Black Wedding Journal's Guide to Creating Your Perfect Wedding Timeline

Planning a wedding can be hard. Most brides find themselves completely lost when it comes to knowing how much time each event requires and the best order for everything to happen on the actual day. Using our own photography and coordinating experience, combined with other experts in the field, we have created a little cheat sheet for you! This sheet is broken down into traditional wedding events in the time block they usually occur. Next to each event is the amount of time that each event typically lasts. This BWJ cheat sheet is designed with 6 Bridesmaids and 6 Groomsmen in the Wedding Party, so if you’re planning on having a big Wedding Party give yourself a little more wiggle room.

Bridal Party Hair and Makeup at Salon (6 members): 4 Hours

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If you and your bridesmaids choose to get ready at a salon, know that there may not be enough stylist for everyone to be prepped at the same time. That’s why we recommend calling ahead and creating a getting schedule ready for the stylists so that they know who they need to style next. Getting ready at a salon can be loads of fun! You get to hang out with your girls, drink mimosas, and let the professionals do the work! It leaves more time for the bridesmaids to think about how they can best serve the Bride on her big day. One big reminder when choosing salons: don’t forget to tip your stylist!

Bridal Party Hair and Makeup DIY (6 members): 3 Hours

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Ladies, we know how long it takes us to get ready. So pour yourself another mimosa, crank up the music, and pass over the good mascara! Just don’t forget to be ready thirty minutes before the bride has on her dress. That way, you can help her with any last minute freak outs, and you’ll look great doing it!

Groomsmen Getting Ready: 3 Hours

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Even though the Groomsmen will probably have some extra duties on the day of like moving tables or picking up extra ice, they need to know a specific time to get ready. Tell them to be ready thirty minutes before the Wedding Party pictures. This way, they can prioritize any wedding duties while also having time to make memories and relax with the Groom. Have your photographer catch some fun getting ready pictures with the guys in their element— just make sure they get their boutonnieres on before the official pictures!

Bride’s Wedding Dress Change and Pictures: 30 Minutes

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Before changing into your dress, make sure the photographer and videographer have had a chance to get some great shots of the dress. It helps if they can borrow a couple of other wedding day mementos like shoes, rings, bouquet, etc. Make sure your hair and makeup are perfect and have your mother or grandmother ready in the room. Some brides choose to get dressed with their mother so that they can share a little bit of time together just the two them on such a busy day. Many brides also choose to have their mothers or grandmothers help them so that they can have a first look with their bridesmaids. If you want to do this, make sure to tell your girls not to run too far off. Have your photographer there to catch a few pictures of your mother buttoning up the back and take the time to look at yourself in the mirror. Everyone else will get to look at you throughout the day, but you’ll find yourself away from a mirror for the bulk of the day— so take it all in. And when you’re finally ready, you can have the photographer call in your girls for a first look.

First Look with Bridesmaids: 20 Minutes

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To have the perfect first look with your bridesmaids, have your photographer pick out a place in the getting ready room for all of the bridesmaids to line up. They should turn around or close their eyes so you can walk into place in front of them. From that vantage point your photographer will tell them to turn around or open their eyes and you’ll have a beautiful picture of the back of your dress and all of their expressions in one shot. And what a perfect memory to make right before the rest of the day begins!

First Look with Father of the Bride: 20 Minutes

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At this point the bridesmaids can run off to perform any wedding duties and leave you to have a moment with your old man. This is an important day in any father’s life and it is a gift to be able to pause and spend time together on this busy day. A classic first look set up with the dad is to tap him on his back and have him turn to face his little girl. BWJ recommends you take all the time you need with your Dad. You won’t get to see much more of him until he’s walking you down the aisle, so take it all in!

First Look with Groom: 30 Minutes

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“Here comes the Bride!” If you choose to have a first look with your Groom, make sure you remember to grab your flowers! As your photographer sets your Groom into position, you will walk into place behind him as he turns around to see you. Our advice is to be yourself! Don’t overthink it or try to pose for anything. Just take in the moment of peace between you and your future husband on the morning of your wedding. After the photographer gets a few shots, she will probably lead you into a portrait session. If you have any specific pictures or poses in mind, make sure to tell the photographer ahead of time so that she can set some of the pictures up at this time. There are so many benefits to having a first look, but one of our favorites is that you’ll get to have some genuine one on one time with your man during one of the busiest days of your life. Enjoy!

Gift Exchange/ Letter Reading: 30 Minutes

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After your first look, you can exchange gifts or letters to one another. This doesn’t happen in every wedding, but we at BWJ absolutely love it! It’s a special time where you’re able to really tell your love what this day means to you— especially if you choose to skip out on personalized vows in the ceremony. The gift exchange is also a great choice if you decide to wait until the ceremony to see your Groom. This way you can still have some contact without actually seeing one another.

Wedding Party Pictures (12 members): 40 Minutes

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If you have chosen to have a first look, then you can get all of these pictures done before the ceremony. Otherwise, you’ll take these pictures after the ceremony while your guests are enjoying Cocktail Hour. Have fun with your wedding party pictures! Make them personal and get more than a standard picture of you and your best friend looking formal and stiff— get silly and REAL! I promise you will much prefer looking at these group pictures if you guys choose to be yourselves instead of trying to stand as straight as possible. Also, speaking from experience, make sure that the florist knows to come ahead of time so that all the groomsmen and bridesmaids can have their flowers in the pictures. You will not likely have the time to retake them if they start taking pictures without the flowers.

Family Pictures (about 40 members) : 40 Minutes

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If you have chosen to have a first look and all of your family have arrived before the ceremony, then all of the family pictures can be taken before the ceremony. If you have chosen to skip the first look, then these pictures will be taken directly after the ceremony. If that is the case, it is EXTREMELY important to have your officiant remind all family members to go to— or stay at— the picture location. If you have any elderly grandparents who may struggle with mobility, it can really help to have the picture location stay the same as your ceremony location. Do your wedding photographer a favor by following these easy tips before beginning the big family pictures. 1. Create a shot list with each combination of people that you want pictures of. 2. Have your wedding planner there to help during the family pictures. This is a time when everyone seems to want to run away to the reception when what they need to do is go to— or stay at— the picture location and not leave until told to do so. 3. Have your Photographer start off with the biggest group first and then move out to smaller groups. For example: Both sides of the family; then one side of the family; then grandparents, parents, and siblings; then parents and siblings; and finally a picture of you with just your parents. This keeps people from having to constantly move back and forth from the picture location.

Average Ceremony: 30 Minutes

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Ceremonies can last anywhere from 15-45 minutes, but they usually average out at about 30 minutes. BWJ encourages you to make the ceremony your own. Write your own vows. Have a friend dedicate a song. Meet with the officiant ahead of time so he can make the sermon personal to you guys. If you want to see one of the sweetest moments from a BWJ Bride and Groom, click here to see pictures of Spencer serving his new wife by washing her feet in the middle of the ceremony.

Cocktail Hour: 1.5 Hours

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A Cocktail Hour provides the perfect transition for your guests as they move from sitting during the ceremony to visiting with fellow guests over a cocktail and some light hors doeuvres. It is necessary to have a Cocktail Hour if you are unable to get all of your group pictures done before the ceremony. This way, your guests remain entertained and are able to get a light snack while they wait on the Bride and Groom to finish up their pictures. Cocktail hour can also be a great time for the Bride and Groom to sneak away and enjoy their first meal as a married couple in privacy. This is especially helpful if the couple decides to move into dancing and visiting with guests at the start of the reception. A Cocktail hour should include light food and drinks for your guests. It should range between 30 to 60 minutes.

Wedding Party Announcement: 5 Minutes

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“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to announce for the first time: Mr. and Mrs. ____!” You’re going to absolutely love this moment! You, your husband, and all your favorite people all in one place to celebrate this perfect day! Make sure you and your wedding party have fun walking out to the reception— just don’t forget to give the DJ the list of everyone’s names in the order you want them to come out so that a groomsman isn’t given the wrong name!

First Dances: 20 Minutes

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After the Bride and Groom are announced they should go directly into their first dance. Afterwards the Bride has the option of having a dance with her father followed by the Groom’s dance with his mother. It can be a great prompt to start up a spirit of dancing at the reception by following the first dances with this quick game: The DJ asks all the married couples to head to the dance floor as they dance to a slow classic. Next he asks all the couples who have been married less than 1 year to leave the dance floor. A few moments later he asks the couples who have been married less than 5 years to leave the dance floor, followed by 10, 15, and 20 years. This goes on until there is one elderly couple dancing. They are declared the winners and everyone cheers for their commitment to one another. This game is a huge crowd pleaser and gives all the married couples out there an easy prompt to get on the dance floor and make some memories. They’re going to love it!

Cake Cutting: 10 Minutes

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Whether you’re choosing to cut into both the Bride’s cake and the Groom’s cake or just one, you need to set aside at least 10 minutes for the cutting. Remember to already have the cake knife and server ready for you at the table. Even if you think you're a pro at cutting cakes, check with your cake baker for special instructions to make the first cut. You wouldn't want to accidentally knock over one of the tiers but cutting in the wrong spot. It is often recommended to cut from the bottom tier. Slide the slice onto the server, then place it on a plate. Then use the knife to cut the slice into two small pieces. You can each take your pieces from the same plate for the ceremonial feeding. After cutting into the Bride’s cake, it is tradition to drink a little bubbly bubbly from linked arms.

Speeches: 30 Minutes

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Speeches are a great opportunity to personalize Wedding Day! In all of the chaos and the many many faces you’ll see on this day, it’s important to take pause and let a few personal stories stand out from some trusted friends. Speeches are traditionally given by the Best Man and Maid of Honor; however, parents, best friends, and favorite uncles have also been known to take the mic from time to time! Our advice is that you have at least 2 people give speeches at their designated times. If you want to open up the floor, it helps to have a signal to the DJ or whoever is manning the mic. This way, no one will be at risk of stealing the show!

Bouquet/ Garter toss: 30 Minutes

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If you want a flawless Bouquet Toss, here are a couple BWJ tips: 1. Make sure your DJ announces ahead of time that the toss events are coming soon so that all the singles have a chance to get to the dance floor. 2. Your photographer and videographer probably have a specific spot they want you to stand. Heed their instructions because they may have you do a fake throw just in case! 3. Have fun with the music. Yes, we all LOVE the Queen, but there are other choices besides “Single Ladies”. And the Garter Toss can be as fun or as sexy as you want! So throw on that Barry White and let your man have his moment! The important thing is to have fun and to give your guests a chance to be a little competitive.

Reception Dancing: 1-3 Hours

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This is the day to dance the night away! Dancing can range from an hour to three or four— it just depends on your guests and the vibes from your DJ. If you plan on having a lot of dancing at your reception, we at BWJ recommend having a quality dance playlist ready for your DJ. You may want your DJ to lead the guests in a few games— of course nothing keeps the party going like an open bar! Just make sure you check the venue’s policy on outside alcohol first!

Send Off: 30 Minutes

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As care-free as a send off may appear from pictures, there is actually quite a bit of planning that goes into it. The first thing you need is a designated place for your send off props, whether they be sparklers, confetti, bubbles, dried flowers, etc. Your wedding planner needs to know this location and needs to be able to access it quickly. Often times Brides may adjust the time of their send offs depending on the overall mood of the reception. If people are starting to head out sooner than anticipated (or if she and the groom are ready to hit the road for their honeymoon), she may want to move the send off up. Just make sure to let the DJ know when you’re ready so that he can announce for guests to be prepared for it after he calls out the final song. The wedding planner will need to help line up the guests into two parallel lines near the exit. This task is easier said than done, especially if some of the guests have over indulged at the reception, so it helps to have a helpful aunt or friend to get everyone in their place. If you are choosing a sparkler send off, do not light them until everyone is ready! Have several people in place with lighters, and make sure to get the extra big size sparklers so that you can run through the lines more than once. If you choose the short size, you’ll only have one good run.

Courtney Sellers Creator of Black Wedding Journal Fox Weddings Photographer

Courtney Sellers
Creator of Black Wedding Journal
Fox Weddings Photographer

I hope this Black Wedding Journal Guide helps you create your perfect timeline! Our Fox Weddings crew has worked with over 150 Brides on their wedding days. If you want to learn more about Fox Weddings, visit our website by clicking HERE!

John Sellers