Friday, July 29, 2011

Fully engaged: Hot new trends in military weddings

There’s no mistaking it: Love is in the air.

A decade of war has taken a heavy toll on military marriages, but it’s done nothing to dampen the steady ringing of wedding bells signaling ever more couples ready to give love a chance.

Just like William and Kate.

Standing beside his beaming princess bride, the prince’s crisp red-and-black Irish Guards uniform has put military matrimony — thick with pomp and circumstance — firmly in vogue this year, wedding watchers say.

“Military weddings are, for the most part, still steeped in a lot of tradition, but you will also see a lot of the same trends running through them that we’re seeing in other weddings right now,” says Kristin Koch, senior editor of

But these days it’s the real-life fairy tale across the Atlantic fueling much of the inspiration, Koch says.

“In the royal wedding, you had what was essentially a very fancy military wedding. So, right now we’re seeing a huge focus on bigger, more elaborate weddings.”

And while there has been a trend away from eloping among civilians, Koch expects the fast-break wedding to remain a staple among military couples.

What has changed is that it’s become far more accepted in the mainstream.


“For military couples, especially if one of them is getting ready to deploy, it’s definitely more common and popular for them to elope or have a local civil ceremony and then come back and have a big reception six months or a year — or even several years — later,” Koch says.

That’s the plan for Navy Airman Apprentice Dallas Griffee and his new bride, Alicia. After meeting through the online dating service, it was only a matter of weeks before they were talking marriage.

“Everything was pretty quick,” Alicia says. “We met at the end of July, started dating by August, and he proposed on Nov. 27.”

With Dallas assigned to the Bremerton, Wash.-based aircraft carrier John C. Stennis and a long Western Pacific deployment into troubled waters looming this summer, the couple didn’t want to wait on getting hitched but knew they didn’t have the time — or the money — to pull off the wedding Alicia had always dreamed of.

“We didn’t want to just be ‘a couple’ while he was deployed. Especially if anything ever happened to him or he needed me to do something on base. You can’t do that when you’re just the girlfriend or fiancee,” Alicia says.

So they decided to have their wedding cake and eat it, too, by getting married now and later.

“Honestly, we just didn’t want to wait, but I made him absolutely promise a full-on wedding when he gets back from deployment,” Alicia says.

So on April 21, with Dallas in his Navy service uniform and Alicia wearing a nautical-themed blue pinup-style halter-top dress with a little red anchor above the hem, they appeared before a Kitsap County, Wash., judge and made their vows.

The couple now lives with Alicia’s parents. But with the Stennis in the midst of workups, Dallas is already gone more often than not.

“We’ve been married for 10 months, and we’ve been [apart] for five of them,” Alicia says.

Their plan is to save all of Dallas’ paychecks while he’s away. That should give them the $5,000 they’re budgeting for their “real wedding.”

“We’re going to do the whole thing — the ceremony and a big reception — like we never got married in the first place,” Alicia says.

And they hope to do so on their real wedding anniversary, but Alicia says she’s already learning the hard way about real life as a Navy wife as she tries to plan wedding No. 2.

Rumors are spreading that the carrier’s seven-month deployment could be extended, passing her wedding date by.

“I’ve always been a big planner. I like to plan everything. But now I’m not sure if I should plan anything,” she says.

So she’s moving forward cautiously, only talking with vendors who have generous cancellation or delay polices.

“If we have to keep putting it off, we will,” she says. But there is sadness in her voice. After a pause, she adds, “I’m not sure I’d even want to do it anymore if we end up five or 10 years down the road still trying figure this out.”

Serial weddings

Army Sgt. Adam Small and wife Sarah get married every year.

“It’s just a fun thing we like to do every year on our anniversary — or as close as we can get to it,” Sarah says. “They’re not full-blown weddings with presents and cake everything; it’s more of a renewal of vows.”

Of course, she does like to wear a fancy new dress each time she walks down the aisle. But it helps when you get them for free.

“I do some bridal show modeling, and after they’re done, the designers usually let me keep the dresses,” Sarah says.

Although perks like that make it easier, repeat weddings are becoming more and more common.

“We’re seeing a lot of couples renewing their vows earlier and earlier. It’s not uncommon for people to have ceremonies again after only five years or even less,” says Seattle-area wedding planner Mary Wiese. “A lot of times there’s a bigger and better ring, or it becomes more of a destination thing.”

Save the date(s)

Wiese understands Alicia’s Griffee’s scheduling frustrations all too well. Wiese owns a wedding-gown consignment boutique in Silverdale, Wash., near the Stennis’ home port, and as the wars have wound on, she’s seen plenty of plans fall through.

She’s working with one bride who’s flirting with disaster right now, trying to plan a wedding aboard Stennis in just a few months’ time.

The bride can’t set a specific date because of the ship’s training schedule.

“So she’s planning it all within a three-day window,” Wiese says.

Wiese’s daughter Laura was already a certified wedding planner when she met Mr. Right, a Marine, about four years ago.

“We had put together a beautiful wedding, and then the Marine Corps decided he had to go to California early for training,” Wiese says.

With only a few months to come up with a new plan, the mother-daughter wedding-planning duo enlisted the help of The Mouse.

“We ended up having the wedding at Disneyland because basically they can do everything for you,” Wiese says.

It was close enough that he could break away from training. Plus, with everyone traveling in, a self-contained destination such as Disney can keep expenses down.

“It’s close to the airport. People don’t need to rent cars,” Wiese says. “Everything is right there.”

In her 2008 book “The Military Wedding,” Vanessa L. Baldwin, a retired Air Force officer who now works as a wedding consultant in northern Virginia, recommends that military couples consider wedding insurance to protect against last-minute changes.

“At the very least, military families should make sure their vendors have a military clause in their contracts so that if someone gets deployed and they have to cancel or move the date, that they’re not on the hook for it,” Koch says.

Today’s top trends

The hottest things going in weddings:

• Trash the dress:

It’s every formal bride’s dilemma: What becomes of the dress? For those not interested in lugging it from one assignment to the next, picture this: Go swimming or hiking or play paintball in it while a pro photographer makes high-fashion art out of all of the fun.

You don’t literally have to “trash” the garment — the point is to get great images. Army Sgt. Adam Small and wife Sarah tested out the trend at a greater Seattle airsoft range and kept the dress intact.

• Themes: Ceremonies and receptions with vintage, 1920s-era decorations and music. Others evoke the passion of “Black Swan” with late-night, candlelit ceremonies, while Katy Perry’s recent wedding in India has curried flavors from the subcontinent.

• Recycled: Green weddings are on the rise. Many designers now offer gowns made with recyclable materials, and vendors are offering environmentally friendly options for everything from food to photography.

• ‘I tattoo you’: Marriages are supposed to last a lifetime. What better way to express that commitment than with permanent ink? Some couples are exchanging tattooed wedding bands. Others are scripting wedding vows onto their bodies and even tattooed imprints of each other’s kiss.

By Jon R. Anderson - Staff writer
AirForceTimes: A Gannett Company

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