Ariana Grande may sing about splurging on lashes and diamonds and bottles of bubbles, but her wedding ceremony sounds almost modest.
The “7 Rings” singer surprised fans by tying the knot with luxury real-estate agent Dalton Gomez over the weekend in a “tiny and intimate” ceremony with just 20 guests in her Montecito, Calif. mansion, her rep told People.
This kind of “micro wedding” has come in vogue during the pandemic as social distancing guidelines forced many couples to scale down or postpone their nuptials. About half of wedding receptions during COVID-19 had 50 people or less attending, according to data from wedding planning and registry service The Knot. Nearly a quarter had fewer than 25 guests. And overall guest counts were down roughly 50%, averaging 66 guests in 2020 versus 131 in 2019.
Quarantine closures took a serious financial toll on thousands of couples and their vendors over the past year. In fact, 225,000 engaged pairs who were supposed to wed in 2020 owe $3.7 billion in personal loans for their canceled events, according to an analysis by online personal lender Loanry — or more than $16,000 in outstanding balances on average for each couple.
But the silver lining is that many couples found creative ways to declare their love for each other during lockdown — and this saw 2020 usher in the “minimony,” or an even smaller wedding ceremony than the micro wedding.
“A smaller wedding is a great way to be in the moment, and celebrate with all of your guests, as opposed to feeling obligated to invite every person your parents have ever met.”
So what is a micro wedding, what is a minimony, and what are the benefits of taking a less-crowded trip to the altar? Here’s what industry insiders have to say.
Micro wedding: a few dozen people
Considering that the average wedding includes between 100 and 130 guests, according to The Knot, nuptials with fewer than 50 guests are considered “micro weddings.” For another take, Martha Stewart Weddings considers a celebration with fewer than 50 people a “small wedding,” and one with 50 to 150 guests as a “medium wedding.”
But smaller doesn’t mean less special: micro weddings often include most of the trimmings of a traditional wedding bash, such as: the couple walking down the aisle before exchanging vows; a reception with a first dance and wedding cake cutting ceremony; a photographer and/or videographer; a live band and/or a DJ; etc.
“It feels like you’re at a really exclusive dinner party, or maybe a party at someone’s home,” Lauren Kay, executive editor at The Knot, told MarketWatch. She noted that many destination weddings fall into the micro wedding category, as well.
One benefit of a micro wedding is that the smaller guest list can keep wedding costs from spiraling out of control. The average wedding cost more than $30,000 before the pandemic, after all, and The Knot’s latest data has seen that price tag dip to a still-hefty $22,500 for 2021. So trimming the guest list is the easiest way to trim your budget. In fact, pandemic brides told Refinery29 that they pulled off their micro weddings for between $400 and $10,000 last year.
Or, you can keep the bigger budget and splurge on a top-shelf open bar, a designer wedding dress or the band that you really wanted, because your money can go farther with fewer people.
“The biggest indicator for the wedding budget is the guest size. More guests add more costs associated with the wedding,” said Kay, such as the venue size, renting tables and chairs, the cost per dinner plate, wedding favors and so on.
Minimony: guests in the single digits
So what if you want to go even smaller, but without eloping? Enter: the “minimony.” The Knot coined the term last year to describe intimate ceremonies with fewer than 10 people. This followed CDC guidelines toward the beginning of the pandemic, when many places were limiting gatherings to 10 people or less to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“We tried to help people find a level of compromise between safely following CDC guidelines and still allowing couples to take back their wedding day,” said Kay. “The minimony was born as a result.”
Minimonies often feature the couple, an in-person or virtual officiant, and a small group of loved ones, perhaps with a photographer or videographer. Many have included some traditions of bigger weddings, such as an exchange of vows, a first dance and a toast to the newlyweds. There might also be a mini version of the wedding cake, and bouquets or boutonnieres.
“The minimony really did come about as a result of the pandemic,” said Kay. “In 2020, a lot of weddings couldn’t happen in the way they were intended to happen.”
But only about 7% of these weddings were canceled, according to data from The Knot. Instead, most weddings were put on hold until venues and vendors could reopen, and friends and family could get vaccinated. But some couples still wanted to exchange vows and legally marry on their original wedding dates, and minimonies were the perfect fit.
Jocelyn Voo, a New York City photographer who specializes in small weddings and elopements, told MarketWatch that she saw an uptick in elopements and microweddings in late 2020 and into 2021. “I had couples who needed to get married for practical reasons, like visas or health insurance. But I also had couples who got married for personal reasons — they didn’t know how long they would have to wait to have the 100+ person event they’d been envisioning, and they didn’t want to put their lives on hold,” she said.
In fact, some minimony ceremonies went viral throughout the pandemic, such as a pair of New York City brides who shouted “I do!” on a Washington Heights street while their friend and officiant married them (and read a passage from “Love in the Time of Cholera,” of course) from a fourth-story window.
“Perhaps surprisingly, many, many couples decided that this was the best option for them,” added Voo. “Even before the pandemic, couples loved the freedom and flexibility of having a smaller wedding. Now because of COVID, I think it’ll be more commonplace than ever.”
Honorable mention: Zoom weddings, which offer an unlimited guest list
And in a true sign of the times, other couples have embraced videoconferencing apps like Zoom
Meet to live stream their micro weddings and minimonies to friends and family sheltering in place across the globe. Naturally, enterprising entrepreneurs have turned this into a business opportunity.
Samie Roberts co-founded Lovestream with her husband on the Bustld wedding vendor platform during the pandemic to meet this demand. Couples sign up for packages ranging from $450 to $1,850, which allows them to use their own smartphones or tablet devices to record and stream their wedding ceremony from different angles, which gets broadcast on a personalized website sent out to their guest list. Lovestream takes over remotely, with a producer editing the production of the wedding videos in real time, such as switching between close-ups of the couple, or processional shots of the wedding party walking down the aisle. There’s also tech support available for any friends or family struggling to connect with the live stream.
“I think COVID has given people the opportunity to say, ‘I don’t want this big wedding.’”
Wedfuly offers a similar service with packages running $800 to $1,200, which also includes rehearsals to run through broadcasting your big day. And Voo has a Zoom live stream add-on service to her elopement packages for $500 (in addition to the $2,550 package featuring photos and an officiant.)
“We’ve done close to 400 events in about a year, and we’ve streamed in a little over 120 countries now,” said Roberts from Lovestream. “We’ve seen probably 70 to 100 devices tuning into each ceremony, on average. Our biggest one had close to 300 people who streamed in.”
And she thinks that these wedding live streaming services will have staying power even once the pandemic has passed. “We’re seeing a lot of people want to stream their wedding as a way to save dollars or have the wedding that they wanted to have,” she added. “I think COVID has given people the opportunity to say, ‘I don’t want this big wedding. I’ve always wanted to have a smaller celebration with 40 or 60 people.’ A smaller wedding is a great way to be in the moment, and celebrate with all of your guests, as opposed to feeling obligated to invite every person your parents have ever met. So people are taking our service as an opportunity to have their smaller celebration, but to still include more people remotely so that they don’t feel like they’re missing out.
“We’ve even had a few virtual guests say, ‘Wow, this is better than sitting in the front row,” she added.
Minimonies are probably not one-and-done deals, however. Kay noted that many couples have said that they intend to mark their anniversaries in the next year or so with “sequel celebrations,” or more traditional wedding receptions packed with their family and friends as things hopefully return to normal.
In fact, she’s already seeing signs of bigger weddings making a comeback.
“Most of our data is showing the guest list size going up again. There’s a desire to celebrate, to gather with loved ones and have an occasion that is a happy one,” she said. The Knot’s survey data shows that the average guest list size is already back up to more than 100 people, and 42% of this year’s spring weddings, 63% of summer weddings, and 65% of fall weddings have invited more than 100 guests.
“The micro wedding was never the most popular option,” said Kay, let alone the minimony. “But now people who maybe hadn’t heard of it before might embrace the idea of more intimate celebrations. If you like the idea of an intimate wedding, or you want to have two celebrations or introduce new traditions, I think more people feel more comfortable than ever doing those things and celebrating their own way.”