A Formal Retro Destination Wedding in Charleston

Caitlin and Aaron

Chrisman Studios

Caitlin and Aaron met in a medium-security women's federal prison in California. But it's not what you think; The college they were attending had a teaching program at the prison, which they both participated in.

Over their 11 years together, the couple (who now live abroad in Vietnam where Caitlin works in education and Aaron is a photographer) enjoyed world travel, decadent dining and imbibing, and had tons of fun along the way. They celebrated their love on May 26, 2012, in a spot that seemed to bring their story full circle -- a jail in Charleston, South Carolina.

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The Location

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When you start your relationship in a prison, it's only fitting to tie the knot behind bars, right? The historic Old Charleston Jail in the bride's hometown offered a raw space with lots of opportunity for personalization.

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Special Delivery

Sideshow Press

Guests invited to the intimate ceremony received boxed suites that included small metal keys with the specifics on a tag.

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Welcome Goodies

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To share their love of good eats and drinks, baskets of treats were given to guests when they arrived in Charleston. The "Southern Surcees" included "a little swig" of Maker's Mark, molasses cookies from Sugar Bakeshop, Holy City Chocolates toffee, and sweet and salty pecans. Along with the sweets, guests received welcome cards outlining the weekend's itinerary, the couple's favorite restaurants and bars, and some suggestions on local activities.

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The Bride

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During a short visit to Charleston, Caitlin was on a mission to find the perfect dress before returning home to Vietnam. The plan: no sequins or beads, no bright white, and no strapless. She met two of the three requirements after falling in love with a Jenny Packham dress from White on Daniel Island. The tastefully beaded dress became the most beautiful article of clothing the bride has ever owned. "If I could only get an invite to the Academy Awards, I might actually have an excuse to wear it again," she said.

The day before the fitting (just one week before the wedding), she found the perfect shoes (not too high) at Utopia. She completed the ensemble with a pair of black pearl earrings given to her by her mother just before the rehearsal dinner.

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The Groom

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Aaron was dashing in a Lanvin suit, Paul Smith shoes, and bow tie from The Tie Bar.

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The Shutterbug

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Aaron, who spends his time taking photos around Southeast Asia, couldn't resist snapping a few pics with his camera and iPhone.

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Sitting in a Tree

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When photographers Ben and Erin of Chrisman Studios asked Caitlin and Aaron if they wanted to take some portraits in an old oak tree in nearby Hampton Park, the newlyweds responded with Why not?. With the ladder ready, the couple climbed up, and the resulting pictures were one-of-a-kind.

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The Bridal Party

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Bridesmaids wore black dresses of their choice and the groomsmen donned black suits and ties. Their friend who officiated wore gray.

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The Entrance

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Caitlin's father escorted her to the altar. "He's the man who inspired in me my love of travel, books, food, and wine, and who has supported me in all things, no matter how much they must have weighed on him," Caitlin says of their special bond.

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The Ceremony

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The couple's friend got ordained just so he could preside over the wedding service. The short ceremony was written by the couple, and in going with Vietnamese tradition, only immediate family and the closest of friends attended (about 100 other guests joined for the reception).

The bride and groom wrote their own vows, keeping them secret until the moment they recited them. Fittingly, they were fairly similar -- both recalling their global adventures and remarkable experiences, and committing to continuing to explore the world as devoted companions. The nuptials culminated with a kiss and a toast. Later, the duo had each other's initials and a heart tattooed on their ring fingers.

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Picture Perfect

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The couple kissed in front of the venue's entrance, which was flanked by arrangements of red charm peonies, viburnum, green hydrangea, lorapetalum, and plum branches.

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Pucker Up

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A partially-finished art project (the venue is an art school during the day) was transformed into a kissing booth. Kristin Newman Designs turned one of the stand-along prison cells into a mug-shot photo op by having each guest pose with a placard listing the wedding date and location. Polaroids were snapped and pasted into a guestbook along with personal notes to the newlyweds.

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The Fare

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The dinner was catered by John Zucker of Cru Cafe, who not only did Caitlin's sister's wedding, but also the bride and groom's rehearsal dinner the night before.

At the start of the reception, guests received a skeleton map of the building that highlighted the different food stations set up in the various rooms. The menu's mixed cuisine was inspired by Charleston and New Orleans and specialty cocktails were served out of an old jail cell. Two of the bride's favorite appetizers? The collard green wontons and the mini friend chicken in waffles.

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Hangin' In Jail

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Lounge areas emphasized the bride's love of rich jewel tones, with wrought iron day beds (to complement the prison bars) covered with pillows.

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Beautiful Blooms

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Peonies, ranunculus, hawthorne, James Storei orchids, scabiosa, thistle, sweetpeas, and saracena lilies decorated a table in the lounge area. Colorful glasses with tea light candles surrounded the gilded footed compote of bold flowers.

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A Photo Opp

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A double stockade in the yard provided a kitschy backdrop for guests to pose in.

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The Cake

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Family friend and talented cake maker Jim Smeal designed the two-flavor showpiece -- butter cake with finely-diced crystalized ginger infused with lemongrass simple syrup and classic carrot cake with toasted pecans and white chocolate cream cheese frosting -- that bore a pattern inspired by the couple's invitation.

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The First Dance

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The only point of stress for Caitlin was the first dance. Why? Because historically Aaron wasn't much of a dancer. After a few denied requests at some semblance of a run-through, the newlyweds hit the floor blindly to Roy Orbison's "You Got It." "On the day of the wedding he came out with [quite a routine]," Caitlin said. "I vacillate between utter amazement (I didn't fall and he didn't step on me), pride (it was pretty epic), anger (he managed to keep such tremendous talent under wraps), and then amazement again."

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The Send Off

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Photography: Chrisman Studios

Location: The Old Jail

Event planning and design: Kristin Newman Designs

Catering: Cru Cafe

Flowers, decor, event design, and specialty lighting: Gathering Floral and Event Design

Stationery: Sideshow Press

Calligraphy: Elizabeth Porcher Jones

Cake: Jim Smeal

Music: (ceremony) Music for a Moment; (reception) The Dexter Lake Club Band

Rentals: La Tavola Linen; Snyder Rental

Perimeter lighting: Technical Event Company

Ceremony AV: AV Connections

Hair and makeup: Emily Pence of Stella Nova

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