Executive Editor Jessica Otte Looks Back at Her Wedding Day—And Offers Her Advice for Planning Your Own

I’d loved looking at weddings magazines since long before I was engaged. As a teenager, I’d use the money I earned from whatever part-time job I was working at the time to treat myself to the latest Martha Stewart Weddings and dog-ear the things I loved. I kept all the back issues on a shelf I referred to as “the archive.” Half-decent with a pencil, I’d draw sketches of my dream dress. It usually included some combination of a full tulle skirt, fitted bodice, taupe ribbon sash, and cathedral-length veil with a blusher.

When Pinterest came into existence, you better believe I had a weddings board (strategically kept secret, obviously, so as not to terrify any potential suitors), even though I was nowhere near walking down the aisle. The details of my dream day shifted with changing influences and passing fads: a tented backyard reception (a la Father of the Bride) gave way to a rustic barn wedding (despite never having stepped foot in a barn in my life) to a Latin-flavored celebration to honor my Cuban heritage.

So when my now-husband, Charlie, proposed seven years ago on a perfect fall day Central Park, you’d think I had my dream wedding fully planned and ready to execute, right? Not quite.

The prospect of planning a wedding—in real life, not just in my head—is hard for indecisive types like myself. I like too much and agonize over decisions. Planning a wedding with real dollars is also a very different prospect than doing so with imaginary money. That custom fireworks show I envisioned capping off the night? Not quite in the budget.

Having seen how my tastes had changed over the years, I knew I didn’t want to look back on my wedding with regret. I decided to stick with a simple color palette and kept the details fairly timeless. My husband and I chose The Room on Main for its classic ballroom feel and neutral finishes. My mom—my not-so-secret wedding-planning weapon—designed a custom monogrammed crest that appeared on our invitations and favor boxes. Floral arrangements were kept lush and loose, with the head table featuring a leafy garland dotted with roses and berries.

A lot of my wedding day was different than how I imagined it as a teenager. The dress I had in my head never materialized, and I ended up going in the complete opposite direction, selecting a form-fitting satin number with a beaded and pearl-accented illusion back and cap sleeves. I wanted live music, but my indie-music-loving husband wanted a song list populated with more obscure choices that aren’t in the repertoire of most wedding bands. And the sparkler exit I dreamed of? Turns out it’s a fire hazard and a no-no at many venues. Then again, when I was planning this imaginary wedding, I also thought I’d be marrying Leonardo DiCaprio. Sometimes reality is better than anything we could dream up.

My point is, if your wedding day looks a little different than you imagined, due to a global pandemic, a tight budget, or any other reason, know this: It will still be one of the best days of your life. It will also be a blur. Here’s everything I remember from my wedding day:

  • Getting ready with my bridesmaids and mom in the bridal suite.
  • My husband’s and my first look.
  • Crying during my dad’s speech.
  • After the cake cutting, being so excited to have a bite that I forgot I was supposed to feed it to my husband and just ate it off my own fork.
  • The last-song tradition that had taken hold among our group of friends, where all the guests put their arms around each other and form a circle around the bride and groom as The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” plays. I remember trying to etch the faces of every guest into my brain as I looked around that circle, surrounded by all the most important people in our lives.
  • Our private last dance, as our guests headed downstairs for our exit.
  • After the after-party, walking a block from where our Uber dropped us off to our hotel, wearing my wedding gown and heels, at 2am.

Fair to say, some truly special moments, and some not-so-glamorous ones. But they all added up to create one of the happiest days we’ve still ever had, and most importantly, the start of our life together. We have a few more gray hairs than we do in these pictures, and I couldn’t fit into my gown today even if I slathered myself in Crisco. But five years later, we’re got a lot of great memories under our belts and three beautiful babies under our roof.

If you’re planning a wedding, my biggest pieces of advice would be:

  1. Lay off the Pinterest. Honestly, it just overwhelmed me and led me down a lot of frustratingly dead-end roads. Use it as a pinboard for saving inspiration—it’s a great, easy way to share your ideas with your vendors—but the endless scrolling can sometimes do more harm than good.
  2. Trust your team. Find a trusted local guide (ahem, the Fall/Winter 2020 issue of D Weddings is on newsstands now) and hire a team of experts whose style jibes with yours—and then get out of their way. Trust them to do what they do.
  3. Don’t dwell. Make a decision and move on. Yes, the cream napkins will look just as beautiful as the taupe ones. Regardless of which you choose, they’ll all end up with bits of food and lipstick on them anyway.
  4. Make it personal. As the editor of D Weddings, I see thousands of weddings every year, and the ones that stand out are the ones that dare to be different. Pay homage to you and your fiancé’s favorite pastime, honor a family tradition…just choose things that are significant to you, not something you saw some influencer do.
  5. Don’t be so hard on yourself. I never want to hear the words “wedding diet” ever again. Your fiancé thinks you are beautiful. You should believe him or her. Trust me, one day in the not-so-distant future—five years, give or take, no specific reason for that number, just a guess, why do you ask—you’ll look back and want to slap yourself for not appreciating how young and non-exhausted you look. Enjoy it.
  6. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Some of the best advice I got before my wedding day was to anticipate something going wrong and not let it ruin the day. For the most part, our wedding went off without a hitch, except for the tiny issue of our guest shuttle breaking down on the side of the Tollway on the way to the ceremony. Whoopsie! But even if something is a hair off—the peonies aren’t the right shade of pink, whatever—remember that none of your guests will even know.
  7. Focus on what the day really means. It’s easy to get lost in the “stuff” of weddings—or disappointed if you can’t have everything you hoped to. But in the end, keep in perspective that this is one day (albeit a very special one) in your love story. It’s about you and your most favorite person on the planet becoming a family. The best stuff is what comes after.

As always, let us know how we can help make your wedding planning process easier. Send me an email at jessica.otte@dmagazine.com.

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