How to Pull off a City Hall Wedding

A bride and groom after they just got married, standing on the steps of city hall as friends throw confetti.

So, you and your sweetheart are finally engaged. Congratulations! It’s time to begin your beautiful life together—and start it with a massive party for everyone you know. Of course, a great big wedding might not be something you want. Maybe you’d rather have a low-key, intimate event. If that’s the case, you’re in good company; even public figures like Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell, Matt Damon and Luciana Barroso, and Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio all opted for a small marriage ceremony. How did they pull it off? They got married at city hall, and you can too! Here are a few tips to help you plan a city hall wedding.

Pick a Date

Whether you’re getting married at city hall, your childhood home, or a lavish hotel ballroom, the first step is always the same: decide on the wedding date. If you don’t have a date set in stone, you won’t be able to make any other plans!

Picking a date for a city hall wedding is easier than at a standard wedding venue; city hall performs many ceremonies each day, so you aren’t competing with other couples for one spot on the calendar. However, it is important that you check on the city’s rules for securing your spot. In San Francisco, for example, you can reserve your wedding date up to 90 days in advance but in New York, city hall weddings are first come, first serve. If you have your heart set on a certain day, it’s best to get there early to beat the crowds!

Also, remember to look into the city’s laws regarding marriage licenses. Some cities allow you to get married immediately after getting your license, while others require a waiting period that can last a day or two. Plan ahead and make sure your license is ready when the big day comes.

Plan Your Guest List

A group of friends toasting at dinner with their friends who just got married at city hall.

City hall weddings have a reputation as the go-to spot for eloping couples, but these days that’s not always the case. Lots of people (including the celebs I mentioned earlier) choose city hall because they want to have a small, civil ceremony in a beautiful location—and some city hall buildings are certainly beautiful (have you seen Philadelphia’s? STUNNING). Other couples just want to have a quick, low-key wedding in their hometown, either alone or with a few friends.

Whatever your wedding plans may be, you’ll have to check with the city and learn the rules for your wedding day. Some city halls allow guests to witness the ceremony, while others put a strict limit on your guest list (San Francisco only allows six guests per couple, including a photographer). If you want to have a city hall wedding but a larger reception, consider inviting your inner circle to the ceremony and meeting with others at a restaurant afterward.

Find an Outfit

A bride and groom running across a crosswalk after their city hall wedding.

One of the great things about a city hall wedding is the total freedom you have when it comes to fashion. At a traditional wedding, there’s a certain expectation for what the newlyweds should wear (white wedding dress and a tux or suit). But when you’re getting married at city hall, all bets are off—which can be very liberating to an offbeat couple.

Do you want to get married in a white cocktail dress? Go for it! In jeans and a cute top? Why not? A chic, classy jumpsuit in your favorite color? You will look fabulous. You can wear whatever you want to a city hall wedding, which means you can express your creativity and personality in any way that makes you feel beautiful!

Choose Your Vendors

You might be wondering why you need vendors for a city hall wedding. After all, you’re not decorating the place, you’re not having dinner catered there, and you’re not hiring your own officiant. This is true, but there are still two vendors you might want to think about: a florist and a photographer.

While florists usually cover every aspect of a wedding from the bridal party bouquets and boutonnieres to the centerpieces at the dessert table, many florists will be happy to create a professional bouquet for a city hall bride. This little bundle of flowers will be a sweet addition to your big day, and a nice little memento to bring home with you.

Similarly, there are many wedding photographers out there who are happy to shoot city hall weddings. You’ve probably seen these photos before: smiling couples on the steps of city hall, posting in an ornate, marble hallway, kissing under a rotunda. Not only will these photos highlight the beautiful architecture of your venue (seriously, guys, I can’t stress enough how lovely some of these city halls are!), but they’ll be a great way to commemorate this special day forever and ever.

Say I Do

Once you’ve picked a date, a guest list, a florist, and a photographer and once you’ve gotten the marriage license and headed to city hall, there’s only one thing left to do: get married! Now all you have to do is enjoy the day, whether you have 10 guests at your side (and more waiting at the restaurant down the street) or no one but the love of your life holding your hand. A city hall wedding is an intimate, unique event that you’ll remember for a lifetime.

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