How to Choose Your Wedding Theme

Johanna Rosenlew

When planning a wedding, a good place to start is the theme. Unlike literature, where a theme is something abstract like “vulnerability” or “coming of age,” a wedding theme is more concrete and serves as a guide to every part of the wedding from the clothes and food to the venue and decor. 

When picking a theme, you and your partner should think of what kind of tone you want. A more casual outdoor wedding works better with a bohemian theme, whereas something more buttoned up would fit better with a classic romantic theme. Spend some time thinking about it. Maybe even make a Pinterest page, or the male version— a Himterest page, (just kidding, there’s no male Pinterest, Pinterest is genderless, and if Pinterest in any way threatens your masculinity perhaps look into that first then work on your wedding theme).

The more you choose based on your sensibilities, the more personal the wedding will feel. So when picking a theme, try to consider your budget, venue, level of formality, the season your wedding takes place in, your own roots, and whether or not I’ll like it when I crash with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. Stick to your taste rather than trends, it’s like famed wedding planner W. Edding McPlanner always says: “Be true to it—not new to it.” Now buckle up as I give you guide of your life—-to wedding themes

For A Formal Feel

Classic Wedding

This is a traditional wedding for a couple who just wants THE WEDDING. Good for a bigger invite list , the classic wedding style can range from old American royalty–think Kennedy compound and everyone in white tie–to new American royalty–like Kardashians with an all-white flower wall. 

For a classic wedding, you’ll want to use small candles and delicate flowers, white linens, and light colors, like pastel or soft metallic. For a little more personality try a soft bronze or rose gold. 

For a venue, a sweeping romantic setting in a beautiful ballroom or estate, think: “What venue would I want to slow dance to ‘At Last’ at? 

This wedding calls for a traditional tux, a classic tiered cake with elegant appliqué, strawberries in the champagne, (or Prosecco if you’re more Italiano), maybe even a raw bar.

Modern Wedding

Suzuran Photography

This wedding is upscale and formal without being stuffy or old-fashioned. This is high style, and sleek. A modern wedding feels expensive without screaming money, a modern wedding knows that screaming money is for stunting at the club, not for declaring vows of love (although who among us has not declared love in the club?) 

For a modern wedding include contemporary design elements, minimalist details, and abstract patterns. Everything is bespoke. 

Modern weddings can take place in art museums, industrial warehouses, a cool restaurant, or even an arthouse movie theater. 

The meals lean towards the kind of things foodies eat, (though remember that while this is your wedding don’t do molecular gastronomy, no one will be psyched for a dinner of paste and a dessert of steam, think of the guests, think of the children, won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children.)

Vintage/Retro Wedding

Martina Micko Photography

This is any theme that relies on specific styling of any previous decade: 

  • an antique Victorian theme with lots of lace, brass, and old typewriters around for some reason;
  •  a 1920s art deco Gatsby-esque theme with elegance and funny dancing;
  • 1950s or 60s style with Don Draper-approved cocktails (in Don Draper-approved abundance.) 

(Note—The Victorian Era, The Roaring Twenties or “Mad Men” all have a cool aesthetic charm, but should ultimately not serve as a romantic guide for love or commitment throughout your life. )

For a vintage or retro style wedding you should prepare to commit to little details that drive the theme home, old Victorian furniture or mid-century modern pieces, glass coke bottles, ornate headpieces.

A great touch is a historic building or a museum as a venue. 

Remember, when pulling from the past, keep: great music, decadence, and gorgeous styling choices, leave: racism, sexism, and bad tech (seriously, the past, get an iPhone and catch up).



For an Outdoor Feel

Rustic Wedding

Hailey Pierce Photography

For location, a summer camp or a converted barn (who cares if it’s become a hilarious cliche, no one will mock you on your wedding day.) 

This wedding should have an organic color scheme, nothing neon or anything you could not find in nature. 

This wedding is a tactile one that relies on textures to do the heavy lifting in decor: strong woods, stones, plants, thick hand-blown glassware with gorgeous imperfections. 

For drinks, local beers, and curated whiskeys, food is likely to be farm to table and those tables will be covered in fresh cut flowers. 

If you found yourself in the early 2010s caught up in a Neo-Folk movement dancing your heart and drugs out to Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, and The Lumineers, then Hey Ho yourself to a rustic wedding pal, because this raw old farmhouse covered with garlands and lit with fairy lights isn’t going to turn itself into a symbol of pastoral romance

Southern Elegance Wedding

Ariel Renae Photography

If you’ve attended a derby party, a debutante ball, or a tailgate at Ol’ Miss, then you know what’s coming. However, if you also grew up in New Jersey and went to college in New York, you may need this particular theme broken down for you.

This is a wedding full of charm and tradition that jives well with a historic building in the south, or a plantation (extra points if the plantation you choose never housed slaves.)

For a wedding like this, go over the top, without losing the elegance. That means sugary sweet cocktails like alcoholic sweet tea or an old-school Mint Julep, and of course some bourbon, bowties, pearls, biscuits, pound cake, and a magnolia detail or three.

Country Wedding

Geoff Duncan

This is down-home fun, more on the casual side (maybe even break out your cowboy boots!) This wedding is pure Americana, it’s homemade pies instead of a cake, and an old Ford instead of a limo. Why one might even go as far as to say, it’s a hootenanny. Book a live band with more than a little twang, use hay barrels as seating, it’s not cheap or’s folksy! For decor think tree stumps, horseshoes, and of course Mason Jars used for anything and everything.

For a Relaxed, Intimate Feel

Bohemian Wedding

Briana Purser

This is the hip and hippy-dippy wedding for the laid back, the world travelers, the people who don’t try to fit in.. 

For decor, a bohemian wedding will usually use tribal aspects, fringe, paisley, and a lot of whimsy. 

An outdoor wedding setting like a garden works well for a bohemian wedding, so does a degree from Bard, Berkley or Oberlin. This is the wedding for people who “don’t do weddings,” the people who “Know it’s a dated and patriarchal institution, but they love this person, love parties, and want to be able to make medical decisions and merge their 401ks,” or you just love the Free People look. 

For decor, nothing matches, but everything goes. Find wicker furniture, candles of all sizes and colors, feathers, garlands, wreaths, go crazy with eclectic lighting, and hanging fabrics, wildflowers, flowers everywhere— on tables, in hair, and on desserts. 

For dessert, a naked cake with berries rather than frosting. This can all feel rather thrown together, but look flawless.

*Anthony Rapp as Mark in Rent voice:* Viva la vie Boheme.

Seaside Wedding

Pat Furey

A seaside wedding is defined by its proximity to the ocean and is usually for a smaller guest list and a more intimate experience. It’s so casual you can wear sandals, or if you’re actually on the beach, then you don’t need shoes at all. Everything should have easy, light-relaxing colors, emeralds, and aquas. 

Seaside weddings are very simple, light raw wood beams at the altar, and chairs and tables dressed in white. For meals, seafood (on the nose, I know), sushi, salmon dishes, scallops, a raw bar, will all continue the light fresh feelings of the day.

Backyard/DIY Wedding

Geoff Duncan

A backyard DIY style wedding creates a casual, intimate feeling, and a personalized, homey touch. 

For decor: homemade pennants and banners, calligraphy and monograms by hand, a tented space with fairy lights, ribbons around glasses’, a blackboard with the menu on it. 

This is a perfect wedding for lots of cute touches, fun lawn games, specialized cocktails named after the bride and groom, heart-shaped aisle runners, a flower-covered swing. 

For food, continue the laid-back trend, buffets work well and to continue the DIY-ness of it all you can add a make your own burger bar. 

For location…a backyard. Yours, hers, your parents’, your friends’, her parents’, her friends’, a stranger on vacation with a sick backyard and like a pool, and like a fridge full of beer we can totally pilfer man.


Bottom Line

A theme ultimately comes down to venue, decor, formality, and food. These theme ideas can help you streamline the process, but be creative and mix and match if you want. Your wedding is yours and your betrothed’s (and whoever’s parents are paying…), you don’t have to subscribe to any theme at all, these are just handy ideas to help.


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