Here's What Every Type of Wedding Tent Looks Like
Couples planning an outdoor wedding commonly associate event tents with rain plans. It makes sense—you want to enjoy the beautiful grounds of your chosen venue, but don't want to get soaked in the process should the weather forecast deliver unexpected showers. The opposite may also be true. At your summer nuptials, you want to protect your guests from the blazing sun overhead. While tents do help combat the elements, they actually have so much more to offer to your big day. The expansive coverlets are easily customizable, especially when they're decked out with floral installations, chandeliers, and a custom dance floor.
Sold on the idea of including a wedding tent on your big day? Before you begin searching for vendors, it's important to know what kinds of tents are available—and which types, shapes, and styles will best for your venue, your budget, and your design aesthetic. To help you navigate this decision, we tapped four industry experts to walk us through virtually every tent that exists on the market. Ahead, you'll be able to familiarize yourself with the tent jargon you'll need so you can reach out to vendors completely informed. Another bonus? You'll know exactly what each tent type looks like, as well as understand the different types of accents (think: hip or gable ends, ceiling liners, and opacity) that'll ultimately help you make your choice.
The best part? There's a tent out there for your celebration, whatever its seasonality or level of formality. And there's so much that you can to make even the simplest structure feel like you. It's one of the biggest draws of having a tent in the first place, says Laurie Arons, founder of Laurie Arons Special Events. "A tent gives the bride the opportunity to create something bespoke alongside her planner, designer, or other wedding vendors," she explains. Click through to discover which kind of tent you'll spend your wedding night dancing under.
Type: Pole or Tension
Pole tents are true to their names since they're defined by their central beams, explains Susan Kidwell of Hensley Event Resources. These interior beams are held up by creating tension (which explains this variety's alternate moniker) on the structure's ropes, which are typically staked into the ground. Before you knock this particular tent type—some couples find the addition of a central pole disruptive to the dance floor or reception table layout—consider the romantic, photogenic slopes that result from those peaks.
One of the most common wedding tent types, a frame tent eliminates the need for that (potentially) invasive central pole. Instead, its beams "frame" the interior space and must either be staked or secured with ballasts. Its structure is also supported by the interior ceiling framework, continues Kidwell, which might feature gable (the triangular shape that you'd most commonly see on a barn caters to a grander feel) or hip (a flatter, more inverted finish with more intimate vibes) ends.
Type: Sailcloth or Sperry
Sailcloth or sperry tents are constructed out of handmade sailcloth canopies with sweeping seams, explains Lynn Easton of Easton Events. Like pole tents, they require several supportive central beams—often built out of solid wood—that result in the ceiling's pretty peaks and valleys. "Those peaks can also be topped with pennant flags," says Easton, like the covering seen here.
If you're throwing a massive outdoor party (we're talking 250 guests or more), the only coverlet to truly consider is the structure tent, says Kidwell. An extra-large version of the frame tent, this particular type doesn't require central beams—surprising when you consider its expansive size! This variety is also capable of bearing the most weight from its rafters, which is perfect if you're planning on adding any hanging installations to your wedding-day décor.
Type: Stretch Tent
The free-form stretch tent, the dark horse of tent types, is marked by its insane versatility. The overhead covering consists of a single square or rectangular sheet of stretchy fabric, which conforms to virtually any pole configuration (it should work for just about any event space). When it's deconstructed, the fabric snaps back to its original shape, just like that.
A type of hybrid, the tee-pee is most like a frame tent—the surrounding beams just so happen to be made out of wood (not metal!) and meet at a center point.
"The cabana, also called pavilion, is actually a wooden frame that is draped with fabric," says Kidwell. Perfect for beach or tropical-themed celebrations, there are many variations of this tent type. "Rental companies typically have made their own so there are many varying sizes and types of wood in each market."
According to Kidwell, rectangles and squares are the most sought-after tent shapes. The reason? They're all about the party. "Rectangular tents create an environment with more equal table seating around a centered dance floor," she says. The shape—which most commonly exists in frame or structure form—also caters to just about any size event, big or small.
Rectangles might be the most popular tent shape, but for Arons, their square counterparts (also frames!) are a favorite—especially from a design perspective. "I gravitate towards symmetry and balance in my wedding design, so square shapes enable me to set the dance floor in the center," she says. "As a guest, it's beautiful and dramatic to dance under the highest peak of the tent."
If you, like Arons, are in the pursuit of event symmetry, clean lines, and an organic seating arrangement, you'll want to bypass round tent shapes. "Round tents are the least popular because they really limit floor plan options," she says, especially since they're typically pole tents that require a central beam.
A balance between round and rectangular tents, this elongated, pole-dependent option typically presents as a sperry tent.
The expansive sheets of opaque white we so commonly associate with party tents are a planner favorite, says Easton. They're blank canvases! "They allow for more customization and intimacy," she adds. "High ceilings create space above the reception space that allows for beautiful design moments like draping, hanging florals, and lighting." They also "block views of less attractive areas, such as air conditioning units and restroom trailers."
While see-through tents have their appeal ("They're ideal in locations with picturesque trees, landscaping, or architectural buildings," says Kidwell), they come with one major downside—heat. "Translucent tents can look very beautiful, but you can't use them on a hot day. They'll let sun in and heat up the interior," says John Leenhouwers of The Tent Merchant. If you're set on setting up a clear tent in the summertime, consider Kidwell's advice: "Ask your tenting vendor to put a tarp over the top during installation to prevent that hot-house effect."
Though all tents are give you some control over the elements—rain plan, anyone?—enclosed options give you the most. You get all of the comfortable amenities a modern indoor venue has to offer (think air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter!), while simultaneously celebrating in the fresh air. If you're getting hitched in a temperate climate, but enjoy the enclosed aesthetic, you can customize how "closed" your tent really is. Leave one or two sides open, says Leenhouwers, to "include more of the outdoors in your big day."
Style: Ceiling Liner
You have three options when it comes to choosing a ceiling liner—flat (the classic overhead canvas), pleated (subtle folds), and draped (dramatic, low-hanging loops of fabric perfect for a black-tie fête). Just know that the latter two typically cost more, says Kidwell. Those options also come with a fire hazard, adds Leenhouwers, who recommends treating the fabrics with fire retardant to meet safety codes.
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