May 31, 2020 - COVID

What it’s like to get married during a pandemic

Photos by Stephanie Bailey Photography

For Charlotte-based newlyweds Matt McBreen and Caroline Paxton McBreen, the road to the altar was bumpy. That’s what happens when you’re trying to get married and a global pandemic hits.

The couple, who are 26 and 25, respectively, planned to have a small wedding in Hawaii. As reports started coming out about COVID-19 in March, they decided to pull the plug on Hawaii and find an alternative option.

Plan B was to get married at the Mecklenburg County courthouse and have celebrations in their respective hometowns in Texas and Rhode Island when possible. But as the courthouse started to restrict hours due to the virus, those plans shifted, too.

On April 9th, Matt and Caroline enacted Plan C and had a wedding ceremony on the lawn next to their condo complex in NoDa.

They had a few friends in attendance, plus an officiant. One did the bride’s hair and makeup, one worked the music, one streamed the ceremony on Instagram Live so loved ones around the country could watch, and one took the wedding pictures with an iPhone. The couple wore what they would have worn to their Hawaiian wedding (they hope to be able to go to Hawaii for their first anniversary), and had a cake adorned with the likeness of Finley, their golden retriever.

Getting to their special day felt like a “rollercoaster,” Caroline says. But despite these last-minute changes, the newly minted McBreens have a cheerful outlook on their situation.

“It really did feel like a wedding,” Caroline says. “And people we wouldn’t have invited in the first place but still care about, like Matt’s Kindergarten teacher, watched the live stream. It was kind of the best of both worlds.”

Matt agrees, saying, “It felt like such an intimate wedding, but we were able to share it with people we might not have otherwise. And it was just about us.”

A friend of the couple captured their wedding pictures on an iPhone

The McBreens aren’t alone when it comes to juggling 2020 wedding plans. In a survey by popular wedding website The Knot, 65 percent of engaged couples in the U.S. are opting to push their wedding to a later date in 2020.

Forty percent of couples are now planning to get legally married before their new wedding date.

The wedding industry is a $72 billion business, and the disruption from COVID-19 has caused more than 400,000 businesses (many of them made up of solopreneurs or small businesses) to slam to a standstill.

Ashley and Brandon Schroeder had to reschedule their 175-person wedding at the Dairy Barn at Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill from March 29 to September 20.

Instead of waiting to get legally married, the Schroeders had a ceremony with only immediate family members on the original date. In September, they’ll re-invite everyone who originally received an invitation to the wedding, make a few vendor substitutions, and enjoy a party.

“There were definitely a lot of ups and downs,” Ashley says. “We were really sad and upset. But I think our wedding day was awesome. It was super intimate, and we were really happy with how everything did end up turning out.”

Brandon adds, “We had a lot of support from our friends and family. I think we were getting caught up in the ceremony and celebration being on that day, but people talked us through the fact that marriage is more than about one day. It’s about your commitment to each other and the lifelong bond guys are starting. So a lot of it was just about perspective too.”

Photo by Stephanie Bailey Photography. (Featured photo also by Stephanie Bailey Photography)

As couples like the McBreens and the Schroeders are scrambling to make alternative arrangements, wedding industry professionals are getting creative, too.

Caitlin Dobbins, owner of Honey + Thyme Events, and Rachel Hopkins, owner of Black Moth Bars, teamed up to create the Charlotte Microwedding Collaborative to help couples rearranging their weddings during this stressful time. The new venture also creates new revenue opportunities for Dobbins and Hopkins at a time when not much business is coming in.

Couples will find three packages (with add-ons available) to choose from to execute their big day on a smaller scale. Prices range from $5,00 to $9,000. Dobbins and Hopkins have vetted vendors and compiled their favorites into one place to try to make necessary day-of adjustments easier for couples who are inevitably already stressed.

If you’re engaged and have to come up with another option, they advise making contact with your vendors as quickly as possible. Dobbins says, “fall of 2020 and 2021 are so, so booked up” due to people rescheduling their plans.

On the bright side, Hopkins says that shrinking your guest count is an easy way to save. “Then you can also go crazy with the details.”

Like Dobbins and Hopkins, Joelle Parks, of Magnificent Moments Weddings, says the company is also adapting to accommodate the changes in clients’ plans.

She’s now offering a package specifically for those who have had to reschedule their weddings and need help with the postponing process, like contacting vendors. She says she’s seeing a lot of couples do what the Schroeders did, where they tie the knot legally in a small ceremony, then celebrate with a larger party with family and friends at a later date, noting she could envision a world where this trend lingers post-COVID, too.

For couples trying to determine what to do about their 2020 wedding plans, Parks advises first taking time to identify your wedding priorities.

“Think about the things you don’t want to sacrifice,” she says. If having a big wedding is what’s most important, then that means pushing out the date significantly.

Or if the most important thing is just getting married, no matter the circumstances, Parks says, “then that gives you a different perspective. Just have a ceremony with your parents and a witness.”

The microwedding trend was here before coronavirus. Read about one couple’s $360 microwedding here.


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