Wedding-Industry Insiders Share Their Expert Tips

Gown designer Lyndsey Butler.
Gown designer Lyndsey Butler. Photo: Bobby Doherty

Preparing for a wedding can be a marathon of decision-making. To help, we asked industry professionals about everything from securing the perfect venue to making your photo album personal and memorable. Click ahead to read what a gown designer, ring-maker, hairstylist, and more really think.

*This article appears in the Summer 2015 issue of New York Weddings.

Photo: Bobby Doherty

The Gown Designer, Lyndsey Butler, founder and creative director of Locke Bride

“We want to strip the wedding dress down to its essentials—something white and structured that makes you feel special. There’s a fine line between classic and plain.” What did you learn about wedding gowns from your clothing line Veda? Have a focus. With Veda, I worked on perfecting the leather jacket. For bridal, we’ve started with only six dresses that are clean and minimal. Describe some Locke Bride styles. All the dresses are made out of this lovely, heavy crêpe. We’re also planning to offer each of them in black for the bride who wants something nontraditional. Several styles are backless with high necks, and one dress has a slit up the front. They’re essentially all tank dresses in really nice, drapey fabrics; nothing too shiny or loud. The goal is for the bride to say, “I’m having a pretty day” rather than “I’m having a pageant moment.” What are some challenges to wearing a super-minimal gown? It can be harder to strike a balance between tasteful and over-the-top, because you can’t hide under layers of tulle. With minimal dresses you need to put a greater emphasis on accessorizing. The shoes, jewelry, and veil all become more important. I love the idea of one beautiful, vintage piece, like a pair of chandelier earrings or a gorgeous cuff. Simple dresses also accentuate more, so you really want to dress for your body type. A tea-length style looks beautiful on a woman under five-foot-two, while column gowns are great for the woman who doesn’t want to highlight every curve. Mod tent dresses and long trains tend to overwhelm very slim figures. We make a sheath dress that I think is universally flattering: It’s low-cut, but not fitted all the way down, and falls just below the knee. It’s feminine but also very forgiving. What’s the Locke Bride shopping experience like? We have a separate bridal area at the Veda showroom where women can come in with their moms and friends, have some Champagne, and relax on the couch. It’s much more intimate than the standard retail setting. Or you can shop online at The price point is $500 or less, so we encourage women to buy three dresses and return whatever they don’t like. We accept returns up to two weeks after you make a purchase. Are you opposed to the Big Afternoon at Kleinfeld’s? I think you lose a bit of the sacredness when you turn dress shopping into a huge event. Why should you have to try on a dress you hate just because your mom thinks you should look like a princess? I like the Warby Parker model of trying on a bunch of reasonably priced things in the comfort of your home, and returning what doesn’t work for you. The same principle can apply to wedding dresses. My friend recently bought her gown on Net-a-Porter because she didn’t want her mom and sister weighing in. She’s not showing it to anybody. There can be a lot of outside noise when you plan a wedding. The dress should be all yours. Pro Tip: “You want to have at least one full dress rehearsal before your wedding day, where you put on everything including the gown, the shoes, the makeup, the hair. You won’t know until you try them all together if one of those elements isn’t quite right.” 646-883-0271; -Maura Kutner Walters

Photo: Bobby Doherty

The Ring-Makers, Rony Vardi and Leigh Plessner, owner and general manager of Catbird Wedding Annex

“We love the idea of the wedding-ring ‘stack’ that can grow and morph over time.” Why did you open a wedding-ring boutique separate from your original shop? Vardi: We wanted an individual space that was calmer, more focused, and offered a very targeted array of items—everything from warm champagne diamonds by Satomi Kawakita, to bands by Polly Wales with beautiful eroded edges, to pink sapphires from Elisa Solomon. What are some nontraditional best sellers? Plessner: One is the Satomi Kawakita hexagon ring, which comes with a champagne diamond, a white diamond, and most recently, a ruby and a black diamond. Another is the Serena ring from our Swans collection; it’s a 6-mm. rose-cut diamond nestled between two brilliant-cut pear white diamonds, and set in a modern-vintage claw setting. Our Swan Queen ring is a piece we really labored over; we handpicked each rose-cut ice diamond and set it in a pavé band of ombré-gray diamonds, finished with two smoky-pink diamonds on either side. Any favorite gemstones? Plessner: The goal is to put something on and not have to think about it. Emeralds, rubies, and black diamonds are extremely durable. Black diamonds work especially well in pavé settings, because they are so sparkly. Vardi: I recently helped a bride who came in alone and bought her own engagement ring. She said her fiancé didn’t quite “get it” but she planned to pick something traditional that the both of them would like. She kind of threw that idea out the window over the course of her appointment and left with a black diamond on her hand. What’s your advice for clueless partners trying to figure out what their significant other wants? Vardi: Snoop for clues in the person’s social-media accounts. Women often keep Pinterest shots of rings they like. Thoughts on matching the engagement ring with the wedding band? Plessner: Matching rings feel a bit like twinset sweaters. I recommend brides go with a spacer, which is a very thin band that fits between your engagement ring and your wedding band. This allows each ring to stand alone, but also unites them. Have any old trends become popular again? Plessner: White gold and platinum. For a while they were considered staid and too predictable, but people are liking that icy, Snow Queen beauty. Pro Tip: “If you’re looking for an eternity band—a ring with a continuous line of stones—size up by a quarter- to half-size, since you can never resize this style. Plus it’s better for your ring to be slightly loose than too tight.” 646-930-1994; -Maura Kutner Walters

Photo: Bobby Doherty

The Album Binder, Jonna Twigg, founder of Twigg’s Bindery

“A lot of energy goes into the planning and experience of the wedding, and then, suddenly, it’s over. That’s when people want something more than a Facebook album to click through.” So your job really kicks in after the wedding. For the most part, yes. We make traditional wedding albums that people can slip their own photos into. But we’re also offering a service where we actually print the photos for you. What’s cool about printing selectively is you can create additional mini-albums; you don’t have to limit yourself to one 40-page album. Or you can make them for your wedding party without all those pictures of just you and your spouse that they don’t want to see anyway. What’s the key to making an album you’ll actually want to look back at? Candid photos inevitably tell a better story. Ask your photographer to set up a designated photo station with an extra camera and a handheld shutter release. Think of it as a less formalized photo booth, but with a higher-resolution result. The story of the wedding is in those unposed images, not the staid ones of the full bridal party under a tree. Couples should choose the images they would want to share on Facebook or Instagram, and put those in the album. Other tips for making an album feel extra personal? One of my recent clients asked me to turn a piece of lace from her gown into a bookmark for her album. People bring fabric from their tablecloths or silk from a bow tie to cover their albums. Another client had a typewriter at her wedding with notecards, and people played with it all night. She ended up with these really funny notes. You can also include your vows or the seating chart. Can Instagram snaps work in a photo album? I’ve actually done an entire wedding based off Instagram photos. We printed the images on squares and ended up with an adorable tiny book. A less expensive option is to use sites like Social Print Studio, which lets you print 24 Instagram shots through their website for $12. They get shipped as four-inch squares on archival paper, and you can compile them into a blank album. Thoughts on the sign-in book? Capturing people’s handwriting makes for a really nice, simple keepsake. But consider how many people are actually going to attend your wedding—oftentimes, people buy journals off the shelf and end up filling only the first three pages, and the rest of the book ends up looking a little sad. You can make one yourself pretty easily with a few sheets of beautiful paper from a stationer. Get 11-by-18-inch paper from an art-supply store, fold the sheets in half, sew down the spine, and you have a great little book. Take an extra invitation and corner-mount it onto the front for a special touch. Pro Tip: “Always get prints on archival photo paper; the standard Kodak paper will yellow over time.” 347-987-4896; -Emma Whitford

Photo: Bobby Doherty

The Hairstylist, Allen Thomas Wood, stylist at Bumble and Bumble

“Any bride who wants beachy texture needs layers; lip-length is a good place for the layers to start.” What is your typical wedding-consultation process? I ask about the type of wedding, what the dress looks like, if she’s doing a veil, the time of day. Another one of the first questions I ask is, Do you actually like wearing your hair up? A lot of women feel obligated because they’re caught up in the idea of what “wedding hair” is. But I often find out that the woman doesn’t feel like herself with her hair up. How do you talk someone out of an updo? I propose variations that are more flattering and wispy than the traditional slicked-back style—textured or low chignons, messy topknots, and side buns. Brides have to remember that updos can quite easily look outdated. What if the hair is down? If you want your hair down, go for beachy Beyoncé hair—it’s dreamy. How do you get that dream-beachy look but avoid sausage curls? A curling iron with too small of a wand will make the hair too curly. Make sure the barrel of the wand is about an inch and a quarter. I use Hot Tools because it’s affordable and durable, and the clamp is not spring-loaded, which can crease the hair. I wrap the iron and hold it for only four or five seconds so it’s not sizzling, then stretch out the hair while it’s still hot so that it will relax. And I curl different sections of the hair in alternating directions. Any truth to the thinking that unwashed hair is easier to style? No, I want brides to come in with squeaky-clean hair. Product-free hair allows me to use the appropriate products to “dirty it up.” At a wedding I did recently, one of the bridesmaids had coconut oil in her hair! We managed to curl it and make it look good, but it wasn’t easy. So don’t come with greasy hair. What if you experience dandruff on your wedding day? Well, that can’t be fixed day of, but if you’re prone to dandruff, use products infused with neem oil, including neem-oil scalp treatments. Do them about two weeks before your big day to get your hair in a good place. Don’t overwash and never use Head & Shoulders. It contains salicylic acid, which gets rid of the dandruff temporarily but strips away the top layer of your scalp, which ultimately causes more drying. What should you carry for touch-ups? For buns and other styles that you want to keep in place, use a more classic medium-hold hairspray. But if you’re wearing the hair down, choose a lighter hairspray and maybe a texturizing spray. If your hair has gotten a bit flat, that will revive it. Pro Tip: “I recommend taking a vitamin supplement like Viviscal to help your hair grow thicker before the wedding. It’s standard in the fashion industry.” 212-521-6500; -Kathleen Hou

Photo: Bobby Doherty

The Venue Finder, Tina Hoang-To, co-founder and CEO of Wedding Spot

“You shouldn’t have to fill out a massive inquiry form in order to get information about a venue. By the time you’ve finished, someone else has already booked it.” What is Wedding Spot? Think OpenTable for event spaces. Our search filters help you find the perfect place based on guest count, location, services, ambience, and price range. If you want to get married on a vineyard that accommodates 200 people for a budget of $20,000, Wedding Spot generates a list of options. How did you come up with the idea? When I got engaged, I knew the first thing I needed to do was book a venue, since everything revolves around the location and the date. I found some wedding directories with lots of options and photos, but none of them really helped me with pricing. On top of that, I had to fill out these really long inquiry forms for every place, and then wait for the owners to get back to me. That got really frustrating really fast. So we launched in San Francisco in August 2013, and set up a New York search engine in January 2014. How much of your budget should you expect to spend on the venue? The venue cost, meaning rental fees, catering, alcohol, and equipment, is generally 60 to 70 percent of the budget—so it’s a big chunk of your wedding fund. Oftentimes, places will have a preferred list of vendors, too, and a venue’s preferred caterer could cost $10,000 more than you’ve budgeted for. It’s good to know that before you even look at a place. Besides pricing, what are some other important factors for choosing a venue? Ask about special restrictions before you sign a contract. How late can the party go? Is hard liquor allowed, or is it beer and wine only? Are certain permits required? For example, New York venues don’t allow open flames—so if you have a buffet reception, you’ll need a permit from the fire marshal to use heat burners. Any red flags to look out for? Beware the venue contract that doesn’t have an unforeseen-disaster clause. One couple we worked with found out a month before their wedding that the venue had written down the wrong date; another showed up to check out their venue a few days before the wedding, and it had shut down. We recently worked with a bride whose event space burned down in a kitchen fire three months before her wedding. Most venues will refund your deposit in catastrophic circumstances, but it’s really important to get that in writing. Any favorite venues? Morningside Castle, on the Upper West Side, is a two-block-wide castle that’s smack in the middle of Manhattan. The property has a gothic chapel filled with wrapping stairwells and grand arches, and vintage chandeliers hanging in the ballroom that look like they were plucked from Hogwarts. How about a venue for the budget-conscious? Often, the best values are at full-service venues where catering and alcohol is included. One of the best bang-for-your-buck sites is Grand Oaks, on Staten Island. You can probably hold a 100-person wedding there for under $16,000, which is incredible in New York. Pro Tip: “It’s never too early to nail down your guest list. Everybody has this misconception that you can worry about head count after you find a venue, but the worst thing that can happen is that you fall in love with a place that can only fit 100 guests and you’ve invited 300 people.” 415-591-7768; -Maura Kutner Walters

Wedding Insiders Share Their Expert Tips