Will You or Won’t You? :: The First Look

I don’t know that I can think of another wedding trend that has almost completely taken over tradition the way the first look has. So many people prefer doing it now it almost seems more popular than not seeing each other before the ceremony! There are practical reasons to make the choice (do you want to not have to skip your cocktail hour?) and more thoughtful reasons, too (will you just be too anxious to enjoy your ceremony if you don’t see each other first?) And of course both types of reasons can be equally important! So today we want to consider why or why not you might choose to do a first look, to help you make the decision that’s right for you. And if you’ve already been there, done that,  got the ‘I’m married!’ t-shirt, we’d love to hear from you in the comments about what you did and why!

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From Adrienne & Grace’s wedding. Photo by Christina McNeill

We all know the superstition that it is ‘bad luck’ that the couple see each other before the ceremony. But in many cultures it has been tradition for thousands of years that the couple see each other, and for pretty good reasons too. In Orthodox Judaism, for instance, it’s to make sure the groom is really marrying the right person, and not a sneaky substitute! Plus even in more laid-back Jewish ceremonies, the marriage contract (ketubah) has to be signed before the ceremony can go ahead, and it’s pretty impossible to sign a document together without seeing each other!

New York Library Wedding, Same Sex Wedding, Jewish Ceremony, Jenny Packham, Monique Lhuillier, Amanda Wakeley, Roey Yohai, Black Tie Wedding, Formal, www.snippetandink.com

Lauren & Emily’s wedding

These glamorous brides saw each other before the ceremony to sign their ketubah. Photo by Roey Yohai.

Presuming you don’t belong to a faith where it is traditional to see each other before the ceremony, (and see above), in Western culture not seeing each other is still a pretty pervasive tradition. Only you and your partner can know how much that matters to you, and how far it extends. Is it seeing each other on the day at all, from the moment you wake up? For some, it’s more of a concern you just not see each other once you’ve started getting all dolled up. Depending on where in the day the ‘no looking’ starts for you, you’ll have to take some practicalities into account like where you will spend the night before (if you don’t want to wake up together), and that you will need separate venues in which to get ready.

whimsical outdoor garden wedding, bride and groom during ceremony, juliet cap veil

Jane & Jeff’s wedding

Jane said “we opted for the tradition of not seeing each other before the ceremony. I’m so glad we did it that way. It added a special excitement and anticipation to the day.” Photo by JENNY SMITH & CO.

jacqui cole; botanica design; Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club; st andrews; florida wedding; one fine day; bride and groom laugh during ceremony;

Darby & Tommy’s wedding

Darby told us “one specific tradition we kept was not seeing each other before my walk down the aisle. Tommy felt very strongly that was a tradition that he wanted to honor, and it was so fun and wonderful to have the anticipation of seeing him all day, and to see him waiting there for me!” Photo by JACQUI COLE.

There is something undeniably romantic about the anticipation that builds for both of you if you’re waiting to see each other until you walk down the aisle. And you will rarely hear us suggest you should make any decision about your wedding just to please other people, but you might want to consider how many guests adore getting to witness both of you seeing each other for the first time. (I have to say personally it is one of my absolute favorite parts of attending a wedding!) Of course, you’ll still be over the moon to see each other at the ceremony if you’ve done a first look beforehand, but there’s just not quite the same level of giddiness written all over your faces if the aisle is the first time you lay eyes on each other.

clark brewer; calder clark design; eseeola lodge; blossom events; classic wedding; amazing florals; luxury wedding; north carolina wedding; southern wedding; mid atlantic wedding; bride and dad walking down outdoor aisle;

clark brewer; calder clark design; eseeola lodge; blossom events; classic wedding; amazing florals; luxury wedding; north carolina wedding; southern wedding; mid atlantic wedding; groom crying watching bride arrive;

Lauren & Clay’s wedding

Just look at her face! Look at his!  Sigh… Photography by Clark Brewer.

But maybe for you two there’s nothing quite as romantic as the idea of it just being, well, the two of you! There’s plenty to love about that!

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Virginia & James’ wedding

These two have such a lovely story, and experienced their first look with one amazing back drop – the New York skyline! Photo by RYON LOCKHART.

backyard wedding; at home wedding; canadian wedding; canada; christina lim; timberlost; Lesa Holmes; toronto wedding; spring wedding; outdoor wedding; first look; bride crying and laughing during first look;

backyard wedding; at home wedding; canadian wedding; canada; christina lim; timberlost; Lesa Holmes; toronto wedding; spring wedding; outdoor wedding; first look; bride crying and laughing during first look;

Isabel & Laurence’s wedding

Seeing each other for the first time however it happens will often be pretty emotional! Photo by CHRISTINE LIM.

Your wedding day is big. It can bring just about every emotion in the book, often a few at once. And it’s not the day to make yourself more nervous or even anxious than you need to be. If you know you’ll experience those kind of feelings (and believe me, I hear you!) and seeing your person before the ceremony is going to sooth you, then you should put that ahead of other concerns. If one or both of you is extremely private and the idea of being emotional in front of everyone is making you super uncomfortable, that’s also a great reason to consider having the big reveal happen with just the two of you… and maybe your photographer.

Lauren & Ian’s wedding

This couple chose to have a quiet, very intimate first look, and to spend some time alone together before the ceremony.  Photo by LACIE HANSEN.


Setting aside the reason you’re getting married, wedding days themselves are often all about logistics. And it’s really important to consider how you want your day to flow! There’s a strong likelihood you will want photos taken with just the two of you, with your families, with your bridal party, and you have to build that time into your day. Unfortunately it’s just no use dreaming of laying eyes on your partner for the first time at the ceremony if you also want to marry on a Winter’s afternoon and refuse to miss a minute of cocktail hour, and want all your formal photos taken in the daylight! We recommend talking through what your priorities are together, and deciding from there. It’s also super important to discuss it all with your photographer and or event planner! (A quick example: my husband and I wanted a 5pm start for our springtime ceremony, but our photographer was quick to tell us if we didn’t want to do a first look we’d have to start by 4pm at the latest. And as it was we still were rushing to finish portraits with the last of the light even pushing back an hour earlier!) So you need to take into account:

– the time you’ll be finished getting ready
– ceremony start and end time
– cocktail hour start time
– reception start time
– time allocated for formal photos with consideration of bridal party size and formal photos needed
– time it will take for any transport between ceremony and reception venues
– the hour of sunset at the particular time of year you’re getting married
– … and of course, to be safe, we strongly recommend a healthy buffer for all the funny little bits you don’t count on happening that can lead to running late!

And if you just can’t make up your mind…
And finally if you and your partner are torn about what to do, or really don’t have an opinion one way or the other, remember that any kind of first look has to be orchestrated. Even if it’s only something simple, it’s still one extra step you need to arrange in an already full day, so if you can’t make up your mind either way maybe consider just spending the whole day together (including getting ready) so there is no big reveal to worry about, or just decide to see each other for the first time as you walk down the aisle and skip the extra organizing!

And some of our Snippet & Ink couples have come up with some beautiful, meaningful ‘in betweens’…

Jackie & Alex’s wedding

This couple did do a first look, but with a twist – they shared it with their very excited family and friends! Photography by JOHN + LOUISE.

Kallima Photography; florida wedding; JCG events; Estancia Culinaria; bride and groom holding hands with their backs to each other before ceremony; bride and groom together without seeing each other before ceremony;

Gabi & Cameron’s wedding

These sweet almost-weds took a moment to be together before the ceremony but kept their backs turned, so the surprise of just how wonderful the other one looked was still to come. Photo by KALLIMA PHOTOGRAPHY.

Westtown School; Terrain; Dave Waddell; Kate Farley; Quaker ceremony; outdoor ceremony; restaurant wedding; philadelphia wedding; mid atlantic wedding; couple walk down steps into ceremony;

Elizabeth & Fabien’s wedding

This couple saw each other right at the start of their ceremony, alone… walking down the aisle together! Photo by SIOUSCA.

Jeremy Harwell; Belle of the Ball Events; Tara Keely gown; georgia wedding; atlanta wedding; southern wedding; Summerour Studio; overhead greenery and lighting installation; bride and groom hugging during first dance;

And one final idea: if you still want some time on your wedding day where it is just the two of you, but aren’t into the idea of a first look, consider following in footsteps of this sweet pair and have a private last dance!

Caroline & Chris’ wedding

Photo by Jeremy Harwell.

1 comment

  • Shannon says:

    We chose to do a first look (at our wedding two weeks ago!). We prioritized what was important for us, and spending a good portion of the day together as well as not missing the entire cocktail hour outweighed the other option. We chose to do a 2:30pm first look before our 5pm ceremony, we also did this offsite so we factored in travel time and a good buffer, and ended up having plenty of time. We did our first look with our friends and family in the distance watching, and then got together to do bridal party and family photos. Something I am really glad I built time in for – a hair and makeup touch up right before the ceremony. We did our first look outside and it was really windy, I was so happy to have a quick touch up before walking down the aisle! And I was even happier to spend most of my day with my groom and miss only about 15 minutes of cocktail hour – to take some grandparent photos.

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