Elegant Mandeville Winter Wedding at the Fleur De Lis Center

ASHLEY + BEN | MANDEVILLE, LA

It was 2012 when I met Ashley. I started a new position as an admissions counselor in the Office of Admissions at Southern Miss. I had the pleasure of working with and getting to know her over the next few years, and came to admire and respect her. She was so bubbly and you wanted to be her friend from the moment you met her. It was easy to see how Ben fell in love with Ashley. And their tale is one that you’ll read here today. This is a very special blog post because you’re going to hear all about their wedding experience but not from my perspective - you’ll hear it from the bride! Today kicks off a blog series where I have invited some of my brides to share a little bit about their wedding day and planning experience! There’s SO much good info here, guys! Who could better help you plan your wedding than someone who’s recently been through the process?! And let me just say that Ashley has some STELLAR advice!

HOW THEY MET

My name is Ashley Johnston Wicker and Ben and I met through the world of online dating in March of 2016. We had both tried it off and on, but never really found a person that we clicked with. Ben was located in Davidson, NC, and I was in Hattiesburg, MS, so how did we find each other you ask? Read on…

In early March, Ben found out he was moving to Hammond, LA, to join Southeastern Louisiana University as an Assistant Professor in Chemistry. Once he knew he was moving, he changed his location target and pretty soon we ended up on each other’s match list.  I had vowed to embark on a personal journey in 2016, where I focused on being more vulnerable. When I saw Ben’s profile, I knew this was my first test. I reached out immediately, while trying not to come across as too eager. By the end of the month, we had exchanged numbers, and I kept finding signs that this guy was something special.

Ben wasn’t moving until the end of May, but a family funeral brought him to town a little earlier than expected. He stopped in Hattiesburg so we could actually meet face-to-face, and I was smitten. I’m pretty sure I made a complete fool of myself (hello nerves!) at T-Bones, where we had lunch, but it was the start of a beautiful thing. It was definitely full of laughs, as Ben has always brought laughter and fun to my days.

HOW BEN PROPOSED

When Ben and I had been dating for a little while, we began to have conversations about the future. I told him that I would like to date someone for at least a year before being engaged to them. I figured a year was long enough to experience all the seasons with someone, so it seemed like a good timeline. As we approached our one-year anniversary in May of 2017, we planned a trip to Vicksburg, MS, to celebrate. Those plans got derailed about two days before the trip due to a city-wide water main break. Ben quickly swooped in to fix things, and soon enough, we were headed to Mobile, AL, for a relaxing weekend. Little did I know all of what Ben had up his sleeves.

On Friday (our actual anniversary day), we spent the evening enjoying pizza and bowling. It was fun, stress-free, and exactly what I wanted – to spend time with Ben. That evening, we talked about the past year, and I told him that I was so happy he had not run for the hills yet. And as always, when we talked about the future, I told him to always be up front with me if he wasn’t happy or didn’t want to be in a relationship anymore. We exchanged gifts – girls, please don’t ever get your guy location specific gifts!! You never know what life will throw at you. I had found these awesome Civil War era cuff links made out of wood from Vicksburg, and I was so excited to give them as a memento of our one-year anniversary. Well of course, they no longer made sense as we were now in Mobile, but he loved them the same. He gave me a beautiful heart necklace with the May gemstone for our anniversary, and I swooned!

The next day, we were about to head to breakfast, and Ben decided to be bold. We were talking, and all of sudden, he said, “I don’t want to be your boyfriend anymore.”WAIT - WHAT?! My heart sunk, as my attention immediately turned to our conversation the night before. He may have said other stuff, but I didn’t hear him. Not until he started smirking and said, “It’s because I want to be your husband.” Then Ben pulled out the most beautiful three-stone engagement ring and asked me to marry him. Cue the confetti and fireworks. Y’all – I was a ball of emotions. Trying to recover from thinking he was breaking up with me to being completely overwhelmed with love as his proposal. I then asked why he didn’t propose the day before on our anniversary (I was just curious) and this is where I fell even more in love with him (if that is possible). You see, Ben listens. He told me that he wanted to wait until we had officially been dating a year because of our early conversations, so he waited until we were together a year and one day. He’s a keeper!

WEDDING PLANNING : THE BEGINNING STAGES

We picked out a date pretty quickly after getting engaged. We knew that it was probably going to be a somewhat long engagement because my little brother was getting married the following April. So looking at the calendar, we settled on January of 2019. Initially, I thought I wanted a barn-type wedding, however, the more I researched barn venues and everything that went into the planning associated with it, I decided to be more open to other types of venues. We also knew that we wanted our families to be comfortable and enjoy themselves. Getting married in your 30’s has some serious perks as we both have had a lot of time to think about what we wanted out of this day, and we were able to rule out a lot of fluff so we could focus on what mattered most. 

HOW THEY CHOSE THEIR WEDDING VENDORS

Searching for vendors was a little overwhelming, but I would definitely start with your venue. Don’t let anyone tell you it is too early. These are big decisions, and they should not be rushed.  I had some venues tell me that it was too early because I started looking 18 months ahead of our chosen date, but other than minor price adjustments, good venues should be able to handle early inquiries. If they can’t, it might mean they are not organized. Red flag!

Piece of advice – don’t rule out venues until you have a chance to compare apples to apples. I ruled out event centers pretty early because I didn’t think they could provide the atmosphere I wanted out of my wedding. Boy was I wrong! I ended up giving my venue a chance after I realized how amazing their customer service was. They always replied immediately, and they were so incredibly organized. These things matter at the end of the day because it can make or break your experience.

The other thing to note with vendor search is take note of their communication to you. I had several vendors that used the wrong name, immediately wrote me off because they thought I was looking at January 2018 vs January 2019 (six months vs 18 months) and would not answer specific questions (instead provide general information or not answer the question at all). It’s one thing to not bug the heck out of your vendor, but you should feel good about your communication with them. Trust your instincts.

Finally – be aware of reviews. While reviews are a great way to get insight into people’s experience with a vendor, make sure you read them in several places and use them to build questions. Don’t just write something off by one bad review unless you notice a pattern or see consistent issues throughout many reviews. I did that with one of my vendors, and I am so glad I asked several questions in meeting with them. I ended up choosing that vendor and had a wonderful experience with them because we were on the same page with lots of communication.

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THE DRESS

I had a very vague idea of what I wanted in a wedding dress – something ivory with straps, not too busy, and functional. I also knew I wanted both of my parents to be a part of the experience. I highly recommend making an appointment at a bridal salon so you can be assigned a consultant that brings experience to the process. I would not recommend bringing a lot of people. It can be an overwhelming process, so having a few important people that can help you make decisions it essential. If you want your bridal party to be involved, go for it, but just know that the more people involved, the more opinions flying around!

I tried on five dresses, four of which the consultant picked out based on my descriptions of what I liked and what I didn’t. The one dress I had a saved picture of wasn’t available anymore, which was somewhat disappointing, so I relied on the consultant to help guide me with questions. The fifth dress was picked out because I was trying to rule something out. Before trying on dresses, I didn’t think lace was something I wanted. I thought it would be itchy and too busy, and I really just wanted something simple and comfortable. Dress #1 was simple, but definitely not comfortable. Dress #2 made my parents tear up, but it didn’t have straps so I couldn’t full imagine what it would look like if I added them. Dresses #3 and #4 were an absolute no because they weren’t me. I was almost settled on Dress #2, but that’s just it – it definitely would have been me settling. So I asked the consultant if she had any with lace, her eyes lit up and immediately came back with something I definitely would not have picked out. The dress was an A-line ivory dress with a lace illusion top and tulle skirt. It had wide straps that created a scoop neckline and did not dip too low in the back. When I put this dress on and stepped out of the room, everyone was crying. I didn’t really think I would have that moment, but y’all, when the consultant added the belt and a veil, I was in complete awe. I am not a fashionista, and I hate trying on clothes, but this was the first time I actually felt like a bride.

My advice to new brides – don’t build up your dress experience beforehand. It is okay if you don’t find the “one” in a single shopping trip. Don’t settle on a dress just because you feel like it is your only chance. It is also okay if they don’t have the dress what you want. Use your consultant’s experience and guidance on finding something as close as possible, and you just might be surprised at what you find!

Lastly, make sure you are completely comfortable in what you find. Sit down, move around, don’t just stand in front of the mirror. You will spend your entire wedding day in that dress (unless you change), so make sure you can do everything you want to do in it. Including a few dance moves on the podium.

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THE WEDDING DAY

I highly recommend choosing a photographer that provides a very specific timeline. This will help you outline your entire wedding day, including determining how early you need to start on things that aren’t going to be photographed – like moms, grandmothers, and bridal party getting hair and makeup done. Luckily my photographer was pretty detailed, and it really helped my hair and makeup artists decide on proper start times for everyone.

Make sure you get plenty of sleep the night before because even if you are having a morning wedding, the entire experience is exhausting. You will talk to so many people, you will have so many moments of quick decision making, and some things may not pan out the way you want. Dealing with all of that coming off a good night’s rest will make a world of difference.

My wedding morning started off pretty early, and I was so thankful I remembered to order breakfast. Luckily, I remembered to make a checklist the night before, so when it was time to leave, I was able to check it twice to make sure I had everything I needed. I highly recommend doing this!

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Ben and I decided to do a first look session so we can get a lot of pictures out of the way before the ceremony. If you are decided on a first look, I highly recommend this moment unless you wanting to stick to tradition. It was such a special moment for us, and I was so incredibly overcome with emotion. We decided to only exchange cards, and this card meant more to me than any ring, piece of jewelry, or any other gift. I definitely messed up my eye make-up in this session, so next piece of advice – make sure one of your bridesmaids can help you touch things up afterwards! And bring tissues!!

Take Note - wear comfortable shoes. Just as your dress should be comfortable, you will be on your feet A LOT. I chose the Kate Spade wedding collection Keds, and while I spent more on shoes than I wanted (still under $100 yay!), it was so worth it. They were fun, sparkly, and I didn’t mind being on my feet in them all day. I got to the venue at 11 am, and we didn’t leave until 5:30 pm. I maybe sat for 25-30 minutes total in that entire period. So trust me when I say, choose comfort over look.

Our ceremony was short and sweet (not to mention, the weather was PERFECT). Ben and I come from two different religious backgrounds, (me – Catholic, him- Baptist) so we decided to have a Christian ceremony. What made it truly special was Ben’s dad officiated. We used the same ceremony that was performed for Ben’s parents, but I added two special readings that appealed to my Catholic side. The ceremony was perfect, and it went by extremely fast.

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After the ceremony, we took a few more pictures, and then Ben and I were tucked away for our own private dinner. This was AMAZING. Our venue really went above and beyond making sure we always had a drink in our hands and whatever we wanted for dinner. You always hear that the bride and groom never eat at their own reception, so I was happy to hear about the private dinner when we toured the venue. It really helps you reset after what may have been a stressful lead up to the start time and spend a few special moments with your new groom. We spent the entire reception talking to our guests, so it was great to have this time together. Be sure to ask how your venue handles food for the bride and groom, so you can make sure you eat beforehand if you don’t get a chance to do it at your reception.

Don’t feel like you have to do all of the traditional aspects you see at receptions. Do what you feel comfortable doing. For example, Ben and his mom didn’t do a mother/son dance; instead I used that opportunity to dance with my grandfather, who means the world to me. We went back and forth on the bouquet/garter toss, and in the end decided to do it, but we put our own twist on it. Just because something traditionally happens at weddings, doesn’t mean you have to include it. Think about what is most important to you and your groom and decide on those things together.

Finally, to close out our reception, we decided to treat our guests to a mock second-line (no brass band, just music), and I loved every bit of it. We invited many out-of-town guests, and I wanted them to have a fun New Orleans experience, since it is where I am from. It led into our send-off, where we used snowfetti to create a magical winter experience. It was everything I imagined it would be, walking out hand-in-hand with my groom, as fake snow fell on top of us. I could have imagined a more romantic send-off.

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Couple of little things to note:

Decide what is important in your wedding experience and stick to it. For us, we didn’t care that we didn’t have extravagant table centerpieces, or the entire ceremony and reception decked out in flowers. We decided early on that it was about our experience and our guests experience. They absolutely raved over the food and cake, and they had a great time on the dancefloor. That is exactly what I wanted them to take away from the experience.

It is very easy to get overwhelmed with all things wedding through pinterest, websites, magazines, and people recommendations. Don’t let yourself spiral out of control Make a plan and set a vision from the very beginning and stick to said plan/vision. After all, it is your wedding experience. One example was the guest book. I kept seeing the guest book where people sign a heart and drop it in a shadow box and thought this is incredibly cute. It is really popular so you can find different variations of it. What I didn’t expect was as the wedding approached, I kept thinking, what I am going to do with this afterwards??? In fact, I started taking that approach to many things I considered doing/using/purchasing for the wedding. That got me thinking that I needed to not just think about the day of, but what happens afterwards. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying sacrifice your vision for practicality, but if you find yourself spending tons of money on things you can’t repurpose later, maybe make sure it’s REALLY a part of your vision. The wedding industry is huge, and now I know why! They get you on purchasing really cute things to carry out your vision, but then you are stuck with them. We ended finding a more unique guestbook that we can hang on our wall, and I am so glad I made that decision.

Overall, I would have to say the number one contribution to our successful and stress-free wedding day was communication. I kept an organized wedding planner throughout the process, and I asked questions. I kept in contact with our various vendors (thanks to our venue, we only had a few!), and I tried to keep telling myself, it’s not about the things – it’s about the people, and the fact that I’m marrying my best friend!

THE LEAST FAVORITE THING WAS….

I don’t really know if there is a least favorite thing associated with a wedding, expect for the fact that it went by so incredibly fast. I will say that sometimes, I let “tradition” and “what’s popular” get the best of me throughout the planning process. I also let the word “perfect” creep in every once in a while. While you hope that your wedding day is everything you imagined it would be and more, to expect it to be perfect is being naïve (and this is coming from an optimist).

I will say, since we didn’t have a lot of vendors to coordinate, my least favorite part of the experience was the week before the wedding. Ben and I were so anxious for the day to get here, that the waiting part was annoying. So, make sure you find something to keep you busy, whether it is last minute projects (not anything major), or just friends to keep your mind off things, so the anxiety doesn’t completely stress you out.

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Such an amazing team of vendors came together to make the Wicker wedding perfect! I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for all of their hard work and help!

Venue: Fleur de Lis Event Center
Caterer: Fleur de Lis Event Center
Florist: Pam Ott
Wedding Cake: Marguerite's Cakes - "A Taste of Heaven"
Bride's Gown: David's Bridal
Bride's Shoes: Kate Spade
Groom's Tux: Mens Warehouse
Invitations: Minted
DJ: Fleur de Lis Event Center
Hair Stylist: Shannon Johnston
Makeup Artist: Gina Smith