Vow renewals are some of the most beautiful events. They combine our favorite parts of weddings with a calm confidence that’s rarely present between nearlyweds. Couples who choose to renew their vows have been married for a year or longer, and it’s a day to reflect on their journey together. It’s not about the start of their marriage – it’s about the continued commitment to choose and love one another. Often, the couple has experienced a significant life change or milestone that makes them want to celebrate again, and in many cases, the vow renewal experience differs significantly from the original wedding day. After years of marriage, a couple renewing their vows has a better understanding of who they are as individuals and a couple, what marriage means to them, and how they prioritize experiences and finances.
When Matt & I got married in August 2017, we didn’t know anything about the wedding industry other than what movies showed. The only weddings I’d attended were so intimate the ceremonies didn’t need chairs and were daytime events that didn’t include dinner. It wasn’t until after we were married and started our wedding planning business that we were truly introduced to the massive Events Industry with all its exciting opportunities and ideas.
Hindsight is 20/20, and while we truly enjoyed our wedding and felt that it was perfect for us at that stage of our life, we almost immediately knew we’d want to do a vow renewal at some point. After just 5 years of marriage, our lives have changed drastically, largely by starting a planning company, founding ElopeNC, and surrounding ourselves with creatives who love celebrating authentic love stories. When we started brainstorming for ElopeNC’s August 2022 styled shoot, which happened to be our 5-year anniversary month, our vendors were kind enough to let us step in front of the cameras as the model couple!
Given the opportunity to model for a styled shoot, we decided to make the most of the experience by including some major differences from our original wedding day, and today I’m sharing the 10 things we did differently at our vow renewal.
We picked a theme
When we planned our wedding in 2017, we were vaguely aware that couples chose themes for their wedding designs, but we were happy to stick with a general “summer wedding.” We didn’t even select colors, opting for a mix of summer colors, and we picked a color for our two wedding party members to wear based on what they already owned.
For our vow renewal, we leaned into our personalities and set a theme that was perfect for our relationship: Magical Vineyard. Our first away date included touring a vineyard, so that played into a special memory, and the magic of Harry Potter has infused our lives enough that we own wands, gave our pets Potter names, and have read and listened to the books together multiple times. A few design details at the vow renewal were specific to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, such as a cake topper that said “Always” with the Deathly Hallows, while other details were more subtle like the natural-wood wand place cards on the place settings. We were able to work with a planner team who also loves Harry Potter – Emily Katherine Events’ planner Eva & her wife Emma had a magical wedding theme and were able to bring some of their decor to enhance the experience!
We didn’t invite anyone to our vow renewal
We originally considered eloping, but we let our parents influence the decisions about who to invite to our wedding. Even though we kept things intimate, 40 guests were still more than we wanted on our original wedding day!
For our vow renewal, we were glad to have just us and our vendors present. We weren’t renewing our vows for anyone else – we wanted a day to reflect on our relationship and all we’ve experienced over the past 5 years, celebrating all we’ve gone through and achieved… and of course, we wanted gorgeous new photos. We were able to spend the entire day together, gently guided along by the photographers who set the stage and stepped back to let us have authentic moments together.
The dress was magical
When I got married, I had three priorities when I picked my wedding dress: it needed to have a short train since I was getting married in the grass, I needed to feel comfortable walking in it, and it needed to be as low-cost as possible. I wore a $500 lace, strapless, sweetheart dress with the train chopped off, and I made the purchase knowing it would be appropriate for my church wedding and conservative family.
For the vow renewal, I picked out a dress from Char Bridals that I was excited about! I felt sexy and sophisticated, and when we were in the dress shop, I gravitated toward the one that “makes my booty look good.” With a deep-cut neckline that might have made me blush around my momma and a train so long and flowing that I had to pick it up to walk, I didn’t have to worry about anyone else’s opinions of the dress because I loved the way I looked and knew my husband would, too.
I looked like the best version of myself
On my original wedding day, budget was the top priority and I couldn’t justify spending hundreds of dollars on my hair and makeup, especially since I’ve never been the girl to invest in professional hair treatments and coloring, or facials and spa days. On the morning of my wedding, I went to a hair salon in my hometown to have my hair styled by a high school acquaintance. Then, I drove the hour to my venue, where a college friend did my makeup. I felt pretty enough, especially since I normally go for a natural look, and I really liked the vine of pearls braided into my hair. By the time the ceremony was over, you could definitely see I’d been sweating by the way my hair went flat and my makeup was less than pristine, but it was good enough for me.
It wasn’t until the vow renewal that I could personally see the difference a professional hair and makeup artist makes. We’ve always seen how lovely brides look when styled by a professional team, but comparing my own face made such a difference. Working with Beauty by Haley Garber was a dream, not just because she came to the venue and put me at total ease while I sat in her chair, but in the way she made me feel like my best self. As a licensed aesthetician, she’s a pro at using healthy products that enhance your natural beauty, and her airbrush technique was perfect for the hot day. I was dabbing at sweat throughout the afternoon, and I still had perfect makeup at the end of the night! Plus, we’d talked about doing a whimsical braid, but on the day of the vow renewal, she recommended styling my hair in an updo to avoid the sticky heat. This was a great idea that definitely saved the day, while still incorporating one of her signature hair flowers that I’m obsessed with.
We prioritized groom attire that’d be good in the heat
Matt literally didn’t care what he wore on our wedding day, and since we went with a more casual backyard summertime vibe, I was cool with him wearing what he wanted. He purchased a new pair of cowboy boots, some nice dark-wash jeans, a white button-down shirt, and a light brown vest. He’s the kind of guy who’s normally most comfortable in jeans, and it was a nice, simple look – until he started sweating. In case you didn’t know, it’s HOT in August in North Carolina.
For our vow renewal, we wanted Matt to get more dressed up than on our wedding day, and a summer suit was a top priority. We worked with SF Tailors to create a custom suit so that he would feel great with the fit, especially since he doesn’t normally wear dress clothes. The fabrics we picked were lightweight and light in color so they didn’t absorb the sunlight, and even when he started sweating, the lightweight jacket was able to cover the sweat without adding too much extra heat. The hairstylist also styled his hair so he could easily brush it back from his eyes without messing up the look or dealing with crunchy gel.
We included alcohol and specialty desserts
Food and beverages are easily one of the most expensive aspects of a wedding, increasing with each guest you invite, so our original wedding menu was as simple and low-cost as we could make it. We had a simple barbeque meal that everyone enjoyed, and very little beyond that. We opted for a dry wedding, in part because we chose to be married at our church, and while I don’t regret that decision, it was really nice to enjoy a glass of wine after our vow renewal!
For dessert, our original wedding day included two cupcake flavors on par with the southern cuisine – banana pudding cupcakes and strawberry lemonade cupcakes. This is still one of my favorite decisions from our wedding day! The flavors were perfect for the summer evening and were enjoyed by all, but we didn’t create an experience around the desserts.
On our original wedding day, we had cupcakes set out right before dessert, instead of displaying and having photos taken of them. We also didn’t have a cake cutting, which was a fun element of our vow renewal. The vow renewal had a beautifully decorated dessert table featuring a macaron tower and cake alongside our wedding album and some personal details so we could have a fun moment based on the sweet things in life!
We used elevated rentals and a florist instead of DIY
I didn’t know it at the time, but DIY doesn’t guarantee a lower price tag – especially when you remember that your time has value! For our wedding day, we purchased fake flowers, inexpensive candles, basic tablecloths, and did our best to make the picnic tables and rusty pavilion feel spruced up. Every purchase was made with the intention of keeping costs low and reselling afterward – which can be a sustainable and cost-effective option for your wedding! – but it led us to pick simple things we weren’t excited about.
Our vow renewal was absolutely beautiful. Pretty things aren’t required for a beautiful day, but they can certainly brighten an experience!
I loved working with Denise of Power Petals for our organic ceremony backdrop, and the bouquet she made far surpassed the artificial bouquet I arranged with no floral experience 5 years earlier. Renting chairs for the dinner table elevated the comfort level, and we were able to go simple with centerpieces because the linens made a statement! We didn’t need to rent many items to create a big impact, and while we couldn’t resell rented items, there was an increase in sustainability in the fact that we used china rentals for the place settings instead of throwing away disposables.
We included details and decor from our life together
Other than hosting our wedding at our church where we had a personal connection to the location, there were very few personal details involved in the decor. At most, I think we put out a few framed engagement photos. By looking around our wedding, you couldn’t learn anything about us as a couple – it was a generic, low-budget, backyard summer wedding.
We went the opposite direction with our vow renewal by making it all about our love story. The welcome/dessert table featured most of the personal details, such as our magic wands and a custom print of our pets, Dobby & Bellatrix, that says “Let’s Stay Weird and In Love.” It was special to look back at our original wedding album during the vow renewal, and as the keepsake collectors that we are, we wrote our vows into a beautiful journal.
We did a first look instead of first touch
I was wrapped up in traditional expectations of what a wedding should be when we got married, so we chose not to see each other before the ceremony. We did a first touch and prayed together beforehand, which helped calm my nerves, and then we got married and sent into the whirlwind of a wedding reception.
Since our wedding, I always recommend that couples do a first look because it makes everything better on a wedding day. Naturally, I wanted to create that first look experience during our vow renewal to feel the excited jitters and show off my fancy dress. Matt stepped into the dressing room while my hair and makeup were wrapping up, which was fine since “he’s seen me look pretty before,” but once I was ready to put the dress on, he was sent outside. It turned out he needed help with his tie, so he actually came back up and closed his eyes while I tied the tie to keep the surprise. Fully dressed, we loved meeting beside the pond for the big reveal.
We wrote our own vows
Many couples feel awkward sharing personal vows in front of their guests, and with such a personal thing, this is totally understandable! For our wedding, we opted for fairly standard vows that we repeated after our officiant. We were happy with our vows, but looking back, they feel impersonal and less in line with the direction our life is currently going. It’s one of the unexpected realities of marriage – things change quickly and drastically, and they need to be considered and reevaluated!
Using our vow renewal photo shoot as an opportunity to actually renew our vows, we enjoyed sitting down to read the originals and write our own, new vows. We each wrote a letter to our partner in a handsome journal keepsake, and we took some quiet time at the ceremony location to read those letters. With nobody but the photographers around, we were able to really reflect, feel emotion, and take our time reading our vows to each other. It was by far my favorite part of a perfect day.
Models, author: Stephanie & Matt Milosh of Beauty & the Budget Events
Venue, Bar: Davesté Vineyards
Planner: Emily Katherine Events
Associate Photographer (featured in this blog): Through Lindsey’s Lens
Florist: Power Petals
HMUA: Beauty by Haley Garber
Baker: The Icing & The Cake
Bride Attire: Char Bridal
Groom Attire: SF Tailors
Chair Rental: American Party Rentals
Place Settings: Southern Vintage Table
Keepsake: Cirque91 Co
Stationery: Kaleh Sampson Designs
Jewelry: Diamonds Direct