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When we think of outdoor weddings, we think of the romance of crystal blue skies, a light breeze softly stirring the flowers, and a golden sun shining brightly on the happy couple…..

<sound of screeching brakes> Come on, we’re here in the Midwest – the reality is that we may have five days in the early summer and maybe 10 days in late summer/early fall when those idyllic conditions may exist. And who knows when that window of opportunity might happen?

What is far more common is that we will have miserably cold, wet spring weather right up until early June… when it turns hot, humid, and sticky and we’re all sprinting for the A/C! This typically doesn’t let up until early fall… which most likely brings a return of the cold, raw weather we experienced in the spring with the occasional taste of a bright, warm day.

And in true Chicagoland style, the weather at any point in time can be unpredictable! (There’s a lot of truth to the expression, “If you don’t like the weather here, wait 15 minutes and it will change!”) There’s nothing like having to watch the skies as a summer thunderstorm rumbles in and threatens to wash out your beautifully planned garden wedding! Will it hold off until after the ceremony? Do we opt now for Plan B? Do we want to risk having to run for it in the middle of the ceremony? And heaven forbid that severe weather with its threat of tornadoes should strike on your wedding day!

Who needs that kind of stress?

Case in point: I officiated one summer at a ceremony held in the backyard garden of the groom’s parents. It was a lovely setting: there were white paper lanterns hanging from the stand of trees that set a backdrop for the ceremony. White folding chairs were adorned in white seat covers tied with bows of tulle and set in rows flanking the grassy aisle marked by a white runner. A large arrangement of flowers brought the bridal colors of white and plum to a white wrought iron bistro set nearby. The perfect scenario for an outdoor wedding, right?

Here’s the reality:

The weather was hot and very humid – the heat index was mid-90’s. The sun was nearly directly overhead at the time of the 2 PM ceremony, brutally hot, and there wasn’t an ounce of shade.

The forecast was for scattered thunderstorms, and although the sky was blue overhead, to the northwest was a line of large, black, ominous-looking thunderclouds that were closing fast, and the breeze was picking up with the looming gust front.

So then the questions started: Will the rain hold off? Should we just go ahead and move the ceremony indoors? Are Grandma and Grandpa okay sitting out there in the sun? Then the aisle runner started to blow, so it was staked at each end and held in place along each edge by bottles of water (which the bride’s children had to hop over later as they escorted the bride down the aisle).

We took a chance and started the ceremony outside. In their suits and ties, the groom and best man were sweating bullets as the sun beat down on their dark jackets, and the maid of honor’s long plum gown was sticking to her with the heat and humidity. The bride’s veil kept blowing in her face, and I couldn’t tell if the droplets of moisture on her face were tears of joy or beads of perspiration!

I’m happy to report that the rain held off long enough to complete the ceremony, but as soon as it was over, everybody bolted back into the house and the comfort of the air-conditioning.

Bottom line:if you’re thinking about an outdoor wedding, reconsider.

However, if you really have your heart set on one, remember – that lovely park or garden may be perfectly comfortable back in September on the day you booked the site, but what will it be like in the middle of summer on one of our typical Midwest summer days?

Be practical and make provisions for the realities of our local spring, summer, and fall weather conditions, such as:

  • Think of your wedding party, dressed in their bridal attire. For a summer wedding, tuxes are heavy and involve multiple layers, and their collars and ties are constricting. Bridesmaids gowns are usually made of fabric that doesn’t breathe. Couple that with pantyhose, and you’ve got an uncomfortable attendant. Even with a strapless dress and flipflops, those dresses can be hot, and sweat stains aren’t pretty! As a bride, you’ll be dressed similarly – you’ll enjoy your wedding much more if you’re physically comfortable, too.

    Consider tux trousers with vests and no jacket, or something even more casual, for your groom and groomsmen. See if you can find bridesmaid and bridal attire made of light, natural fabrics that breathe (silk, linen, cotton).

    It’s also hard to see in the bright sun without sunglasses – you don’t want all your photos to be full of squinting people! Provide some shade for your wedding party (a gazebo, chuppa, or other shade structure). Your officiant will thank you, too.

    With a fall wedding, strapless gowns could leave your attendants trembling with the chill instead of with excitement for your happiness. Since pretty much anything goes weather-wise in either the spring or fall, choose a dress style with a separate bolero, shrug, or wrap, so they are prepared for any eventuality.
  • Think of your guests. They’re all dressed up in suits and ties, or dresses and pantyhose, too. They will be sitting out in whatever weather you’re having that day for up to a half-hour before your ceremony, and then through the ceremony itself. Baking out in the hot sun, or shivering in the cold and damp, is mighty uncomfortable, especially for those who are very young, elderly, or have health issues. Consider providing a tent for your guests to sit under, with overhead fans if it’s hot, or standing patio heaters if it’s chilly. Be sure the tent comes with sides, so that you can protect your guests from rain or wind, if needed. Or perhaps you can find a venue with a roofed outdoor pavilion, instead.
  • And then there are the bugs. Muggy summer days bring out the gnats, no-see-ums, and mosquitoes. September is the season for bees and wasps. You and your groom will not be the center of attention if your guests are busy swatting at annoying, dive-bombing bugs.
  • Make some other practical choices, too:
    • Wear a short veil, or just a headpiece, that won’t blow in your face by the wind. Tie your hair back or wear it up, for the same reason.
    • Choose the Blending of Sands rather than the Unity candle ritual so that you won’t have to fight to keep your candles lit in any breeze you might be having. A candle that won’t stay lit spoils the moment, and a lit candle that blows over and starts a fire is the type of excitement I’m sure you want to avoid.
    • Best advice for an outdoor ceremony: skip the aisle runner altogether. Use rose petals to mark your “aisle” rather than a runner that will blow, especially if the venue surface is on turf. Rose petals tend to nestle into the blades of grass or cling to a rough surface and stay put better. Also bear in mind that aisle runners are meant for hard-surface floors or very low-pile carpet, and can be tricky (possibly even dangerous!) to navigate when you add high heels and soft grass to the mix.
      Also, even if the venue surface is concrete or pavers, you can’t stake a runner in place on those surfaces, so it will tend to twist, fold over, and become askew in any breeze. You don’t want to get caught up in the runner and fall as you walk down the aisle – while that might be a dramatic entrance, I’m sure it’s not the kind you have in mind!
    • Whatever decorations you choose for your outdoor ceremony, make sure they can stand up to a good wind. I’ve seen arches fall (and hit the bride!) and flower arrangements tumble when the wind picked up.
    • Be sure that the ceremony location is treated for insects far enough in advance that you’re not choking on bug spray, but close enough to the time of the ceremony to still be effective.

Holding your wedding ceremony outdoors can end up being a miserable experience full of discomfort and stress for all concerned. However, if you make the right choices, an outdoor wedding can be a charming and romantic way to start your married life together.


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