So, some of you who read my posts might know that I got married last year.In fact, it’s nearly our first anniversary! We’re enjoying married life, but planning a wedding in Korea was one of the most stressful periods in my life. I’ve done a post before on Korean style weddings here, but that style of nuptials (conveyor belt weddings as I call them) doesn’t really suit my style.
My husband is half Korean, but didn’t grow up there, so he wanted a western style wedding as well. Korean weddings tend to be quite impersonal and rushed. American weddings tend to be over the top. So we decided to go with a more French mindset. No bridal party. 50 or fewer guests. As little fuss as possible. Fun, tasteful, simple.
But, as anyone planning a wedding knows, there’s always a bit of fuss. There was a culture clash with my in-laws. We had to change our intended venue three months before. Our photographer canceled a week before. The friend making our cake had a kitchen disaster two days before. Because of Korean work culture, I had about two days off for our honeymoon. It certainly didn’t go as I envisioned, but, a lot of things did go right. So here’s my advice for people who want a non-Korean wedding in Korea or for inquiring minds who want to know how we pulled it off.
Talented Friends: We were really lucky to be able to call on many of the lovely and talented friends we know in Korea. One friend did our engagement photos. One was our DJ. One helped me translate and negotiate with our venue. One made my bouquet, knit me a bolero, and did my hair and makeup on the day. We basically had an international team help us. America, New Zealand, Korea, Canada, France, Argentina. If you don’t have friends who can do the job, look for a wedding planner who is willing to do a more unique ceremony.
Sign your papers in advance: if one or both of you is not a Korean citizen, you’ll need to visit the embassy of the country to get permission to marry in Korea. The you’ll need to register at the local Korean office. At that point, you’re legally married and that’s really the most important bit. You might want to get a physical copy of your registration to take with you if you ever go back to your native country.
Find a place: This proved to be very challenging. You want an out door space, so a park is probably your best bet. Yangjae Citizen’s Park actually has a free outdoor wedding venue. However, you have to book it about a year in advance. Most botanical gardens and parks will express extreme confusion if you call them and ask if they have a wedding or party space. Some people I know have opted to head out to the coast and do a small ceremony on the beach. If you are a member of a church, sometimes you can have religious service there and have a reception in a restaurant afterwards.
We used the website Spacecloud to find our venue. It’s sort of like an air bnb for space rental. Conference rooms, dance studios, etc. We found a gorgeous place called “Slow Dream.” By day it’s a photography studio. On weekends and evenings, they rent it out at a reasonable price for events. The staff was kind and helpful and I can’t recommend it enough.
Spiffy Threads: I’d heard horror stories of brides over a size six getting turned away from Korean bridal shops. I also didn’t fancy looking like a dollop of meringue, and those poofy princess style gowns are quite popular in Korea. So, to look a bit more like I wanted and to and save money, I ordered my dress from ModCloth‘s bridal line. I ordered a petticoat from Etsy to add a bit of flare and had a little custom tailoring done.
My husband got a custom suit made at Mercury Tailor in Itaewon. The price was reasonable, it was finished in a week, and the fit is great. We thought it was better to invest in a well made suit (since he needed a new one anyway) instead of renting a tux.
Food: Typically at Korean weddings, everyone gives a monetary gift, usually around $50 USD. Instead of asking for money, we asked for food. To save ourselves from paying for catering (which would have been hard to arrange for a reasonable per person price since we had only about 40 guests), we had a potluck style affair. We asked everyone to RSVP (unheard of for weddings in Korea) and let us know what they would bring so we could prevent everyone bringing the same things.
We have a friend who is a trained patisserie who volunteered to make our cake as a wedding present. However, due to the limitation of Korean kitchens, her attempts to make fine pastry in a toaster oven was a disaster. So the night before the wedding, she gritted her teeth and bought two cakes from Paris Baguette which she stacked together and redecorated. Not what we planned, but serviceable.
Decorations: Slow Dream was such a beautiful space, we hardly needed to add anything to it. I made some paper flowers and we hung some string lights. Diaso has some basic crafting supplies, but for more refined art supplies, I went to the Hottracks in the basement of Kyobo tower by Nonhyeon station, Gangnam. Modern House has some cute string lights and silk flowers in many varieties and shapes that were also used.
Overall, our wedding was a success. We managed to keep everything together and all our guests had a nice time. Our wedding had a cozy, intimate feeling and that’s what we wanted. An older Korean guest told me that our wedding was the most touching he had ever attended. That it was the first time he had appreciated sitting down and listening to the proceedings a mingling with the guests and the couple. t’s not a chance you get at most Korean weddings. We even got people to dance at our wedding which is pretty revolutionary for Korea.
If I’m completely honest though, are some things I regret about my wedding planning process. I wish that my mother-in-law hadn’t clashed with me so much. I wish that more people from the US could have attended (my best friend wasn’t even able to come). I wish that I could have enjoyed the bit of pampering brides at US weddings enjoy with bridal showers and bachelorette nights. I wish I hadn’t been so stressed out that I grew my first two grey hairs in the months leading up the event.
There were so many times when I felt alone and overwhelmed. I’m definitely jealous of brides who have very close friends and family members who swoop in and alleviate some of the burden. I owe so much to my former roommate who came back from New Zealand to help me bring everything together a few months before our wedding. Without her we probably would have eloped. The groom was, of course, a big help too. He was always there to listen when I needed someone to cry to, even if it was about his own mother. He built a wedding website which served as our invitations complete with RSVP forms which was a big help and money saver.
Even though it wasn’t the ideal situation, few things in life are. If we spend our lives waiting for circumstances to be perfect, we’ll never do anything. In the end, what’s most important is that we survived such a stressful situation as a couple and came out stronger. It’s the marriage that follows which is important, not how much money you do or don’t spend on a wedding or if you had the silk roses or silk ranunculus in your hair.