Pandemic brides on how they changed course

Imagine you’re a bride-to-be planning a fairytale wedding. This is no exaggeration, since an actual castle is involved: specifically, Carlowrie Castle in Scotland, which promises both 32 acres of land and matrimonial magic. You have sent out your invitations and 100 people have accepted. Let’s not get started on the fit-for-a-princess tulle dress with a full skirt. And then: a pandemic. You had prepared for inclement weather, maybe, but not this.

So began the story of Olivia Stevenson, a 31-year-old communications director from South Wharf, Melbourne who eventually got her happily ever after when she ditched those plans and decided to get married to her husband Mark in 2020 after all. There was no castle; the venue was her parents’ house in Bulleen. The dress? A Zimmermann floral number.

Olivia Stevenson’s original wedding was to be held at a castle in Scotland but 2020 had other plans.Credit: Simon Schulter

Ten people witnessed the event, including the couple’s son. Instead of bagpipes playing, she walked down the aisle to the trills of Yellow by Coldplay on a humble speaker. And most surprisingly of all: none of this felt like a second choice. “The focus was on what weddings are all about – the love of two people,” says Stevenson. “There was no hoo-ha, nothing elaborate – just two people getting married with a meal cooked by my mum and dad. It was a really special day.” She realises now that “weddings are becoming about Instagram and who can outdo who – it’s very much just a show now. Ours just went back to the foundations. And my dad cried the whole day.”

If COVID-19 put life on hold, it was the brides and grooms who were among those feeling the pause most keenly. Many were forced to scrap their original plans, and completely re-envision their big day.

Content writer Jessica Taylor Yates, from East Bentleigh, went from Big Fat Jewish Wedding to Small Knot Tie in the blink of a lockdown. The 33-year-old and husband Will were meant to wed at the Rivoli Cinemas, with their name on the marquee outside and a red carpet to walk down. Tables? They were going to have cute themed names such as My Best Friend’s Wedding and The Usual Suspects. Alas, she ended up choosing an at-home wedding on Zoom, wearing a dress from an op shop.

 Jessica Taylor Yates chose a dress from an op shop for her Zoom wedding.

Jessica Taylor Yates chose a dress from an op shop for her Zoom wedding.

She might still have the big party eventually, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon. “Because of COVID, I wouldn’t fit into the dress anyway,” she laughs. “And I wouldn’t want to go through that stress again, it’s exhausting. You’re meant to be stressed about stupid things for your wedding – like the colour of your flowers, not the pandemic shutting down your wedding.” And like Stevenson, there was joy within the details: “My mother is a celebrant, so she married us on Zoom, and since it was on Facebook Live, 300 people tuned in, including friends I went to school with and people around the world….I wanted this big wedding, but this was more about a marriage.”

For Paris Thomson, founder of creative studio Sirap, her wedding plan originally involved a small, intimate wedding for around 60 people to take place in Italy. Europe held sentimental appeal for her and fiancé Nick Kenyon, since their first trip together was travelling around the Amalfi Coast, before becoming engaged in the South of France in 2019.

“We wanted to celebrate the essence of the relaxed Italian culture and have that approach to it all,” she says. To accommodate all those who wouldn’t be able to attend, they held a large engagement party in February last year, hosting a few hundred people – all while talking to wedding planners and hotels in Italy to organise their three-day wedding celebration.