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How long should an engagement be? There is no set answer. In All Dressed in White: The Irresistible Rise of the American Wedding (New York: Penguin Books, 2004) Carol Wallace explains that the “planning time” needed for a wedding has changed according to bridal magazine directives. Bride’s includes a schedule for wedding planning. “As late as the 1960s, the lead time could be as little as three months, though six months was preferable; by 1973, the magazine instructed its reader that it took as long as year to plan a big formal reception” (233). It is not only a question of planning but of booking one’s preferred hall, caterer, and band, while they still have dates open. Indeed many bridal guides will begin the timetable a year or more in advance of the big day. The average American engagement period today has extended to 18 months.
In contrast, the average for Orthodox circles seems to be somewhere around three or four months with some engagements as short as six weeks. So, it is possible to pull everything together in a shorter space of time, though the shorter the time you have to work with, the less likely it is that you will be able to get your first choice of venue. Below is a general timeline for wedding planning that assumes about 3-4 months. Generally, the “as soon as possible” would take place 4 plus months before the wedding. Obviously, though, for a shorter engagement, there is less lead time, and the schedule directives must be adjusted accordingly.
As soon as possible:
Select a date for the wedding.
Discuss expectations and finance with both sets of parents to come up with how much you can spend and an estimate of number of guests that will attend.
Set a firm budget that should allow margin below the total you have to work with, as certain items will always creep up.
Reserve your slot at the hall and with the caterer; that may require a deposit.
Decide if you want a monogram and have it designed in time to print on invitations.
Order invitations and thank you notes.
Find a kallah class teacher who suits you and set up a schedule that works for you.
Schedule an ob/gyn exam (recommended for a number of reasons)
Review all your borrowing, renting, and buying options to find your perfect wedding dress within your budget.
Select a headpiece style to coordinate with your gown. You can buy, rent, borrow, or make one.
Decide if you want a set color scheme and what it would be.
Find dresses for mothers, sisters, etc.
Select a photographer and videographer and book for your date after clarifying details of what particular package you want and how not to incur overtime charges.
Choose your florist; clarify that you can get what you need and want within your budget, and then and book for your date; be prepared for the deposit.
Book the band you want; a deposit may be required.
If you want to get a wig in time for the wedding, look into what is available and narrow down what you will look for and where. If you want one that is truly custom made for you, allow 8-12 weeks. You would need to put down a deposit.
If you intend to register for china, crystal, and china patterns, you should do so three months prior to the wedding, assuming time permits. Your registry should be set by the time the invitations go out.
About 2-3 months before:
Make menu choices with caterer to fit your budget and expected number of guests.
Make your selections for flowers. Bring in pictures or sketch of your wedding gown along with swatch to match your bouquet to the dress style and shade. Consider not only your color scheme but seasonal selections. Be clear on your first choice and what substitutions would be acceptable.
Shop for sheitels, hats, and other hair covering, as well as outfits for sheva brachos you may need.
For the groom, with his presence and input, buy tallis, as well as the atara decoration for it, tallis bag --- can be custom embroidered with name, buy kittel – it may need some adjustment. Bring him along to pick out gifts like watches and cuff links to be sure they are to his taste, and ask if he prefers a particular edition for a “chasson” shas.
The bride may pick out her choice of silver candlesticks if this traditional gift is offered by the groom's family.
Address and mail invitations.
Select a band.
One month before:
Track response cards to make up lists of guests to be accommodated at the wedding.
Consult with makeup artist and hairstylist.
Obtain the marriage license.
Buy the wedding ring.
Be sure to have a kethubah ready for the wedding. Discuss options for artistic or basic styles and consider getting a backup copy in case someone makes a mistake when filling it out.
Two Weeks before:
Schedule final fitting for gowns.
Get your new sheitel cut and styled.
Be sure to have shoes you need.
Work on getting a final count of guest; you will probably have a number of calls to make to those who failed to RSVP.
Give the caterer as precise a guest count as you can.
Make a seating plan for the dinner.
Go over any relevant details, such as specific requests, selections, and stipulations you have with the hall, caterer, florist, photographer, musicians.
One Week before:
Schedule a kallah appointment at mikvah. You would be allowed in earlier than standard time.
Confirm that all those assigned kibbudim [the honors like reading the Kethuba, reciting the blessings, and arranging the wedding] will arrive in time for them.
Get final fitting of wedding gown.
Confirm your times and places with makeup artist and hairstylist.
Touch base on last minute details with hall, caterer, florist, musician, and photographer.
Write or get calligrapher to write place cards.
Of course, along the way, you also have to find a place to live after the wedding. You will also have to obtain the basic furnishings and linens; equip the kitchen with the dishes, silverware, pots, and appliances you will require; make changes need to assure insurance coverage you need. Seeing all that needs to be done, it is no wonder that some would consider even a half a year too short a time. But while it may seem at times like being caught in a whirlwind, it is certainly possible to pull off a wedding in a few months.