Style: Encore Weddings

Free of the jitters of first-time wedding planning, “encore” brides can let their personality shine for their second (or even third or fourth) time around.

For a performer, to be asked for an encore is the highest compliment an audience can pay. The same logic surrounds the “encore” bride, marrying a second, third, or even fourth time. Think of your guests and wedding participants as the audience, wildly supportive of their diva, and overjoyed to be asked to celebrate a new love and life with her.

At this wedding, no rules apply. “Brides and grooms get to do things they might have wanted to do the first time around but were overruled. I find them much more willing to step out of the traditional wedding box,” says Linda Matzkin, president of Hopple Popple, a 30-year-old event-planning company in Boston. “They have a better idea of what’s really important and can let go of a lot of the traditional stuff.”

Although they have all the same decisions to make as first-time brides—how much to spend, whom to invite, what to wear—encore brides are usually more relaxed about planning their second wedding. “It was so much easier to have fun this time. I was much less invested in being perfect,” says Liz Beckhardt, an encore bride who was married at the Hotel Marlowe in Cambridge. “On the other hand, this wedding felt more spiritual than my first wedding. I found that I spent less time planning the party, and more time thinking about the actual ceremony and the marriage.”

With the experience of a previous marriage behind them, encore brides and grooms often have a sense of what matters most. These couples are less likely to see their wedding as a whole package—food, flowers, music—and more likely to make independent decisions about how much to spend on each specific element of the day.

“Encore brides are more confident about every aspect of the event, more certain about their budget—they know what they want to spend, and exactly what they want to spend it on,” says Mary-Catherine Deibel, co-owner of UpStairs on the Square in Cambridge.

“Whether the wedding is an elegant dinner party for 18 people, or a 200-person extravaganza with a live band and dancing, the encore couple is in full control, generally more focused on the food.”

Beckhardt and her groom found themselves passing on limos and putting less emphasis on the flowers. Instead, they splurged elsewhere. “We decided that a live band makes the party, so we spent more money on a really good soul band, instead of spending less on a DJ,” she says.

The bride also remembers wanting her fingerprints on every detail. “I was much pickier about what I was getting for my money. I wanted to taste the cake, taste the menu, sample the wines,” she says. “It was my wedding day. I was ready to get it right and I wanted complete ownership of the event.”

The range of venues can be more expansive for encore vows than a first wedding. The happy couple can choose to have a traditional church or country club wedding, but the “I do” could just as well take place on a golf course, somewhere at sea or in an artist’s loft. There is only one cardinal rule: The encore wedding cannot be in the same venue as the bride or groom’s first ceremony.

“[Encore weddings] are always in a different venue, different setting and on a different scale than the earlier event,” says Matzkin. “If the first wedding was a black-tie dinner at a grand hotel, you can be sure the second one is going to be a barefoot-on-the-beach event.” Also, these affairs are usually half the size of the bride’s or the groom’s first wedding celebration—if 200 people were invited to the first wedding, the current guest list will be closer to 100 or 125.

When it comes to guests, “there are no perfect answers, only guidelines,” says Peggy Post, etiquette expert and author of Emily Post Wedding Etiquette 5th Edition (Collins, 2006). But while the guidelines are loose and personal, there is one caveat. “Whether it is a big or small affair, you should only invite people to the wedding who wish you well as a couple,” says Post. “Don’t invite someone, such as an ex-spouse, friend, or family member from a past marriage, who will come to your wedding with a mixed heart.”

This may seem obvious, but is not always. Often very dear friends and close family members maintain attachments to a bride or groom’s former spouse and could be uncomfortable about coming to your encore wedding. Post suggests candid conversations with potential guests whom you suspect are having trouble making room for your new partner. Setting aside hard feelings, you might invite them to take a pass on the wedding ceremony with a promise to ease into your new relationship in the months and years to come.

Your wedding album will bring you pleasure long after your guests have worked off the wedding cake. For encore couples whose event may be less structured than a first-time wedding, it is especially important to work with a photographer who understands how to record and bring together the new family. “You have to be very sensitive to the dynamics of a blended family in an encore wedding,” says Newburyport-area photographer Megan Jones. “I ask for a family tree ahead of time so that I can make sure I get all the names and relationships right—and then take pictures that reflect the new family structure.”

The good news is that encore brides and grooms are comfortable being caught on film. “I get to take pictures of the wedding that is, instead of the wedding that was planned,” says Jones. As a result, an encore couple’s wedding album is more likely to be full of wonderful candid shots and have fewer pages of what Jones calls “ingredient” wedding photography—pictures of the limo, bride, groom, cake, the buffet table, and other standards.

Many encore brides wonder whether black-and-white or color wedding photos are more flattering to mature complexions. Most wedding photographers say that it doesn’t matter at all. “I like to use both,” says Jones. “Black-and-white photography is timeless and romantic, but so much thought goes into the colors in a wedding that I like to be sure to have some color shots, too. I can fix any small imperfections when I retouch the photos later.”

Yolanda Cellucci, owner of the Event Center at Yolanda’s in Waltham, who counsels some 300 brides a week on what to wear down the aisle and to the reception, guesses that more than one-third of her brides are encore brides. “When they come in,” she says, “they all say that they can’t wear white, because they have been married before.” But Cellucci disagrees.

White or off-white is an option for any bride, she says: “When a bride tells me that she thinks she should wear a peach, or a pink or a mint gown, I tell them that they shouldn’t look like bridesmaids at their own wedding.” If a bride is reluctant to wear white, Cellucci tries to steer her to something with gold or silver. “People come to weddings to see the bride,” she says. “It’s their day, and they should look fabulous—whether it’s a first wedding or a fifth.”