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When college sweethearts Ivonne Rojas and Randy Schwarzmann got engaged, they considered a variety of possible wedding spots. Though Randy hails from Summit and Ivonne grew up in Muncy, Pennsylvania, the couple ultimately set their sights on Charleston, South Carolina, a city they enjoyed visiting together, for their big day. With the destination and a 2014 wedding date in mind, Randy’s parents kicked off the wedding festivities by hosting a “Road to Charleston”-themed engagement party for about 60 guests at their home. The centerpiece of the soiree was a specially created map of the Eastern Seaboard highlighting places that were significant to the couple and their loved ones. The menu—which included stuffed quahogs from Rhode Island, Jersey Taylor-ham sliders, a meat-and-cheese platter from Ivonne’s hometown and New York-style cheesecake—paid homage to the locales Ivonne and Randy’s guests will be traveling from to attend the wedding. “Our engagement party was symbolic of bringing our guests on this journey with us,” Ivonne says. “And, hopefully, it has gotten them excited about making the trip to Charleston.” Ivonne and Randy’s charming fete with its whiskey-barrel tables, burlap-wrapped vases and Southern-inspired bourbon bar represents a new type of engagement party, one that is completely personal and thoughtfully designed to celebrate a certain region, season, hobby or other theme. “I love engagement parties that are about the couple—what they love, who they are, how they met,” says event planner Tina LaMorte of Oh So Fabulous in Maywood, who helped to orchestrate Ivonne and Randy’s party. “It should be about getting together with friends and family and celebrating the wedding year to come.” But many of these parties are taking on a life of their own. “In the past, engagement parties were more low-key than what we’re seeing now,” says event planner Marie Danielle Vil-Young of A Votre Service Events in Somerville. “These days, an engagement party is often its own designer occasion.” She created a “culinary tour through Europe” engagement party for clients who are serious travelers. Each course of the restaurant dinner was paired with a carefully chosen wine or spirit. The décor, which incorporated lavender, thyme and rosemary, contributed to the feeling of Old-World elegance. “The evening was a lot of fun. It had the flair of a European celebration and really captured the essence of families coming together to celebrate a couple in love,” she says. Today’s engagement parties, which typically take place two or three months after the proposal, can be hosted by the couple themselves, their parents or a close friend or relative. While some couples prefer a more laid-back vibe, others are planning parties that rival weddings when it comes to their grand scale and large price tag. “People are definitely spending a lot of money on these parties,” LaMorte says. “Some couples are throwing an engagement party that is as big as the wedding.” One reason couples are embracing larger, more lavish engagement parties: They offer another opportunity to create an experience that will wow their guests. While some couples use their engagement party to set the tone for the wedding—say, an affair with nautical flair to preview beach nuptials—the majority go in a dramatically different direction. “You may have a bride who loves the feel of Victorian for the wedding but also likes Art Deco so she’ll use the engagement party as a chance to play with that style,” Vil-Young says. Couples also tend to go edgier and more daring for their engagement party even if they are having a very traditional wedding, she adds. Her clients have celebrated with events ranging from tea parties to masquerade balls. Whatever your budget, party size and vision, the best engagement party is one where the focus is on spending time with loved ones (something you probably won’t have as much time to do at the wedding) and sharing your excitement for the next phase of your life.