Last year co-hosts of the popular wedding podcast Hue I Do Ashleigh Whitby Coffie and Toniah Paryo sat down to answer the question, “Why do all Black weddings look alike?” Their conversation with Jennifer Price, Leader and Owner of Event Shoppe Chicago, Candace Darby Phillips, Founder of The Cocoa Bride, and Ramia Upton, then bride-to-be, went on to become one of their most popular and most well-received by their listeners. The discussion clearly resonated, bringing to light an issue in the Black weddings space.
“I think a lot of the most popular trends at Black weddings are based in full-on glamour,” Candace shares with Zola. “Fully beaded gowns, photoshoot-ready makeup, long flowing curls, and show-stopping details like cold sparklers and pyro-technics are just a few staples that I don't see leaving any time soon.”
Although the pool of Black wedding inspo today is much larger thanks to more platforms embracing greater representation, let’s face it, diverse Black wedding inspiration is not easy to come by. Which begs the question, why is that so?
We sat down with Ashleigh, Toniah, and Candace to further the conversation around this topic and asked other industry pros to share their advice on how Black couples can embrace creativity when planning their individual weddings.
There’s much more that makes up a wedding than the type of couple having it, from the music and food being shared to the culture or religion influencing the structure of the ceremony. So, when it comes to defining a "Black wedding", there’s no clear-cut answer.
Often when it comes to finding wedding inspo, the keyword “Black weddings,” particularly on social media, tends to refer simply to weddings featuring Black-presenting couples. It's an oversimplification for sure, and one that makes it much easier to notice that certain Black wedding styles get more attention on social media and in bridal magazines than any others.
It's the "full-on glamour" as Candace shares. Everything from the big, opulent flower displays and the decked-out ballrooms, to the fit-and-flare dresses and the full-glam makeup. “Other common trends found within Black weddings are acrylic-topped tables and invitations, metallics and neutrals or a pop of color, Mikado gowns with long trains and splits, and Hollywood waves with a large barrette,” Ashleigh adds.
The Black wedding aesthetic as we know it is typically very pinned up, polished, glitzy affairs. And while it's an aesthetic we certainly love, it simply doesn't showcase the full spectrum of Black weddings.
“What you see is what you're used to and that's what you think is your normal,” says Ashleigh. “[It is] on these publications to be able to shift that aesthetic or that mindset, but at the same time, if this is what works for them, then they're gonna keep doing that.”
If the traditional, "glamorous" Black weddings are the only ones we see, it’s no wonder why it feels like we have to follow the pattern. But it’s not to say the couples or the vendors are to blame. Toniah adds, “Brides will come to vendors with a picture of so and so's wedding and say, ‘I want this and I want this exactly’.”
“It's just easier. A bride comes to you and if you've kind of already done it or you’ve already seen it, the blueprints already there,” Jennifer says. “It's honestly ... I think, brides almost forget what they actually like.”
But a shift is coming, one that’s not just among Black couples, but among all couples planning 2022 weddings and beyond. Now more than ever couples are planning every detail of their weddings with intentionality, opting to focus wherever they can on infusing their personalities, culture, and creativity to create a wedding that represents them. And with this change, the industry is forced to follow in ways that encourage couples to embrace new and differing ways to find unique wedding inspiration.
We know how important representation is in all industries, but even more so in the wedding industry, where each couple’s journey is incredibly personal to them. Greater representation for more diverse weddings must always be the goal, but the lack thereof doesn’t have to stand in the way of Black couples embracing all the possibilities for their weddings.
Here are some ways you can get creative with your wedding planning inspiration.
Overloading yourself with a ton of wedding inspiration isn't necessarily going to help you envision what you want for your wedding. That process starts with learning what's out there and also really asking yourself what your priorities are first. Then, you can seek out inspiration specific to your already-forming vision.
“There’s so much inspiration, and that can be a gift and a curse,” says Shirlynn Fortson, Economic Development Director, of planning her wedding. “But if you focus on the reason behind it all in the first place, you’ll be fine.” Often what helps couples move forward with those ideas is finding examples of other couples that fit their self-image, whether that be via race, religion, orientation, etc. And while finding that match can be helpful, not finding it doesn’t mean that I can't be done.
You don’t have to find the right photo or the perfect mood board before moving forward with something you want for you wedding. Once you know what you want, and find something close enough to communicate your idea, that’s when something goes beyond being just wedding inspiration and turns into your vision for your wedding day.
Gathering the right cast of vendors to help you pull off your wedding is probably the most crucial part of the planning process. Finding vendors that align with your values may be simple enough, whether you want to support Black-owned vendors, small businesses, women-owned or LGBTQIA+ businesses, etc. But from there you have to narrow down your picks to the vendors that’ll work with you to make your wedding dreams happen.
“Hire a wedding planner who, through their experience and contacts, will be able to execute their vision and bring it to life flawlessly.” Yemi Osunkoya, founder and creative director of Kosibah Creations shares with us. Even beyond planners, with every vendor, from makeup artists to photographers to bands & DJs, it's important that you find the right vendors who get your vision and their aesthetic is in line with yours.
However, an exact vendor match made in heaven may not always be possible for a variety of reasons (your budget, your location, their availability, etc.) But know also that, if you do find a vendor that you’re comfortable working with, you don’t have to settle. You can lean on their expertise and creativity to bring your ideas to life. Your vendors are there to work with you, whether that means following the blueprints you’ve built for your wedding, or helping you create new ones.
There’s the saying that “there’s nothing new under the sun”, and that’s true. Wedding trends are trends for a reason. Popular elements like photo booths, cigar and hookah bars, and champagne or donut walls are fun moments to add to your wedding day—and actually can lend themselves to tons of creativity.
So don't be afraid to play with a trend to make it suit your style and vision. “Don’t force creativity,” shares Kareem Virgo, Lead Photographer for Reem Photography. Let it flow naturally and let it be organic. That usually yields the best results.” Don’t be afraid to follow the trends. You don’t have to avoid them completely to have a wedding that’s totally unique to you. But you can also take comfort in the fact that you can get creative, and perhaps even start a new trend by getting adding your own personal touch.
As you plan your wedding there’ll often come a time–many times actually–that you’ll find yourself at the crossroads of making the decisions you want to make and compromising for the sake of others, whether that’s family, friends, and even total strangers on the internet.
If you’re a foodie couple, don’t be swayed when your aunty gives you a weird look at the mention of having food trucks cater for your wedding instead of having a traditional buffet. If you’re in love with the idea of a fairytale wedding, but no one on your feed has done it before, you can be the first.
“Stay true your style,” says Darryl Moore of D'Concierge Weddings based in Houston, Texas. ”Make sure your personalities shine through and not a carbon copy of something you share on social media. There is NO wrong planning YOUR wedding.”
Remember, at the heart of this grand event you’re planning is the celebration of your love, and that you’ve chosen to spend the rest of your life together. In other words, you come first, and to whatever extent possible, you should emphasize that.
The process of planning a wedding for most couples is so personal, finding wedding inspiration that reflects them is an important, much-needed start to that journey. Though the wedding industry has been moving toward showcasing more diverse weddings, there’s a lot more work to be done. But the hope is that with more couples embracing ideas that are unique and meaningful to them, popular wedding inspiration will shift to replicate this, making for better, even more beautiful weddings to inspire those to come.