Set the mood in Bellingham


— From exchanging vows in front of an Elvis impersonator to swapping rings underwater in matching scuba suits, there's no shortage of special ways for couples to tie the knot. Here are the most popular ways to get married in Whatcom County.

Maybe it's the enchanting blue-green water of Bellingham Bay, maybe it's the tranquil tree-covered peaks in the distance. Whatever the reason, outdoor weddings are the most popular choice in the area year after year, according to local wedding consultants.

With this open-air wedding trend, the mantra for planning remains location, location, location.

"People love to have their weddings outside and they're getting more creative with where they're holding them," says Pam Needham, co-owner of Alicia's Bridal Shoppe. "Even yards and boathouses are being used as potential ceremony spots."

Though most people think of June as "the" wedding month, in Whatcom County a large percentage of outdoor marriages take place in August and September, prime months for reliable weather.

But Needham adds that no matter what month you marry in, preparation is the key to a successful event.

"If you have an outdoor wedding, be sure to have a backup plan such as a tent or some kind of indoor structure," she says. "If you don't, it is almost sure to rain."

The classic church wedding is not likely to go out of style anytime soon. Many still opt for the formal approach when planning their wedding despite increasing nontraditional options in recent years. However, while the ceremony itself remains conventional, modern couples are beginning to look outside the box for other ways to mix up their weddings.

"Very traditionally minded brides are constantly looking for ways to be unique and different," says Steven Moore, owner of Steven Moore Designs. "They like to surprise the guests with little twists and details in the invitations or cake. I'm often asked to incorporate a personal touch, like initials, into designs for the wedding."

Moore also says that he's seen an increase in the number of grooms who want to be actively involved in the planning process.

"Even with the traditional weddings, the grooms are exhibiting just as strong of opinions as the brides," says Moore. "That's definitely a new phenomenon that's been happening more in the past few years."

They're everywhere - from television to newsstands - larger than life and often picture-perfect: celebrity weddings. According to area wedding experts, scores of Whatcom County brides want their own big day to mirror the extravagant Hollywood galas of their favorite stars, at least in part.

"Brides see these Hollywood weddings and want their own be as glamorous and perfect as possible," says Moore. "They want a lot of flowers and lots of details."

"A few years ago weddings were very minimal," he continues. "Now lace is very popular again, as well as sculpting gowns out of large amounts of fabric. Even the cakes are getting more elaborate again, with piping, lace and handmade sugar paste flowers."

These star-powered details can add up, but with a little research, budget conscious brides can get an A-list look for less money.

"There are ways to simulate Hollywood on a budget," says Colleen Smiley, a wedding consultant for Creative Celebrations in Bellingham. "Shopping around to different vendors can save you quite a bit. Just show them what you want and ask how they can replicate that same look for you to fit your budget."

For some couples, travel is irresistible, even on their wedding day. Luckily for those adventure-seekers, Whatcom County is the perfect starting point for matrimonial expeditions.

"We have a lot of local people who get married in Hawaii or Las Vegas, and cruises are quite popular as well," Needham says. "But the San Juan Islands are a big draw, too. A large number of couples stay within the islands and get married there."

Alternately, as many couples embark from the area to perform their nuptials elsewhere, others travel here - sometimes from other countries - to be married by the bay.

"The Northwest is a very popular for destination weddings," says Smiley. "Vendors are so affordable here compared to other places, and the scenery is beautiful. It's a great way to take a trip with family."

Needham agrees. "Destination weddings are a great way to get the family together for an intimate vacation. What better reason to take a vacation than a wedding?"

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