Is it just me, or have you noticed that weddings have recently tended to be less traditional? I don’t mean that negatively: I love how couples are personalizing their weddings to suit their style in everything from the ceremony to the dress code, resulting in unique, one-of-a-kind weddings!
One of the most popular tradition-breakers I’ve seen recently is the “first look,” when the bride and groom see each other before the wedding ceremony begins. Most of us aren’t superstitious enough to be worried about the bad luck traditionally associated with seeing your fiance ahead of time, so with that out of the way, you might be wondering if a first look is right for you.
I reached out to my network of brides, grooms, and industry pros to find their opinions on a first look. Over 100 people participated, and I hope their perspectives help you and your groom decide if this is a wedding tradition you’re willing to break!
A quick disclaimer: aside from the industry professionals who have seen it all, the brides and grooms we’ve surveyed have only done this once. They only have one side of the experience: the first look, or the altar. As you read their perspective, simply think about which side you identify with most. I guarantee that there will be romance and sweet anticipation no matter what you choose!
First of all, First Looks are Popular
I was amazed at how many couples did a first look, and when I dug deeper into the results, I found that most “first look” weddings occurred within the last decade. I believe this “trend” is here to stay. Why? My guess has something to do with Pinterest, Instagram, and our endless quest for the “perfect picture.” Was I right? Read on for the reasoning that led so many couples to choose a first look!
“We wanted to enjoy the cocktail hour so we wanted the majority of photos done beforehand.” –Meresa V.
“Less time spent on photos during cocktail hour = happier guests!’ -Megan P.
“We didn’t want to feel rushed on time after the ceremony.” — Kandace M.
“We wanted to spend the most time possible with our out of town guests!” –Jenny V.E.
“Logistics! But we also just wanted to have time, just the two of us.” –Catie W.
“I wanted a more intimate meeting before the ceremony to get special pictures and memories.” –Heather C.
“My hubs does not like being the center of attention, so he didn’t feel as stressed with a first look.” –Julie V.
“It relieved some of our nerves!” –Sarah C.
I see three main reasons: beautiful pictures (I was right!), logistics (reduce the rush!), and for some personalities, a less nerve-wracking atmosphere.
“We went more traditional and wanted to save the first look for when I was walking down the aisle!” –Taylor L.
“This was my hubby’s non-negotiable! He wanted the first time he saw me to be down the aisle.” –Nicole D.
“We were 50/50 and we decided it was worth seeing the surprise as we walked down the aisle.” –Nicole B.
“I wanted the traditional ‘first reaction’ down the aisle. It’s a beautiful moment!” –Alyson R.
“My husband wanted to see me walking down the aisle for the first time!” –Gaby W.
“I thought a lot about it. I really wanted the aisle moment! If the issue was just waiting on pics I figured people could wait since it was our day!” –Rachel E.
“We wanted to have that first moment we saw each other at the altar–and I’ll never forget my husband’s face when he saw me!” –Tiffany P.
“I really liked the anticipation of seeing my husband at the altar!” –Rachel B.
“I wanted a dramatic long aisle moment and lots of tears from my husband!” –Sami M.
Romance, drama, and tradition: if you hold these values in high regard, you might choose to preserve the altar moment. I literally get goosebumps thinking about this moment on our wedding day almost a decade ago.
So I had to ask: does a first look detract from seeing each other at the ceremony? In other words, is the moment you walk down the aisle as momentous if you’ve already laid eyes on each other?
Will a First Look Make the “Second Look” Less Meaningful?
“I think it takes away from walking down the aisle and seeing each other for the first time!” –Melissa S.
My favorite part of attending weddings is seeing the groom’s face when he first sees the bride. I think it’s so, so special.!” –Grace T.
My husband said that it didn’t take away from the awe of me walking down the aisle. He still cried!” –Jenny V.E.
Remember: those who did a first look and those who did not, have nothing to compare it to we only know our own experience, and we’ll never know if our walks down the aisle would’ve been more or less “momentous” had we seen or not seen our spouse beforehand. 76% of respondents say the aisle still remains a very special moment, so if this is the only thing holding you back from a first look, I wouldn’t worry about it!
When we were engaged, my photographer made a valiant effort to get us to do a first look. It didn’t work! But it made me wonder: do the industry pros, who have seen it all and value logistics, recommend them across the board?
The results were definitely mixed, and I found the pros’ insights to be very helpful! I hope you do too!
“Great photos AND the bride and groom get to stay in the moment as the celebration begins!” —Sarah Hanna, art, design, and wedding calligraphy
It’s not that you can’t get gorgeous portraits after your ceremony, but the cocktail hour clock is ticking and you run the risk of feeling rushed so that you stick to your reception timeline. Additionally, if you want to start celebrating ASAP and mingle with guests, a first look is a must.
Another consideration: the time of year. If you’re getting married in the winter, you might be racing Mother Nature to capture the best lighting possible.
“We want our couples to enjoy cocktail hour instead of spending it taking photos. And depending on the time of year, like winter, some weddings don’t allow for outdoor portraits after the ceremony if it’s too dark.” –Lauren, Lauren Louise Collective
While conversations around first looks tend to center on photography and seem very “couple-centric,” a good friend of mine shared how a first look can actually be a “guest-centric” decision.
“I believe [first looks] to be most honoring to guests. We don’t recommend it to ALL couples, but we encourage most (unless they have specific reasons) to do so. The WORST thing your guests could say is “Please tell them I was here.” Let’s create time prior to your guests’ arrival for special moments so you can be present at your reception.” –Jenny Dansby, wedding coordinator and founder of Threefold Events
I followed up with Jenny to ask how the first look translates to more time with the guests, and she shared that when the bride and groom complete their portraits before the ceremony, they can use the cocktail hour to eat dinner privately. Then, while the guests eat dinner, the bride and groom are free to circulate the room and greet guests.
While these are great reasons to choose a first look, I also received interesting feedback from a photographer on why you might reconsider doing a first look:
“Most of the time first looks are super awkward! I’ve done quite a bit and I think there is an expectation from the bride of how the groom is supposed to react. But that’s hard for the groom when you’re on the spot and a photographer is literally in your face snapping photos of this. If couples really want to do a first look, I do my best to use a long lens and stay back as much as possible so it can actually be a real moment. I don’t encourage first looks and if I do, it’s only because it works better for getting photos done BEFORE the ceremony! But normally I cringe during first looks! –Jenna Luna, Jenna Luna Photography
Will You Regret Doing a First Look?
Probably not! Take a look at this landslide vote: Will You Regret Doing a First Look?
Literally NO ONE who did a first look said they regretted it. This is a strong indication, to me, that if you have the desire to do a first look, go for it and don’t look back!
So what about the traditionalists? Do they have any regrets?
A small percentage do! Again, if there’s even a small part of you that is leaning towards a first look, these statistics make me think you should do it!
First Looks Aren’t Just for Couples!
“We wanted that moment down the aisle to be the first look, so I did a first look with my dad instead!” –Hailey W.
If you’re really torn, here’s an idea: do a first look with your dad, and wait to see your groom! I think this is such a sweet compromise, and a way to savor the day with the two most important men in your life.
The Bottom Line: Should you do a first look?
Maybe. It all depends on your priorities.
Consider a first look if pictures are your number one priority, you’re concerned about feeling rushed, you want to maximize time with your guests, or you feel like seeing your future spouse would calm your nerves.
If, like me, you’re a hopeless romantic who dreamt of walking down the aisle to “Here Comes the Bride,” skip a first look to preserve that dramatic aisle moment! Just be sure to have realistic expectations about how many photos you’ll be able to capture with your groom and bridal party in the hour between the ceremony and reception. It’s definitely doable, and a skilled planner and photographer can make it happen!
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Let me know what topic you’d like us to tackle next! And if you’re interested in learning more about etiquette, gift giving, and celebrating in style, be sure to subscribe to the RegistryFinder GiveIt blog for weekly posts on wedding etiquette, bridal showers, wedding trends, and of course, wedding registry guidelines and tips! And as always, be sure to refer your guests to RegistryFinder.com, where they can conveniently locate all of your registries in one place!