How to Plan the Perfect Civil Ceremony

Whether you’re planning an elopement, or tying the knot before doing an overseas celebration; a civil ceremony can be the perfect way to seal the deal without breaking the bank. 

Civil Ceremony
Photo: Carly Tumen 

We decided to have a legal civil ceremony in NYC this August, two months before our symbolic October wedding in Italy, for a few reasons: One, Although our “big” wedding will be in Florence, Italy, it’s very difficult for non-Italian citizens to get legally married in Italy. It’s tons of paperwork, and your marriage isn’t recognized under American law. Two, I wanted to be legally married for our Italian wedding. I didn’t want to ever call Scott my husband, and have it not be true. And three, my grandmother is 90 years old, and won’t be able to make the trip to Italy. I’m very close to her, and the first of her 9 grandchildren to get married, so it was incredibly important that she, and my great aunt, be with us on our legal wedding day!

I’m so glad I did some things, and of course there’s the things I wish I had thought about. Here are my MUSTS if you're considering having a Civil Ceremony. 

Dress the Part

Civil Ceremony 
Photo: Carly Tumen

This is your legal wedding day! Regardless of whether this is your only wedding, or you’re having a big party later, you will never look back and regret dressing up for the occasion! If you’re anything like me, and want to experience every type of wedding dress out there, this is also the ideal time to have a “courthouse moment.” 

Since our Italy wedding is going to be black-tie, I decided to do something more playful for our civil, and this tea-length dress from the new Fall 2019 By Watters collection was perfect, along with these gorgeous Sophia Webster shoes! I was so honored to be the first person to wear this dress. I topped off the look with a Lynne Watt Accessories veil

Do Exchange Your Real Wedding Bands

Wedding Bands
Photo: Carly Tumen

You may not have your wedding bands yet – especially if you’re having another wedding in the distant future. We didn’t have ours until 2 days before our civil ceremony! My engagement ring is a unique shape, and my fiancé doesn’t typically wear any jewelry beyond a watch, so we were nervous about finding bands for both of us at the last minute. Up until a week before, I told myself, this isn’t the real wedding, I can just use a ring that I already own for our civil. But it really IS your technical wedding. I’m a traditionalist at heart, and wanted to mark the occasion with something special, I felt like anything else would be starting our marriage on a lie. I’m so glad that we chose Helzberg Diamonds to do our bands, they had stunning pieces for both my fiancé and myself. 

Hire a Photographer

Civil Ceremony
Photo: Carly Tumen Bouquet: Venus ET Fleur

Again, this is something you will never regret doing! If budget is an issue, know that you won’t need a photographer for more than 2-3 hours max. The NYC City Clerk does not allow for appointments, but we were told if we got there 15 minutes before the court opened, we wouldn’t have to wait in line for more than 30 minutes. However, if we came later, we might have to wait for up to 3 hours. I definitely didn’t want to make my grandma and family wait around that long, so getting to the court early was a must. As a result, we were in and out in 45 minutes, and hired a photographer for only 2 hours. 


Photo: Carly Tumen

After the ceremony, we hosted a seated lunch at one of my favorite NYC spots, Ladurée. It was so much fun to get to enjoy a laid-back meal in a gorgeous location with my family. And, gorgeous flowers, like these from Venus ET Fleur, made for the ultimate party favor. 

My last bit of advice: if you do have a civil ceremony, know that it  wil feel like your real wedding, because it technically is. You say vows, you sign paperwork, and you can legally change your name. After our civil, I turned to my new fia—I mean HUSBAND, and said, “Wait, why are we still getting married in Italy?! I feel like we just had our wedding!” 

He patiently reminded me that I still hadn’t walked down the aisle with my dad, worn my gown, had our first dance, and we didn’t have all of our friends and families there, etc. That feeling went away after a few days, when I realized that I actually was lucky enough to be having 2 weddings... which is the best of both worlds in my opinion!

Bride at Bridal Shower – Jordan White is an NYC-based fashion and beauty blogger at, with an Instagram following of more than 280K. She and her now husband recently wed in October 2019, in Florence, Italy.