How to plan your wedding during a global pandemic, according to a celebrity wedding planner

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Across the nation, engaged couples are putting their nuptials on hold.

President Donald Trump issued guidelines on March 16 calling for Americans to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people to limit the spread of the coronavirus — disappointing many brides and grooms who were planning to tie the knot this spring.

“We had gotten April 4 engraved on our wedding bands,’’ said Christin Johnson, referring to the day she and her fiancé were going to exchange vows. “I was picking up my wedding dress the day Governor Cuomo announced there would be zero social gatherings — that was heartbreaking.”

They’re not alone. Many engaged couples who had scheduled their wedding between March and December 2020 were forced to rethink their plans because of the pandemic, according to a recent survey by the Wedding Report, an independent research firm that tracks and forecasts wedding market data. Nearly 27% of surveyed couples said they had rescheduled their weddings for 2021. Some 26% decided to shift their dates to later in 2020, and 42% were still holding their original date.

See Also: VIDEO:Wedding planning during COVID-19? Here are 5 tips to keep you sane

“My fiancé took it a little harder because we’ve put so much time planning for this day but luckily our vendors were able to work with us,” said Sebastian Arias, who had his wedding planned for May but has rescheduled the ceremony for early August. “Our biggest problem now is getting our marriage license because all of the courts in Los Angeles are closed.”

Johnson and her fiancé, who is a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, have moved forward with rescheduling their ceremony for the end of May but opted to downsize their guest list to only a few close family members and friends. Their wedding was originally going to be at an arts center in Virginia, but they’re now planning a smaller ceremony at a townhouse in Brooklyn.

Ugo Eze and Christin Johnson postponed their April 4 wedding to late May, switched venues, and cut the guest list down.

courtesy of Christin Johnson

“It was extremely hard to push it out, but I’m less stressed now about the wedding. I’ve been able to put things into perspective for what’s more important and that’s everyone’s safety,” Johnson said.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the country, sickening and killing thousands, it’s also shut down all but essential businesses and put the wedding industry at a near a standstill.

‘It’s going to take a while for us to get confident again: to travel, socialize and entertain one another. But eventually we’ll get there.’

— — Celebrity wedding planner Colin Cowie

The U.S wedding industry is worth nearly $74 billion, according to IBISWorld, an industry research company. With couples scrambling to coordinate alternative ceremony dates with vendors and break the unfortunate news to guests, the coronavirus has already shaped up to be the ultimate wedding crasher.

“If it was a problem just in America, I’d work with my clients to plan something in Italy or the South of France, but we’re all in the same boat right now with no place to go,” said Colin Cowie, a celebrity wedding and events planner. “It’s going to take a while for us to get confident again: to travel, socialize and entertain one another. But eventually we’ll get there,” said Cowie.

Based on conversations he’s had with vendors and others in the business, Cowie estimates that 90% of all weddings that were planned over the next three to four months have either been canceled or postponed.

“There’s going to be a lingering impact, and I think we’ll likely lose between 27 and 32% of weddings in 2020 but gain a surge of weddings in 2021 of about 20 to 25%,” said Shane McMurray, CEO and founder of the Wedding Report. “We’ll see a significant drop in the number of guests for weddings because couples will be hesitant to invite a lot of people and don’t want to put anyone at risk.”

Cowie, who counts Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise and Jennifer Lopez among some of his star clients, has been communicating weekly with all of his engaged clients to calm fears and keep hopes alive for their dream wedding. So, we asked our readers to submit questions to the high-profile wedding planner on how soon-to-be newlyweds can continue planning their big day.

MarketWatch: I’m thinking of canceling. What should I expect from my vendors?

Cowie: This is all about relationships. If you have a good relationship with someone they might not give you the full deposit back, they may give you a portion of the deposit that they haven’t used.

But, legally, they are not required to give you the deposit back at all. [Editor’s note: Situations can vary, depending on terms of the contract.] In some instances when we have an event that is nine to 11 months out, we’ve given the deposits back, but if the wedding is in two months’ time, 80% of the work is probably done. It takes a little bit of leeway on both sides.

MW: How can I still shop for my wedding dress?

Cowie: Everyone in every industry is being impacted in the same way. For now, start shopping online for your wedding dress; start identifying silhouettes and things that you’re looking for. If you find something you really love, find out who makes that dress and what their policy is.

They’ll tell you if they are able to make the dress in two months. A lot of dresses are made in China or India and many are made in the United States. Depending on where the dress is being made and what the lead time is to manufacture it, they should be able to do it.

MW: Should I get wedding insurance?

Cowie: In today’s time, I would definitely think of wedding insurance. But certain contracts don’t cover things like force majeure or an act of God or something along those lines that nobody is able to foresee. Read the fine print and understand exactly what it is that you are buying. Remember, the broader the spectrum of coverage you want, the more expensive your policy is going to be. Do your homework; we have lots of time to do research right now.

If you want more advice that Colin has for wedding planning during the coronavirus pandemic, check out this video: Wedding planning during COVID-19? Here are 5 tips to keep you sane

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