wedding DESIGN

3 Ways to Design the Perfect Wedding Timeline

Planning Tips

April 20, 2021


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 Welcome to the Soiree 99 blog, a journal about all things hosting, design, wedding planning and anything else that makes my heart flutter.



Let’s Talk About Creating A Wedding Timeline!   

I get a ton of questions about timelines. And I get why. Timelines are the foundation of your wedding day plans; you need a good one to make sure everything runs smoothly. 

And the hardest part is figuring out where to start creating a wedding timeline. 

If you can hire a planner or coordinator, great. They can really guide you through the process and will do most of the work.  If you can’t, this guide should help you get started.

Why You Need a Plan

First let’s talk about why you need a timeline. 

I can NOT stress enough how important a timeline is.

A good wedding timeline is the cornerstone of a successful wedding, covering everything from when you wake up until the time the party ends. It communicates with your vendors and families what YOU want to happen during your wedding. BUT, it is important to remember that timelines are flexible – not rigid – and are there to give you direction, not to dictate what every second of the day looks like.

I get a lot of couples telling me they want a low-key, relaxed wedding – which is what you get when you plan beforehand. Timelines also allow you to be present and focused on the day because you already thought everything through. You have a plan and don’t need to focus your attention on what happens next. Sometimes people equate timelines with rigidness but really, it is just the opposite.

How to Start a Wedding Timeline

If you have a wedding planner or coordinator, they will be the one to create your timeline for you. However, you will still need to know certain things in regard to your wedding before they can create the timeline.  If you do not have a planner or coordinator, you still need to make these decisions before trying to create one on your own.


* Are you having a first look? This is the biggest element to have nailed down when planning a timeline. I will devote an entire other post to the pros and cons of having a first look but here is a basic overview. 

A first look is when you see your significant other before the wedding. Fundamentally, a first look is planned to give you more time for photos before the ceremony and so you can spend more time with your guests after the wedding. Since, historically, it is tradition to not see your fiance until the walk down the aisle, many couples struggle with this decision.

You do have to be realistic about the limitations NOT having a first look will create – less time for photos and leaving your guests for an hour or so; which necessitates a cocktail hour to entertain and feed your guests (because you really don’t want hangry guests).  This doesn’t mean sipping that first look is bad; just make sure you plan accordingly.

The point I want to really drive home with first looks is to not let anyone talk you into having or not having one.  If you want to have one, don’t let your mom convince you it is bad luck. If you don’t want a first look, please be firm if your photographer tries to talk you into having one. We work for you and we will do the best we can with what we have. Your photographer, or any other vendor, should give you the information but should not try and make your decision for you. The day is yours and how you experience it should be up to you. 

* How long will your hair and makeup last?  Another factor that is important in determining the timeline is how long hair and makeup will take. It is important that you get a count for how many people want hair and makeup done and then find out from your hair and makeup professionals how long you should plan. This will determine a starting time for your day and will also help you figure out when you want the ceremony to start. Basically, unless you really love getting up early, you probably don’t want to have to get up at 5am to start getting ready — so plan your day accordingly. 

* How long do you have the venue and how long do you want to party? Let’s talk about the party. 

First, find out when the venue curfew is and then decide how long you want to dance for.  Factor in time for dinner and other formalities and this will give you a good idea for when your reception (and thus, when your ceremony) should start. Generally, you want at least 2 hours to dance. Any less and it feels like the party ends before it even begins. Also, keep in mind the longer the party, the more alcohol is served. If it is going to be a long night and the lodging is not offered onsite, think about offering car services or transportation for your guests. 

* When will sunset be?  The time of the sunset is important – especially for planning a Montana wedding. We have an epic golden hour (the hour before sunset) and you should most definitely plan to step out for at least 10-20 minutes with your photographer. Sunset usually happens during the reception but with a bit of planning, it is easy to find the time to take advantage of these epic wedding photos. Unless you hate beautiful, light-filled, golden images, I promise you won’t want to miss this.

How Much Time Do I Need?

Here is a rough estimate of how much time you need for each area of the wedding to help with your planning: 

Hair and Makeup:  TBD by hair and makeup artist

Getting In Dress: 30 minutes

First Look: 10 minutes

Couple Photos: 15-30 minutes (depends on photographer)

Wedding Party Photos: 15-30 minutes (depends on photographer)

Family Photos: 10-40 minutes (depends on amount of photos and the photographer)

Ceremony: 30 minutes on average, allow longer for religious ceremonies as necessary

Cocktail Hour: 60 minutes

Dinner: 45-90 minutes (depending on style of dinner and number of guests)

Reception formalities such as speeches, first dances, cake cutting, etc: 15-45 minutes

Your planner, if you have one, and your other vendors can help you determine a more specific time frame depending on your vision and number of guests. If you are creating a timeline on your own, ALWAYS reach out to your vendors to confirm the timing before finalizing. 

Final Thoughts

Here are a few final thoughts to send you on your wedding planning journey. 

*If you do not have a planner or coordinator, make sure you designate a point-person who will remind you when it is time to do something and to keep things running smoothly. 

*Remember  – your timeline will go to shit. 

Yea, you read that right.

Timelines almost always change. And that is 100% okay. Things will probably run late and you may decide not to do everything you had planned.  Who cares? It’s your day. Do what you want. 

And, besides, most likely no one will even notice if you skip something.  

*Most importantly – have fun! 

Brittany Newman is a Montana Wedding Photographer and owner of Soirree 99, a luxury wedding design studio.  Brittany creates exclusive and memorable events for destination clients from all over the world. Her style is bold, eclectic and personal.


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I'm Brittany and I'm so happy you're here. This blog is a journal about all things hosting, design, wedding planning and anything else that makes my heart flutter.

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