* What: Bridal Affair, presented by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
* When: 1-5:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17.
* Where: Chattanooga Convention Center, 1150 Carter St.
* Admission: $8 online in advance at timesfreepress.com.
The average cost of a wedding in Hamilton County in 2012 was $22,940.
Source: The Wedding Report
Today's weddings are not your mother's church affairs.
They are events defining both a couple's individuality and unity that culminate months of planning.
Technology has changed the way couples communicate with their wedding guests. Engaged couples share their good news with email blasts linking to personalized websites. Save-the-date notices are sent via URL.
Church weddings are bowing to location venues. Vows are exchanged in barns beneath haylofts as often as sanctuaries before choir lofts.
Even the traditional bridal party is taking on a new look. Couples are bending gender rules so it's not uncommon to see a female friend stand up with the groom as best woman or males lining up among bridesmaids. They are called "honored guests," according to Cheron Douglas of With Class, a local wedding planning business. Douglas is a certified wedding planner and member of the Association of Bridal Consultants.
Following are trends that wedding planners and other experts say could define weddings of the coming season.
More than 75 percent of all couples marrying in 2012 had their own wedding websites, according to theknot.com, an online source for wedding information and advice.
In fact, so many couples have turned to the web that these ubiquitous pages have been dubbed "wedsites."
The Wedding Report, an online site that details all things wedding, including statistics and trends, says three out of five brides use smartphones to shoot and share wedding-related photos with guests, manage their gift registry and access wedding planning sites. Pinterest is as great a source for decor ideas as brick-and-mortar vendors.
Couple are relying on wedsites to share their journey from "how-we-met" stories through the honeymoon send-off.
BIG, BOLD COLOR
"The biggest difference in this season and others is color," says Murphy.
And she's referring to bridal gowns, not what the bridesmaids wear.
Murphy says a very low percentage of girls choose a white gown anymore, primarily because it doesn't flatter most women's skin tones.
"We have manufacturers who don't even put a white dress on their runways anymore," says Murphy.
While gowns in all-over colors such as bright pink or green are trending in cosmopolitan cities, locally color will show up in "a dash of color" such as a vivid sash at the waist or shoes that contrast the gown, says Murphy. Gowns will be soft ivory, champagne or possibly a blush pink.
Bridesmaids gowns are a rainbow of color, but the green hues are dominant locally. Mint green, projected by bridal websites as the No. 1 choice nationally, is popular as well as a soft, heathered green known as jade mint. But Murphy says all shades of green from kelly to mint are top choices.
Bold is better on wedding cakes, as well.
In fact, the all-white cake has gone by the wayside, according to Kimberly Beattie, owner of Couture Cakes with husband Andrew. The Hixson company ships wedding cakes all over the country as well as producing lacy confections for local couples.
Beattie says brides are being more expressive, "really venturing away from tradition."
"Really hot colors trending right now in cakes are coral, gray, mint green -- but mint is mixed with other colors such as white, lemon yellow, jade green, emerald green and citrus. Yellow and gray is big, and another hot color palate is poppy red.
"If I do see white, it's mixed with vibrant color such as Malibu blue," she said.
BRIDAL GOWNS WITH POCKETS
"I know when I hear a screech on the fitting room floor, a bride has just found pockets in her gown she's trying on," says Dolores Murphy, owner of Monica's Bridal.
The screech in this case is a good thing.
"Girls love the idea that they are there," Murphy says. "They hold tissues, a mint or lip gloss for a touch-up before the reception -- all the stuff brides used to stick in their grooms' pockets."
Almost half (47 percent) of all weddings in 2012 were held outside of a church, according to the Bridal Association of America. Of those, 35 percent were outdoor weddings.
"The rage is the barn and the farm," says Mark Douglas, deejay for With Class. "I worked every weekend from April on last year and every one was an outdoor situation for the reception. People don't want to be in a building, they want to be outside."
MAKE A GRAND ENTRANCE
Couples just don't walk into their reception anymore, they make an entrance.
"Until this point they've been singles, now they are a couple entering the world as Mr. and Mrs. for the first time," says Mark Douglas.
"They come in dancing," agrees his wife Cheron. "They love dancing in. The whole bridal party does an act, and that's really fun for the reception."
Mark, who carries 70,000 songs with him on a hard drive, consults with couples to choose every aspect of their music from prelude to honeymoon send-off.
He gets the party started with something "hip and popping" for introductions, he says, like the intro to the Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow." Nothing too long, just a 15-second mood-setter.
If the groomsmen are dancing in together, he says, a bride might have him play "Men in Black," or some Four Tops' music.
Whether the bridal party enters individually or by groups, music builds the anticipation until the newlyweds are announced accompanied by a voice-over that even WWE announcer Jim Ross would envy.
"You can't imagine how much better it is when the whole wedding party comes out. They come out dancing, then the newlyweds, then the group dances together and it gets the party started," the Douglases agree.
THE INTERACTIVE RECEPTION
No more staid seated dinners for today's brides. They are choosing food stations that reflect their venues' atmosphere as well as entertain their guests.
"The s'mores bar is popular at farm weddings," says Cheron Douglas. "Guests come through and roast marshmallows and that's fun. A lot of people are doing the candy bar, and we have potato bars (offering a variety of toppings) at outside weddings."
The candy bar offers guests a variety of sweets prettily served up in apothecary jars. Candy choices are usually color-coded to match the bride's color scheme. Guests use scoops to fill party bags with their favorites to take home as wedding favors.
Theknot.com reports that 22 percent of brides incorporated additional entertainment into their receptions other than the dance band. Some ideas include upscale interactive food stations offered sommeliers with wine tastings, a sushi chef or cheesemonger.
A popular reception idea locally, say consultants, is the photo booth. Yes, just like the one at the mall.
Rebekah Hargrove with Just Shoot Me says guests sit in the curtained booth for four poses, then receive a 2-inch-by-4-inch strip of four prints. The company brings props such as fake mustaches and lips, oversized glasses, top hats, beads or Hawaiian leis, allowing guests to add creativity to the poses.
"There is also an option for guests to enter their email addresses so they can have the photo strip emailed to them. Many guests want to post it on their Facebook page," Hargrove says.
The bride can customize the bottom of the photo strip with her name and the groom's as well as their wedding date.
Photo booths rent by either two-, three- or four-hour installments, ranging in price from $500 to $900, she says.