Flexibility & hand-holding: 5 tips for having a successful costume wedding

October 31 | Guest post by Amberella

Remember Tribesmaid Amberella's DIY Steampunk wedding invitations? She's back to tell us how she pulled off an awesome costume wedding.

Our wedding guests all decked out in their costume finery. Photo by my uncle.

When we were struggling with what we wanted our wedding to be like, we were overwhelmed by the idea of a wedding. We're silly geeky people — the formality and seriousness of everything around a wedding was off-putting. The fact that we were starting to mentally capitalize everything was a sign of how intimidated we felt.

Then, and I am not sure how, we realized something: a wedding is a party, a party about us and everyone who loves us. And having never thrown a party more serious than five people coming over for board games, we set about throwing a kick-ass party. And then it got much, much better. I mentioned that we're geeks, right? Because that definitely influenced our idea of "kick-ass."

Ed and I had a time travelling-themed costume wedding. It was fantastic.

A costume wedding isn't all that different than a regular wedding. Most weddings are actually costume weddings, unless you wear white formal dresses and tuxedos on a daily basis, which isn't out of the realm of possibility (and is totally awesome — is your work hiring?). But for these instructions specifically, the costume wedding is one in which you ask the wedding party and guests to dress up around a specific theme.

1. Be the kind of people who think a costume wedding is a fabulous idea. Seriously, this is important. If you are really thrilled by the idea, but your partner isn't, then DO NOT DO IT. You are the ultimate cheerleaders of this idea; if you're both excited by it your excitement will pass on to your guests, and the reverse is true.

2a. Choose a flexible theme. Ed and I chose "time travelling" as our theme. We told our guests they had the whole 19th century to choose from, and that they could mix and match. We promised not to drop a dime on anyone to the Time Police if they wore 1815-style pants with an 1870-style hat. It was fascinating how it turned out — our parents and their friends almost exclusively chose Old West outfits, and my friends leaned Steampunk.

2b. Be sure to give yourself flexibility as well. I spent a few really fun days acquiring theme songs from TV shows and movies that featured time travel to play during cocktail/mingling hour between the ceremony and the arrival of dinner. Our recessional music was the Throne Room music from Star Wars. Was this time travelling-themed? Not really. Was it awesome? Yes, yes it was. Don't exclude something you love just because it doesn't fit in with your theme!

3. Plan for multiple levels of participation. Some people are going to get really excited (and you might be surprised by who those people turn out to be), and others will not. If you want everyone to participate you have to let those who don't love the idea, but do love you, find a way to show willingness. Additionally, not everyone has the budget to buy a new costume. On our wedding website we had multiple links:

  • "This sounds like it could be interesting, how can I participate?"
  • "Oh man, I'm so excited I'm already looking at crinoline!"
  • "Do I have to?"

Each category had visuals and links of places to buy things, (Really into it? Here's a place to buy an off the rack costume, or to find ideas on how to make your own. Tentative? Let me tell you how to take clothes you already own and repurpose them). The answer to "Do I Have To" was yes, unless the whole idea makes you very, very uncomfortable.

4. Be prepared to hold hands. No matter how much advance work you do, some people will be entirely stumped as to how to dress. My wedding was small, I was able to figure out who these people were early and work with them to find something that they would be comfortable in. It can be a lot of work, and people will want to check in with you, so be prepared to be patient and to say yes to many, many things… Yes, that shawl looks period appropriate to me, yes I think a string tie works, and yes you should wear comfortable shoes… In my experience it was mostly that people were afraid they were going to let us down by not coming up with something "good enough."

5. Go out of your way to compliment everyone who participated on their outfit. They came dressed up to celebrate with you, and you want them to know how much they mean to you and how awesome they look. As for the people who didn't dress up (be prepared for a couple): don't say anything about it. Just go up to them, say how lovely it is to see them, and thank them for coming.

  1. This is a perfect article for me! We are doing a Renaissance/Medieval themed wedding and are getting a mix of responses as we start to let people know about the wedding and the theme. The only difference for us will be the "Do we have to?" answer. While we would LOVE for everyone to be in costume, they don't have to be. As long as they are comfortable and wear comfy shoes I am happy. I like the idea of putting different levels on the website though.

    Thanks for sharing!

    4 agree
  2. Did you put the costume bit on the actual invitation or just on the website? I love the idea of a costume party wedding, but I don't know where I would put the part where it says "dress up…but as Superman".

    1 agrees
    • I would put a "what should I wear?" section on your website. Answer the question with "Superman, a banana, Raggedy Ann… Whatever you want!" (or you know, in your own words for whatever's appropriate for your event)

      1 agrees
  3. I put it on the save the dates (join us for a Time Travelling Wedding) and the website (under What To Wear). My wedding was also small, so word of mouth helped a lot (we explain it to our parents, who then told everyone).

    1 agrees
  4. Love this! We are not doing a costume or themed wedding, but we went to one about a month ago. A friend of ours did a "retro" theme, defining retro as anything between the 1930's and early 60's. And I think the points at #2 and 3 are key, and I would add "know your crowd." If you know that a lot of people are not gonna be feeling the theme, then I would advise against mandating it. (However, no one knows your crowd better than you, and you might be able to pull off a mandatory dress code, just like this OP did.)

    At this wedding I'm referring to, the couple didn't make the theme mandatory and encouraged their guests to interpret it however they wanted and that might include choosing to not participate at all, and just wearing regular wedding attire. It worked amazingly, there was such an incredible array of interpretations in the crowd, and it made their whole wedding just so much fun. As one might expect, the people who really got into the theme tended to be on the younger side – the guests in their 20s and 30s were more likely to roll with it than those in their 50s and 60s. But the fun thing was that since the older guests weren't shamed for shying away from participating, they got to have fun with the theme by marvelling at everyone else's outfits.

    Flexibility also means not fretting over the details too much. One girl at our table was really more 1920's flapper girl so she was technically outside the stated time period but did anyone give a shit? No. Because honestly, that's nothing to ruin your day over. And she looked awesome in a dress she made herself!

    And the starring couple didn't even technically "match" from a time perspective – she was more rockabilly 50's, he was more big band 40's. But they both looked fabulous and comfortable and great together. At the end of the day, no one took things too seriously, everyone was happy, and it made for a great wedding. :)

    5 agree
  5. As a representative from the Tentative Camp, I can say it would make me a lot more comfortable to have some props or costume pieces available at the party. I tend to under dress for costume parties but then feel self-conscious when I arrive and everyone else is decked out. Having cool hats or fake moustaches and things like that available can catch people who only warm up to the idea once they see it in action.

    15 agree
  6. Love this. Wished we had gone full sci-fi costume but might have put off too many people!

    Good tips.

    0 agree
  7. I went to a Halloween themed wedding reception last weekend and apart from the fact it was amazing, I also thought I'd share what the bride and groom put on our invites. They said "scary fancy dress, or red and black attire, or just whatever". Some of the guests chose the red and black idea (who doesn't own some formal-ish black clothing of some sort), some people came as they were, others had possibly the most awesome costumes ever! These choices meant everyone was comfortable with an outfit and there was still a "theme" going on

    1 agrees
  8. We're going to have our reception be a Time Traveller's Ball, where everyone dresses up from their favorite era. The great thing about this is future and modern eras are included! That way people can come dressed in normal formal wear if they don't want to go all out.

    3 agree
  9. We are planning our wedding for next Halloween. We have always intended on dressing up and being geeks we also want to go with steampunk, but we only made that mandatory with our bridal party crew. While we want everyone to dress up and have fun, we thought we should be inclusive with the theme and center it around time travel. I plan on stressing the costume and theme with our STDs and invites to give people a heads up. I am really, really hoping that by focusing on time travel that we get all sorts of lovely touches – maybe a time lord, a terminator, or even the doc. That would be so awesome!

    1 agrees
    • This is exactly what we are doing also, love it! We mentioned on the wedding site (where you go to rsvp) that 1. Our focus is steampunk, 2. It's Halloween, do whatever tickles you!!! And 3. "…We will be having a steamer trunk rescued from the airship pirates with lots of treasure and accessories inside to pick from if you want to just add a bit of steam on arrival." Then I took $100, went to the local flea market and thrift stores, and loaded up on pipes, fedoras, costume jewelry, ect…. everyone so far is super excited :)

      0 agree
  10. Yes! We had a beach casual wedding, so no costumes. But we also used the throne room song as our recessional. Again, did it fit with our theme? Not really, but it was awesome.

    0 agree
  11. We're having an 18th century costumed wedding. We're welcoming any type of dress from that time period.
    If you're doing a costumed wedding, you should look into costume rental shops in your area. There's one about 3 hours away from us, but they have a huge selection of colonial costumes. It's gonna save us a lot money in the long run, because these costumes cost hundreds, if not thousands to make (to keep). We're renting costumes for the officiant, bridesmaids, groomsmen, and my father. The groom & I are having ours custom made to keep (I'm making mine).

    0 agree

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