Bride's Ultimate Guide to getting married in a Register OfficeWedding day planning and advice for brides
Welcome and congratulations on your forthcoming civil wedding, civil partnership, or renewal of vows. You’ll find this this guide full of wedding day advice and planning tips for Register Office brides.
21st Century Register Offices
If you haven’t been to a civil ceremony at a Register (or Registry) Office the first thing to point out is that they have come a long way in the past five year. Most of these council run buildings used to offer stuffy, council-inspired decor. Many have undergone expensive renovations and now offer House & Garden inspired interiors.
The most impressive of these is Old Marylebone Town Hall which reopened in 2018 having undergone a £60m renovation via a link up with the London Business School. They offer 7 ceremony rooms with a stunning mid-Century feel, all stylish and elegant. It has attracted a huge following, with couples from all over the World choosing to marry here.
Register Offices across England and Wales are following suit and refurbishing their venues to accommodate these more discerning couples.
Who gets married in a Register Office?
Since civil ceremonies in England and Wales are non-religious, a second more culturally or religiously focussed ceremony is essential in some cases.
Some are happy to do the legal bit during their lunch break, but the vast majority are treating their Register Office ceremony as their main event. Whether you are having 2 or 100 guests you can make your civil ceremony as casual or extravagant as you choose.
Why Register Office weddings?
My favourite part of any wedding day is the ceremony and that’s why I decided to concentrate purely on smaller, short-coverage Register Office weddings in London.
The actual ceremony is just 15 minutes long but that doesn’t mean you should down play your look. I have put this bride’s ultimate guide to getting married in a Register Office together based on 15 years’ experience of shooting weddings, the last 3 of these specifically Register Office based.
What should I wear to my Register Office wedding: a dress, jumpsuit, or trouser suit?
You can wear whatever colour and style you like. It’s the beauty of a Register Office wedding. You may decide on a full length, 1950s mid-calf length, or mini dress. Shift dresses and two piece skirt suits are always popular. And don’t forget that just because it’s a Register Office doesn’t mean you can’t wear a traditional wedding dress. Some of my clients do this and then change into an evening-wear option later. If you are a trouser person then why not opt for a 2-piece trouser suit, jumpsuit or play suit? Whatever you choose, don’t be limited by colour or pattern either.
If you go for white do note that cameras really pick up on whites. They always look brighter so you may want to pick an off-white, ivory or natural instead. And avoid shiny white fabric unless they have a bit of colour to them or you are marrying late in the day when the sun is less harsh. Shiny whites ‘blow out’ in photos and you end up not being able to see any detail in the fabric.
My biggest piece of advice is to wear fiendishly expensive underwear or shape wear. Quality underwear or shape wear makes everything on top sing. If it’s not particularly sexy, you can always swap it out once you get back to your hotel.
Once you have your dress and shoes fixed, put them on and ask a friend to go over everything with a magnifying glass. If you can see (for example) the under cups through the fabric don’t ask your photographer to resolve this later in Photoshop. It might take them a day costing £££s. Instead, snip the under cups out and the problem is resolved in under 5 minutes. [Under cups aren’t necessary if you are wearing a bra]
If your underwear shows through, take your outfit with you and go and buy new underwear.
Shoes for your Register Office wedding
Don’t wear high heels unless you wear them pretty much every day. And more than any other piece of advice to brides, do wear them in. Your partner won’t notice if you don’t mention that they are your wedding shoes.
I have seen plenty of brides walking in extreme pain just to wear a stunning pair of high heels. I can see the pain in their faces from arrival, through to their ceremony, and afterwards during group and couple photographs. It’s not a good look and you can see this reflected in the resulting photographs.
Register Offices require a lot of walking on hard stone and marble flooring. There are pavements and steps outside, enormous lobbies, and grand staircases to contend with.
Put Compeed blister plasters on before your put your shoes on and practice walking on hard surfaces as well as carpets. if you can’t wear them around your home for at least 2 hours straight you might need a rethink.
If you insist on vertiginous heels do bring an oversized pair of slip-on trainers or slippers with you on the day. Nothing that needs tying or is hard to get on with feet double their normal size. Only wear your heels for the ceremony, groups, and couple photos. Catch taxis everywhere if you can.
Do warn your photographer in advance that you might be in agony. They will work around you and try not to make you walk anywhere. Do your best not to be this bride though. It might become the focal point of your day.
Always take your shoes to your outfit fittings so that they get the final lengths right. During any trying on session you will usually stand tall and elegantly. That means you should mirror this on your wedding day. It’s quite an ask but it does then show everything off to it’s best advantage.
Hair advice for brides
If your partner loves your hair just as it is don’t change it too much on your wedding day. Simply aim for the best blow dry of your life.
If you can’t have your regular stylist why not try out a local salon near your hotel? Many 5* hotels have amazing stylists too.
If you want to commission a hair stylist to come to your home or hotel room this should be high on your planning list (especially if you are marrying on a Saturday in summer).
Star Wars inspired hair perhaps?
It’s their wedding day too and perhaps not the best day to try something dramatically different.
Wedding up dos
Wigs, hair extensions and hairpieces on your wedding day
Advice to brides on statement hats and fascinators
Birdcage veils, tiaras, and beaded, diamante, or floral hairpieces and headpieces
Many of my brides have been making their own, or sourcing pieces from friends and family which then becomes their ‘something borrowed’.
Take care to choose a birdcage veil with off-white netting. Pure or bright white netting is ramped up in photographs and ends up standing out above everything else you are wearing.
Traditional veils are still worn to Register Office weddings and photographers love them. They work beautifully for bridal portraits and on windy days they blow around creating movement. Long cathedral veils look impressive set under columns, like the wonderful fluted ones outside Old Marylebone Town Hall.
You can remove your veil at any time after your ceremony but do try and wait until after your couple portraits if possible.
Wedding day makeup
Don’t go darker or lighter than your normal shades or you might not recognise yourself and you’ll worry about the photographs afterwards.
If you choose a makeup artist for your day do opt for a trial run first. Look at their Instagram page for regular bride makeup looks and check that you like these before you even book a trial.
If you go the own makeup route and a department store splurge (as 75% of my brides do), walk around the beauty hall and look at the various brand sales assistants. Choose one who matches your own look. If you choose someone wearing loads of fashionable stylised makeup, there is a danger that they might suggest their own wedding look for you.
Eyebrows: a warning to brides
Eyes and eyelashes
In a photograph we are looking for catch lights (see photo left) which make your eyes shine and twinkle. Sometimes you can’t see the catch lights because there is too much eyelash.
Your friends will ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over your dramatic eyes but what they see might not be reflected in your final photographs. If your partner is a ‘blinker’ then there is a chance that you will lose as many as 75% of your photographs. It’s a terrible shame to just be left with the ‘non-blinkers’. Eyes are the hardest thing to Photoshop so it’s not something can be rectified after your day.
False eyelashes and eyelash extensions: planning is essential
If you choose to have false lashes or extensions you should definitely do a trial first. At least a month out and always have allergy tablets on standby. Don’t chose a time when you can’t visit a doctor or hospital for antibiotics just in case.
I had a bride who had lash extensions three days before her wedding and her face was still puffy on her wedding day. She was devastated but took it all in her stride. I didn’t notice – she looked stunning – but she felt it and that’s not ideal. [Once you are okay with the glue ensure that same brand is used for your day]
Avoid loads of black mascara too. Aiming for the biggest and darkest eyes of your life for your wedding day is risky unless you are marrying in a nightclub, at night. Most of your photographs will be taken in daylight so huge black eyes can look misplaced. As photographers we are desperate to see your eyes but if they are covered in thick black make-up we can’t.
Use eye makeup to enlarge your eyes, not additional lashes and loads of mascara.
Lips and lip gloss
These photographs are unusable. In addition, lips folded inwards typically means that the person is tense or holding back from saying something. Not a good look just before saying, ‘I will’.
Lip gloss has come on a lot in the past decade and isn’t quite as sticky but do wear it daily in the lead up to your day so that it becomes second nature to you. Ask your friends to check that you aren’t messing with your lips on a night out.
Sunbathing before your wedding
[It is also almost impossible to Photoshop sunburn or tan lines afterwards unless you are happy to spend £££s afterwards]
Sun beds, spray tans and fake tan
Don’t do it! Alert, alert, alert. It might make you feel good about yourself, but it can look really obvious in photographs.
Photos really highlight fake tans and any application imperfections. It also makes it really tricky photographing you standing next to everyone else, especially your new husband or wife.
I know that a professional spray tan is tempting but save it for someone else’s wedding, not your own.
If you are staying with your natural skin colour, you might want to check that your key players do the same. I can’t emphasise enough just how ramped up (and odd) fake tans can appear in photographs.
It’s very easy to end up looking like Princess Fiona in Shrek, Donald Trump, or a heavily sunburned Minion →
Wedding day hands
A manicure is always a great idea.
If you don’t like your hands choose a bouquet of flowers which hides them altogether.
How to successfully hide your (double) chin on your wedding day
The temptation is to raise your head to try and hide this. This achieves two things. One, you look a bit snooty. And two, all I see is a stretched neck much paler than anywhere else on your body. Your neck becomes the focal point of your photo.
Selfies have made this situation worse. Everyone is taught to hold the camera up high and to look upwards. The reason it works is because it means your eyes are nearest the camera and the eyes are the most exciting part of anyone’s face. Unless you are Mr Potato Head whose ears, nose, and moustache would still win. As your photographer I am not able to stand on a chair all day, shooting down on you to achieve this selfie look.
Don’t sweat this as I’ll be in full control on your day. At least half of all people raise their heads too far. It’s not unusual to hear me saying, ‘head’ repeatedly on a wedding day.
Upper arm advice for your wedding
Alternatively have a throw which covers your upper arms to use in some of your photographs and we’ll do a mix. Or go for a dress with sleeves so that you aren’t even thinking ‘arms’.
Weight, shape and least liked body parts: the key is in good posing
Very few people are 100% happy with their weight or shape. And many have specific issues, often quite private ones. Lumps and bumps are part of life and your partner loves you for all of them. They don’t even see the things that worry you.
If you have a stomach which worries you, flowers work brilliantly to hide this altogether. And holding onto your partner from behind is also a great trick. Don’t be tempted to stick your bottom out to hide your stomach. It creates an unfeminine shape and looks odd.
I have photographed brides of every size and shape and with every single body issue you can imagine. Discreetly, and as a team, we work it out. Tell me before your day what your issues are, and I will then have a cunning plan up my sleeve without you even noticing. For example, larger brides are usually best shot straight on as opposed to sideways. The same with protruding teeth. Shot straight on you don’t notice. Lazy eyes just need a bit of collaboration on the day.
In 15 years I have only met one bride who liked having her photo taken so please don’t worry about the photography aspect of your day. I can promise you that I am far more nervous than you. You have a prop or two in the shape of a new husband or wife and a bouquet of flowers.
Blow the budget on flowers for your Register Office wedding
Avoid thick holding stems as it means that your hand has to stretch too wide to hold them. Lots of blooms is really tempting but not if you end up holding them like you would a sideways pint glass. If you go for lots of blooms do discuss with your florist a way to hold them so that you can’t see your widely stretched holding hand.
Bride bag essentials
- Phone, cash, and card (for emergencies)
- Compeed blister and normal plasters
- Antihistamine (wasp and bee stings)
- Pins (for buttonholes and corsages), hair grips, and safety pins (for broken straps)
- Slip-on trainers or slippers
- Face mask
Can I be fashionably late to my Register Office wedding?
It is completely preventable by planning ahead. If you are regularly late you should put someone in charge of ensuring that you arrive at your register office no later than 15 minutes before your ceremony.
About the author
Emma Duggan is a Register Office specialist wedding photographer for small (30 guests or fewer) and short-coverage ceremonies and receptions from 1 to 3 hours in London. Since 2017 she has photographed almost 200 weddings at Old Marylebone Town Hall and Chelsea Old Town Hall.
Emma Duggan Photography
For more information please click on the page links below:
If you would like to get in touch to see if I am available to photograph your Register Office wedding please contact me.
Bride’s Ultimate Guide to getting married in a Register Office all photographs © Shutterstock except where indicated (used with the kind permission of my Brides)
Register Office wedding latest blog posts
Register Offices reopen for weddings from Saturday 4 July 2020 Post Updated Sunday 20 December 2020 Like many Register Offices, Westminster’s Old Marylebone Town Hall reopened on 4 July with new ceremony room layouts in place. The Government allowed weddings to go...
This was my second visit as a Harcourt wedding photographer. Brenda and Michael celebrated their late Summer wedding in the Paddington Room at Old Marylebone Town Hall. They chose three of their closest friends to witness their marriage and followed this with a meal...