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All Grown Up: Refined Carnival-Style Weddings

There are few things as charming as turn-of-the-century era carnivals. A whimsical atmosphere, complete with candy-colored desserts, winsome rustic accents and more photo ops than you can count can be the setting for your wedding day. The key is to plan for a glamorous, adult setting, not a child’s fifth birthday party! Carnival-style weddings should be playful and polished, girlish and posh, all at the same time.


Order save-the-dates or invitations that resemble oversized raffle tickets. You don’t have to settle for the fire engine red tickets with bold, black print, though. Think more vintage carnival and have your stationery printed on thick, light cream colored paper with purposely tea-stained edges. Choose a feminine, whirly font in soft gray.
Have seat cards printed to look like oversized tickets. On one side, have the guest’s name handwritten in calligraphy. On the other side, have “Good For One Free Kiss” printed. Even your guests who come solo will appreciate this cute and romantic nod to carnival giveaways and prizes.

Eats and Drinks

Think about traditional carnival food and then boost its appeal by putting a sophisticated spin on it. Cotton candy is dandy, especially when it’s spun in your wedding colors and served on an ornately embellished cone. Popcorn can be deliciously flavored and gourmet instead of full of grease and salt. Lemonade doesn’t have to be in slushy-form – skip the brain freeze by offering fresh squeezed lemonade served in crystal sugar-rimmed glasses.

Photo courtesy of Glendalough Manor

Do you want to serve delicious carnival food, like macaroni and cheese, potato pancakes and corn on the cob, but you don’t know how to do it without being unfashionable? Make the dishes bite-sized. Everything is cuter when it’s small, even hamburgers and corn dogs. Have your caterers serve treats in tiny dishes or on skewers, as they would traditional wedding fare. You can also have miniature bites served in stemware, like dollops of cotton candy in small martini glasses. Pour peanuts into a large, burlap bag and supply small brown paper bags and a scoop for guests. You can also have frozen bananas dipped into gourmet chocolate.
Ask your bartenders to whip up unique, themed cocktails for your carnival-style wedding, like pink lemonade and vodkas or adult-friendly sweet tea. Ask that each drink be served in a mason jar and with a striped paper straw. You can also have your bartenders make snow cones topped with fruit liqueur, which will be especially refreshing during an outdoor spring or summer wedding.

Photo courtesy of Country Living

Create a candy bar with penny candies poured into glass jars of varying shapes and sizes. Put silver scoops on the table and fill a shallow basket with muslin bags that are stamped with your new monogram. Guests can fill up before they leave for the evening.

Charming Colors

If you associate carnivals with circuses, you’re probably envisioning bright yellow and apple red. You don’t have to subject your bridesmaids to dresses in primary colors, though. Instead, think more vintage carnival and less caged animals and creepy clowns. Muted colors, light pastels and a few deep gemstone colors, like dark purple, are perfectly ladylike and still keep with the theme.
If you prefer a darker palette, you can still get away with reds and yellows without creating a child-like atmosphere. Think a deep shade of red and a pale shade of yellow. They key is to have touches of color against mainly white or cream backgrounds instead of all-over color.
Photo courtesy of Glendalough Manor


The Setup

If you want a wedding where your guests mix and mingle instead of breaking off into high school-esque cliques, have your food and game stands in the center of the reception area, with your tables on the outskirts. The overall setup will promote conversation, even between strangers. When guests have to get up and all head to the same area to participate in the festivities you’ve planned, they’ll bump into each other and meet new people.
For centerpieces, find or purchase antique (or antique-style) milk bottles to use as vases. This is a nod to the hard-as-ever carnival game where you have to knock down milk bottles with a baseball. Another alternative to vases are clear or painted mason jars. You can also use the jars as candleholders, if you like. You can also load up tiered cake stands with pretty candy apples in all different flavors and with a variety of colorful, pastel toppings.
For tables that need larger flower arrangements, like the head table and the gift table, search antique shops for the perfect vintage bucket. Choose all different types of flowers, but unify them by keeping them all in the same color family, and fill the bucket with blooms. Place a small, hard suitcase, in one of your wedding colors on the gift table, opened, for envelopes.

When In Doubt, Rent!

What, you don’t have a popcorn popper, a cotton candy spinner and a photo booth tucked away in your basement? Rent them! Depending on what you’re renting, the fee may also come with an actual person who will stand by and man the device for the entire reception. For example, when you rent a photo booth, employees come along with it to make sure nothing goes wrong and to ensure that each guest gets a print out of their funny faces.

Photo Ops

Play with scale to build on the carnival theme by ordering 36-inch balloons in pastels colors.
Photo courtesy of Country Living

Rent – or have an artistic hangman build – a kissing booth. Guests can pose behind it for their lip smacking photo op.
Photo courtesy of The Every Last Detail

Order custom made canvas signs that say things like “Honey Bunch” and “Sugar Plum.” Hold them up when the photographer’s around!
Photo courtesy of The Every Last Detail

Have a local artist paint a photo board with openings for guests to put their faces through.
Photo courtesy of Bridal Musings

Ask the groom to wear colorfully striped socks, if only for one photo, and to hike up his pants to show them off. Even better is if all of the groomsmen do this for a shot.
Photo courtesy of The Youngrens

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