The First Look Report 2023

Zola’s annual guide to wedding trends and budgets. Here's what's new in 2023...

By The Zola Team

The First Look Report 2023 Hero
Photo by Adam Griffin Photo

The First Look ✨

We asked over 4k Zola couples getting married in 2023 about what’s on their minds – what they’re planning, what they’re prioritizing, and what’s got them pumped.

And what we heard back was pretty interesting. These couples have been engaged for on average 2 years – longer than any group we’ve surveyed before. That means more time to plan the wedding they really want, and to celebrate even more of the mini-moments along their way to the big day.

Good news: There’s no shortage of ideas. Couples are getting inspo — things they love and things they might do differently — from all the weddings they attended in the epic year for weddings that was 2022. Plus, with the rise of #WeddingTok and Zola’s online wedding planning community, they now have more places to gather, get ideas, and ask questions. For 2023 couples, it’s not about “keeping up with the Joneses,” it’s about creating unique, personalized, intentional, and memorable celebrations.

More good news: These couples are excited. We straight up asked them how they feel about wedding planning and they made it clear that this is a journey they feel enthusiastic about. They’ve shaken off preconceptions of what a wedding should be: 2023 couples know that, ultimately, the wedding is just one (really fun & special) part of the journey. And, there are many days and moments that they’re celebrating along the way.

First comes love, and then, for most couples, comes a long list of milestones before marriage (including a longer-than-ever engagement).

The ongoing wedding boom means many venues and vendors booked up well in advance, so 2023 couples have been patiently waiting their turn for (on average, 18 - 24 months). For some added perspective, before the pandemic, the average engagement was about 12 months long. But hey, what’s a few extra months when over half (54%) of these couples have been together for 5+ years?

And, couples haven’t just been waiting around to get their lives started; they've used this time practically, and they don’t feel like marriage absolutely must precede other life events. Aside from choosing each other, these couples have already ticked off some pretty major milestones together. Sure, they live together before the wedding. But, from combining finances and making huge purchases, to going to couples therapy, some even breaking up and getting back together, they’re riding the rollercoaster of life in a way that is just right for them.

FLR-Infographic-pre-engagement timeline

For these couples, weddings aren’t just for the sake of tradition; weddings are a way for couples to be surrounded by their loved ones, represent who they are as a unit and demonstrate their love for each other.

2023 couples want their weddings to feel even less “traditional” (43%) than weddings of the previous few years. It’s not about the pomp and circumstance: They want to be married and have a wedding, yes, and they want those weddings to be representative of who they are and what their future together will be about. This year again, we see couples turning away from what they’re supposed to do and turning towards what they’re excited to do.

Our data also shows subtle nuances in how this plays out for different generations.

  • Millennials and Zillennials ranked having a fun party with their loved ones as the #1 reason to have a wedding
  • Gen Z ranked because it means a lot to them and is something they’ve always dreamed about as their top reason

The majority of couples, regardless of age, also want to demonstrate their love for each other in the form of a wedding. Meanwhile, very few couples of any age are having a wedding just because they feel like society, tradition, or other people say they should.

Couples are looking to the future — when it comes to choosing a partner, background matters much less than shared values and vision.

Here’s what couples said was very important for their partner to share:

  • Values
  • Vision for growing a family
  • Financial goals
  • Sexual compatibility

Sharing the same career goals, level of income and salary, political views and religion are important, but for almost all couples, these attributes rank much further below what’s listed above.

Additionally, race is no longer an important factor in choosing a partner: 85% stated that marrying a person of the same race is not important to them at all. This makes sense when you consider that rates of interracial marriage continue to increase from generation to generation. It simply doesn’t take precedence the way it did for many previous generations, and especially does not take precedence over those factors listed above.

Couples' diverse backgrounds show up in their authentic wedding visions:

  • 14% are combining their religions and cultural traditions
  • 31% are having a religion-free wedding
  • 22% are purposefully choosing a wedding vendor team who aligns with their values.

Team Z Tip 1 - Vendor Vows

Although certain about who to marry, most couples reported also feeling unsure of where to begin: 60% feel overwhelmed by setting a budget and 54% don't know where to begin their vendor search.

When it comes to when they’re wedding planning, these couples are using their free time — and some of their not-exactly-free time. While most couples are planning on the weekends and at night, 46% did admit to planning during work. We see you, we salute you.

Despite 33% saying they feel like they’re planning “all the time,” they’re enjoying it together. Half of 2023 couples said wedding planning has made their relationship stronger (45% said it didn’t have any impact on their relationship). They’ve also got big support systems around them. 77% said their partner has been their “rock” during the process, 18% said their pet is their tower of strength, and 5% have found an anchor in their therapist. Huh, not a bad ad for wedding planning.

Team Z Tip 2 - Budget tracker

Inflation has increased some costs, but it has not changed overall budgets or wedding guest counts, so we know couples are spending $ with extra intention and thought.

The average wedding budget sits between $20,000 - $40,000 (the same as 2022), and guest lists fall between 100-150 (31%), and 150-200 (23%). Important to note: Most of these couples locked their venues and vendors in months ago, so many costs and contracts have been signed, sealed, delivered for quite some time.

OK, so what are these couples prioritizing their spend on? 2023 couples are mainly willing to splurge on their memories: They want the perfect photographer and their ideal venue.

In terms of what they’re prioritizing less, compared to 2022, fewer couples marked attire as a “splurge” (down 20%). Makes sense when you consider the increased interest in upcycling: 19% want to thrift their wedding look and/or elements. And, as couples remain conscious of their budgets (and their guests!) amid rising costs, they’re also thinking in a cost-conscious way around hosting supplementary events such as bach parties and showers, to make them meaningful but without huge price tags.

The majority of couples continue to contribute to the payment of their wedding in some way. They’re also being smart about how to pay:

  • 29% are optimizing credit cards
  • 26% have saved for years prior to getting engaged
  • 24% are adding cash funds meant to supplement wedding costs to their registries

Speaking of cash funds, 81% have added cash funds to their registry, and they’re using them as an opportunity to ask for support on the many other financial responsibilities beyond their wedding:

FLR-budgets-cash funds

2023 couples have spent the past year cheering on their loved ones at, on average, 5+ weddings, and 80% say they’ve been heavily influenced to make their celebrations even more unique.

Like we said, these couples don’t see their wedding as an obligation — they are planning the weddings they want to attend. For the most part, 2023 couples want their weddings to feel more fun, authentic, and welcoming, and a reflection of their values, and less traditional, religious, and fancy.

And that translates into some pretty interesting ways couples are reimagining their weddings. From having a friend or family member officiate, to breaking with gender stereotypes, picking a theme that feels authentically them, and even memorializing loved ones who’ve had an impact on their lives, they’re differentiating in many ways:

FLR-Infographic-new traditions

Social media has taken on new roles during the planning process, helping 71% of couples figure out their wedding style, making 48% feel even more excited, and providing 24% with a greater sense of community.

While there used to be a few big resources for wedding inspo, (shoutout to Pinterest, the mood board OG that 75% of couples said is still a major source of inspo) there are now endless channels for couples to surf.

#WeddingTok is rising fast to compete as a top resource, while 13% of couples are turning to online communities, such as Zola’s community, to feel connected, supported, and get inspired.

Beyond inspo, 49% credit TikTok as being there for them as a much-needed mental break and/or comic relief, and 23% said endlessly scrolling social media helped them to combat stress. Fortunately, only 13% said social media added pressure to do things a certain way or to a certain standard.

For 90%, social media plays a role on and around the big day, with 29% admitting they'll overshare their planning and wedding pics for years to come (we would, too!), and 13% incorporating an actual social media plan into their wedding day timeline.

Team Z Tip 3

After 2 years of planning, what will these weddings look & feel like? The answer: unexpected, local, non-traditional, and also yummy.

Love is in the air - 81% of 2023 venue inquiries on Zola’s platform are for completely outdoor, or covered outdoor venues. So, while beautiful, staple ballrooms venues are the most popular, we see that parks & garden venues come in as a close second as couples seek boho, natural vibes to fit the settings. Think wildflower bouquets, more casual-feeling events, and even celestial themes. Searches for farms, barns, and ranch venues on Zola have also increased 39% in the past year.

All the drama - The word “moody” is a top search term on Zola for 2023 weddings. How are couples incorporating this? In terms of color palettes, think dark, gorgeous shades like plum, emerald, gold, burgundy, maroon and rust that evoke true romance. Beyond the look and feel of that day, we also see this vibe creep into other vendor choices, such as couples are gravitating towards more dramatic and cinematic photography & videography.

Local romance - Also, remember we said that couples are having weddings to feel connected to their loved ones, so as ⅓ of couples are concerned about current travel industry troubles, 55% are choosing a venue local to where they currently live, and 18% are choosing a venue local to their hometown. 6% are selecting an international locale.

Full hearts, full bellies - Hot & fresh wedding food coming right up, with caterers supporting couples in their quest for creativity. In fact, 15% of couples are incorporating their own dietary preferences into the food selection. Expect:

  • Foods that nod to couples’ hometowns and heritages – from crab cakes for Maryland to green chilis for New Mexico, and everything in between
  • After-party fast food – Taco Bell, Panda Express, Chipotle…pick your poison
  • Pizza. That’s it. That’s the trend. (And we’re here for it) – casual, customizable, easy to serve en masse: what more could you want?

After the wedding there’s… a breather to enjoy married life. Now, that’s what we call wedded bliss.

As we said, while the wedding itself is one momentous, huge, milestone, it’s not the only one 2023 couples are planning for. Once they’re married they have some big plans:

  • 27% are prioritizing buying a home
  • 19% are prioritizing starting a family
  • 15% are prioritizing paying off debts
  • 7% are prioritizing saving for travel
  • 5% are prioritizing finishing education

And, when asked what they’re looking forward to most after the wedding, most couples answered sweetly that they just can’t wait to spend the rest of their lives together. Here’s to happily ever after.

Want to see all the data? Contact press@zola.com for a full breakdown and for any other media inquiries.

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