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Aisle Say 

From roses to poses, Vermont vendors share their wedding wisdom

Published February 2, 2005 at 10:14 p.m.

Growing up as a tomboy, I had barbs in my clothes but no Barbies in my bedroom; I preferred running around outside to trying on the latest lipgloss. And when other girls compiled pre-wedding scrapbooks with champagne wishes and crinoline dreams, I just laughed.

But, man, did I regret this attitude when it was time to plan my own wedding! I came off like a complete dunce to our vendors. The DJ howled when I handed him a list of 300 "must-play" tunes for the reception. The baker blanched when I asked him if he could design an ocean-meets-mountains cake. And the florist turned crimson when I admitted that the only flower I knew by name was a rose.

To save other brides- and grooms-to-be from similar embarrassment, I consulted Shelburne writer Joanne Palmisano's 2005 Vermont Wedding Resource Guide. I asked a number of vendors listed there to answer the following question: "What do you wish pre-nuptial individuals understood about your business before they call?"


Roddy O'Neil Cleary, a minister with the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington, has married more than 175 couples -- including Trey Anastasio and his wife Sue Statesir -- during the past 15 years. "Somebody just asked me if they could get married here if they're not Unitarian," she says. "Of course; we are about religious pluralism and have had many interfaith weddings. We've even had a chuppah inside the sanctuary, and propped it up with hymn books."

Regardless of faith, says Cleary, she wishes more weddings were about the service, and ministers more than just functionary figures. She says couples "should have several months, if not longer, to prepare a service that reflects what they believe about relationships."

Personal vows are fine, as long as they're, well, personal. Says Cleary: "It's a bit unsettling when they get their vows straight off the Internet."

The Internet can also lead couples astray when they're researching potential churches and reception areas, such as the Shelburne Museum. Folks usually know what to expect of the museum's Old Charlotte Meeting House, an 1840 Greek-Revival spot for exchanging vows. But Bruce Andrews, who's been arranging warm-weather weddings here for the past five years, answers unusual queries from out-of-towners. "I had a person ask just last week, 'Can we book a wedding cruise on the Ticonderoga?'" he says. "If that thing starts sailing, we're all in serious trouble."


An increasing number of wedding locations are soup-to-nuts sites -- or, in the case of Mary's Restaurant in Bristol, garlic soup-to-nuts. "I wish people knew that we are all-inclusive: ceremonies, food and a fabulous wedding barn," says Linda Harmon, co-owner of the eatery and surrounding Inn at Baldwin Creek. She's been coordinating weddings for more than 20 years. "Plus, people don't know how close we are, just half an hour from Burlington."

Names can be deceiving, agrees ShawnnaLea Young, one of two full-time wedding planners at Stowe's Topnotch Resort & Spa. "We're not as expensive as they think when they hear 'Topnotch,'" she says. "I wouldn't say we're cheap, but we do have manageable rates."

Alas, those rates held no sway with Mother Nature, especially during "springtime" in northern Vermont. "I've had people ask me if it's going to be warm enough to get married outside here in March," says Young. "If there's a freak of nature maybe, but, uh, no."


The pre-nup people who call Burlington artist Zöe Pappas for invitations tend to know a thing or two about what makes stationery stylish. No. 1: a "theme" that goes beyond white bells or gold rings. "It's not just, 'Oh, all the bridesmaids are wearing mint green,'" says Pappas, who's been handcrafting marriage missives for nine years. "One couple got engaged under a full moon, so a moon became their theme. There are some wild ones; I just did a set in pink and brown, as the whole theme was a single pink feather."

No. 2: patience. After an initial meeting with the bride, Pappas spends about a month designing a few choices; printing takes two to three weeks.

But still, she says, there can be sticker shock. "I wish people knew that this is such an art," says Pappas. "Some freak out when they get the pricing. They're like, 'Can we just photocopy it?' Well, no: it's not just another piece of paper."


Blushing brides turn a deeper shade of red when they discover the truth about gown sizing, according to Nicole Roberts of Fiori Bridal in Essex Junction. "If they're normally a 6 or an 8, they might be a 10 or a 12 in a gown or bridesmaid's dress," she says. "People think we purposely order dresses really large -- but it's just a number."


So the sea-green ruffled skirt looks dynamite on your best friend? The same dress might turn your sister-in-law into the sea witch Ursula from The Little Mermaid. OK, so she might be a witch anyway, but the folks at Monelle in Burlington wish brides would make sure that the style they select will work for all the attendants. As for the Holy Grail of weddings -- the bridesmaid's dress that she'll actually wear again -- search out Nicole Miller's line, which also offers maternity bridal fashions.


What do tuxedo fitters wish grooms knew before coming in? Well, the bride's last name, for one. At a South Burlington penguin-suit purveyor, one guy got stumped when asked to fill in his fiancee's name. Perhaps he was distracted by the suits of windowpane print, lavender and pale blue. One of the biggest colors this year is pale pink. Says the shop's manager: "People don't know anything about tuxes these days."


Whether it's pigs-in-a-blanket or pig-harvested truffles on toast, diminutive nibbles can take a bite out of wedding wallets. "There's a misconception that hors d'oeuvres are the least expensive way to go," says Let's Pretend owner Barbara Bardin, who's been dishing it out for more than 25 years. She wishes all new clients would have a sense of their budget when seeking her services.

They should also know how much fun they're going to have with her, she suggests; Bardin has created reception repasts with Vermont themes, vegetarian cuisine and Ethiopian dishes, no utensils required. And she advises thinking about numbers, not just noshing. "It's not necessary to invite everyone you know," says Bardin. "It's such an intimate time."


Even from behind bars, Martha Stewart can really meddle with imaginations: her shows, magazines and books feature gargantuan displays of exotic calla lilies, orchids and other pricey petals. The result? Lovebirds think that such flowers come from a backyard garden before being turned into bouquets, corsages and centerpieces. Flowers can be expensive, says Kathy Spear of Burlington, who's been arranging earthly delights for two decades. On the other hand, she says. "Your budget doesn't have to be in the thousands; I'll work with anybody, and it's not going to be a reproduction of someone else's wedding. It's not like walking into the P&C and getting a package deal on some flowers."


DJ Daren Cassani has watched grandmas and grandpas shake their Heinekens to "Baby Got Back," and even more weepy-eyed fathers and daughters dance to "What a Wonderful World" or "Wind Beneath My Wings." So you'd think he'd have a wish list as long as Steven Tyler's tongue on wedding music do's and don'ts. But it turns out that the sultan of the Electric Slide is really a softy. "Things go so fast for the bride and groom; I wish they'd know to enjoy it," says Cassani. "Make sure that you have fun no matter what you request."

And, uh, make sure you listen to the lyrics and know the history behind that request; one of Cassani's clients chose Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me," seemingly unaware the song was inspired by a guy who got drunk and shot his girlfriend. "Sweat just trickles down my neck when I play those sorts of first-dance songs," says Cassani. Another questionable, but popular, choice: "Band of Gold" by Freda Payne, who wails, "We kissed after taking vows/But that night on the honeymoon/We stayed in separate rooms."


A tent is not just a tent, says Jan Jacobs, a four-year event coordinator with Vermont Tent Company. "Know how many people you might be having, where it will be, whether you're having a buffet or plated dinner, and whether a band or a DJ," she says. "These are all issues that will impact the size of your tent."

For couples worried that their overstuffed guest list might not work for a tented tableau, consider this: The Vermont Tent Company housed thousands for part of former president Bill Clinton's inauguration on the National Mall. Says Jacobs: "We can create miniature cities."


"Leave some time," says jewelry designer and goldsmith Jane Koplewitz, who's been crafting custom engagement rings and wedding bands for 25-plus years. "I've had people call me and say, 'I'm getting married tomorrow, can you make a ring for me?' But I need a minimum of four weeks, and two or three months on average, to get handmade rings delivered on time."

As for gems, Koplewitz says she also wishes more first-time clients knew that sapphires -- which come in more shades than just blue -- are the second-hardest stone and often much less expensive than the girl's-best-friend. "And there's been a lot lately in platinum, a lot with texture," says the designer, who's received orders from as far as Dubai. "There's been a softening down -- [jewelry] is now more organic, earthier."


Candid or formal? Black-and-white or color? "The more information people can provide up front as to what they like, what they don't like, is going to help them get the most for their money," says photographer Jordan Silverman, who shoots about 20 weddings a year, between April and October. For example, he had a client last summer who didn't want any images of people drinking alcohol.

Also, it takes time -- and a few well-earned breaks -- to capture the essence of a once-in-a-lifetime event. In eagerness to save money, don't shaft the shutterbug. "One of the things I always find myself saying is, 'You may spend $20,000 or $50,000 on your wedding, and it's important to have a great cake and beautiful flowers, but in the end all that is either eaten or dead. Images -- that's all you have left in 50 years, other than your memories." Uh, and hopefully, a great marriage.

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About The Author

Sarah Tuff Dunn

Sarah Tuff Dunn

Sarah Tuff Dunn was a frequent contributor to Seven Days and its monthly parenting publication, Kids VT. She is the co-author of 101 Best Outdoor Towns.


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