The wedding industry has never been as vast or overwhelming, valued at over £10 billion every year in the UK alone. As wedding dresses become more expensive, hen and stag parties become more extravagant and social media heightening pressure for weddings to look perfect, it comes as no surprise that more and more couples are considering elopements. Pinterest recently reported a 128 per cent increase in searches for elopement photography ideas.
"Eloping completely takes off the pressure of planning the 'perfect wedding,'" said Harper's Bazaar social media editor and newly-engaged Natalie Salmon. "Weddings – thanks in part to social media –Instagram certainly comes to mind here - are so much more visible then they were in the past. Its not just your friends and family who will see it, but it even people you haven’t even invited might be watching."
A rising group of modern couples want to be get as far from the pomp, pressure and traditions of weddings as possible with the introduction of destination elopements. Pinterest says that searches for destination weddings in the mountains are up by 32 per cent, with other popular terms including elopements at city halls and in forests. Some want to go even further to ensure an intimate celebration – elopements in Maui, a small island part of the Hawaiian archipelago, are also rising in popularity.
Florence Love and her husband Carlo Lessing are one such example. In 2018, they were travelling round Asia as part of a five-month trip when Lessing proposed in Sri Lanka. Not people who love the limelight or tradition, they decided that they would write their own vows and get married while they were travelling, choosing a location when it felt right.
“Marriage for us is not about the certificate to legalise it, it’s about making a commitment to each other which is from the heart,” said Love. “If we had gone down the more formal route we would have been doing that to please some members of the family and we didn’t believe that was right. For us, we wanted to feel comfortable, we felt we didn’t need to say the things we wanted to say in front of everyone.”
The ancient city of Bagan, Myanmar, turned out to be the place where they decided to marry. They booked a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the ancient pagodas, then rented mopeds and found a remote spot by one of the many pagodas where they said their vows to one another in shorts and T-shirts. The legal documentation could wait until they arrived home.
“I never pictured having a big white wedding, and nor has my husband,” says Love, before explaining how some of the more basic wedding traditions didn’t make sense to her. “I have lots of wonderful friends, and I wouldn’t ever want to have to choose who my bridesmaids would be… For me it’s not about being in the spotlight; the whole idea of myself having a conventional wedding fills me with anxiety.”
It’s exactly this point – a desire to swerve the formalities of a wedding that don’t feel authentic to a modern couple – that lies at the crux of the rise in elopements. The definition of getting married in private has developed hugely – now it’s about running away from an event that feels archaic to many, uncomfortable for others, and unjustifiably expensive to most. In 2018, it was revealed that the average UK wedding cost £27,161.
"Elopements historically took place if a couple needed to marry in secret because approval was unlikely to be granted,” said Hamish Shephard, founder of wedding planning app Bridebook.co.uk. “The modern couple are less likely to be dependent on securing permission in the same way nowadays, but the romantic idea of escaping hand-in-hand to exchange vows in secret still holds appeal."
Elopements might still feel too boundary-pushing for some, but it does seem that their increasing popularity might be part of a broader wedding trend for more intimate, bespoke ceremonies. Call it a reaction against the expensive, decadent weddings that currently dominate Instagram feeds every summer, but couples are starting to eschew wedding norms, from the bride who decides to walk arm-in-arm down the aisle with her mother, as well as her father to those who decide against bridesmaids.
"The whole event is hyper-personalised from start to finish,” said Shephard. “Getting married is no longer crafted entirely around old traditions and religious practices - instead couples are taking the experience as their starting point.
"The modern couple knows no boundaries, and if they want to get married in the Outer Hebrides with their pet dog as their witness before returning home to host a week-long celebration at their favourite London venue, that is what they will plan to do."
As weddings become less-traditional, elopements don’t always take the same form. Yes, the concept is still the same – to get married without the knowledge of others – but you can still elope in luxury. In the UK, the term ‘elopement packages’ rose by 120 per cent over the past 12 months, with numerous companies offering bespoke services to help couples elope with ease and in a location that suits them, from beaches in California to a secluded spot in the British countryside. Elopement Collective is one such business, reporting a rise in Brits using its service in the last few years.
For many, the idea of disappointing friends and family deters them from marrying in private. Salmon, who is currently planning her wedding abroad, says family pressure has definitely influenced her decision to stage larger-scale nuptials.
"I worry about the people whose feelings will be hurt if they aren’t included in the big day - and yes mum, I am talking to you," she laughs. "Cultural differences could also play a part. I’m half-Brazilian and in that culture, it is pretty rare to have a wedding that wouldn’t involve your relatives and extended family. I’m pretty sure other brides might experience this as well."
I think there is family pressure- I worry about the people whose feelings will be hurt if they aren’t included in the big day (yes mum I’m talking to you!) I think cultural differences could also play a part. I’m half-Brazilian and in that culture it is pretty rare to have a wedding that wouldn’t involve your relatives & extended family. I’m pretty sure other brides might experience this as well."
Prior to her elopement, Love and Lessing hinted to friends and family of their plans before they left so it wasn’t a complete surprise when it happened.
“There was a mixed bag when telling family that we were going to elope, but they appreciated our reasons and those people in our life who truly love us would only want what’s right for us on our special day,” says Love. “As terrible as it sounds, we didn’t miss having our friends and family with us as it was private and incredibly personal. We had many special moments with friends and family on our return.”
The idea of getting married secretly then throwing a big party later down the line to celebrate is growing in traction, affording the couple the opportunity to keep their vows-exchange intimate, as well as a chance to celebrate with loved ones. “We are seeing lots of Bridebook.co.uk couples whose ceremonies are kept private then putting on a second ‘service' for the benefit of their guests to share that emotional experience,” says Shephard. “Increasingly this involves a celebrant, or a friend or family member leading the service."
Love and Lessing hosted a festival-themed celebration in a local farm close to where the bride grew up a few months after they returned. Having a party allowed them to celebrate their marriage on their terms, complete with an Indian-inspired marquee, fire-pits, food trucks and a surprise fire dancer. There was no seating plan, no sit-down meal, nor a formal dress code and guests camped in yurts.
“Many of the guests assumed we would have the traditional reception without the ceremony,” said Love. “This wasn’t the case for us; it was a far more relaxed affair. People let themselves go and our guests weren’t ushered around. My dad, Carlo and I did speeches and that was really the only traditional formality to the evening. It was really important to us for our party to feel relaxed. We truly felt magic in the air… it was such an incredible, happy evening.”
Eloping - should you or shouldn't you? Take the advice from Love: "If it feels right for you, do it. It’s your life. We can be so tied to formalities and traditions - and there's nothing wrong with that - but it’s just not for everyone. Given your big day is your big day, it’s so important to do what works for you."
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