9 Wedding Trends to Watch for in 2021

a wedding day ad displaying on computer-screen

So much of what makes a wedding comes from decades or even centuries of tradition, but current events can also shape how we choose to say I do. In 2021, wedding trends are shifting away from surprising color palettes and frou-frou appetizer ideas. Instead, we’re seeing new concepts born out of necessity — but don’t think that means these trends are a letdown, because they’re anything but.

From snagging a dress straight off the runway to having Grandma watch your first dance via Skype, these are the wedding trends we’ll be seeing in 2021.

1. Intimate in-person weddings and virtual ceremonies

a small outdoor wedding ceremony in front of a tall oak tree

As much as we’d all love to see COVID-19 and related restrictions vanish into thin air in 2021, it’s likely that large gatherings won’t be deemed safe terribly soon. Betrothed couples are planning accordingly by seriously reducing their guest list and either getting married with only a few immediately family members in attendance or using just an attendant and broadcasting their vows live online.

Thanks to technology and lightning-fast internet speeds, you can practice social distancing and still share your big day with loved ones all over the world. To make the most of a unique situation, send all your “guests” save-the-date magnets listing the time and date you’ll be videoconferencing everyone in as well as a wedding program that lists certain readings, music, or other tidbits you’d like everyone to know. Depending on your budget, you can even send guests a champagne split for a group toast at the end of the ceremony.

2. Super-short engagements

a notebook with the words “Plan on 2021 New Year: 1. Wedding" with a heart drawn on the side plus there are “Mr.” and “Mrs.” decoration on the left

The average engagement in the United States runs between a year and 18 months, which makes sense given that the average American wedding costs about $33,900. A wedding of that scale has a lot of moving parts, and it takes time to get everything dialed in. But as weddings shrink 2021, the need for lots of planning time is shrinking too. Add in the lack of friends and family flying in (another bit of planning that requires lots of lead time), and there’s no reason to wait between the big question and the big day.

3. Eco-friendly “I dos”

flowers sitting in seven wine bottles that are painted yellow and pink

Sustainability is a hot topic these days, and more couples are searching for ways to hold an event that honors the Earth as much as possible, often by shopping locally, using locally sourced flowers, and keeping a close eye on waste.

But eco-friendly weddings are about more than using reusable china instead of paper plates. There’s also a growing focus on upcycled goods, with couples finding creative ways to maximize affordability and minimize environmental impact. You can do the same:

  1. Save old wine bottles and wrap them in burlap or lace to hold flowers
  2. Turn thrift store picture frames into table numbers
  3. Paint tin cans, punch in a pattern using a nail, and put a tea light inside for a country chic lantern
  4. Fold newspaper, sheet music, or pages from books into paper flowers
  5. Wear your mom’s dress or dad’s tux/suit
  6. Create an “altar” or other decorative elements for the ceremony using borrowed ladders, sawhorses, secondhand tables, hay bales, and baskets
  7. Cover scrap wood in chalkboard paint to display a greeting or share the reception menu

4. Wedding cake alternatives

a cheese plate served with jam and pears

Every year seems to have its own wedding dessert trend, and 2021 is no exception. Excitement over past fads like naked cakes, cupcakes, and candy tables has faded, and couples are looking at more savory options instead. Cheeseboards are easy to customize and can range widely in both size and price to accommodate a crowd or adhere to a strict budget. You can even make one yourself by picking an assortment of contrasting cheeses and adding complementary accoutrements like crackers, candied nuts, fresh and/or dried fruit, and honeycomb.

If you’re worried about the lack of sweets, add a scattering of chocolate-covered strawberries, mini cheesecakes, or cocoa-dusted almonds. Another idea: Get big wheels of cheese, stack them like a tiered cake, and decorate with the other goodies.

5. Welcome bags

a brown wedding gift bag with a white circle on the front

For those staging in-person weddings in 2021, it’ll be crucial to ensure that all guests are equipped to maintain social distancing and feel comfortable from the moment they enter the venue until the last grain of rice is thrown. Welcome bags are typically stuffed with a combination of fun items such as breath mints, hand fans, flip flops, snacks, and bottled water, and the overall idea won’t necessarily change, but the items themselves might.

Fill boxes with mini hand sanitizers bearing your monograms plus an on-theme reusable mask, then flesh things out using gift items that feel special to you. That could be a scented candle, single-serve snacks, a keychain reflecting your destination, or local items of interest, such as milled soap from a neighborhood maker or Old Bay to represent your Baltimore-based wedding.

If you are having guests come in from out of town, give some thought to what will be available and open for them before and after the wedding. It would be a nice gesture to include a list of restaurants that offer curbside pickup or takeout in case indoor dining is suspended as well as places of interest that are safe to visit.

6. Informal weddings that ditch tradition

a bride and groom exchanging rings during their casual outdoor wedding ceremony

As you might expect, with more intimate weddings on the calendar for 2021, there’s also a shift in how those weddings are planned out and executed. Smaller crowds mean fewer people to do readings during the ceremony, fewer speeches at the reception, and conga lines are completely out of the question. Many of the things on a typical wedding to-do list will be skipped in favor of more personal touches that make sense given the current climate and more intimate events.

Couples are feeling less pressure to do what their families want and are instead doing what feels right to them, and the results could be surprising. Be prepared to see more people getting married in street clothes, opting for food delivery over catering, playing board games or flipping on a streaming service in lieu of live entertainment, and using a selfie stick or handheld cameras to capture special moments.

7. Tents and other outdoor wedding décor

a luxurious wedding tent with haze peachy fabric and floral decorations near palm trees

While COVID regulations can differ wildly from state to state and even county to county, the CDC and other experts agree that if you must gather in groups, it’s safer to do so outside. Besides, alfresco weddings are fantastic — you get fresh air and naturally gorgeous backdrops, and the lack of four walls and set décor gives you tons of flexibility.

To help make outdoor weddings work regardless of the weather, expect to see lots of tents with wedding planners and couples doing their best to transform those billowing white structures into something that feels personal. Twinkly lights, hanging greenery, potted plants and trees, draped fabrics, colorful lanterns, and funky carpets can bring neutral spaces to life. For tentless weddings, adding fire pits, tiki torches, small seating areas, and rustic elements like wooden chairs and barrel tables can infuse the space and the event with warmth.

8. A single element gone super luxe

a bride and groom look at fireworks outside on a small bridge

One April 2020 survey found that 63% of engaged duos were delaying their wedding due to the pandemic. As tens of thousands of couples finally get their moment in 2021, they’ll be looking for ways to make a statement. In other years, waiting an extra six to nine months would equal a bigger budget, but that’s not necessarily true in 2020/2021. Instead, couples are allotting a disproportionate amount of their wedding funds to make one thing really stand out.

  1. After-dinner fireworks
  2. Bag lunches or other simple fare paired with pricey wine or champagne
  3. Over-the-top gifts for the bridesmaid and best man (who may well be the only two people in the bridal party)
  4. A big-name photographer or other artist like a painter who will live capture the ceremony
  5. Lobster, filet mignon, and caviar for all (all four or five of you, that is)
  6. An incredible hotel suite for a week-long honeymoon staycation

9. Avant-garde outfits

a bride posing in a wedding pantsuit and jacket while holding red flowers

It’s not unusual for trends to come together, and that’s what we’re seeing with wedding attire. When you have smaller weddings combined with a desire to buck tradition, you get brides and grooms who are less hesitant about ditching white mermaid gowns and charcoal suits in favor of fashion-forward dresses, jumpsuits, and suits in checked, plaid, or herringbone patterns. It’s an opportunity to celebrate outside the box and let personal style take center stage without worrying what more conservative relatives (or anyone else) might think.
Weddings aren’t stopping, even if ceremonies have been delayed a bit. Love will always win, and 2021 promises to be a beacon of light with couples find exciting ways to highlight their bond and make memories that will last a lifetime.