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The new wedding rules

By Martha Stewart Living staff
October 4, 2013 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Wedding and engagement rings don't have to be traditional, just special. Wedding and engagement rings don't have to be traditional, just special.
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The new wedding rules
The new wedding rules
The new wedding rules
The new wedding rules
The new wedding rules
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • It's time to reconsider those seemingly absolute rules about weddings
  • Stunning dresses don't have to be white to be bride-worthy
  • Pearls or sapphires can be lovely centerpieces for engagement rings
  • Reception desserts can be savory instead of sweet

(CNN) -- Gone is the era of the cookie-cutter wedding; you can celebrate your own way. Forget the "have tos" and "shoulds" about nuptials. There are no hard-and-fast rules. Except one: Be a gracious bride and groom while letting your true style shine.

You don't have to wear white

No matter its hue, you'll look radiant in a knockout frock. Here, the bride is in a gold French lace "Long Ariel Dress," by Temperley London, so stunning it can only be a wedding gown. She's not just in good taste, she's also on trend: This season bridal designers showed scene-stealing creations in blush, pale blue, and even rich red.

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You can ask anyone to be in your party

Your mom may have had to line up friends to pair off with your dad's groomsmen, but you two needn't be so matchy-matchy. Have anyone you want stand up with you both -- a man of honor, groomsmaids -- and don't worry about having an equal number of hims and hers. They can walk up the aisle solo or in groups of three.

They don't have to wear the same thing either. Devise a palette of up to three hues, hand your 'maids swatches or paint chips, and let them choose their own outfits. If they stick to the colors, even prints are fair game.

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You can send out a handwritten invitation

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We love letterpress, adore embossing, and fall hard for flat printing. But if those aren't your type or the traditional wording of an invitation doesn't feel like you, write something that does; it's bound to be one of a kind. Use your invitees' names to make it personal, and be sure to include all the pertinent details. Thick card stock and lined, oversize envelopes that let the pages slip out unfolded set a formal tone. To elevate the concept further, hire a calligrapher (here, Calligraphy by Cheryl Tefft) to copy your text, or have it printed and just the guests' names calligraphed.

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You can have any stone in any setting

Diamonds are some girls' best friends, but other brides prefer garnets, pearls or sapphires. As long as it came with a proposal, any stone can function as an engagement ring (ditto for the setting). You don't need to limit yourself to just one; note the stacked bands below, which could act as engagement or wedding rings or both. You don't even need to follow the fourth-finger, left-hand custom; in Europe, many people wear a wedding band on the right hand. Any ring, given and worn with love, is a fitting symbol of something with no beginning or end.

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Your flowers and favors can do double-duty

Less really is more when you combine two elements. Ceremony flowers can reappear at your reception, for example, and gorgeous escort cards will work as favors, too. Here, Axis Promotions paperweights help guests find their tables by magnifying the type on the seating cards underneath.

Offer them as thank-yous that will dress up any desk after the party's over.

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You can make your reception venue feel more like home

You probably can't spend lots of time with each guest. But you can promote an intimate at-home dinner-party atmosphere by surrounding invitees with a few of your favorite things. Create a unified table with the same flatware and china at each place, then fill the center with an array of beloved objects -- from registry gifts to a stash of personal curios.

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You can serve whatever you want with dessert

If your sweet tooth is satisfied by the cake, offer something savory, like cheese, after dinner. To set up an appealing array, order a mix of mild and strong flavors, different textures, and cheeses made with goat, cow, and sheep milk. Add name tags so guests know what they're diving into, then pair them with breads, stone fruits, and nuts, and display on pedestals of varying heights. Finally, introduce an element that will surprise everyone, such as a honeycomb.

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