Chicago's RedEye, June 2, 2010

Jun 2nd 2010 | 11:19am
Save to Stuff I Love!

By Leonor Vivanco RedEye

Liz and Pete Rolewicz didn't want a flashy, fancy, formal wedding. Their big day last June was a casual affair with a buffet-style country brunch on a farm in Capron, Ill., about 80 miles north of Chicago.

"We're both pretty laid back and we didn't feel the need to be in the spotlight," said Liz Rolewicz, 34, a graphic designer. "A lot of people there at the end said it was the best wedding they'd ever been to because it felt really intimate and sincere and stripped down to the bare basics of what a commitment ceremony should be about."

The Uptown couple was at the forefront of a casual wedding trend that exudes the less-is-more philosophy. Heading into the height of wedding season, Chicagoans shouldn't be surprised this year to see friends tying the knot in homey venues and straying from scripted ceremonies. Leaving out some formal touches definitely is in: No bridal parties, ball gowns or tuxes. No limos, DJs or dance floors. No full bars, seating arrangements or sit-down dinners.

"This year and the end of last year, we're seeing a lot more casual weddings and we do believe it's because of the economy," said Stacie Francombe, founder and CEO of the wedding planning resource Get Married Media.

"Brides are realizing we don't need to spend our entire fortune and go into debt to spend our lives together," Francombe said. "We can have a great casual affair."

The average cost of a wedding in the Chicago-Naperville-Joliet metropolitan area last year was $24,115, slightly higher than the national average of $19,581, according to The Wedding Report, which provides market research for the wedding industry.

That said, casual weddings aren't necessarily cheap. "Weddings are having a more casual feel but it's not necessarily either saving people money or in order to save people money. Casual is what's more in style right now," said Marta Segal Block, a Chicago-based wedding expert at onewed.com.

Casual, rustic outdoor weddings don't translate into stress-free events either, experts said. For example, the engaged couples need to consider parking, food prep areas, rented tables and linens, enough bathrooms for guests and a plan if it rains.

At such casual affairs, guests can expect to wear casual attire and dine on nontraditional fare such as Kobe beef sliders, mini s'mores, grilled cheese or pigs in a blanket. They might drink prosecco instead of Champagne, wedding experts said. Food can be served family-style instead of plated. And the wedding can take place in outdoor venues such as backyards, vineyards and parks.

At their wedding, the Rolewiczes invited 40 people, many of whom wore khaki pants and sundresses. A string quartet played in a woodsy area as the bride, holding a bunch of red daisies and dressed in an above-the-knee white dress, walked down the aisle with her parents. The groom wore a beige suit with white PF Flyers, similar to Chuck Taylor sneakers, and no tie. A childhood friend married the couple.

"For as long as I can remember, I've always wanted to do more of an intimate wedding because I think it means more for the people there and means more for us to share that experience to people close to us," said Pete Rolewicz, 43.

They spent a total of $10,000 on their wedding celebrations, including the barn wedding and a catered reception for 100 guests held three months later at the Galaxie, an art venue in Avondale.

Skipping the traditional cookie-cutter wedding for a casual one can allow the couple to focus on the ceremony and the guests, said Anja Winikka, editor at wedding site theknot.com.

"Instead of worrying about matching the exact color of flowers to linens to bridesmaids dresses, couples are more concerned about guests having fun and the wedding reflecting the couples' personalities and what they're all about," she said.

Elmwood Park student Emily Meske, 25, said she and her fiance, David Golz, 31, want to keep their July 30 wedding reception at the Klein Creek Golf Club in west suburban Winfield as simple as possible--and within a $15,000 budget.

"It's not that I wanted to downplay the importance or significance of the event by any means," she said. "We're jeans and T-shirt kind of people. I want to feel comfortable and for it to feel like us that day."

In her "casual traditional" wedding, Meske plans to make invitations, centerpieces and favors herself. Her outdoor ceremony will be traditional; her floor-length chiffon dress is not. Tuxes are up for debate.

When Hollie Smith, 25, and her fiance, Dustin Heath, 24, got engaged in December, they knew they wanted to do a casual wedding in 2011. With a budget of $10,000, the La Grange Park couple booked an estate in Princeton, about 115 miles southwest of Chicago, for a barbecue celebration where 150 guests can wear jeans and sandals and eat grilled food and cupcakes.

"To us, our wedding would be so special if it was us, a couple family members and friends in the backyard wearing jeans. It doesn't have to be a big family ordeal," said Smith, a freelance writer and wedding blogger on thriftyinwhite.com.

Cubs season ticket holders Juli Profit, 33, and her husband, Glenn Johnson, 35, rented out a rooftop across the street from Wrigley Field for their 2008 wedding. Two hundred guests wore Cubs gear to the ceremony and reception and ate game-day fare while watching the game. There were no favors, programs printed or centerpieces. But there was a three-tier cake and a bridal bouquet.

"Weddings can sometimes be so stuffy," said Profit, a real estate agent who lives in Lincoln Park. "You're sitting at a table with people you barely know at a two-hour dinner. We didn't want to do that, but we wanted to have a good time and be more like us. I feel like too much emphasis is put on the day when it really comes down to a lifetime together."

CHIC AND CHEAP

Trying to keep costs down and stay within a small budget for your wedding? Theknot.com editor Anja Winikka, onewed.com wedding expert Marta Segal Block and Get Married planning resource founder Stacie Francombe tell brides and grooms how.

» Cut the guest list.

» Hold weddings on Friday nights or Sunday afternoons or in the winter because venues are less expensive and the alcohol tab won't be so high.

» Serve heavy appetizers instead of a meal.

» Instruct waiters to pour wine instead of leaving bottles on the table and to close the bar during the meal.

» Serve limited liquor and stock up on mixers, or serve only beer and wine.

» Buy a small wedding cake and serve slices cut from a sheet cake.

» Get discounted wedding dresses through sites such as the whitexchange.com or rent gowns through sites such as renttherunway.com.

» Don't re-create centerpieces seen in bridal magazines. Do something different such as using fresh fruits and vegetables.

» Do your own save-the-dates, invitations, centerpieces and favors.

» Don't be shy about asking for discounts from vendors.

» If you find a photographer you love but can't afford, inquire about the associate shooter.