Congratulations on your upcoming engagement! But now what? Whether your true love got down on one knee to propose or the two of you conducted the "plan" like a business agreement, the engagement ring is probably the one tradition most brides are not willing to see fade into history. Leonard Girardo, owner of J. Thomas Jewelers advises prospective grooms to do their homework. "Find out what she likes. What shape diamond, what color metal. She'll be wearing this ring, she needs to love it," says Girardo. In other words gentlemen, that family heirloom ring may not get the reaction you were hoping for. Your beloved has been scouring magazines and gazing at the left hands of everyone she meets. Chances are your bride has a good idea of what she likes. "It's important to go to a jeweler you can trust, who's been in the business for awhile," advises Girardo. According to Girardo the girls come in and make a few choices, which are then put on a wish list. Popular now is the Princess' Cut and round cut diamond, in platinum or white gold. The price range, from $4,000 to $6,000. Okay, so now your engagement is official and hopefully everyone is smiling. Now, is when the real work begins. Consult with both families to determine possible dates. Make an informal and unofficial guest list. How many out of town guests would you expect to come to the wedding? How would air fare and availability as well as highway travel be affected by the month you are considering? Before making any concrete decisions, take a deep breath and enjoy the attention of the engagement. Consider the type of wedding the two of you would like to have, before others' opinions and expectations are expressed. Remember, this is your special day. So, now you've gone public with newspaper and formal announcements. Your friends are now waiting with anxious anticipation hoping they will be asked to be part of the wedding party. Think about this carefully. Tradition dictates that members of the bridal party have certain roles from giving their advice to support during the planning to preparing all pre-wedding parties. It is important to be sensitive to possible financial limitations in your bridal party members, so don't expect them to pay for more than they can afford. Tradition dictates that the maid of honor helps choose the wedding dress, plans the bridal shower or party for the couple and coordinates the bridesmaids' dress fittings. She is also responsible for supplying the bride with "something borrowed, something blue" and serves with the best man as legal witness, signing the marriage certificate. The best man arranges a bachelor party, coordinates the ushers fittings, is responsible for the coordination of ushers' gift to the groom, and is also (traditionally speaking) responsible to pay the officiant's fee or donation for the ceremony. Although a large party means sharing your special time with your favorite people, and having great photographs, it also means a lot of different opinions. In some cases, less is best, and certainly more intimate. Amy Lynn Alvarez from Sparta has an August wedding planned. She opted for the intimacy of three bridesmaids while her groom chose seven. "We've invited 280 guests, so the amount of ushers we have is actually what they suggest," states Alvarez. Hopefully by now you've spoken to your clergy about the date and time, your vows and the overall ceremony. Will it take place in the church or will you be barefoot on the beach? You've coordinated the restaurant, banquet hall, or caterers. You've figured out a wedding budget, which nowadays, may or may not include assistance from parents. The average wedding reception in this area ranges from $80 to $200 a person, says manager Jill Worley of the Lafayette House in Lafayette. Prices typically include a 4-5 hour party, cocktail hour, center pieces on tables, and the wedding cake. Most places will give a discount for a Friday or Sunday reception. "Most traditions such as cutting the cake and the first dance are still popular. "A new trend we've seen over the last 2-3 years is requests to have the ceremony on the premises." Years ago the thought was that the live band made the reception memorable. According to Worley, 90 percent of the couples now choose to have these interactive performance DJs. Alvarez plans to spend roughly $4,000 for the works' with Star Entertainment from Sussex County. "We're having a harp and cellist play during the cocktail hour and a big screen montage simulcast during the reception which shows childhood pictures of us and highlights of the reception," explains Alvarez. The deejays not only spin records but also sing approximately 30 songs with musical accompaniment. If you're a soon to be bride , you no doubt have a collection of wedding dress photo clippings and a stack of the latest bride magazines. Although you want to look fashionable, watch out for trendy dresses and head pieces. You want to love your wedding photos twenty years from now, and not wonder "What was I thinking?" "Although lace is popular now, there really is no rule of thumb, it's what looks best," said Judy Fletcher who owns The Wedding Store in Andover. "We help the girls find the right style for their body type and personality. It's all about the romance and how the gown makes her feel." Invitations have taken on a life of their own. If you're not familiar with save the date cards' you probably got married years ago. According to Newton's Tanja Hudson of A Moment in Time Design, these are cards announcing the date of the wedding, sent out to guests three to four months before the official invitations are sent. These cards request that the prospective guest saves the wedding date in their social calendar. Flowers are the icing on the cake of wedding decorations, or the final accessory for the bridal party. Maria DeFelice owner of both the Flower Box in Sparta and Petal's Florist on Route 23 advises couples to book with a florist much earlier than the six to eight months the experts in the magazines suggest. "May, June, September and October are very popular wedding months and get booked very quickly. Try to secure a florist a year in advance if possible," she recommends. What's in? What's out? Mini-calla lily bouquets, hand tied with ribbon on the stem, is definitely in. Out (at least for now) is cascade and colonial (round) bouquets. "Last year we did 123 weddings and 90 percent of the brides held the hand tied, ribbon on stem type of bouquet," states DeFelice. The cost of flowering a moderate wedding, soup to nuts, church to reception, with roughly five or six bridesmaids and ushers can cost approximately $2,000 according to DeFelice. Hang in there, you're almost done. You still need to consider a photographer, limos, favors, ice sculptures, and the long awaited honeymoon. New trends include financial and pre-marriage counseling and ballroom dancing classes before the big day. Most important to remember is that the wedding is all about the couple, and their special day should reflect that. However, when it all gets overwhelming there's one additional new trend to consider; a professional wedding planner, or, an old trend
eloping. Alvarez advises couples to check out the website www.TheKnot.com. "Its a mini wedding planner that keeps couples on schedule with weekly reminders. Its awesome," she said.