With each year that passes, it seems like more and more young couples are ditching ritzy wedding venues and black-tie-optional dress codes in favor of a more stripped-down, relaxed vibe for their big day.
Across the Great Plains, an increasing amount of folks looking to tie the knot prefer to do so in the style of a Western wedding — think Mason jars, hay bales, string lights and cowboy-chic attire.
According to a survey done by The Knot, 15% of couples chose to rent out a nontraditional venue like a barn or ranch for their wedding reception in 2017, compared to only 2% in 2009.
Wedding planners and venue owners agree that this heightened demand for Western weddings stems from the explosive popularity of shows such as “1883” and “Yellowstone.”
There is also a desire to return to the weddings of yore, which focused not on flair and Instagramable moments but on family, friends and simple elegance.
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“The focus of a Western wedding has always been about a simple celebration,” said Neil Fischer, owner of Old West Buffalo Co., a popular Western wedding venue in Pawhuska. “They’re focused on family, food, being in a really pretty place —some of the things that can make life elegant that aren’t the most expensive but can have the most value.”
To Fischer, a Western wedding is not just a wedding that takes place in a barn. It’s a combination of location and décor that makes the ceremony and reception feel authentic to Western and ranch life.
“It’s all about the setting — the backdrop of a beautiful natural landscape and even animals like horses and bison,” Fischer said. “For décor, we use things that anyone could have, like whisky barrels, vintage lanterns and wagon wheels, that make our venue feel like the Old West. We make it even more special with the stone fireplace and gold chandeliers we have at our venue.”
The Western style is multifaceted, which allows each couple to reflect their own style onto their wedding while still achieving the laid-back Western feel, said Ally Grill, ranch manager at Tatanka Ranch, a wedding venue in Stroud.
“Everyone has their own sort of vibe,” Grill said. “If you go with a more boho theme, you might have rugs going up and down the aisle. Or, for a more rustic theme, you might have wine barrels around to decorate the area. If the couple is into ranching, they might have cowhides. If the groom is into hunting, there might be antlers on the table. There are so many things you can do that stay within the rustic realm.”
As far as dress code, the wedding party and their guests can be as dressed up — or down — as they wish, which can help eliminate some of the stress that weddings can bring about, Fischer said.
“It’s a celebration that doesn’t have to be so fancy,” Fischer said. “Guests can come in jeans if they want to. These weddings are a lot more relaxed and are more about celebrating with family than going to some fancy event. It’s very appealing because it eliminates some stress — you’re not as worried about ‘Am I dressed up enough?’ ‘Am I wearing the right shoes?’ — it’s a lot more casual.”
Groomsmen typically rock jeans, white button-up shirts and cowboy hats, while brides will wear ivory or white gowns accessorized with turquoise jewelry, Grill said. It’s not uncommon for brides and grooms to wear boots specially made for their wedding day.
Despite the more laid-back nature of Western weddings, celebrations of this style often lend themselves to unique touches not offered just anywhere, Fischer said. At Old West Buffalo Co., couples can hire a real cowboy and his horse to help park cars, be whisked away in a horse-drawn carriage for their grand exit or have animals be part of their wedding ceremony.
“If you want to have the ceremony outside, we can have our bison be right behind the wedding party or even on the side as guests — we always say they’re the perfect wedding guests because they just hang out and never ruin the party,” Fischer said.
Some Western wedding venues like Tatanka Ranch have much more space and lodging options than the average venue you might find in a city, which is appealing for couples who have invited many out-of-town guests or want to have a multiple-day celebration, Grill said.
“When you book with us, you’re able to get the whole ranch for the whole weekend,” Grill said. “We have indoor and outdoor venues, catering on-site, a lake with canoes and kayaks and horseback riding — but our greatest advantage is that we have 20 cabins that can sleep 80 people for the weekend. It’s helpful because when you get married, you might not be able to see or talk to everyone in one night. It’s huge to be able to spend that time with your family, because it’s really the only time you get everyone in one place at one time.”
Western weddings are truly for everyone and not just people who live in the country, Fischer said.
“They’re not just for cowboys and people who live on ranches,” Fischer said. “They’re for people whose idea of a wedding is a lot more relaxed, who want to have it in a fun setting in the heart of cowboy country.”