From extending your cocktail hour to upgrading your exit, here's what this pro wants you to know about the big day.

By Sarah Schreiber
January 17, 2020
charla storey headshot
Credit: Krystle Akin

If you're in the thick of wedding planning, you've likely already discovered the importance of prioritizing a select few vendors or details. This priority list, of course, varies by couple. The same is true for the vendors who actually bring weddings to life-they have priority lists of their own. The difference? Theirs come backed with years of industry experience. To help you shape up your own big-day musts, we've tapped the biggest names in the wedding sphere-from planners and photographers to florists-to share their three wedding must-haves. Follow along with The Insider to learn which wedding-related details professionals can't live without.

"I started pursuing weddings because I love the pressure," Texas-based wedding photographer Charla Storey tells Martha Stewart Weddings. "I like not having too much time to overthink, and second-guess, and overanalyze." Take one look a Storey's work and it's hard to believe that there's any pressure involved in her process—everything she shoots looks effortless. Today, Storey—who got her start working in studio photography—travels the globe capturing couples' biggest moments, something that fulfills her creatively. "I like that I get to be almost every kind of photographer in one day: You are a product photographer, a portrait photographer, and so on," she says.

This holistic approach to photography has made her an expert on just about everything wedding-related. Her biggest piece of advice for engaged couples? Treat your celebration like you would your relationship. "Instead of thinking about it as this traditional celebration that we have to have to make everybody happy, if we just think about it as what it is—a celebration of us choosing to do the work and put our lives together—then you would definitely have no problem just making decisions based off of who the two of you were as a couple," she explains. Storey also advises taking time at the beginning of the planning process to establish your event's mood: "Spend more time thinking about how you want [the wedding] to feel. That will help guide what you want to do and say." Ahead, more of Storey's best tips and her wedding essentials—from extending the cocktail hour to embracing your destination wedding locale's culture.

Draw wedding inspiration from unexpected places.

"Create your own folder of some kind and fill it with inspiration that has nothing to do with weddings," advises Storey. "Maybe it's a painting, maybe it's splatters of color. Sure, maybe you have some tabletops and flowers, but don't make it a bunch of people's wedding photos. Make it things that are meaningful to you, so that you can create from them."

Extend your cocktail hour.

Should she tie the knot all over again, Storey says she would extend her cocktail hour. Her overarching advice for couples? Attend and extend. "I would definitely be at my cocktail hour, and I would make my cocktail hour longer," she explains. "I got married two-and-a-half years ago, so I did make my own cocktail hour and that was really important to me. It was my favorite part of the day. You get to casually see everybody while you have drinks and snacks."

Another reason why showing up for this interlude is key? "After that, you are literally busy," she notes, adding that dinner and dancing creates a whirlwind out of the second half of your celebration. "In my opinion, you spend so much time planning this party, so much money, and you think about all the details. To not actually be a part of the whole thing makes no sense to me. It is the only time you have all of your family and friends in one place at one time. Be at your own cocktail hour—it's yours. Celebrate you."

Planning a destination wedding? Embrace the locale's culture and traditions.

"I did a wedding in the south of France. They had a lot of cool traditions that I'd never seen, which made it really fun. The fun thing about destination weddings is experiencing other people's cultures," explains Storey. She recalls a salient highlight from the event: "When [the couple] entered their wedding, they came in together when they were introduced, and they were jumping up and down holding hands—almost like skipping. All of the guests stood up with their napkins and started whipping them over their heads. Then the couple went running through all the tables, like rock stars, giving everyone high-fives. The vibes were amazing. If I were getting married tomorrow, that's how I would enter my wedding."

Upgrade your exit.

For Storey, this means replacing the sparkler exit, a Pinterest darling, with one ingrained with "some emotional aspect." To do so, think about why you even want one. "We imagine it from TV—the newlyweds come running out of the church and jump into a car." Embrace this, she says: Make your exit directly after you exchange your vows—not at the end of the night. "You're emotional, celebrating this beautiful moment. (It's actually my favorite moment of a wedding day—watching [the married couple] come back down the aisle.) Have everybody meet you by your getaway car if you have a second location; maybe everyone runs after you and waves—what an amazing moment to get to remember," she explains. Not changing locations? She loves a second line parade, where all your guests will move with you. "Any kind of way that you can make it celebratory and extend that emotion of getting married and tie it to another memory—that has so much more power and meaning."

Give your dad an important job.

This must-have, she says, was also born out of her time working on a destination wedding in France—on the morning of the event, she remembers the planner asking the father of the bride how he wanted to be involved. "She asked if he wanted to give the bride the bouquet," she explains. "So basically, on the bride's way out—when she's about to walk down the aisle—Dad is placed somewhere with the bouquet. It's not even like she pitched it as an emotional moment between the bride and her father. She pitched it as a simple exchange. It becomes a natural, beautiful moment unfolding in front of you, instead of one that's very forced and curated."


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