CHICAGO — Excel sheets with proof of vaccination alongside RSVPs. Questions about whether a bar for an after-party checks vaccine cards. Disagreements about whether people want to test, or be around people who won’t test, for COVID-19.
These are all some of the new layers of planning a wedding and surrounding events like bachelor parties or bridal showers, not only for the bride and groom or even a wedding planner, but maids of honor and best men.
In the time of COVID-19, this can mean navigating bachelorette and bridal shower guests’ vaccination status, conversations that can be at best tricky and at worst argumentative, and making tough decisions around who can come and how. Especially when occasions involve people traveling, the logistics can be impressive.
When Eliana Brant agreed to be a maid of honor for her Chicago friend’s wedding, she expected to be walking down the aisle in April 2020.
Like most 2020 weddings, that timeline changed.
At the bridal shower in February 2020, coronavirus was not yet an acute concern. Then, for the March bachelorette party in New Orleans, a pregnant attendee canceled at the last minute, concerned about exposure.
The bride, Megan McCann, remembers how they brought hand sanitizer and wipes, but it became clear the world was shutting down; police closed Bourbon Street on their last night.
“The flight home was pretty scary and surreal,” McCann said. The next morning, they postponed their wedding for the first time.
A year and a half later, they’re in final prep for the celebration, rescheduled multiple times. In June, they eloped to Wisconsin for a small ceremony. Now, the wedding celebration is planned for early December. And Brant is coordinating an after-party.
“You would think that it would be a fairly straightforward task,” Brant said. “But still being in the pandemic, it definitely comes with extra challenges and considerations.”
She’s trying to find a bar that requires proof of vaccination, to ensure the safest possible venue to help attendees feel most comfortable. She knows with a date just after Thanksgiving and multiple travel weekends, people might have added concerns.
“My biggest consideration is just not wanting people to feel pressure to do something outside of their comfort zone,” Brant said.
While searching, Brant found many bars or restaurants are operating at reduced hours; finding a place open until 2 or 3 a.m. that requires vaccine proof hasn’t been easy.
“It should be easy to plan a party at a bar in Chicago, but that’s not been the case,” she said.
Wedding planners, also at the center of these storms, say weddings are now a flurry of checking vaccination status.
Amy Harloe, owner at Happily Ever After, said a maid of honor or best man now faces similar challenges to planners.
“I can 100 percent say that things are getting trickier now for planners related to COVID and weddings,” she said.
She now tracks RSVPs alongside vaccination requirements and entree selections or dietary restrictions.
Some clients are relaxed about mandates; others require all guests to send proof of vaccination to her in order to attend.
“It’s a whole new layer of tracking,” she said.
Amid ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions, many clients are collecting guests’ vaccine information in case Chicago begins to require it, said Lori Stephenson, owner of LOLA Event Productions. She said they have been including over-the-counter tests in the welcome bags for out-of-town guests.
A few people still mask up at weddings he’s attended, said Grant McNamara, founder of The Wedding GPS, which stands for Groom’s Personal Stylist. People might be more cautious because of health conditions that make them more vulnerable or unable to be vaccinated yet. Others simply are “weary or anxious about the last year and a half,” he said.
One couple tested every vendor and guest to protect grandparents who they wanted to be able to safely and comfortably attend, he said. At another wedding, guests who traveled to a bachelor party in New York were surprised to realize they needed vaccine cards for every bar.
“It’s been interesting to see how everyone handles it differently,” he said. “You never know what somebody else is going through.”
Still, he said, his team hasn’t seen disagreements or issues over differences. “There hasn’t been anyone giving anybody a hard time. Everyone’s been very respectful.”
But this may not always be the case.
People planning parties for a bride or groom are in a tricky position. What if one bachelorette guest doesn’t want to test, but one guest doesn’t want to attend if not all attendees are vaccinated? What about traveling for a weekend bachelor party? How can maids of honor and best men approach and handle these situations? Some people might opt to skip some events altogether.
“The key is to remember that these events are about the bride and groom, and as in many situations, you are not going to please everyone,” said Jessica Lieffring of Chicago-based etiquette company The Polite Society. She advised setting ground rules based on what makes the bride and groom feel safe. The couple can make requirements clear in overall invitations, which can be echoed for surrounding events.
“Then the decision falls on the guest and not the hosts,” she said.
If the bride and groom don’t have requirements, then it’s up to the guest’s comfort level. Choosing not to attend is fine, she said, but directly communicate with the bride or groom. Tell them you’d love to be there but don’t feel comfortable in the circumstances.
Remember, weddings are “about celebrating the bride and groom and honoring their wishes,” Lieffring said.
Finally able to enjoy postponed nuptials, couples are encountering new layers of logistics — including whether that suit or dress, picked and purchased years ago, still fits.
When Amy Barmann first went dress shopping, it was the fall of 2019. Now, two years later, she’s hoping her dress still feels as perfect. During the pandemic, the bridal shop had her pick up her dress in May 2020; she didn’t try it on until closer to their rescheduled date, which is Nov. 26. “I said, ‘what if I don’t fit into this?’”
“I was like, I might have to order a backup dress,” she said. She did but returned it when the original seemed like it would still work.
Hoping to spare their friends from pandemic planning, the couple hosted an Octoberfest combined bachelor and bachelorette party in their backyard last month.
Costs may have shifted, too; some vendors honored the same original costs, but others raised prices. Barmann said her cake price doubled. Many wedding venues are facing an increase in demand after a slow year, booking new engagements as well as postponed nuptials. Some guest lists shifted or slimmed, as people accounted for fewer guests or, feeling uncomfortable attending for whatever reason, people declined invitations.
For the December wedding, where Brant is maid of honor, Peter Toutant is the best man. He got his suit tailored almost 18 months ago; he hopes it still fits. Part of what COVID-19 has affected, he said, is not being able to see his buddy, the groom, more during the wedding prep, as he lives in Portland, Oregon. Still, after such a long time period, the wedding means more.
“It’s almost like the wedding is going to be both a wedding and a reunion of this group of friends,” he said. “It feels like now finally we’re having the opportunity to get together and celebrate all the things that we’ve been looking to celebrate.”