Ask Linley

  Linley Dolby has shared in many couples’ special days on the Vineyard and had her own wedding here in 2003. Though she has no formal ties to the wedding industry, she is the friend many call upon when they decide to get hitched. Send your questions for Linley to

Choosing the right venue

Let your personalities set the tone for the first day of the rest of your lives together. Whatever you choose – a circus tent on a bluff with guests rocking out until the break of dawn (noise complaints pending) or a chef’s elegant gourmet tasting set among exposed bricks and antique wood beams – remember there is a setting to suit every couple.

Q. My partner and I want to get married on the Vineyard but want a venue that will allow the reception to last later than midnight. Any suggestions?
Late Night Party Animals

You made it to the altar, and what better way to celebrate than throwing down with a few (hundred) of your nearest and dearest with lively marriage feasting and merry-making? Well, I’m sure you’ve researched some of the popular wedding dance bands, such as the Sultans of Swing and the Mike Benjamin Band, to name a couple. But where will they let you ride your raucous revelry late into the night?

Private residences are restricted by noise ordinances, so if you have chosen a backyard wedding site, you will be held to these curfew times, which vary among towns. Likewise, there are several traditional reception venues that have their own rules about how late they will allow noise, specifically amplified music, so if party pants are your chosen attire, make sure you read the fine print.
Try out some of the downtown spots, such as Dreamland in Oak Bluffs, or a restaurant such as Hooked in Oak Bluffs or the Atlantic Fish & ChopHouse in Edgartown. You’ll have to do some research, as some venue rules change depending on the season, but most likely you’ll find a place to cut footloose.

Q. We are not the partying types. What are your ideas for a more low-key celebration?
– Quiet, Hold the Riot

A happy marriage is not contingent on Uncle Mort slurring his way around the reception while Aunt Martha dances on the tabletops. If you seek a more civilized approach to your civil union, there are plenty of options.

For some couples, music is king on the wedding day, and there are plenty of musicians out there who can lend an elegant note to your celebration. Perhaps there is something you’re both passionate about that could become the focus of your celebration. Are you foodies? I attended a wedding where the dancing was secondary to the raw bar and charcuterie spread. Arrange something special to reflect your own culinary tastes, and let your guests feel as if they have been invited to the chef’s table with several mouth-watering courses.

Time of day is also a consideration in planning a mellow affair. How about a brunch or afternoon tea? Crisp white linens and silver set in a fragrant garden, with a string quartet, jazz trio, or classical harpist filling the air with soft notes – picturesque and romantic.

Q. We’re looking for a place our guests will never forget. Can you recommend a less traditional setting?
– Nouveau Duo

With only a handful of hotel banquet halls similar to those off-Island, the Vineyard pretty much insists you think outside the ballroom. From sandy-toed beach nuptials to rustic barns filled with wildflowers, there are as many choices as there are brides and grooms.

If you want to take the setting a step further, why not get married on the water? There are vessels available for charter from small to large – the Seastreak Ferry can accommodate up to four hundred people!

Keep in mind with any Vineyard venue that it’s important to understand up front what you are responsible for beyond the facility rental. Is furniture available? Dishes, glassware, and silverware? Do you need to bring in your own booze? Some places may offer tables but not linens, linens but not dishes – you get the idea – and the rest you’ll have to work out with a party rental company.
Otherwise, consider sealing your vows with some adventure, minus the entire entourage. Bring your betrothed on a biplane ride, a kayak adventure, or a mountain bike trek through the Island’s miles of protected state forest.

Q. We have only fifty guests and need advice on a more intimate reception setting.
 – Only Nearest and Very Dearest

You’ve found yourself in a position of envy: You can do anything! Besides not having to wrangle hundreds of invitations and myriad possibilities for interpersonal awkwardness, you really have the pick of the litter as far as locations go, from clambakes on the beach to restaurant settings.

There are many cozy bistros and fabulous patios where I sit and think, “This would be such a great place for a small wedding!” Downstairs at Atria in Edgartown, inside Edgartown’s Dr. Daniel Fisher House, the Beach Plum Inn in Chilmark, to name a few.

So I would say the most fun part of your planning should be to get out and explore. Make it a planning priority to sightsee with your love: a quiet meal here this week, a cocktail there next. Sure beats arguing about where to put your mother’s second cousin once removed who seems to have had her social filter surgically removed. 

Making your bridal party happy

Q. The time has come to choose attendants for our upcoming wedding and we’re unsure how to decide. Any thoughts?
  – Undecided Party

Ah, it’s the dreaded “all or nothing” question that every couple faces. Do we include sorority sisters, kindergarten best friends, and half the old college lacrosse team, or keep it simple and opt for just family? I went the just-family route and have no complaints, but some of the best weddings I’ve been involved in were all-inclusive wedding parties with fourteen to eighteen attendants. (One intimate affair I witnessed had nearly as many attendants as guests.)

There is the additional question of whether to include someone who’s new in your life. I love it when a couple decides to include one or two people who may not have been around since the beginning, but who they are confident will be a part of life going forward. It’s a lovely way of celebrating your future as well as your past, because when it comes down to it, getting married is about the rest of your life, not who you shared a limo with to your high school prom.

When you picture yourself standing up there repeating those vows, who do you want by your side? Don’t worry about the supposed rules. My brother chose to have my dad stand with him as best man. I chose only my sisters. Some choose a cast of characters from throughout their lives, from Sally on the fourth grade soccer team to the cubicle mate from your first job out of college. Go with your gut.

Q. We’re getting married on a beach. What should we keep in mind when planning our wedding party attire?
     – Sand in Our Toes

With the varied venues of shore and farm that the Island offers, it’s no wonder weddings here tend to be a bit more casual than those in a fancy city ballroom. For a summer wedding, don’t shy away from lighter fabrics, such as cotton and seersucker, and silk shantung looks beautiful any time of year. Men look dapper in navy sport coats and khakis with ties to complement the ladies’ dresses.

Most of all, you want everyone to be comfortable and look their best. Consider providing flip-flops for beach events, or later for feet weary from dancing. For a fall wedding, wraps make great attendant gifts, as evening temperatures can be unpredictable.

I love the option of bridesmaids being able to choose their own cut of dress for maximum flattery and comfort. I was in a wedding this past summer in which the bride chose two shades of green silk and one dress vendor and encouraged each of her eight bridesmaids to choose her style. If you can believe it, every woman chose a different dress, each perfectly flattering and representative of her personality, and all the dresses hanging together made for a great photo.

Q. We’d like to get meaningful gifts for our attendants. Ideas?

 – Saying Thanks

Here is your opportunity to thank your attendants for time spent, distance traveled, and most importantly, for being a part of your life. Jewelry engraved with your bridesmaids’ initials, a simple wampum pendant representing the Vineyard, or the aforementioned fall wrap make lovely gifts, while adding a little something extra to wedding day attire.

For the boys, consider buying their ties. It’s one less thing they need to worry about, and it’s a nice commemorative token of the day. Here it is seven years later, and it’s still fun to show up to an event and see one of the guys who helped out with our wedding wearing his pink tie with the cars on it.

Q. I want to do a special little something for my attendants while they’re all here together. What do you suggest?
     – Cruise Director

So the year of planning is complete and the big day is around the corner. Your friends are all rolling off the boat to come join you. They’ve taken time off from work, traveled in planes, trains, automobiles, and most likely ferries. This is the time to think back to when you made that list of attendants – perhaps one of the most stressful hurdles of wedding planning. You sat with your betrothed and decided these are the people you would like surrounding you on your wedding day. So as they arrive on the Vineyard, remind yourself of that. It is time to let the stress go and have fun.

Plan a harbor tour, a wine tasting, a clambake on the beach. Keep it simple and barbecue at a rental house. This is the part you’ve been waiting for, so be sure to enjoy it. If you are marrying at one of the larger resorts, the concierge will be able to help out with ideas and arrangements; otherwise you might be able to plan a little something through your caterer or wedding planner.

Most importantly, make sure you’ve scheduled your drop-dead date on getting everything done – programs, place cards, hair consultations – so you can relax with your peeps and enjoy the experience.

Tips for saving money

Q. My fiancé and I are thinking about getting married on the Vineyard, but trying to figure out how to make it affordable. Where do we start?
– Betrothed and Budget-conscious

The first thing to do when planning a wedding anywhere is to sit down with your spouse-to-be once you have a budget in place and prioritize. Between flowers and music and wardrobe and food, there are many choices to consider, so start with a list of what’s most important to both of you so that you can determine where to splurge and where to cut corners.

If you’re foodies and not so into dancing, hire a three-piece band to play jazz standards during dinner, then switch to an iPod play list. Paying a small band or a pianist for an hour or two is a lot less expensive than a five piece with optional horn section for five hours. Then you can go all out on the food spread.

On the flip side, if dancing is what defines the ultimate wedding experience for you, you might consider forgoing the raw bar or opting for a dessert selection rather than a five-tier fondant cake, so that you can spring for that horn section.

Q. We are trying to decide where to say our I dos and celebrate our nuptials. What are some questions we should ask of potential venues?
   – Where to Wed?

One special thing about the Vineyard is there is no shortage of varied locales. The Island offers everything from backyards to beaches to ballrooms, and the rules at each venue can be as different as the venues themselves.

Consider how much responsibility you are willing to take on before you visit potential wedding sites, then find out what they are able to provide. If your venue requires a tent, are you responsible for renting tables and chairs? The tent itself? A catering kitchen? These are added expenses, and boy, can they ever add up.

The bar raises issues as well. Can you bring in your own alcohol, or will the venue be charging you five dollars a beer and thirty for a bottle of wine? Also, are you responsible for hiring your own bartenders? I had a friend who overlooked this and found herself bartender-less the morning of her wedding. After some quick phone calls, the crisis was averted and there were people neatly clad in black and white to pour the champers, but this is not a situation you want to deal with on your wedding day!

Q. Between bouquets, centerpieces, and altar decorations, I can’t believe how much flowers cost! Any ideas on saving money here?       
– Floral and Frugal

There are many ways to repurpose your floral investments on your wedding day. At my outdoor wedding, we used planters to designate the place where we exchanged our vows, then moved those planters to the stage before the band set up for the reception.

Centerpieces are another place to save. One clever bride I know had her bridesmaids’ bouquets double as centerpieces. During the cocktail hour, once pictures were complete, the bridesmaids snuck into the reception area and put their bouquets into the water-filled vases waiting in the middle of each table. (Granted, she had ten bridesmaids!)

You can also go for a seasonal alternative to flowers. For a fall wedding, one friend filled glass vases with green apples and cranberries. For a mid-summer affair, shells surrounding a hurricane lantern with a layer of beach sand in the bottom can create a romantic vibe.

Q. Any ideas for making our wedding day special and personal without breaking the bank?
  – Memorable Without the Mortgage

I’ll tell you a little secret. Here’s where my wedding obsession comes from: I used to work in publishing, where I spent most of my day working in graphic design programs. Since then, I have used my skills to gift numerous friends with wedding invitations, programs, and escort cards. They save money on printing, and I’m able to give them something a little more special than another All-Clad saucepan (not that there’s anything wrong with All-Clad saucepans – you should totally get some of those).

Get your friends involved. What better way to personalize your day than to enhance it with hints of those closest to you? In addition to putting together something unique, I’ll tell you from experience, those late-night sessions with a box of glue sticks, a hole punch, and a bottle of wine will be some of your favorite wedding-planning moments.

So recruit! Your neighbor’s a chef? Your sister’s best friend is a wedding singer? Your college roommate was a photography major? Toasters and blenders come and go, but those pictures – well, you’ll have those for the rest of your life.

Advice for outdoor weddings

Q. It’s official: We’re getting married! We would like to exchange our vows at the Edgartown Lighthouse. How do we arrange that?
  – Going to the Lighthouse and We’re Gonna…

Congratulations! I love the idea of the beach wedding, barefoot in the sand, and I’m a total sap for the symbolism: saying your I dos at the base of a beacon that has guided wayward sailors home to safe harbor and family for centuries. Beautiful.

Edgartown Lighthouse, along with East Chop and Gay Head Lights, are overseen and maintained by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. There is a ton of information available on its website ( about renting these properties, including costs  and other guidelines.

Q. For a ceremony on the beach, do we need to provide seating for all our guests?
   – Beach Bride

If your ceremony won’t be more than twenty minutes, people can stand, although I would recommend supplying some seating, as you may have guests who are elderly, expecting, or unable to stand for other reasons. Plan on providing chairs for 15 to 20 percent of your guests: If you have a hundred guests, twenty chairs should be reasonable.

To make your guests even more comfortable and to enhance the beachy vibe, designate a place for the ladies to literally kick off their heels by posting a “shoes here” sign where people walk onto the sand.

Q. Parking seems to be so limited everywhere on the Island, where can our guests park?
– Behind the Wheel

I’d suggest picking a specific place for your guests to park and renting a van to shuttle people. If you have a lot of guests staying in one place, you could hire a bus or trolley to bring them from hotel to ceremony to reception.

Another idea is cheap labor: My wedding took place down a long, dirt road, and there was plenty of parking, but not in plain sight, so we hired a few strapping young lads (i.e., the neighbors’ kids) to park cars for our guests.

Keep in mind, if guests are parking their own cars along narrow dirt roads, they could easily land shin-deep in poison ivy, or heel-deep in mud, or have their stockings – or worse, bare legs – attacked by prickers. The only pain your guests’ legs should endure is from dancing the night away, so any assistance you can offer on the parking front will be much appreciated.

Q. I’ve heard rain is supposed to be good luck on your wedding day, but I’m not buying it. What do we do if it rains?
    – Afraid of Rain

There is no way to predict the weather on the Island. Last year, June was sunny and lovely; in years past, it’s been more of a monsoon. September can be kind – an extra month of summer that no one expected – and also cruel with its procession of hurricanes as determined as your line of bridesmaids.

My sister got married in a hurricane, and days before, as we watched that little, gray blob on the TV screen moving up the coast, she made peace with it. The location she had chosen for her reception was in a residential neighborhood, and the festivities had to be early in the day, so when hurricane Ivan threatened to crash the party, she welcomed him, saying, “If it rains, we’ll put the sides down on the tent, and people will think it’s night, so they’ll dance more.” And that’s exactly what happened.

She was lucky to have planned her actual ceremony indoors though, so do make sure you have an alternative for where you exchange your vows. Just don’t stress about it; the weather is one of those things that makes the day uniquely your own – and it can make for fantastic photo ops.

Q. Is there anything special we can do to ensure that our guests are comfortable at our outdoor ceremony?
   – Above and Beyond

An outdoor wedding is a special kind of celebration that we take for granted around here, and there are definitely some little things you can do to increase your guests’ enjoyment: Consider placing a basket of bug spray and sun block, and a tub of bottled water or lemonade in a conspicuous location. Parasols are lovely (or umbrellas in the alternative situation) as are paper fans (print your programs on these). Put a little time into the details so that rather than the heat and the mosquitoes, your guests can focus on you.