A few Sundays ago, the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago held three weddings at once—all in the same room. No, it wasn’t a triple-booking fiasco. It was Toast the Trends, a celebratory collaboration among Chicago wedding pros on what’s trending in food, fashion, beauty, and decor for 2016 nuptials. The event staged three different takes—Timeless, Ethereal, and Opulent—on the same wedding, and showed off a lot of intriguing possibilities in the process.
Spherical ice cubes! Violin-playing DJs! Black-frosted cake!
So yeah, we went, we saw, we swooned. And then we spoke to a few of the creative minds behind it all: our pal Kate Pankoke, Project Runway alum and creative director of Elaya Vaughn Bridal; Jamie Breslin, catering director of the Four Seasons Chicago; and Mal Strong, co-owner of goldplaited finishing salon.
We took in what they had to say, compiling a list of 2016 wedding trends (8 that are in, 7 that are out) for the following wedding categories:
Bridal gowns and bridesmaids’ dresses
Hair and makeup
Food and spirits
Ceremony and reception
IN: Unconventional bridal gowns. Not every bride wants a princess gown. More designers are understanding this and adapting to it, including Kate. Her 2016 collection shows just how experimental dresses have become. For the Olivia, she used typically prim tulle to build what she called “structured chaos.” The Aela (below, center) is actually a completely sheer tent-gown that brides can layer over whatever they like—a strapless gown, or even white trousers. The most dramatic detailing, perhaps, were the black appliqués on the Winnie gown (below, right). So basically, if you can dream it, look for it.
IN: Sleeves. Long ones, short ones, capped ones… Strapless gowns are no longer the ubiquitous choice.
OUT: Cookie-cutter bridesmaids’ dresses. Bridesmaids, rejoice! And brides, take heed! Different-shaped humans should not be expected to fit into the same-shaped dress—that's on the Bridesmaids Bill of Rights. “I think in 2016, we can expect to see more and more bridesmaids getting to choose their own dress in a cohesive color palette,” Kate said. (Mal echoed this sentiment, suggesting that brides should come up with a hair-and-makeup story for their bridal party, but allow each lady to adapt the look for her unique hair type, texture, and skin tone.)
IN: Going with the flow. Don’t limit yourself based on your usual sense of style. “Sometimes it freaks brides out when they fall in love with a gown that is completely opposite from what they are thinking,” Kate said. “So many times, brides come in thinking they want a slinky gown and they end up with a ball gown. If you love it, so will everyone else.”
IN: Vintage-inspired style. Gatsby’s roaring '20s have been all the rage recently, but Mal now sees brides borrowing styles from multiple decades, including (gasp!) the ‘70s. “Bohemian brides are all about a dewy, minimal complexion, highlighted cheekbones, and some well-placed braids,” Mal said. But if it’s an earlier 20th-century look you’re after, she suggests a deep part with cascading waves, neutral eyeshadow, cat-eye makeup, and a deep lip.
OUT: Braiding for the sake of braiding. We know, we know. We just talked about how great braids are for the boho bride. But if you’re not a boho bride, don’t force the trend just because it’s trendy. “If [a hairstyle] doesn't match specifically with the bridal theme, it might be worth skipping to keep the timeless element of your wedding photos,” Mal advised.
IN: Being yourself. Most people can barely remember their name once they’re deep in a Pinterest rabbit hole, let alone whether or not a cat-eye looks good on them. Don’t get too caught up in pretty pictures. “Your wedding day is about looking great, but also looking like yourself,” Mal said. “When a bride stays true to her style and we play up her favorite features, it’s usually a homerun.”
OUT: Winging it. “Visiting the cosmetics counter on the morning of your wedding, or scheduling a hair-and-makeup appointment for the day of your wedding without first trialing the look [is a big ‘no’],” said Mal. “It’s not worth the stress or the potential of not getting the look you want on one of the most important days of your life!”
IN: Miniature everything. Especially desserts. There were towers of micro treats—tiny pies, s’mores, tiered cakes, and even cheesecake push-pops—all over the event, and people flocked to them, marveling over the adorable presentations as much as the flavors. “People like variety,” Jamie said. “They’re more inclined to try more things if they’re smaller and easy to eat. It’s more energized, versus giving them a plated dessert.”
OUT: Food that doesn’t match the theme. Despite the popularity of mini desserts, Jamie was quick to point out that “the wedding cake is very en vogue again”, especially if you match it to your gown and the decor. “It’s almost more about the design of the cake than the flavor,” she said. She also suggested dishes that complement your color story—she recalled a Tuscan-themed event where they had gold-and-purple beet salads—and presentations that vibe, such as hors d’oeuvres on wooden spoons for a rustic-inspired reception.
IN: Sentimental eats. Did you and your fiance vacation in the Caribbean? Serve Cuban coffee with dessert. Diehard tailgaters? Have sliders and craft beer at the afterparty. “Something the bride and groom have enjoyed in their time together, whatever that might be,” Jamie suggested. “Even corned-beef sandwiches from their favorite deli.”
OUT: Standard drink lists. “The liquor component of a wedding is extremely important,” Jamie emphasized. And thanks to the rise of craft-cocktail culture, custom libations are what’s up. “Come up with a bride’s cocktail and a groom’s cocktail, and make note of it on all the bars.” Jamie also noted that, while wine is always classic, you shouldn’t shy away from great beers. “The beer menus are as elaborate as a wine list now.”
IN: Romantic decor. This might seem like an obvious one, but couples often get so caught up in formality that the love gets lost. Consider whimsical elements such as chandeliers, candlelight, and flowers, flowers, flowers. Find an opportunity to share part of your story—a first date, maybe, or the proposal—in the program or on your wedding website. Put copies of your favorite photos together throughout the reception space.
OUT: Receiving line. Jamie was firm on this one. “It’s a formality that stops the momentum of the event. It slows down everybody starting to celebrate.”
OUT: Long toasts. (See above. Learn how to deliver a great toast here.)
IN: Afterparties. “They’re almost a standard now for all weddings,” Jamie said. “It takes the whole event full circle.” This can be the perfect time to shift into an adults-only nightcap, and it’s definitely the time to be more casual. Jamie suggested snacks such as mini pizzas or sandwiches, and plenty of craft beers.
“[Afterparties] keep a good rhythm going in your event,” Jamie said. “A good event keeps you moving from one aspect to another, to a point where you don’t want it to end. And you always want it to be like that for your guests. That they want it to go on.”
Photos courtesy of KingenSmith for Four Seasons Hotel Chicago and Elaya Vaughn Bridal.
Get ready for your big day with more trending tips:
Miss Manners Sounds Off on Six Wedding Trends
Six Ways to Match Your Bridal Hair to Your Wedding Theme