dilapidated but grand atmosphere and knew it would be perfect for the celebration they envisioned. Tables and chairs could he rented easily and the bride and groom planned to bring over a few furnishings from their home to give the space a lived-in look. Because the reception was for such a small group, we determined that we could use many of the beautiful thingsthat the bride and groom collected, including vintage linens, antique glassware, and a wealth of mismatched fine Lenox china place settings that the bride had inherited from her mother and grandmother.

One feature of the apartment was a massive fireplace with a wooden mantel painted powder blue, a shade Erin loved. We decided to play off that color for many aspects of the wedding celebration. It seemed serendipitous-something borrowed (the apartment), something blue!

The invitations were informal, as befits a gathering of thirty people. A calligrapher friend of Erin's wrote them out in sable ink on heavy powder blue cards bordered in gold. "Dear," the invitations read. "We are getting married on Saturday, the third of May and would love for you to share in our celebration. The ceremony will be held at 1 I East 68th Street at 7 o'clock in the evening, with an intimate dinner to follow We hope you can join us. Much love, Erin and Dutch."

Advance preparations were uncomplicated. For the reception dinner, Erin and Dutch envisioned all their guests sitting at one long table, so we rented several rectangular folding tables, along with pads, covering the long table with several mismatched vintage linen and lace cloths. From the florist, we rented a pair of silver trumpet vases, candelabra, and other small containers to hold spring flowers. In several trips the week before the event, Dutch and Erin brought over cartons of things that would be used for the ceremony and reception, including her antique china, three dozen vintage linen napkins, and the couple's silver plate service for twelve and two other sets borrowed from friends. The bride and groom combined their collections of vintage and new stemware to make a service for thirty. We purchased dozens of candles to provide an Old World style of lighting for the evening celebration, and dribbles tapers for guests to hold during the ceremony.

The groom raided his wine cellar, choosing to serve his guests from his collection of large-format bottles of white and red wines from France, Italy, and California. For the champagne, he decided to sacrifice a jeroboam (the equivalent of four bottles) of Veuve Clicquot, which he had recently won in a sculling race. As he put it, "This is the most special day in my life-what better occasion for this bottle?"

For the final touch, the couple brought over a pair of large, beautifully framed oil paintings of pastoral landscapes that they had recently bought at auction. The antique paintings instantly placed the couple's personal stamp on this long- vacant apartment.

We developed a simple but delicious menu that would be easy to serve from the apartment kitchen and took into account the minimal facilities-a small stove with functioning broiler, a sink, a tiny refrigerator, and almost no food preparation space. Erin and I visited my celebrated cake-baker friend, Sylvia Weinstock, and placed an order for a very special and unusual dessert. We arranged for the apartment to be cleaned on Thursday and had everything but the flowers delivered and set up on Friday, leaving only a few last-minute preparations for the day of the wedding.

The afternoon of the wedding, I cooked at my apartment, ten blocks away, while Erin and Dutch got ready. We taxied over at four PM., in time to complete the setup. The table had been set the evening before with the mismatched antique plates, stemware, and vintage linens. After an hour's work with the flowers, the apartment looked gorgeous. We filled the trumpet vases with lavish arrangements of delphiniums, bells of Ireland, and mauve hydrangeas. Between the tall arrangements, we placed low, tightly packed containers of Sterling roses, hydrangeas, and table smilax, alternating these with candelabra cascading with roses, smilax, and hunches of green grapes. We placed the candles around the room, set the champagne and the magnums of white wine on ice, and I busied myself with last-minute preparations in the kitchen and briefed the kitchen staff and two waiters. Instead of a sign-in book, we placed a stack of little cards next to a sterling silver box for guests to write messages of felicitation to the bride and groom.

Right at seven PM., the first guests, including the justice of the peace, arrived. The bridal couple greeted everyone at the door, Erin attired in a powder blue dupioni silk full-length gown with bell sleeves, Dutch in a black crepe suit with a white shirt and powder blue silk tie. Guests-an eclectic group of longtime friends-wore a range of outfits, from casual to elegant, since Erin and Dutch wanted everyone to dress for comfort.

When all had arrived, we assembled and the ceremony began. Erin and Dutch positioned themselves in front of the apartment window as the sun was just beginning to set and the lights of the city were coming on. Their guests stood in an informal semicircle, each holding an unlit candle. The ceremony began with Erin and Dutch together lighting a community candle, then stepping forward and lighting the guests' tapers. Illuminated only by the flickering candles, the justice led the bride and groom through the words of the civil ceremony.

It was a solemn moment-but the solemnity didn't last long. As Dutch kissed his bride, a loud pop could be heard in the background, and a pair of waiters stepped forward holding together the opened jeroboam of champagne. Everyone cheered and quickly looked for a spot to deposit their candles-we had placed several shallow terra-cotta pots filled with sand on the windowsills just for that purpose, so that the candlelight would be reflected in the panes of glass. Soon, each guest was holding a flute of champagne and raising it in a spontaneous toast to the newlyweds. Waiters supplemented the jeroboam with a seemingly endless supply of regular 750-milliliter bottles of Veuve Clicquot, and passed appetizers as guests became acquainted. A strolling violinist provided background music.

After cocktails, the candles on the dining table were lit and Erin and Dutch invited their guests to the table, where pale blue place cards laid out the seating. The first course was the couple's favorite dish from a local bistro, baby frisee (curly lettuce) with a piquant mustard dressing and bits of crisp- fried gammon, or bacon. The rest of the menu was served family-style, with platters set down in the center of the table, to keep the need for servers to a minimum. Baguettes of crusty French bread were placed right on the tablecloth along with shallow dishes of fragrant olive oil for dipping. Guests washed down the salad with magnums of chilled Sancerre, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, and Tocai Friulano, delicious white wines that complemented the dish beautifully.

When the first-course plates had been cleared, the waiters brought out four oversized platters of herb-roasted rack of lamb, garnished with fresh rosemary and set around a mound of roasted new potatoes and a heap of spring vegetables. Bordelaise sauce, brightened with chopped fresh tomato, was set out in a pair of antique gravy boats. As guests helped themselves to the food, waiters brought out magnums of red wine from the groom's collection, including Clos de l'Oratoire 1982 and Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 1986, which were placed on the table for guests to sample as they pleased. Between courses, guests stood up to make impromptu toasts. Night having fallen, the long table, lit only with candles and strewn with a still life of delicious food and wine, looked like a medieval banquet scene.

After dinner, the waiters refilled everyone's champagne glass for the traditional toast to the bride and groom with the cutting of the cake. But no grand, oversized cake emerged from the kitchen. Instead, the waiters brought out thirty antique dessert plates, each holding a miniature wedding cake, just right for one generous portion and each decorated to match the pattern of the china. As the cakes were set down in front of each guest, everyone stood up and spontaneously applauded. Dutch's best friend made a touching toast to the bride and groom, who reciprocated with speeches of thanks to their friends for sharing in the celebration.

When the last of the cake had been eaten, the groom stepped over to the stereo, inserted a tape of the couple's favorite 1970s dance music, and turned up the volume to get everyone into the dancing spirit. The upbeat music was interspersed with old standards from the forties, slow dances in a romantic mood. Guests who didn't care to dance stepped over to a small table lit by a candelabra where imported cheeses and decanters of vintage Port, single-malt Scotch, and Armagnac were set out.

Close to midnight, the groom decided everyone needed a bit of fresh air. He enlisted several guests to carry trays of Port and spirits, glasses, a bunch of candles, and a cigar humidor upstairs to the rooftop patio. Earlier in the day, Erin and Dutch had set out several folding chairs and side tables. The evening ended on a reflective note as guests enjoyed quiet chats, mellow cigars, and snifters of Armagnac while the lights of the city sparkled far below.


Crudites with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Smoked Salmon Canapes

Champagne Veuve Clicquot Brut


Baby Frisee with Mustard Dressing and Crispy Gammon

Magnums of Sancerre, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, and Tocai Friulano

Herb-Roasted Rack of Lamb with a Tomato Bordelaise

Roasted Potatoes, Shallots, and Garlic

Spring Vegetables Magnums of Clos de l'Oratoire 1982 and Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 1986


Individual Chocolate Wedding Cakes

Lemon Cream and Berries

Champagne Veuve Clicquot Brut

Imported Cheeses, Including St. Agur, Montrachet, and Tomme de Savoie

Vintage Port



Single-malt Scotch

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 4
Introduction 6
A Wedding in the City with Thirty Close Friends 12
An Intimate Garden Wedding 24
A Midsummer Eve's Wedding Under a Tent 34
A Weekend Getaway Wedding in the Desert 42
A Country Wedding 50
A Southern Fairytale Wedding at a Private Home 60
A Contemporary Winter Wedding in a Hotel Ballroom 68
A New Year's Eve Wedding 76
A Formal and Elegant Celebration 84
Designing and Planning Your Wedding 96
Invitations 110
Ceremonies 124
Attire 138
Flowers and Decor 158
Celebrations 204
Alternative Receptions and Menus 216
Wedding Cakes 230
Orchestrating Your Celebration 238
A Final Note to the Bride 252
Index 254
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Interviews & Essays

On Wednesday, February 11th, welcomed Colin Cowie to discuss WEDDINGS.

Moderator: Thank you for joining us tonight, Mr. Cowie! Do you have any opening comments?

Colin Cowie: The whole reason I wrote this book was to inspire the bride to do something completely and utterly herself. The wedding should be completely hers. Ignore your well-meaning mothers and listen to yourselves.

Maia from Cold Spring Harbor, NY: I have an absolutely monstrous extended family, but I want to get married in a gathering of close friends. Is there any way to pull that off without hurting people's feelings?

Colin Cowie: Whatever you do, you'll never keep everyone happy. It's about you and not everyone else. Do an intimate ceremony and reception and then have a cocktail party for a greater [number of] friends. Why don't you take 30 of your closest friends and have a destination wedding? Then come back and have the cocktail party.

Beth Chadwick from New York, NY: I am getting married this August at my fiancé's in upstate New York. His mother is a gourmet cook, so she along with a pack of friends from the south of France are catering the reception themselves. Rather than buffet or sit-down [with] individual portions, we decided to do things family-style! My question is: She wants to serve grilled tenderloin and room-temperature salmon, with grilled Mediterranean veggies and roasted potatoes on the side -- my mother, on the other hand, does not really agree with her choice of entrées and thinks we should have chicken or a vegetarian option, or both! What are your thoughts on salmon and tenderloin pleasing a crowd of 175? I thought a nice compromise would be a side of foo-foo cold pasta salad?

Colin Cowie: I think the salmon and tenderloin is a great idea. As long as you can avoid surf and turf. Maybe tenderloin and chicken would be good as an entrée. And then serve some poached salmon for an appetizer beforehand. Love the family-style idea, it's informal, intimate, and warm.

Jane from Point Lookout, NY: What do you think of the recent trend of weekend weddings? You know, three-day, all-out fêtes? It's wonderful if you can pull it off beautifully, but what about the stress involved?

Colin Cowie: I think it's much more intimate to take a small group of people away for three days. Friday is a great day for speeches and toasts. Saturday is about ceremony, and Sunday is great for sitting back and talking about the wonderful time. The great thing about destination weddings is that it weeds out those who just want a free drink. The people who make the commitment to come really want to be there for you.

Lisa Johnson from Rochester, New York: I plan to get married in July of this year. My fiancé is from India, and his parents want to do a vast majority of the planning, including the type of dress I should wear. I'm not Indian, however my dad has Indian in his bloodline. Anyway, to please my in-laws and my husband-to-be, what should I do? Thank you.

Colin Cowie: If I were you, I would do something typically Indian on Friday night and have his parents host it. On Saturday I'd do what you want to do and bring in a traditional Indian ritual for the ceremony. That way you'll please both parties.

Hayden from Allentown, PA: An ongoing debate that we have going is whether to get a band or DJ for our upcoming wedding. Do you have an opinion on this subject? I guess it depends on how good the band is, no?

Colin Cowie: Definitely, you want to make the sure the band is good. A good DJ can be five times better than a mediocre band. It really is a matter of personal choice. There's nothing worse than having a bad wedding band, but a good one can be beautiful. A note: During a wedding, you should have diverse types/moods of music. Dining and dancing music should not be the same. A bride-to-be should plan a solid beginning, middle, and end.

Cara from Los Angeles: Can I go veil-less at my wedding? I have a New Look Dior-type dress for an evening wedding, and I'd rather go with rhinestone barrettes than a veil. What do you think?

Colin Cowie: You have my blessing. That sounds fabulous, and you should do what speaks to you. There are no rules in weddings as long as you are not offending anyone else. Do new things, create new traditions as far as fashion is concerned.

Pamela a newlywed! from Georgia: What is it that draws you to weddings? Is it how everything just comes together so beautifully, and how all these people are working so hard to ensure a perfect day for a loving couple? Can you tell I just got married? :- Still glowing from it. Thank you! Your book looks beautiful. Everybody loves a wedding.

Colin Cowie: I love the fact that they have the occasion. Two happy people and so many people to wish then well. When I've been working on something for six to eight months and the right wine, the right candlelight, the right flowers come together, it makes it all worthwhile.

Clare from Buffalo, NY: I am an art student and have a very tight budget for my wedding -- my parents can't help. Do you have any ideas about how I can make it beautiful cheaply?

Colin Cowie: Keep it very small. Do it in a restaurant that you can take over for the evening. Buy 100-200 candles and light the whole restaurant. It will be incredibly romantic and beautiful. You just have to take care of the smaller details. And you can probably use your credit card and get mileage for your honeymoon.

Laura Jablonski from Philadelphia, PA: My wedding will be an informal affair, so at first we figured everyone would just stand around during the ceremony. On second thought we realized that some of the elderly guests might prefer to sit -- is it alright to provide some seating but not enough to accommodate all, or only one or the other?

Colin Cowie: I've been in this situation many times. I've done exactly what you are doing. Clear a half circle of chairs for the elderly family members, and have the guests stand behind. People will understand that the chairs are not for them. Don't worry.

Mia from Madison, WI: I'm having trouble deciding on bridesmaids' gifts. Bracelets or earrings? The bracelets I have selected are silver and will work with anything forever. The earrings match their dresses beautifully but seem a tinge less personal. What should I do?

Colin Cowie: I would give them something they would want forever rather than something for the day. It's for them forever, not to suit your tastes.

Jennifer from Riverdale, North Dakota: I'm planning on having my wedding outside in June. What special considerations should I think about for the event?

Colin Cowie: Whatever you do, make sure that you have a contingency plan. You have to have a place to go that can be changed in two to three hours. If you have the ability to put in a canopy or a tent, perhaps you should do that in the first place. The last thing you want is soggy, unhappy guests.

Melissa from Chicago: You mention in your book about covering the walls of a room that is unattractive. I'm interested in doing this but can't find anyone who knows how this is done. How can I go about finding someone to do this?

Colin Cowie: I have had this question before. Call the local lighting company, or call a florist. Call the best hotel in town, speak to the banqueting director, and ask who they recommend.

Megan from Roanoke, VA: I am getting married in July and I want a large, floral bouquet for myself and my maid of honor. There's just one problem -- my maid of honor hates strong floral scents. What bloom should I choose?

Colin Cowie: Any of the beautiful new roses from Ecuador. Try Vendela, a creamy white, like skin and porcelain. Others to look at: Virginia, Timeless, Danielle. Steer clear of lily of the valley, tuberose, freesia, etc.

Rory from Florida: Hey Colin, I have two questions for you: 1 What was the most interesting setting where a wedding was at? 2 What was the most interesting thing you learned about weddings while writing this book? Thanks a bunch!!!!

Colin Cowie: 1 Probably on a cliff overlooking the ocean in Malibu. Mountains on one side, the ocean crashing on the other. It was fantastic. 2 We need several hours to discuss that. Because basically, the book was to share everything I've learned about weddings with you the reader. I hold nothing back.

Holly from Atlanta, GA: Could you give me a rundown about who should sit next to whom at the rehearsal dinner? Where should godparents/aunts/uncles, etc. sit?

Colin Cowie: You should surround yourself with your closest, your nearest and dearest. There is no protocol unless you're doing a very formal wedding. The question to ask when seating is, Are you offending anyone? You are probably not if you sit them where you think they would be happiest.

Evelyn from San Francisco, CA: What is the most polite way to decline a wedding invitation for an old, but not close, friend?

Colin Cowie: Just honestly reply that you are not going to attend. But it is a perfect excuse to get out of town and have a vacation of your own.

Melissa from Washington, DC: What size dance floor do you recommend for a party of 200-250?

Colin Cowie: I'd say 18x18, 18x20, 18x24. The smaller a dance floor, the better the party. A full dance floor makes everyone else feel like they have to get in on the action.

Ellen from Orlando, FL: Both my parents are divorced and have remarried. They still don't like each other and won't sit next to each other at the wedding. I risk hurting my mother's feelings by having him walk me down the aisle. What do you suggest I do?

Colin Cowie: This is a day where your parents should set the differences aside. I think you should have a discussion separately with your father and your mother and then decide what to do. Explain to them that in an ideal world, it might have been different.

Eileen from Greensboro, NC: What do you think of wedding chapels Atlantic City/Las Vegas? Do you like them, aesthetically speaking?

Colin Cowie: I'd rather not comment. To each their own. If that's what you want to do, c'est la vie!

Nicole from Albany, NY: What are the most expensive elements of a wedding? Where can I cut corners?

Colin Cowie: Most expensive are the food, the beverages, and the flowers. Cut expenses by having a daytime wedding, a breakfast, a brunch, an afternoon tea, or a cocktail reception. That way you won't have a dance floor, lighting, and people wouldn't drink too much.

Vivian from Chicago, IL: What do you think is the best advice a bride-to-be can remember when planning her wedding?

Colin Cowie: The best advice is that on the day of her wedding, remember that the focus of attention [is on] her and the groom as the ultimate caring host and hostess. They must think very carefully about how to entertain their guests. This is a joint statement telling new and old family and friends who they are and what they are about.

Rich from Washington, DC: Is it acceptable to wear a traditional black tux for the ceremony and have the wedding party change to white dinner jackets for the reception?

Colin Cowie: I think it's kind of strange to ask people to change costumes for dinner.

Maggie from Houston, TX: I recently eloped but would like to have a large party for my friends and family -- they are still handling the surprise. What's the best way to handle this? I should have about 200 guests but would like to keep it informal. Thank you!

Colin Cowie: Do it sooner rather than later and throw a great cocktail party. Have live music and have lots of champagne and tray-passed appetizers. Cut a wedding cake at the end, and voilà!

Moderator: Thank you again for joining us tonight, Mr. Colin Cowie! After such a chat, wedding bells everywhere are ringing. Any final comments or remarks before we go?

Colin Cowie: I think the '80s were more about extravagant weddings, while the '90s are about how much a couple cares about their guests. A wedding is a great opportunity to spend time with your close family and friends. I think a wedding is best when it is small and intimate. And yes, I think planning a wedding is much like producing a movie. There are so many details and important items to remember. The more organized you are, the more fun you will have. Remember that 80 percent of the details come together in the last 20 percent of the time. If you can't afford a wedding consultant or planner, find a friend or family member who can see to all the details the day of the wedding. That way you can be a guest at your own wedding. And here are some money-saving tips to close with: 1 Don't have a live band but find a fabulous DJ. 2 Use fruit as table centerpieces instead of flowers. 3 Buy bridesmaids' dresses at a department store sale. 4 Use lots and lots of candles. They create beautiful ambience without any great expense. The more the better. 5 Have a cocktail reception for an evening wedding. I wish you all the best of luck planning your weddings. Thank you!

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