They say love is universal, but in truth, true love looks different to everyone across the map.
Nowhere is this more evident than in their weddings. Ethnic traditions combine with modern trends to create some of the most beautiful ceremonies, showcasing how other cultures celebrate love, commitment and the beginning of a lifelong union. We’ve found six weddings that perfectly illustrate this balance of new and old. These couples were inspired by their heritage and, while maintaining authenticity, incorporated new traditions as well. It’s important to pay tribute to where we’re from, too, so we’ve included everything you need to know about hosting a Southern, chic wedding here in the Sunshine State. And the cherry on top? We’ve got an interview with one of TLC’s most sought after dressmakers, and for her clients, the biggest dress is best.
Darryl & Adeola
This bride and groom chose to honor their African heritage with a traditional engagement ceremony on Friday in addition to their more Western wedding on Saturday, which incorporated Darryl’s Liberian and American background. Adeola’s Nigerian roots were represented with several customs, including a show of elder respect with a touching of feet and a letter encased in a gold enclosure that was exchanged between both sets of parents in consent of the wedding. The Saturday event was sleek with accents of red and black, with the bride dressed in a stunning custom-made gown. The gold-accented, five-tier cake was a showstopper that added to this celebration’s glitzy décor.
Photos courtesy of Vesic Photography, vesic.com
A Cultural Commitment
Farzana & Amin
This six-ceremony, three-day celebration was as beautiful as it was elaborate. The Ocala couple began the wedding festivities with a henna ceremony, in which henna is applied to the bride, groom and their guests. It is said that the darker the henna’s color, the more the groom loves the bride. Rings were exchanged during an engagement ceremony, also known as the ring saree, and the bride received a saree from her in-laws to wear during the ceremony. At the pithi ceremony, guests applied turmeric paste on the couple, which is said to give them a natural glow for the upcoming celebrations. During the sangeet, a relaxed event consisting of dancing, music and food, Farzana arrived in a traditional palki carried by her uncles. The nikah ceremony is the actual Muslim wedding, and the bride wore a traditional saree. After the ceremony, the bride was brought to the groom’s home for the khoba-khobi ceremony, where she was welcomed into the groom’s family. The reception was a colorful, fun-filled time, where the couple had their first dance and their families gave toasts.
Photos courtesy of Hakim’s Studio, hakimsstudio.com
Sarah & Antonio
When planning their wedding, this couple knew they had the perfect destination wedding spot in Antonio’s family farm, located just outside Mexico City. Surrounded by agave plants and ancient brick and stone walls, this location told the story of life on a working ranch before the tern of the century. While the men wore sombreros and traditional charro attire, the bride stuck with the more Western white wedding dress but donned a pair of boots to conquer those dusty floors. The ceremony took place is an intimate chapel on the ranch’s property, and at the reception, a traditional mariachi band entertained guests.
Photos courtesy of Bryan Miller Photography, bmillerweddings.com
Juliana & Ben
This couple’s special day was filled with personal touches from the couple, right down to their signature drink that featured a floating eyeball (a nod to their zombie-inspired engagement photos). The couple ended their vows not with a candle lighting or sand art, but with the eating of their “unity sandwich.” And why not, right? Like they said, nothing goes better together than PB&J. The couple chose to create a from-scratch celebration that really showcased their energetic personalities and creativity, but they also took the time to honor their Korean heritage with a beautiful Pyebaek ceremony for their families.
Photos courtesy of Kate Harrison, kateharrisonphotography.com
An Unforgettable Union
Cheryl & Ernest
This sentimental, emotional ceremony took place under a one-of-a-kind chuppah canopy created out of pieces of Cheryl’s mother’s clothing and other family heirlooms, including swatches of her late grandmother’s wedding dress. The bride’s mom tragically passed not long after her daughter’s engagement. Their relaxed ceremony, featuring a navy, green and white color scheme, included several Jewish customs, including the Hora chair dance and the traditional breaking of the glass. Mazel Tov! As a special thank you to their guests, Cheryl and Ernest sent them each away with a sweet treat-huge gourmet marshmallows flavored like each of their favorite desserts, cheesecake and s’mores. Yum!
Photos courtesy of Danny Brod, danielcphotography.com
Andrea & Brett
To call Brett and Andrea’s wedding energetic would be an understatement. This fun couple intertwined traditional Greek customs with modern elements to make their special day unique. The beautiful stefana crown set used during the ceremony symbolizes the coming together and connection of two people. And looking closely, you’ll notice the writing on the bottom of the bride’s shoe. Custom says that the name that outlasts the others after an evening of dancing will become the next bride. The couple turned it up a notch at their reception with the once traditional breaking of the plates to signify the throwing away of their old lives and the beginning of their new life together.
Photos courtesy of Jani B Photography, janib.co.za
To Dress A Gypsy
Sondra Celli is the designer behind the infamously extravagant wedding gowns featured on TLC’s hit series My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding. We chatted with the woman behind the gowns about her clients, their unconventional wedding couture and why whoever has the most bling wins.
What’s your background in fashion design?
When I was 15, I wanted to become a designer, so I went to school in Europe in six different countries on a summer program. When I was 17, I went to New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. I majored in menswear. A lot of department stores picked me up as a designer. The gypsies were in one of the major department stores, liked my clothes and stole my number out of the Rolodex and started to call me. I didn’t know I was selling to them—they were all from the same street and area. I called a mentor of mine in the area, and she told me I was shipping to a trailer park. And she said ‘don’t lose them if they love your stuff.’
What do gypsy brides ask for when you design?
The gypsies pretty much give me freedom. In general, they come in with a color in mind to fit the theme of the wedding. Sometimes, they have requirements that they want, like body styles: a bustier, a gown that laces up the back, things like that. I’ve been doing this for years, so I know their style and their family’s look. If they say “I want hot pink and to spend X amount of dollars,” I work the design around the budget.
Why do gypsy brides opt for these extravagant gowns?
Rhinestones are status. They’ll say to you “I saw so-and-so’s dress, but can mine be bigger and have more bling?” Gypsies and travelers get their money in clumps so they spend it that way. There’s not a lot of notice for us, because that might be the week they have the money to do this right. If it’s a really good week, they’ll up the dress even while we’re working on it. But they never settle. They’ll wait until they have the dollars to build the dress.
They’re big, but how much do these dresses really weigh?
Anywhere from 70 to 80-something pounds, and most of these brides are 120. I’m not saying it’s not heavy, but it does balance on your body. They’re so happy, and they can’t wait to have a big dress. After wearing it for five or six hours though they sometimes get a little cranky.
What is the most outrageous dress you’ve ever designed?
We made a dress out of black and white wigs once. On the show, we did a dress for Annie that lit up and had fur. The heat went out, and it was freezing out, so we’re in here with fingerless gloves on trying to sew the wires while we can’t feel the needle. Our fingers were blue. I sewed half the lights in there myself so no one got electrocuted. We never say no to anything; we just try to figure it out.
Other than the dress, what’s so different about a gypsy wedding?
As entertaining as it is, the show still has a lot of cultural factors about it. Food is not their thing. They put their money into the dress, unlike us, who are crazy with the menu and the whole dinner. They don’t really even have a dinner. They have some drinks, hors d’oeuvres, dancing and a cake. They’re just party people. They don’t care about chair covers.
Irish travelers buy huge gifts for each other, like Rolex watches and David Yurman bracelets. It’s a really big deal to take all the gifts that you bought for the husband or wife and display them next to the cake and show how much money you have and your status. They’re big on names and logos.
Do you work with clients other than gypsies?
I work for everyone. I always have. We just finished a swim team and a wrestler, and we do a lot of ballroom dancers and step dancers, too. We bling and sell pretty much everything. We work with regular brides all the time. The show has just put us out there more and given us more notoriety.
How can brides incorporate a little gypsy style into their gown?
Regular brides will call in and say they saw a dress on TV and take ideas from it. We work for other brides all the time who get inspired by the dresses but want them a little bit smaller, fewer stones, usually not a color and not as outrageous, just pretty.
How has the TV show changed your business?
It’s more international, so we can tell in the morning when all our emails are in Spanish that the show must have been on somewhere in the world the night before. We just finished a dress for a little girl in Amsterdam. Someone just rang our doorbell from Honduras. People come from all over.
What’s something people should know about gypsies?
People always ask me what happens if I don’t get paid, but I don’t have that.I find them really hospitable. They are incredibly good to me. I’m really just a dressmaker on the show, but I’ve been with them for years. There are so many things I will never divulge because they trust me. They’re very family oriented, and they love each other. Their doors are always open with kids running between their homes—it’s so Leave it to Beaver. There’s not much of that left today. I think a lot of people believe they’re scammers, and yes, they have bad people, but so do we. I know a lot of them have legitimate businesses and always treat me well.
What do you love most about designing for gypsy brides?
I’m really lucky to do something I love. I honestly love every piece, whether it’s hot pink or traditional white. I’m a designer, so if it’s what the bride wants, I think it’s awesome. They’re all creative pieces, and I hate to see them go sometimes. Yeah, some days it’s very stressful and aggravating, but I can’t imagine doing anything else. I have complete creative freedom.
Southern Chic Ceremony
While drawing on the wedding customs of other cultures can create a unique feel for your wedding, sometimes your big day is all about honoring where you came from. Besides, betrothals below the Mason-Dixon Line have so much charm. Like many Ocala brides, if you’re a southern belle at heart, here’s how you can make your wedding feel down-home chic.
Outdoor wedding? Scrounge up some old barn wood and DIY an adorable sign to direct your guests to the different areas of your venue.
Create a country aisle runner with burlap fabric, and maybe make a few bows to tie onto the chairs while you’re at it. Add some lace to them for a classic contrast.
Line the aisle with hay bales for a defined walk down the aisle that won’t obstruct anyone’s view.
A pair of old barn doors would make the perfect backdrop to an outdoor altar, or you could build your own with reclaimed wood that’s been in the rain too long for much else. It’ll look perfectly weathered and totally rustic.
If you walk down the aisle under beautiful Florida oaks, light them up with market string lights. You could even hang some mason jars on the lower branches for candleholders. Just be sure to use battery-operated tea lights.
Replace boring centerpiece vases with mason jars, which can be easily embellished with glitter, paint, twine or whatever else you can dream up. The same goes for tin cans if you’re aiming for a more budget-friendly option—just wrap some lace around them for a pretty touch.
Drape tables and bench seating in vintage linens for a welcoming feel that’s still in keeping with the theme.
To add some antique romance, oil-burning lanterns offer the perfect ambient light.
Chalkboards, chalkboards, chalkboards! From menus to welcome signs to table numbers, you can incorporate some traditional schoolhouse style in countless ways.
Speaking of table numbers, because burlap is basically required, place some inside mix-n-match pictures frames and write table numbers in script on the glass. This is an inexpensive but adorable DIY, and you can keep a few as memo boards for later.
Tap into the old work barn and see what you can find there. Wooden spools are perfect makeshift tables for the cake, favors, just about anything. An old wheelbarrow could make an adorable gift drop-off with a little elbow grease.
Antique furniture, the kind that looks like it’s been in the barn a few years, is the perfect way to add southern charm without over decorating. Some other classy country tables for gifts and guest books are antique vanities and desks.
If it looks like it came from your mama’s garden, it’s perfect. Try colorful flowers cut at varying lengths for that wildflower appeal, and add plenty of greenery.
Peonies and ranunculus blooms are trending on Pinterest, and since they’re available in so many colors and sizes, you can definitely find a way to work them in.
Sunflowers are excellent for a Southern wedding in need of a gorgeous pop of color.
For an autumn wedding, inserting a few short stalks of wheat into your bouquet adds a subtle touch of the season and is a nod toward your rustic motif.
Once you’ve chosen your favorite flowers, bundle your bouquet in burlap or twine for the perfect finishing touch.
Pennant cake toppers are gaining popularity, and not only are they totally adorable, but they’re reminiscent of all those county fairs back home.
Is your home state known for its fruit? Add a layer of fruit between cake layers, or flavor the cake itself. Wild blackberries are common in Florida, and of course, you could always go orange.
Instead of paying for perfect icing, ask for textural frosting that looks like it was spread with a knife at the kitchen table. You could even cut calories and cost by only frosting between the layers and garnishing the rest with fresh fruit.
Fondant allows a cake to become anything, and many couples have transformed theirs into a tasty tree, complete with a carving of their initials.
Fallen trees aren’t uncommon after a Florida storm. Reclaim the toppled trunk by using a wood slice as your cake pedestal.
Depending on your commitment to Southern tradition, you could ditch the cake altogether and opt for pies instead.
Mason jars filled with tea bags and sugar cubes for a sweet tea recipe are an excellent way to send a taste of your big day home with your guests. Add a lemon if an Arnold Palmer is more your style.
If you foresee your daytime wedding getting warm, old-fashioned fans would be a cool and welcome favor.
Keep your guests refreshed with keepsake mason jars. Apply a little chalkboard paint, let them write their names and they’ve got a personalized drink to have and to hold onto for years to come.
Local jams, jellies and honey are the most delicious parts of the South, so send some home with your guests. You could even try making homemade apple butter. People will appreciate a favor you took the time to make, and you’ll save a pretty penny to reallocate elsewhere.
The Wedding Party
Boots with dresses is the oldest trick in the book, but it’s still one of the cutest. And hey, no more spending money on shoes or heels that sink into the grass. The groomsmen can adopt this one, too.
Mismatched dresses are an adorable way to add some rustic flare, and of course, bridesmaids love getting to choose dresses they really like. Cornflower blue is a classic southern hue that’s often overlooked for more popular ones, like mint, so consider less common options for your palette.
Boutonnieres could be wrapped in twine for an easy, effortless rustic look.
There’s just something about a gentleman in khaki, and all the better when he’s your groom. Khaki tuxes are frequently featured in rustic weddings, so consider them for yours, too.