Experts, Fall/Winter 2012

Five wedding experts share their wisdom on how to set the scene, dress your best, and finance the big day.

By Julie Suratt, Marni Elyse Katz | Boston Weddings |

The Tailor Maid

Why settle for a baggy rental tux when your groom can don a dapper suit that’s made to fit? Samantha Shih of 9tailors helps guys look smart on their wedding day.


Photo by Scott M. Lacey

Credit Don Draper: Men have finally started to care about what they wear. The ’60s ad exec on Mad Men “always wears a well-tailored suit, tapered in the leg and body,” says Samantha Shih, owner of 9tailors, a custom-clothing company in Downtown Crossing. “Men are very excited by this. They’ll come in and say, ‘I want to look like Don Draper.'” Hallelujah!

But given its high cost, bespoke clothing isn’t an option for most men — unless, that is, they connect with Shih, who offers made-to-measure suits and shirts perfect for bridal parties.

Here she dishes on fabrics, fasteners, and wedding-fashion faux pas.

How do you work with grooms?
First I ask what the client is looking for — what his style is, what colors he will or won’t wear, what’s in his closet right now. And then wedding-specific questions: Where’s the event being held? What season? Indoors or outdoors? Evening or daytime? And then we go through the process of selecting the fabric of the suit, the seam. We decide the perfect cut, the perfect buttons — everything that goes into creating a garment. There are an infinite number of buttons and fabrics to choose from, so our style consultant pre-selects for the couple after they’ve had a phone consultation.

We assume the bride weighs in on a lot of these decisions.
Usually the bride has chosen the location, the color scheme, the bridesmaids’ dresses, and her own dress. And that’s not necessarily information the groom is privy to — or interested in knowing. Maybe he’ll know their colors are green and blue. But what kind of green and blue? It’s definitely easier if the bride is there.

What are some factors you consider when helping a groom choose his wedding-day wear?
We help put together an outfit that’s both stylish and functional. Heat is a huge consideration for grooms, especially if it’s going to be 90 degrees. We want the groom to be comfortable, so we’ll put out a selection of lightweight fabrics that drape nicely but don’t sacrifice style. If he loves to dance, we might suggest he not go with a skinny fit. It’s going to be uncomfortable, and you run the risk of tearing the garment.

Once a groom picks a design, where do you go from there?
We get him measured. We use master tailors in Shanghai to make shirts, and suiting tailors in Hong Kong, and we make everything to the man’s specifications and size.

What trends are you seeing in wedding menswear?
A lot of grays, particularly charcoals, which are useful for the wedding day and after. It’s not as formal as black, and not as professional-looking as navy. We’re also seeing men returning to three-piece suits. Some don’t want to wear a tuxedo, but still want to look handsome, sophisticated, and well dressed. They don’t want to be mistaken for just another wedding guest, and the vest underneath makes them look that much more put-together. I’ve also seen a growing interest in custom tuxedos. The men on Mad Men and Downton Abbey are wearing formal tuxes. We can make a custom one for under $600.

Are there simple ways to personalize the groom’s outfit?
We can customize his shirt by lining the inside of his collar with another fabric — one couple did this with brilliant red-and-black buffalo checks for all the groomsmen. Another gentleman was marrying a Brazilian woman in her hometown. As a surprise, he had “Duas Almas, Um Coracao” (Two Hearts, One Soul) monogrammed inside his suit. It was a very cute and touching surprise for his bride.

Can you suggest ways to make an off-the-rack suit look smart?
I cannot stress enough that it has to fit you right, whether you spend $2,000 or $100. You need to bring it to a trusted tailor who knows how to alter a suit — and I’m not talking about a seamstress. The person who’s working on it should be a reputable suit tailor who can cut and alter it to fit your proportions. The other thing is, the fabric itself is really important. The nicer the drape, the more it’s going to feel like it was made for you.

Any major fashion faux pas that guys should be aware of?
Men are wearing their garments too large. Hemming your pants and sleeves can make you look a lot smarter.

Does a groom’s suit have to match his bride’s gown?
Yes, I think that’s important. You don’t want to be opposite, but you also don’t want to be too matchy-matchy. You want your outfits to be complementary.

24 School St., Ste. 500, Boston, 877-513-1898,



Samantha Shih offers advice for the sartorially challenged groom.

Don’t Procrastinate
Start planning your outfit no later than six months before the wedding. The earlier you begin, the more options you’ll have, so you won’t be stuck with something you feel terrible in.

Consider a Threesome
Don’t under-estimate the power of a three-piece suit. Wear all three pieces for the ceremony and photo session, then strip down to the vest for the reception — you’ll still look put-together.

Get Hip to the Square
Instead of the ubiquitous boutonniere, try a pocket square; it instantly dresses up a suit. Classic looks call for white silk, while a casual getup can carry everything from gingham to paisley.

The Project Pro

It’s not a wedding until someone has a meltdown — unless, that is, you hire a planner like Amy Kimball to be your creative ally and master negotiator.

woman sitting

Photo by Scott M. Lacey

Boston-based event planner Amy Kimball has organized weddings up and down the East Coast, not to mention in Hawaii and, most recently, southern France. In addition to arranging dream days for brides-to-be, this energetic, level-headed blonde has overseen Hollywood premieres and private parties with star-studded guest lists — so it’s no wonder she excels at the interpersonal aspects of a well-planned fete. Kimball’s strategy is to keep everyone in sync from the start, whether that means facilitating heart-to-hearts among feuding family members or creating minute-to-minute timelines for cranky vendors. “There are always interesting family dynamics, so my role encompasses a lot of talking things through,” she says. “Essentially, it’s all about diplomacy.” Here, she offers tips for getting hitched … without a hitch.

Is hiring a planner really ?necessary?
Planning a wedding is like building a house — always hire a contractor. You want it to be beautiful and fun, and a planner makes that happen. When I get married, I’ll definitely hire one. I want somebody else to do the work!

What’s your role as the coordinator?
I am the mediator. I get people to understand one another. A groom once texted me the day after the wedding, saying that everything was perfect: the preparation, the design, and most important, the “psychiatry.” I was a pysch major in college. I use it every day of my life!

How should a bride choose a planner?
It’s as much about personality as it is style. It’s an intimate experience; she becomes part of the family. Meet in person to see if you click and if you feel she is someone you can trust. Also, did you laugh together? If you have the same sense of humor, it’s a good indicator that you can get through it. If you feel at ease and think you’ll have fun working together, then it’s a golden match.

Is there a wedding tradition you wish would disappear?
Tossing the bridal bouquet. It’s an embarrassing, awkward situation for everybody. Single women don’t like to be called to the middle of the dance floor, forced to vie for a bouquet. And unmarried couples don’t want to be questioned as to when they’re tying the knot. I hold my breath until it’s over. Thankfully, I’ve only had a few brides throw their flowers.

What’s the most common source of friction between a bride and her mom?
How much to spend on flowers. Usually the daughter wants to spend more, and the mother thinks it’s a little crazy. Most people don’t know much about linens or lighting, but flowers they understand. It becomes the tangible thing they latch on to, the talking point.

Do you have any suggestions for how to avoid such arguments?
A lot of parents tell the couple up front how much they’ll contribute. If the bride and groom want to spend more, it’s their responsibility. This has been a huge relationship saver, especially between mothers and daughters, since most of the time their priorities are very different.

Can you offer any insider tips on how to cut costs?
A lot of hotels and caterers charge for alcohol based on consumption. With a big-drinking crowd, it’s better to get a set price so there are no surprises. Ask if they offer a fixed cost on beverages, the same way they do with food. They won’t usually suggest it, but this can be negotiable.

What should you splurge on?
Lighting, hands down. Uplighting the room is essential — it changes the entire mood. Boring white light doesn’t get it done. Subtle colors create atmosphere, and pinks make everyone look good. And pin spotting is key — a pin spot will highlight floral centerpieces and create a feeling of depth throughout the room. Everything looks better when lit properly, including the bride.

How do you reconcile big dreams with a small budget?
I talk with the bride until I fully understand her dream, and she feels confident that I get it. Then I tell her we have to work with reality. I explain from the get-go what can happen within a limited budget. I don’t have rules of thumb — I ask what each couple’s priorities are. Recently I had a bride who wanted to spend lavishly on food and didn’t care about flowers, so we used potted herbs as centerpieces.

Do you have any tricks for day-of damage control?
I tell the couple that four things will go wrong at every wedding, and there’s nothing they can do about it. Usually, there aren’t four, but this way everyone is prepared. After a couple of things do go wrong, everyone starts to breathe. They think, “It happened, and it wasn’t so bad.”




Amy Kimball’s foolproof wedding game plan.

Know Your Options
The cost of a full-service planner is typically 15 to 25 percent of your overall budget. If that doesn’t work with your bottom line, opt for a day-of coordinator to manage last-minute logistics.

Do Your Research
It’s helpful to have a couple of venues and dates in mind before meeting with a planner — that way she can check on availability.

Keep It Close
Even if you’re throwing a destination wedding, hire someone who’s based where you live. Your planner is your advocate, so it’s important to have her on the ground with you.

Pay It Forward
Work with your coordinator to have your flowers taken to nursing homes after the wedding, or make a charitable donation in lieu of favors.

The Big Lender

Need help paying for your big day? Wedding Payment Plan’s Scott Almeida opens his wallet to those who say “I do.”

man sitting

Photo by Scott M. Lacey

It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of planning a wedding. There are flowers to fuss over, a band to book, and menus to choose (chicken cordon bleu or butter-poached lobster?). Of course, all of that adds up fast, and soon enough your big-day expenses are looking more like a down payment on a house. Now what?

Max out the credit cards? Borrow from family? Tap into the 401(k)? All options, of course, but none of them ideal. Your wedding is supposed to be the best day of your life, but it won’t be if you have to pay for it for the rest of your life. That’s where CPA Scott Almeida comes in. His financial services company, Wedding Payment Plan, will loan couples up to $15,000 — with low fixed rates and flexible repayment options — to put toward the event of their dreams. “We offer financial flexibility that wasn’t available before,” Almeida says.

How did you come up with the idea for your company?
I thought it would be neat if there were a loan product to defray the cost of paying for a wedding over the long term. When my wife and I got married, we got a lot of [financial] help from family, plus we used some of our own cash. But it would have been nice to keep some of that money — maybe to use for a down payment on a house. So I created a business plan when I was getting my MBA, and I launched it in 2007. I had two daughters — now I have three — so I could see the benefits from the perspective of a couple getting married and as a parent.

How does the process work?
We partner with specific venues [among them, Chatham Bars Inn, Seaport Hotel, and Westin Copley Place] that offer the plan to couples when they come in for a tour. If they’re interested, they fill out our application, and if they’re approved, Wedding Payment Plan pays the amount they borrowed directly to the venue. The bride and groom pay us back over the next 24 to 60 months.

Why not simply charge it to a credit card?
That’s what couples have been doing for years, but this revolving debt will cost you as it lingers on and on, unpaid for months or years. Also, count on extra fees and financial penalties for being over your spending limit, making late payments, or not meeting the minimum-payment criteria.

Don’t venues usually have their own financing plans?
No, most venues want to be paid 100 percent up front. If you can’t afford it, they simply suggest you push back the wedding date. It’s relatively inhospitable, given that it’s the hospitality industry.

Can you use Wedding Payment Plan for other vendors, like the band or the florist?
Right now we’re focused on venues and caterers. Those tend to require the largest chunk of money, and this gives couples the most help in the most simplified way.

Do you have a typical client?
That’s one of the things I am most shocked about: the variety of situations I encounter. I asked one of my first clients, “What’s the date of your wedding?” He said, “I don’t know. If we get this loan, we’ll get married a lot sooner.” Both he and his fiancée had elderly grandparents and didn’t want to wait too long. One groom was being deployed overseas, and our loan gave him the flexibility to get married before he left. I never anticipated those kinds of reasons. Other couples had large families on both sides, and the loan allowed them to invite everyone — and not have the wedding turn into an acrimonious debate. And then there have been some who want to buy their first house after the wedding, so they need to have cash available.

Do you get approached by people who want to spend beyond their means?
All the time. We lend only to qualified applicants who have the means to pay back the loan, and who intend to pay it back.

So when is borrowing money not ?a good idea?
Think of it this way: If someone has a job that pays them $30,000 a year, and they want to buy the most expensive house on the street, it’s a bad idea. Borrowing beyond your means is never smart, whether it’s for a wedding, a house, or a car.

Then why should anyone consider taking out a loan (or going into debt) for their wedding? So many financial advisers say not to.
You can bury your head in the sand and simply say, “Don’t take a loan.” But the reality is that people make bad financial decisions by putting expenses on their credit cards and depleting their entire cash savings. I’m not willing to ignore that issue — I’m going to deal with it in a responsible way. We don’t suggest that people borrow more than they can afford. We don’t want them to default. This method is not for everybody: It’s for people who are comfortable with credit, who need or want that financial flexibility. To say, “Don’t do it” or “Scale back your wedding” is naive.

What happens if (gulp) the wedding gets called off?
It doesn’t happen to us very often because the couples working with us don’t have money issues, which tends to be a reason weddings get postponed. But if it does, our refund policy mirrors that of the venue.




Scott Almeida shares his strategies for a financially savvy celebration.

Spend Smart
Exhausting your savings is one of the worst moves an engaged couple can make. Why begin a marriage under financial stress? Save some cash for a rainy day.

Don’t Count Your Chickens…
Don’t plan on using guests’ generous checks to pay the tab. If you get a bunch of fondue pots and platters instead of checks, you’re going to have a tough time enjoying your celebration.

Avoid a Family Feud
It’s a bad idea to borrow money from relatives other than your parents. You don’t want to enter your new family compromised.

The Exercise Authority

The key to a successful weight-loss plan is simple, says fitness guru Jill Tomich: Start with something you like, and bring a friend.

woman sitting

Photo by Scott M. Lacey

It takes a village to get in shape. At least, that’s what certified lifestyle and weight-management coach Jill Tomich believes. She should know: Her successful group-exercise program, Ultimate Bootcamp, holds four-week outdoor fitness sessions in both eastern Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island, and it’s built on camaraderie. Classes are designed to keep people both active and accountable, mixing participants of all fitness levels with trainers from a variety of backgrounds — some have served in the military, while others have dabbled in ice skating or ballet. Tomich says her goal is to help clients create healthy habits while keeping expectations realistic. “We want everyone in the group to feel good and have fun.”

Are you the second call a bride makes, after her parents?
Almost! Obviously brides want to look great. The wedding picture is going to be hanging in the hallway for the next 40 years. When I got married two years ago, even I watched what I ate and worked out one extra day every week.

Do you have specialized bridal boot camps?
Everyone works out together, but we always have two or three brides in every group. You can spot them not only from the bling on their ring fingers, but because they’re the ones who are reluctant to put their hands on the muddy ground!

Do brides ever bring their attendants? Is this effective?
They tend to come with entourages. We get some who come with their fiancé, which makes for friendly competition. More often, though, they come with the maid of honor or bridesmaids.

What can someone expect to accomplish in four weeks? In 12?
In four weeks, you can probably lose a few pounds. In three months, you might lose 10 pounds and one or two dress sizes.

Are there other tangible benefits?
We hear a lot of ?behind-the-scenes stuff with brides; their anxiety level is quite high. At the end of the workout, they are calmer. Exercise really helps manage stress — it increases production of endorphins, which are natural mood elevators and also act as sedatives. Just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity can be a euphoric distraction from wedding worries.

Why is the boot-camp approach effective?
There’s an accountability factor. Everyone is there to get results, and when they all know one another’s faces and names, it’s a lot harder to slack off. The group dynamic keeps people motivated. We’ve had people drop their gym memberships and just do the boot camps. They love the camaraderie, and they don’t have to think about how many minutes to spend on the treadmill.

What should someone look for in a trainer?
Find one who works with your personality. I’ve heard people say that they wish they had Jillian Michaels from The Biggest Loser to yell at them. She’s a big screamer. What they truly wish they had is a trainer passionate enough to actually scream at them. A trainer should be invested, not texting while a client works out — I’ve actually seen that happen.

What’s the number one diet rule?
Stop drinking. Alcohol should be the first thing to go. It slows down the metabolism!

How do you feel about cleanses?
They don’t work for long-term weight loss. Cleanses mess up the metabolism, bringing the body to starvation mode. Once you start eating like a normal person, you’re likely to gain back double what you lost.

What’s an effective motivator when it comes to dieting?
I’m a big proponent of food journals. Research shows that keeping a food diary doubles weight loss. If you have to write it down, you might not eat that cookie.

Do dress styles dictate what body parts brides want to work on?
There are definitely brides who are all about looking good in their strapless dress. They’d be happy if we stood around and did arm exercises the whole time. If they’re wearing a mermaid style, they’re worried about their hips. And then there are the brides who want to focus on their core because they’re planning a beach honeymoon.

So what’s your strategy for dealing with singularly focused brides?
We tell them: “The more muscle tone you have, the more efficient your body is at burning calories, even when you’re asleep.” That motivates them to do the lunges and the squats.




Whip yourself into shape with Jill Tomich’s workout primer.

Stick to It
Accountability is important, especially when you have a deadline. Work out in a group, set gym dates, or find someone to run with. And do something you like: Forcing yourself does not work.

Be Quick
Running and using elliptical machines are great exercise options, but sprinting has been shown to burn more fat — 6.6 percent more!

Ditch the Java
Some people can’t function without caffeine, but it dehydrates you, which means you can’t work out as hard. So cut back and drink plenty of water.

Mix It Up
Work out three to four days per week, varying your activities. If you focus on the upper body one day, try partner relay races or obstacle courses the next. You want to keep the muscles guessing.

The Scene Setter

How do you incorporate vintage pieces into your wedding décor without going over the top? It’s all about keeping it true to you, says stylist Jillian McDonough.


Photo by Scott M. Lacey

Not many of us could take an assortment of crocheted blankets, retro furniture and suitcases, a stack of wooden milk crates, and an aluminum rowboat and turn them into trimmings for an elegant wedding. Yet Jillian McDonough thrives on such a challenge. With her ever-growing inventory of antiques and gently used items, McDonough — owner of New England Vintage — provides styling services and décor rentals that help couples set the scene for a stylish yet comfortable ceremony and reception, whatever the venue.

How did you get started in this business?
When I was planning my own wedding at my parents’ house in the Berkshires, I was looking for that vintage feel. I wanted it to be loving, homey, and authentic — but not like a pig roast! I started collecting for my wedding, and then afterward, I kept going. There wasn’t a vintage-rental service on the East Coast, so about a year later, I started to offer rentals. I launched my website in February 2011 and sent it to a few wedding planners, and business was immediate. They said, “We’ve been waiting for this.”

How do you get your items?
Once you start building a network, lifelong collectors will call you when they think they have good stuff. I’ve started going to more auctions and estate sales. I go to the Brimfield Antique Show for inspiration, but I don’t do much shopping there because the prices tend to be marked up.

How do you “style” a wedding?
Styling actually grew out of the rental business. I had a lot of brides who would come into my showroom and love what they saw — and they wanted that look, but they couldn’t figure out how to set it up. Now I work with brides to outline their vision — the overall look of the day — then create every aesthetic aspect of the wedding, from the table settings to the cocktail-hour setup to the dessert tables.

Tell us about your clientele.
A lot of my brides are getting married at what I call “blank slates,” meaning barns, tents, and fields. They want their wedding to be different — even if it’s at a more-traditional venue. They want something that represents them, that feels comfortable but a little upscale, because it is their wedding day.

What if I’m a bride with no vision? Or, conversely, overflowing with ideas?
I have brides who have their vision down to the fork they want to use; the reason they come to me is for styling. They have a strong sense of what it looks like in their head, but they need help seeing how it will all come together beforehand, and then executing it. I always tell brides, “You don’t want to be hauling hay bales on your wedding day.” And even the surest bride wants a second opinion. Others will come to my showroom and say, “I love this look, but I don’t know how to make it happen.” So we start with the big picture.

You work a lot with Pinterest.
It’s so important to the beginning stages of planning a wedding. Most of my brides have their own pages already, or I create one for them. I tell brides to pin anything that strikes emotion in them — someone’s tablescape, or a photo of a lounge area. This is usually how they start to form an overall look or color scheme. And then we whittle it down. There’s great communication back and forth, and it ends up forming the pieces of the wedding.

Do you have a favorite item?
I love all my stuff! Mismatched china is one of those oldies but goodies. I love vintage silverware; it has so much detail that you can’t get nowadays, and it’s heavy and feels good in your hand. I also really love the furniture that I redo. I have a white settee that had this horrid fabric, but it had great lines and was romantic and small and cute. I love knowing what it was, and seeing what it is now.

But is there one piece you can’t live without?
It shifts: Now it’s vintage flour boxes that we found in Maine. I do everything with them — I can make them into aisle ends, or a million different kinds of centerpieces with flowers. I’ve even stacked them all together and put pictures and vintage knickknacks in them to get a cool, shadowbox look.

How do you keep clutter at bay?
Early on when I was collecting, I’d say, “I love this, and I want it for my house.” But because it’s a business, I have to think: Is it rentable? Will others want it? Will it break easily? Is it logistically possible?

Is “vintage” simply another trend?
I don’t think vintage is a trend. It’s the act of making something old into something new and fun. You can work vintage into any kind of motif — it just gives this rustic elegance that you can’t get in a very modern palette. I don’t think it’s going to go away. People will always look for ways to represent themselves with unique items, and that’s what I offer.




Jillian McDonough’s pointers for giving your wedding day a style all your own.

Go Shopping
I find an incredible amount of inspiration by walking around the city and window-shopping, or paging through magazines like Town & Country and Harper’s Bazaar. Fashion is a great way to express yourself, and you’ll find that a lot of your design and style choices will be similar to your fashion choices.

Hunt for Treasures
Although I don’t do much of my shopping at Brimfield or antiques stores, these are great places for finding inspiration. Plus, it’s a good way to spot trends.

Get a Sense of Place
You picked your venue for a reason — something about it felt right. Visit a few times and figure out what the venue has to offer and build off of it. The best looks complement the aesthetics of the space and elevate it to a more personal level.

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