Bride's Ultimate Guide to getting married in a Register Office

Wedding day planning and advice for brides
brides ultimate guide to getting married in a register office - wedding day planning and advice for brides (couple leaving old marylebone town hall with confetti)

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?

My clients vary from first, second, and even fifth timers, in their mid-20s to mid-80s, from across the UK and Internationally.  Many are legally marrying in London and then having their big wedding back home. Or marrying in London and then having a destination wedding.

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?​

bride's ultimate guide to getting married in a register office - traditional wedding dress, trouser suit, skirt suit, jumpsuit, playsuit

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.

brides ultimate guide to getting married in a register office - shift dress, mini dress, full length dress, 1950s tea length dress

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.

Bridal underwear

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.

underwear and shapewear for your registry office wedding

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.

wedding day planning for brides - shoes - high heels, sandals, courts, stilettos, flats, pumps, pain, compeed, blisters

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

Wind pretty much always wins in hair vs. wind so don’t fight it with overly sprayed hair. It lacks movement. Movement looks great in photos.

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).

advice for brides - aim for the best blow dry of your life by someone you trust - natural hair, blow dry, windy day, hair spray advice
Brides Ultimate Guide - don't change your hair style on your wedding day to something dramatic like a princess leia from star wars - planning advice

Star Wars inspired hair perhaps?

A brand-new look – like this wonderful modern Princess Leia version opposite – might throw your partner completely.

It’s their wedding day too and perhaps not the best day to try something dramatically different.

Wedding up dos

Modern or vintage up dos are wonderful but don’t aim for perfection with everything lacquered so intensely that your hair doesn’t move. Hair professionals are rightly proud of their work and if they sense a windy day, they will want to protect their efforts. In photos stiff hair lacks movement and can look unreal. Keep up dos loose and natural, and step away from the hairspray. Be prepared for that ‘just so’ tousled look to take time.
register office wedding hair styles - up do, natural, loose, tousled - by a stylist or do it yourself

Wigs, hair extensions and hairpieces on your wedding day

As above, try and keep them loose and natural looking. Again, step away from the hairspray.

Advice to brides on statement hats and fascinators

Be very sure before you decide to wear a hat or fascinator on your wedding day. As a bride you are making a statement when you choose a hat or fascinator and it may surprise your partner in a way that you hadn’t envisaged. Run it past one or two of your closest (brutally honest) friends first.
advice to brides wearing a hat or fascinator on their wedding day to make a statement or add a bit of drama

Birdcage veils, tiaras, and beaded, diamante, or floral hairpieces and headpieces

Why not opt for a more subtle birdcage veil, tiara, hairpiece or headpiece instead? They all sit closer to your head, so they make an elegant, stylish, or pretty statement without taking over your whole outfit.

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.

birdcage veil, flower crown, tiara, beaded, diamante, floral, hairpiece, headpiece - brides ultimate guide to getting married in a register office

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

You do not need more or bolder makeup on your wedding day. Stick your fingers in your ears and repeat, ‘la, la, la!’ in case anyone says this to you. Imagine meeting your girlfriends at a smart lunch venue. That’s the kind of makeup (and hair) you should aim for. Simply take a little longer to get it right and avoid mascara clumps.

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.

bridal makeup planning and advice - natural makeup, makeup artist, MUA, do it yourself, beauty counter, trial
If you are meeting your makeup artist on your day for the first time take an emergency back-up lipstick just in case. Your ‘safe place’ so to speak.

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.

bridal makeup advice for your wedding day - do it yourself, beauty hall, beauty counter, makeup artist, MUA, trial

Eyebrows: a warning to brides

Don’t suddenly change your eyebrow shape in the lead up to your day. If it goes wrong, you will obsess over them. And always choose the most expert of expert brow shapers. Eyebrows frame your eyes. If your eyebrows become the main feature of your face, your eyes get lost, which is a disaster.
wedding day eyes for a bride - eyelashes, makeup, mascara, blinking, unuseable photographs, black

Eyes and eyelashes

Huge eyelashes with loads of dark mascara ensures two things. One, that you will blink way more than normal so I loose 50% of my photographs right there. And two, that it can sometimes be hard to see through the black to your actual eyes.

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 don’t wear false lashes on a regular basis (weekly at least) don’t suddenly choose false lashes on your wedding day. They take getting used to and you might blink incessantly.

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.

wedding day advice for bride - be very careful if you choose eyelash extensions, glue, antihistamine, doctor, hospital, puffy, trial, allergic, allergy, mascara, black

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

Lip gloss! If you don’t wear lip gloss on a daily basis, don’t suddenly use it on your wedding day. Beauty counters are all about lip gloss. A bride wearing lip gloss for the first time is a dead giveaway. The consistency is unusual so the brain sends a message that you should either lick your lips side-to-side, top-to-bottom, or fold your lips inwards on each other… constantly.

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.

take care with lipstick, lip gloss, lick lips, purse lips, sticky, practice, wedding photographs
before your wedding day avoid sun, avoid sunbathing, tan lines, sunburn, expensive post processing, photoshop, wedding photographs

Sunbathing before your wedding

Don’t do it! Don’t get caught in the sun in the lead up to your day even for just a few minutes. The exception is if you are naked so that there are no lines anywhere. I exaggerate. But there is nothing worse than tan lines or sunburn on brides. Your make-up person will have to change your foundation and this affects everything else too.

[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

wedding day planning for brides - before your wedding day avoid tanning salon, avoid fake tan, wedding photographs, princess fiona, shrek, donald trump, sunburned minion

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 →

if you don't want to look like a sunburned minion, avoid the sun, tanning salons, and fake tan before your wedding

SPF moisturisers

They have a tendency to create shine visible in photographs. This is fine if you are after a dewy look but not if it ends up looking more like a post gym workout look. Avoid.
to save on post processing costs in photoshop carefully position your skin patch, nicotine patch, pain medication patch, hormone patch, allergy marks, wedding photographs

Skin patches

Nicotine, pain medication, or hormone patches can leave allergy marks so do ensure that you put them somewhere that won’t be visible on your day (for at least a month leading up to your day).

Wedding day hands

Hands age faster than any other part of our bodies so do moisturise them daily in the weeks leading up to your day. And if your elbows will be on show include them too.

A manicure is always a great idea.

If you don’t like your hands choose a bouquet of flowers which hides them altogether.

moisturise your hands and elbows, and have a manicure before your registry office wedding

How to successfully hide your (double) chin on your wedding day

At least 50% of my brides are worried about their chin or chins.

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.

wedding planning for brides - chin, double chin, hide, neck, selfies, looking up, good photographer, good posing
I know that this ages me but think Princess Diana. She always looked down, kept her head down, and then raised her eyes to photographers. It made her look coquettish which isn’t what I am recommending at all. But check out her chin. You can’t see anything below the point of her chin. No double chin, no neck, all hidden from sight. Voilà!

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

A lot of women worry about their arms and I sympathise. They are never as bad as you think they are, I promise. My best piece of advice is to have a bouquet of flowers with stems that you can hold comfortably. If you have too many blooms you need to spread your hand and fingers out far too widely which is a little ungainly. I will use your flowers to position your arm away from your body.
upper arms, hide, wrap, bolero, cover, sleeves, flowers, using good posing, good photographer, bingo wings
Stand in front of a mirror, face on with your arms plonked by your sides. Even a size 8 to 10 will have flesh squishing out at the top. Now hold a hairbrush and kink your arm with your hand at the top of your thigh. Resolved. Turn 45 degrees and the other arm is now hidden.

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

Tell your photographer before your day what you would prefer to hide and not afterwards. We are not mind readers and typically think everyone is beautiful.

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.

lumps, bumps, body issues, concerns, just as you are, hide, good posing, flowers, good photographer, tell your photographer, overweight
If lumps and bumps are your biggest concern avoid fabrics which caress these (e.g. silk).

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

Flowers are a great prop and I would highly recommend blowing the budget on these. If everything about your outfits are subtle then you can use flowers to add a burst of colour or extravagance. They also help with posing. They give you something to think about which takes away any photography nerves.
brides ultimate guide to getting married in a register office - bridal bouquet, flowers, prop, blow the budget, colour, posing, wedding photographs wedding planning advice
Once you are married it gives your partner something to do with their loose (possibly even awkward) hand. If you are holding your flowers with your arm in a kink shape, they can then put their hand in their pocket to mirror this or even hold onto your flowers too to create a lovely frame.

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)
    • Lipstick
    • Compeed blister and normal plasters
    • Antihistamine (wasp and bee stings)
    • Paracetamol
    • Pins (for buttonholes and corsages), hair grips, and safety pins (for broken straps)
    • Tissues
    • Slip-on trainers or slippers
    • Face mask
    • Confetti

Can I be fashionably late to my Register Office wedding?

It is never okay for the bride to be late. It gets you off on completely the wrong foot with your two Registrars who have other couples to marry after you. They will have no choice but to rush through your vows and ceremony. In fact, they may turn you away completely.

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.

wedding day planning and advice - being fashionably late, urban myth, dont be late for your wedding

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
01342 811631
07769 167260

For more information please click on the page links below:

Old Marylebone Town Hall
Chelsea Old Town Hall

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)

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