Maybe one of the hardest things about wedding planning is getting on the same page with your vendors. You might be explaining your vision of the most perfect rustic soiree, but your planner might be hearing the makings of a bohemian bash. This could happen with any of your pros, like florists, bakers or caterers. Visuals help, of course, but it’s also important to know you’re speaking the same language—enter, our wedding theme dictionary.
We broke down every theme from alternative to whimsical with basic descriptions and buzzwords for each—arming you with the basics, so to speak. Remember: Style is totally up for interpretation, so these aren’t rules. Think of them as a jumping-off point or guidelines. Once you know what you want and how to ask for it, we encourage you to break those guidelines and create a wedding that’s totally your own.
Photo by Willow Noavi Photography
“Alternative” seems to have gotten a bad rap over the years, and we’re here to change that. Having an alternative theme just means your style is unique and can’t be boxed in with other categories. These themes are often representative of subcultures such as Burning Man, Steampunk, Renaissance or Marvel comics.
Buzzwords: quirky, creative, unique
What it looks like: The bride might be in a traditional white dress, but the bouquet, headpiece or accessories would be all her own. Or, she might opt for something totally different, like a multicolored gown or handmade cocktail dress. There’s definitely a groom’s cake with a nod to his own interests (think: Captain America’s shield, R2D2 or an iconic sport’s stadium). And lots of quirky touches from centerpieces to favors.
Venue idea: renovated movie theatre
Photo by Couple: Kay English Photography; escort cards: Mel Barlow & Co.; bouquet: Agnes Lopez Photography; cake: Alicia Pyne Photography; tablescape: Kina Wicks Photography
Evoking the American 1920s, especially art deco architecture (such as the Chrysler or Empire State buildings), this wedding theme is all about spunky glitz and glam—after all, they were the roaring twenties. Energetic jazz music was the life of every party, so we highly recommend some live music to get your guests on their feet.
Buzzwords: flashy, metallic, opulent
What it looks like: Pluming white ostrich feathers spilling from centerpieces, sequined tablecloths and geometric designs decorate any art deco soiree. Arguably, the most important detail of one of these throwback parties is a champagne tower!
Venue idea: historic museum (bonus points for deco architecture)
Photo by Cake: You Look Lovely Photography; wedding party: Emily Steffen; Tepee: Ash Imagery
Boho style has this way of looking incredibly chic, with minimal effort. It’s the “I woke up like this” of wedding themes. The décor is humble but eye-catching and the color scheme is usually a palette that can be found living harmoniously in a garden.
Buzzwords: tribal, hipster, nomadic
What it looks like: Expect mismatched bridesmaid dresses that show off everyone’s style while ensuring the bridal party doesn’t look too put together, and their bouquets are likely wispy, wild arrangements. The reception would definitely feature a cozy lounge area, complete with tepees and poufs. The finishing touch? A naked cake covered in fresh blooms.
Venue idea: outdoor botanical garden
Photo by From left: Delbarr Moradi Photography; Corbin Gurkin Photography
Imagine a venue filled whitewashed décor, from the linens to the floral arrangements. There may be a metallic or pastel accent, but overall the palette is light and airy with different textures thrown in to mix things up.
Buzzwords: traditional, timeless, elegant
What it looks like: Classic weddings are usually more on the formal side—they’re clean-cut affairs. Which means there may be a champagne cocktail hour, chargers set at each place setting and understated (but beautiful) décor like tealight candles or arrangements made up of a single floral variety.
Venue idea: ballroom
Photo by Truck and cupcakes: Onelove Photography; invitations: Braedon Photography; Lounge: Clewell Photography
Personifying the American West, country weddings are full of flavor and overflowing with charm. This style is all about celebrating your hometown and may even have some Americana flare thrown in for good measure.
Buzzwords: Western, homespun, rural
What it looks like: Cowboy boots will definitely make an appearance, and don’t be surprised if camo comes with them. More traditional items might be swapped for things with a stronger hometown spin (like pies from your local bakery instead of a tiered wedding cake) and a strong send-off is a must—we love a good vintage car getaway, and an old Ford pickup would be perfect for the job.
Venue idea: ranch
Photo by Bridesmaids: Robyn Van Dyke Photography; invitation: Libelle Photography; donuts: Matoli Keely Photography; table number: Meg Matyia Photographer
A lot of time and effort goes into DIY weddings and you can see the personalization in every detail. Whether it’s a hand-sewn pennant flag banner, a dessert bar carefully curated by many bakery visits or handwritten escort cards, the couple’s style really shines through.
Buzzwords: handmade, charming, personalized
It looks like: A customized stamp that prints the couple’s monogram on each invitation, a handcrafted paper flower bouquet and favors packaged by the couple with personalized notes of thanks make up a DIY wedding. A make-your-own food station (whether it’s in place of or supplementing a sit-down meal) is a must for the reception. Think: sliders with a variety of toppings and sauces, a crepe station or s’mores fixings for dessert.
Venue idea: backyard
Photo by Roselle Photography
The ultimate inspiration for a glamorous wedding? The red carpet or award show after-parties. Jaw-dropping outfits, sweeping hairstyles and old-Hollywood red lips pair with fancy décor for a glittering celebration.
Buzzwords: dazzling, chic, captivating
What it looks like: Glamorous weddings probably have a few jaw-dropping details that end up all over Instagram, like a flower wall, elegantly draped fabric linens or exquisitely prepared food. The décor can range from neutral minimalist to over-the-top and extravagant. Metallics are a must. And something unexpected—a live performance or fireworks show—will wow the crowd.
Venue idea: luxury estate
Photo by Amber Gress Photography
A modern wedding is all about exquisite simplicity. City dwellers, urbanites and design lovers gravitate to this wedding style, which skews formal but has enough playful touches to keep it from feeling stuffy.
Buzzwords: graphic, contemporary, vogue
What it looks like: Expect a mix-and-match of patterns in a playful, but incredibly sophisticated, fashion, anchored by a streamlined color scheme. The theme is reflected in every detail from the thoughtfully chosen table linens to the specialty cocktail. A modern monogram or cool logo may be used to personalize the menus and the dance floor, while the cake will be simple but extra delicious (think: foodie ingredients and crazy flavors).
Venue idea: loft
Photo by Tablescape: The Grovers; invitations: Luminaire Foto; flower crown: Harwell Photography
This theme is focused on—you guessed it—natural elements like florals and farm-to-table food. The color palette follows suit with a subtle color combo of white or ivory that’s contrasted with deep green garland and greenery.
Buzzwords: ethereal, organic, elegant
What it looks like: Wood family-style tables make their own statement, and tablecloths are swapped for runners so the raw texture of the tables can be exposed. There might be a sustainable or eco-friendly theme flowing through the décor, like escort cards and menus printed on recycled paper or packets of seeds as favors.
Venue idea: open-air courtyard
Photo by Invitations: Emily Wren Photography; socks: Summer Street Photography; escort cards: Wendy Laurel; table number: Organic Photography
A celebration by the sea calls for some serious Cape Cod and Nantucket inspiration. A seafood bar, like an oyster shucking station or fresh shrimp cocktails during cocktail hour, is sure to send the right message.
Buzzwords: preppy, navel, beachy
What it looks like: Anchors and sailboats aren’t the only seafaring details here. Breezy linen fabrics, lighthouse décor, sea shell escort cards, fishing line lighting installations and blue watercolor palettes create a sailor-worthy atmosphere.
Venue idea: waterfront yacht club
Photo by Bride and groom: Amy Arrington Photography; escort cards: Jess Barfield Photography; tablescape: Shea Christine Photography
Bright colors, flirty lines and versatile fabrics define a preppy wedding. There’s usually a use of a modern motif or pattern to set off the bright colors, and the combo of the bold palette and graphic details elevates the whole ambience to flirty, fun levels.
Buzzwords: sophisticated, bright, playful
What it looks like: You simply can’t have a preppy wedding without peonies. This ruffled pink bloom is the perfect stem to create statement centerpieces and accents. The perfect wedding gown would have a bow detail or two, or maybe layers of flowy tulle. Since preppy weddings are more on the formal side, expect a few fancy touches like calligraphy or chandeliers alongside minimalist Kate Spade–like décor.
Venue idea: country club
Photo by Everly Studios
Mad Men meets Grease in this drive-in, sock hop, American Bandstand–era celebration. Even if your guests can’t jive like the Bandstand dancers could back in the day, that’s what the vibe should feel like.
Buzzwords: nostalgic, old-fashioned, moxie
What it looks like: This was a time to be bold and express your style, so a bright color scheme of teal and cherry red or neon pink and yellow would be perfect to set the stage. A few throwback details like Coke served in its signature glass bottles are just right to round out the décor.
Venue idea: art gallery
Photo by From left: Rebecca Arthurs Photography; Abby Jiu Photography
Romantic weddings are all about celebrating romance with barely there colors, soft lighting and ethereal details like flowing dresses with airy fabrics.
Buzzwords: delicate, feminine, luxurious
What it looks like: We love the idea of a preceremony cocktail hour kicking things off, complete with light appetizers and flutes of sparkling rosé. The final detail that puts an exclamation point on the day is, of course, a beautifully tiered cake with an elegant cascade of flowers.
Venue idea: estate ballroom
Photo by Jade + Matthew Take Pictures
Rustic can mean a few things, but we prefer to streamline it with a simple farm-to-table baseline. Natural textures like wood and stone, organic paper products and fresh food are the staples of this theme.
Buzzwords: local, minimal, raw
What it looks like: Low, sprawling centerpieces with flowers that look fresh from the field dress up bare wood tables. Mixed glassware styles add a hint of glamour, but the eclectic collection will still feel hand-curated.
Venue idea: renovated barn
Photo by Bowtie: Flavio D Photography; cocktails: Aristrie Co.; dog: TKTK; cornhole: The Grovers; bridal party: Dear Wesleyann
This elegant soiree is the epitome of Southern charm. Soft florals, sweet refreshments and ah-mazing bites, like tartlets or honey biscuits, are the big players in this wedding theme.
Buzzwords: charming, traditional, enchanting
What it looks like: A formal Southern affair calls for pulling out all the stops: bow ties, gloves, craft cocktails, traditional place settings and delicious food. Old-fashioned touches, like all-white flowers, mixed with sweet personalized details, like customized monograms, bring the day to life.
Venue idea: plantation
Photo by Bride and Groom:Chris Glenn Photography; Typewriter: Rebecca Arthurs Photography; lounge: Mirelle Carmichael Photography
This “of-another-time” theme is often confused with retro. The biggest differences are in the era: Retro is more about a specific period in time while vintage alludes more to antiques and Victorian details.
Buzzwords: antique, throwback, aged
What it looks like: Instead of tablecloths or runners, tables might be draped with delicate layers of lace. Old furniture makes the best statement, so a lounge area with old armchairs or love seats would create the perfect ambience.
Venue idea: historic courthouse
Photo by Jaime Davis Photography
Think of whimsical wedding themes as a hybrid of nature and boho, topped with a flower crown. It’s a little more on the storybook side, but in the most tasteful way.
Buzzwords: fanciful, enchanting, eclectic
What it looks like: Think: garden party mixed with Alice in Wonderland. The invitations are the best place to introduce this theme—a quirky motif or wordplay can allude to the fun without giving the whole idea away. Day-of details like mismatched bridal party dresses, thrifted china and interactive entertainment (photo booth, anyone?) will make everything feel unique.