BY JENNA ROMLIN BRACE AND KAITLIN PRIDDY CERNAK
EDITOR’S NOTE / Best friends since grade school, bridesmaids in each other’s weddings, and co-workers for a private collector in Chicago, Jenna Romlin Brace and Kaitlin Priddy Cernak have passed sound advice to one another over the years. As recent brides, they were kind enough to share their essentials for more blissful, less stressful nuptials with Classic Chicago as we enter wedding season.
For our readers who have long-since walked down the aisle, their suggestions translate to us mothers-of-the-bride, or anyone throwing a large-scale event, just as helpfully!
Jenna Romlin married Andrew Brace on August 27 in Northern Minnesota in a stone chapel by a lake—the destination wedding she had for so long imagined. Currently a graduate student at the University of Chicago, she works part-time as a collections manager for a private collector. She hopes to work in arts management for museums or non-profits in the future.
On May 28, Kaitlin Priddy married Michael Cernak at an estate southwest of Chicago, dancing the night away in a tent strung with tiny lights, surround surrounded by blossoming gardens. She works with private art collectors and is pursuing her Masters in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Soon to celebrate their first anniversaries, Kaitlin and Jenna loved brainstorming together to benefit brides-to-be.
What is your best advice for brides?
Jenna: Hire a day-of wedding planner, a job that is more and more popular and I feel is essential. A bride cannot be the planner, executor, and guest at her own party—you can’t be worrying about who is going to give the caterer his tip!
Kaitlin: I thought I could take on too many things—I wish that I had done less myself. Did I really need to bake my own wedding cake? [It was beautiful and delicious! –Ed.] The time just goes by so quickly, and I was fortunate that there were tons of friends and family around who helped enormously.
Bridesmaids dresses are not something where one style fits all. How did you choose what your attendants wore?
J: I felt it wasn’t important for the dresses to match, but I didn’t want total randomness. I gave my attendants a choice from five different color palettes and five different neckline styles.
K: My dream was to have vintage dresses with a wonderful floral print for my three bridesmaids because we were married in a garden surrounded by peonies in many shades. Jenna helped me find online exactly what I wanted, but it was sold out! I set an alarm to go off at 2 pm every day, and I would go back to the site to see what had been returned. Then I also found some being sold on eBay.
Ultimately, I found enough dresses, and they were perfect! I told my bridesmaids that they could alter them as they wished. One shortened it and one made the slightly fuller skirt into a pencil skirt!
How did you choose your photographer?
K: I wanted to wear my grandmother’s dress, and I saw online a photographer who did photographs with a beautiful vintage feel. I didn’t want to shop around—they seemed perfect.
J: I think the photographer is one place to splurge.
How did you work with the photographer?
J: I did speak with the photographer beforehand about what specific photos or groups of people I wanted photographed. We worked up a timeline for the day so that people knew when they had to be ready and where they had to be. We also talked about what our style was so she knew that we weren’t huge fans of certain types of planned photos. We just wanted sincere photos of everyone having fun and looking happy throughout the day.
K: Our photographer supplied a helpful list for “day-of” photos, and I would recommend that you list even the most standard ones. For instance, I didn’t get a shot of me alone in my wedding dress—not quite sure how that happened!
We took time after the ceremony to take photographs of large groups of family on each side. We figured, “Where else do you have the opportunity to get so many family members together, all dressed up, at the same time?” We were so happy that we captured that memory for ourselves and for our families.
Many wedding websites set up by the couple seem very elaborate. What is the best route to go with that?
K: We both used theknot.com. It supplies pretty templates and links to your bridal registry.
J: I think you want to get the basics—location, time, and where to stay—but you have to realize that most people won’t go back to that site much. But some people do like to write lots of paragraphs about their whole history together.
What items were you interested in for your bridal registry?
J: We already had beautiful family dishes and china, and we have a small kitchen. Our list was mainly basics like KitchenAid products.
K: We definitely included mixers and similar items. We also had a honeymoon registry with gift certificates, something that has become popular with many couples. These would include a dinner out, kayaking, and even two nights of dog-sitting while we were away—relatives gave us that, and we so appreciated it. It is a way for everyone to be involved, and you definitely think of those who gave the gift while you are enjoying the experience!
Did you use Facebook or other social media much along the way?
J: Facebook didn’t really play much of a role in the wedding. We did have a hashtag that people could use to refer to the wedding when posting photos on social media so that they could all be found in one place later, but we were not too controlling about what people posted. We didn’t share much public information about the event beyond the wedding website where people could find information about the weekend.
K: You have to make sure friends who went with you to bridal fittings, or those helping you get ready in your bridal gown before the ceremony, do not upload a photo of you in your dress ahead of time!
What I loved using for wedding planning was Google Docs—like Excel sheets, but they are very shareable and family members or others can collaborate and add their ideas.
How did you put the groom to work?
J: I didn’t want to force Andy to do anything, such as table décor, that he really didn’t care about. I assigned the music to him, and he was terrific!
K: Mike deferred to me on many topics, and he was great getting the wedding shuttles. With the rehearsal dinner, I told him that all I was going to do was to mark my response card as “attending.” Mike and his parents did a wonderful job with that party.
How did you work out the formula for inviting guests? This can sometimes be tricky.
K: We asked our parents for lists of whom they wanted to invite and came up with our own list of friends. With our venue, we weren’t limited to any certain number in terms of space, but we had to be conscious of the cost of rentals and catering. Even so, we were fortunate to be able to be pretty inclusive.
J: We did not have a formula for invitations. We decided to include pretty much everyone we and our families wanted to attend. Since it was a destination wedding, we knew that some people would not be able to make the trek. We also knew that chapel seating would have been pretty snug if everyone we invited came.
The reason we chose a camp over another venue was because of how spacious their dining room was. We also tried to give all our guests “plus-ones,” figuring that if they wanted to bring someone along on the trip to Northern Minnesota with them, we would certainly be happy to host them. In the end, I was very happy with the number of guests and the ability of the space to accommodate them.
Share some tips about what brides should do the day before the wedding.
K: Be Creative and assign tasks. My family members and friends were shining stars. Many arranged the peonies and my father strung the lights. People really loved being involved to the extent they chose.
Often a bride feels she must be a tour guide for out of town guests. What’s a good solution?
J: I wanted to be married close to one of my favorite places to visit: our family’s lake cabin. Since we have friends in Chicago, Wisconsin, and Northern Minnesota, it seemed the perfect choice for a destination wedding. We chose to have the wedding at Camp Foley in Pine River, just down the road from Whitefish Lake. There is a big dining hall as a blank slate for decorations.
I had recommendations in goody bags listing local places to explore, in addition to the snacks, water, and other things you include in these bags. You absolutely can’t be the tour guide, and our guests enjoyed exploring the area on their own.
What about makeup and hair?
K: When you look in the mirror, you don’t want to feel that you are not looking at your own face. Stand up for yourself, even if the stylist tries to convince you of something else. This is your day, not theirs.
J: It is really worth it to hire a professional and do a full run-through.
What if parents need a little calming down?
J: I think I was probably too nervous myself! It was really nice to have time to get ready together with my mom and the ladies of the wedding party and to spend some calmer and fun moments before the action really started.
K: Nervous parents? To my knowledge they weren’t nervous—or they did a great job of hiding it!
Share a few tips for the reception.
K: Jenna and I both changed into short party dresses after the ceremony and photos. I didn’t have to worry about red wine on my grandmother’s wedding dress or stepping on the skirt. More and more brides are doing this so that they can dance and have fun worry-free.
Did you have a receiving line?
J: We decided to have a receiving line, and I am very glad we did. We just stood outside the church at the end of the ceremony and most people did come through the line. I was happy to have a way to greet everyone and thank them for coming, and I think they appreciated the opportunity to have a moment to speak with us.
Things got so chaotic at the reception, I don’t know if we would have been able to speak with everyone otherwise. To be honest, it also took a bit of the pressure off of us later to have to make sure that we tracked down everyone.
K: We had a receiving line, but a lot of people skipped it. Looking back, we maybe should have noted it on the program or asked family members to direct guests to it. We tried to make sure we said hello to people who didn’t go through the receiving line throughout the reception, but with all the activity it was hard to keep track!
I personally think that the receiving line is great because every guest gets a little one-on-one time with the bride and groom, and the bride and groom get to thank everyone for being there and have a personal moment with each guest.
Much is made of the first dance and “your song.” Is that a lot of pressure?
K: For the first dance, as well as the father-daughter/mother-son dances, we chose a 40- to 60-second section of each song to keep it nice and short.
J: Andy and I were fairly relaxed about it. We had a fun time listening to music in the year leading up to the wedding and asking each other, “Is this our song?” Ultimately, we settled on a song, but unfortunately our wedding band, which was more New Orleans jazz and blues in style, felt that they wouldn’t be able to do the song justice. Luckily, we had a back-up, a favorite song of mine forever, which they performed beautifully.
We hadn’t really practiced dancing together except at friends’ weddings and in the kitchen cooking dinner. In the end, that moment at the wedding felt so surreal to me, with all of the excitement of the day.
What do you think about hosting a breakfast the day after the ceremony?
J: Many of our guests had never been to Minnesota, and I really wanted to thank them for being a part of our destination wedding. Coming to the breakfast for a eggs and a little fruit seemed a really nice way to say thank you and goodbye before we left on our honeymoon.
What have you done with your beautiful wedding photographs?
K: My mom put together a memory box with shower invitations, the program, and other treasures. My father published online albums and gave one to Mike and me as well as our grandparents.
J: My aunt Nancy gave a very sweet gift: photos of all events leading up to the wedding and her photos of the ceremony. I added those, as well as the professional photos, into an album.
Thank you, Kaitlin and Jenna, for sharing your wedding memories and helping brides (and their families) create an even better day to remember with your sage advice!
Chelsie Elizabeth Photography (Jenna’s wedding)
Maison Meredith Photography (Kaitlin’s wedding)
This article is the first of a series sharing insights on planning Weddings and other Special Events over the coming months.