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There are plenty of articles about wedding etiquette just on InsideWeddings.com alone, but it can be a lot harder to figure out if your big day is outside the norm. Many couples wind up not having their ceremony and reception on the same day, which can make most guidelines irrelevant to their needs. Many couples ask "Is it okay to elope, then have a party?" Absolutely! However, your processes during the wedding-planning process will be different.
While some newlyweds elope for the specific reason to avoid a large celebration, others still hope to enjoy a party with their loved ones. After all, there are a variety of reasons lovebirds may choose to elope. For example, a military deployment can motivate plans to get married on a quicker timetable than initially anticipated, as can the diagnosis of a serious illness, or needing to cancel your wedding celebration due to COVID-19 and opting to say "I do" now and host a larger party later.
Upon a return, a clean bill of health, or the desire to travel and/or celebrate with a large group again, it’s natural to want to have something akin to the wedding reception you initially missed out on. Even if you said "I do" in private – with or without the help of an eloping planner – or with just a few guests, it's still possible to have the party you always envisioned. A wedding planner can still be a big help in organizing the day even if you're not having a traditional wedding, as they'll be able to help you organize the post-elopement celebration you're imagining.
No matter your reasoning for eloping, whether it was at a courthouse or an exotic destination, here are some guidelines to follow for a post elopement party or reception to be held later.
Consider using your save the date for the "we eloped" reception invitations or a small destination wedding (with only 3-20 guests for example) as an announcement of elopement in lieu of a traditional wedding. Being alerted to a future party at the same time as finding out about your nuptials will help keep loved ones from feeling like they were excluded from the celebration.
Unless you are recreating a ceremony with your guests, do not mention the word "wedding" in the invitation. In fact, even in that case you should be careful, as some guests may feel like they are being duped about this not being a “real” wedding. The phrase “Celebrate the marriage of…” will prove useful since it's a celebration and post-elopement party after all! Be very clear that you and your beloved decided to elope – reception invitation wording may be something your friends and family have not seen in the past, so being clear is of the utmost importance.
Since it's not a wedding per se, you do not have to wear a bridal gown, but if you choose to, consider donning a more casual dress in white or any other color or pattern that you love. It doesn’t need to be short, but a ball gown at an elopement celebration without a vow exchange may not sit right with most attendees. (See 20+ of our favorite white dresses for brides!)
There is a perception that reception-only celebrations after an elopement are just a way to get gifts for throwing a party. We know this is not usually the case, but it’s good to be aware of what people might be thinking if you're having a party after your elopement or small wedding ceremony. Some couples still choose to hire a wedding planner for this event as it can be as meticulous as planning a "real wedding," so you should still take it seriously (as should your attendees).
Be especially cautious with your wedding registry if you choose to have one by keeping it on the small side and not publicizing it unless asked to avoid upsetting friends or family members. If someone does bring a gift, you absolutely need to write a thank-you note – just like any other wedding event!
While the newlyweds traditionally have a toast at their reception, it is especially important in this situation. It’s a great opportunity to make it clear how much you appreciate everyone celebrating with you, since some may still be hurt about not witnessing the vow exchange.
Since the Coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, many couples are facing the decision to either postpone their wedding, cancel their wedding, or have a small "social-distant" ceremony now and plan a much larger wedding reception-style party later. The decision is up to you, but we have a feeling we'll see a lot more post-elopement party celebrations than typically occur each year. Speak with your fiancé and make the decision that makes sense for you as a couple – it is your wedding after all!