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In recent years, elopements have become more common than years past. More and more couples are seeing it as a way to express their love for each other without all the pomp and circumstance of a full-on wedding. And of course at a lower cost.
But, some couples want a quiet, intimate ceremony followed by a fun party. Aka a post-elopement party! Whether you opt for a low-key backyard soiree or a grand formal affair, you can still include all your friends and family in an event to celebrate your marriage.
So how do you plan a post-elopement party? Who do you invite? What kind of entertainment do you get? Don’t worry – here’s a full guide to planning and throwing the perfect party.
What is an elopement?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest use of the word “elope” was in the 14th century and came from the root of the word “aloper” which meant “leap.”
Traditionally, an elopement is a sudden marriage where a couple has a ceremony without anyone in their families or friend groups present. The idea of an elopement historically meant the couple got married without the consent of their parents.
Today, elopements can also mean planned destination weddings where the couple might bring a friend or two to a special location. Normally, there is no reception afterward. But modern elopers sometimes choose to have a celebration later. These are referred to as elopement parties.
If you’re thinking of having an elopement, the first step is to check the laws in your state. Elopement and marriage laws vary from state to state, so make sure you’re doing everything legally. For example, in many states you must be at least 18 to get married or have parental permission. Or many states require a waiting period between requesting a marriage license and being able to get married, which might put a damper on your plans for a spontaneous “I do.””
And if you’re traveling, it’s especially important to make sure you look to see the rules for getting married wherever you’re going. For examples, you might need to make a reservation or get certain permits to get married on public land that you weren’t expecting.
What is an elopement party?
After you’ve tied the knot, you might decide to have a larger reception or party immediately following the ceremony or up to several months or even years later.
An elopement party is an event after a small wedding (or elopement) where you invite people who were not able to attend your intimate ceremony. Reasons to have an elopement party as opposed to a traditional wedding include – a last minute elopement, a destination wedding with few people in attendance, private civil ceremonies, limited-size ceremonies due to venue or public health restrictions.
You may have also heard the term “micro wedding” thrown around the last few months. A micro wedding and elopement can have some overlap as a micro wedding is a wedding that has fewer than 50 people. You can read more about micro weddings here.
Why do people have elopement parties?
You might still be asking, why not just have a wedding? What’s the real difference between a wedding reception and an elopement party? The key distinction between a wedding and an elopement is that the ceremony itself is fairly private and a separate event.
Over the last few years, there were a lot more reasons to plan an elopement instead of a traditional wedding. With state and venue restrictions on event-size, social distancing, public health concerns, etc. many couples didn’t want to wait to get married. But they didn’t want or couldn’t have as many guests. So they eloped and now are planning their post-elopement party several years later to fulfill their dream wedding visions.
Another reason for an elopement party is shyness around a public ceremony and exchanging vows. Or just wanting it to be a special, intimate event between spouses. If standing up in front of a crowd to deliver your personal vows or perform a religious ceremony sounds like your worst nightmare, but you still want to celebrate your marriage with your loved ones, an elopement and elopement party is one way to go.
Whatever the reason, more and more couples are opting to elope. An elopement party is a chance for other people to celebrate the newlyweds.
Can you have a reception months after your wedding?
If you’re hesitant to have a reception many months after your wedding is over, don’t be!
You can have a reception any time after your wedding. There is no time limit on when you can throw your elopement party or another celebration of your marriage. Some couples will plan it a few weeks later. Others might plan it as an anniversary party a year or two later to include the people who couldn’t make it to the ceremony.
This is especially common after 2020 and 2021 limited the size of so many couples’ weddings. You could even plan it many years later as a recommitment of your marriage once you’ve saved up enough money to have a larger party, finished having kids, or purchased a house. I personally know a couple who got married in a courthouse when they were young so they could continue to live together in a foreign country. Several years later, they had the wedding of their dreams with all of their friends and family in attendance.
How to throw an elopement party
Once you’ve decided to move forward with an elopement, here are some tips on how to throw a great post-elopement party.
Decide what you want your post-elopement party to look like
Every couple is different! You might want a casual get-together or an extravagant party – it’s up to you! But to plan an event, you need a vision. Sit down with your newlywed spouse and agree on what you both want from the party.
The next step would be to plan a guest list and venue based on that vision. These two things can also affect the date and what you will wear, so it’s best to plan those first. An elopement party can be held anywhere from a friend’s backyard to a fancy hotel. It’s all up to you both!
Figure out who you want to invite
Typically you would invite anyone who you would invite to a wedding. But you can keep it smaller and invite just family or a few close friends. Just make sure that you invite people who care about you.
You can read more about micro weddings, or weddings with fewer than 50 guests, here.
Decide whether or not you’re having a ceremony
You might want to have a ceremony, or you might not. It’s entirely up to you – some couples do it to please family members or loved ones that might have been upset they weren’t there for the real thing. If you want to have a symbolic ceremony, make sure you let guests know that you plan on it.
Send out invitations
Even though you’re not having a traditional wedding, a post-elopement party is still something people should plan for. It’s important to set a date at least six weeks in advance, so people have time to plan travel and accommodations if necessary. Just like a regular wedding invitation, you will also want to include the time and date, the venue address, and any other information guests might need, like whether they can bring kids or if there is a dress code.
Your invite should clarify that it is an elopement party, not a wedding. There are some conceptions that come with the two different parties, and you won’t want your guests to expect a ceremony if there isn’t one. Just be sure to be clear about what is expected from the invitation. Some couples choose to provide a brief agenda of what will be happening, or you can just clearly state that it’s an elopement party.
Make it clear that gifts aren’t expected
There are always a lot of questions about gifts for elopement parties. You might get many questions about whether you are expecting your guests to bring gifts to the party. To avoid any awkward confrontations, make clear on your invitations that you are not expecting gifts and don’t create a registry. Some people might get you presents anyway, but it’s better to ensure everyone understands it’s not expected.
Decide on entertainment
Every party should have some form of entertainment. The nice thing about an elopement party versus a wedding is that there isn’t an expectation to do speeches and have a proper DJ. You can certainly incorporate traditional wedding entertainment into your elopement party, but you don’t have to.
Bri and Stephen, who got married during the COVID-19 pandemic and had a celebration later once they could get together with their family, kept entertainment to a minimum but had fun anyway! “We had more of a simple party, just to get together with friends. All we had was Spotify on a big speaker, and there was just as much dancing and fun as if it were a traditional wedding.”
What type of post-elopement party should I have?
There are a lot of different types of elopement parties you can have, but it should be whatever feels right for you and your new spouse! Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about what kind of party to have.
You could always get the best of both worlds and have a traditional reception. This would entail a dinner, music from a band or DJ, speeches, cake cutting, and everything else that goes into the perfect wedding day.
If you like to keep it more casual, you could invite everyone you love over for a simple backyard BBQ! Just throw on some music, hang some lights, and keep the food simple. You could even turn it into a potluck!
People love you – and brunch! Invite people over for a day of mimosas and celebration. Have it at your house or a friend’s house and serve breakfast food.
Cake and Punch Reception
Cake and punch receptions are a traditional, small post-ceremony reception style that has come back into fashion. You serve just dessert and drinks, or cake and punch as the name says. Read more about cake and punch receptions here.
Take a Day Trip
Want to keep it to a few close friends? Take a day trip to a favorite city and get lunch and dinner! Make it a road trip or take the train for an extra element of fun.
If you want to keep the celebration going, invite some close friends for a weekend away! Go camping, take a beach trip, or go to a cabin for a few days. Or, dare I say, Vegas?
Rent Out a Bar
If you love the feel of going to the bar with everyone you love, rent out a room at your favorite restaurant or bar.
What should we wear to our elopement party?
Wear whatever you want! You can wear what you wore to get married or buy something new.
Most brides choose a low-key white outfit for an elopement party. But some brides go all out with a traditional wedding dress.
Others might choose a color palette for their wedding and ask guests to match. Grooms typically stick to a suit or tux as well, but again, there are no strict rules when it comes to an elopement party.
Should I hire a photographer for an elopement party?
Hiring a photographer is a good idea if you want the typical wedding vibes or even if you just want pictures to remember the celebration. Keep in mind that if you do choose to hire a photographer but eloped to save on budget, photographers will typically charge the same amount they normally would a for a wedding. You might want to stick to cell phones or a photographer friend or student if budget is a concern. But if not, having a professional there for photos just makes it better.
Should you have a bridal party for your elopement?
You don’t need a bridal party if you’re not having a ceremony. If you want certain people to be recognized, though, you can still have a maid of honor, a best man, and a wedding party. Even if you don’t have a ceremony, you can still introduce them to the reception and have them wear something that stands out.
Your elopement party should be celebrating you as a married couple. Your closest friends and family should be present to shower you with love and send you off into a long life together. However you choose to do it, you should enjoy the party more than anyone!
Need additional tips from other like-minded brides? Whether you’re planning a wedding at the last minute or on a budget, check out our free, exclusive Facebook group – Wedding Planning Club