Saying ‘I Do’ to Prince William, Virginia

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By Audrey Harman, Contributing Writer

Photo by Imagewerks

Photo by Imagewerks

Weddings are a unique experience for each couple, but no matter your style, planning a wedding usually requires a lot of forward thinking, staring at the calendar, quadruple checking of lists, deep breathing and…more deep breathing. To save time and money (and to conserve oxygen for others), why not hold your wedding here in Prince William and use local vendors? Everything is more acces- sible, you can get trusted referrals from friends and you’ll be supporting community businesses. From historic properties to country clubs to idyllic natural settings, Prince William is home to a number of lovely venues, as well as excellent bridal vendors. The most difficult part of wedding planning seems to be getting started. What do you schedule first? How far in advance do you need to start planning? Where do you spend your money? Like many brides-to-be, Christiana Woodard, a longtime Prince William resident, found herself asking these questions as she started planning her wedding to now-husband Aaron Woodard in September, 2011. She decided to assign various months to each stage of planning to keep herself on schedule and within budget. “March was for the flowers, April was for designing the invitations, May was for the men’s suits,” explained Woodard.“I put a binder together…staying organized is the best advice I can give,” said Woodard, who started with her dress and planned everything else around it. “I tried on so many dresses, I think I became addicted to trying them on—I even got a job at a wedding boutique briefly.” According to Amy Domenech, owner of Amy’s Bridal Boutique in Woodbridge, brides should be encouraged to try on every silhouette so they know what looks and feels best to them. “Sometimes a dress that looks great on them, might not appear attractive on the hanger,” said Domenech. “So they need to try it on. We do this every day; trust us to help you find what is most appealing for you…Sometimes their personality comes out in a dress they think they’re against.”

Photo by SoftBox Media Photography

Photo by SoftBox Media Photography

Domenech says many brides come in with notebooks full of dress ideas and sometimes even their own sketches. To narrow options, research styles and think about your budget. Explains Domenech, “You want to be budget-conscious, but you don’t want to limit yourself. Keep your options open and who knows, you could find a deal.”

The attire for the wedding party is a main feature of most weddings because these are the people whom everyone is watching throughout the event. Rather than asking her bridal party to dress identically, Woodard had her bridesmaids choose any dress they wanted within her color scheme. “I didn’t want them to pay a large amount of money for their dress,” said Woodard, “So I gave them some color palettes and let them pick out their own dresses.” For the local members of the bridal party, that meant being able to select from  the wide array of clothing stores in Prince William, from larger stores at Potomac Mills and Manassas Mall to specialty dress shops.

The Woodards have the advantage of having graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, where they met in 2009, as art majors. Christiana now works as a freelance illustrator and Aaron is a freelance graphic designer, so both had artistic approaches to the wedding. They decided to save money by planning their wedding in a do-it-yourself (DIY) way. “I went on Pinterest and got a lot of DIY wedding ideas. We didn’t really hire any vendors except photographers,” said Woodard. Pinterest ( is a virtual cork board where users “pin” inspirational ideas and photos from all over the internet, keeping them organized in one location. These “pins” link back to their origin websites, which often feature instructions on how to achieve the look or complete the project shown.

“Since we are artists, I wanted our wedding to have a handmade feel,” Woodard said. “I got the idea to save money and make my own flowers out of coffee filters and watercolor paint. Flowers can get into the thousands of dollars, but a pack of 100 coffee filters costs $1.75…so if you have the patience–I had no life until they were done–it’s worth saving yourself the money.” Woodard made all of the bouquets and boutonnieres herself and each one had a personalized feel.

The two also designed their invitations and sent them off to the printer. Unfortunately, mistakes were made in the text of the final product, and they had to reorder them three times. “There went our decoration budget,” said Woodard with a laugh. Instead of letting it get the best of them during the stressful planning, Woodard and friends turned the seemingly useless invitations into pinwheels and boxes to hold the M&Ms given to guests as favors. While Reuters recently reported the average cost of a wedding at $27,000, as recent college graduates, the Woodards had to stick close to their budget of $12,000 and let nothing go to waste.

Another cost savings came through selecting Guapo’s in Woodbridge to serve Tex-Mex style food at their reception.  Asking if your  favorite restaurant offers catering can be a good place to start the food search. Some eateries are even able to double as a venue. Additionally, Prince William has a number of well-respected caterers who are familiar with the ins and outs of local wedding venues, ensuring smooth sailing at meal time.

When booking a venue, it is important to look at what services are provided. Some offer catering or decorating, and most can suggest photographers or bakers who are compatible with their location. Jeanna Hilton, director of sales at Stonewall Golf Club in Gainesville, said it is best to use local vendors because they have less of a chance of getting lost and are more accessible. Hilton suggested booking your venue nine to twelve months in advance to avoid complications. In her experience, mid to late October is a popular time to host a wedding in Prince William. “The great thing about Prince William is that we’re close to major airports, a little bit more country, and it’s easy to access D.C. with out-of-town guests,” said Hilton.

Prince William is filled with unique, historic locations like Rockledge Manor to host your wedding or reception.  Photo by SoftBox Media Photography

Prince William is filled with unique, historic locations like Rockledge Manor to host your wedding or reception. Photo by SoftBox Media Photography

For Woodard, after looking all over, she chose Rockledge Mansion in Occoquan. Rockledge met the couple’s criteria for affordability, attractive outdoor space and personality. “It’s old, and each room was different—making it not as cookie-cutter as other places we looked at, and there was a team that made sure everything was set up,” said Woodard. “The greenery, the ivy growing on the windows, and the giant rock the ballroom was built around added to the uniqueness. It was visual overload for our photographers.”

Mollie Tobias, a photographer based out of Haymarket, said, “The best weddings, in my opinion, are the ones where the couple really went the extra mile to make it personal.” Tobias suggested that the bride and groom develop a good relationship with their photographers so they are comfortable being photographed and so the photographer can understand their personalities and how to direct the photo shoot. “I try to provide as much information as possible about my style and process to potential clients before they even contact me so that when we do get together, we can both feel pretty sure that we will be a good match,” said Tobias. When planning photos, she suggests thinking about all the different details you want captured. “I set aside at least 30 minutes to capture the dress, rings, flowers and other details. The next important part is the formal portraits of the families and then the more casual portraits of the bridal party and the couple. After that, it’s the candid moments that showcase the personalities and the story of the day,” said Tobias.

Photo by Imagewerks

Photo by Imagewerks

Another local photographer, Kathy Strauss of ImageWerks, said a big mistake couples make is not giving themselves enough time to really get to know the person that will capture their wedding day. She suggested booking six to twelve months in advance. Strauss also said her photography style can be guided by what interests the bride and groom and what is important to them as a couple. “Whether they like traditional, conservative, Disney, the 1920s, country music—their interests help me know what style of photographs they need, where they can be taken, and an idea of budget,” said Strauss.  She noted that Old Town Manassas, Manassas Battlefield, Historic Occoquan and Prince William Forest Park are all popular settings for engagement photos.

Christiana, whose family is from Colombia, also kept a little family tradition in the wedding, choosing a salsa for the father-daughter dance. “I always get depressed watching father-daughter dances at weddings because poor daddy is giving his little girl away…I didn’t want my wedding to be like that,” laughed Woodard. She also honored her parents by having the wedding ceremony at All Saints Anglican Church in Dale City where they are youth pastors. “We got married in the new atrium and there was so much light and it was nice and bright,” said Woodard.

When planning your wedding in Prince William, there are many options to fit your own personal style here. Nestled between mountains and rivers, with easy access to D.C. and airports and home to a mix of historic and modern properties, there is truly something for everyone. “When it comes to wedding venues, you get the best of both worlds,” said Tobias.

This also rings true for wedding vendors, with many local photographers, salons, caterers and other service providers ready to make your Big Day special.  Whether you decide to go the DIY route like the Woodards, or you choose a more traditional route, look to Prince William first and just keep marking off on your checklists…oh, and maybe take a deep breath or two!


diamond rinkHow to Pick Out An Engagement Ring

Brenda Root Monn, a gemologist and goldsmith, and one of the proprietors of Jerry’s Occoquan Jewelers, has some helpful insights for choosing an engagement ring. Monn says a great start is to develop a relationship with a local jewelry shop, building trust and making it easier to get maintenance or repairs done later on. For budget, Monn says, “Two months’ salary is a good starting-off point to spend on a ring.” She added that you shouldn’t get wrapped up in the diamond’s certifications and that you need to look at it in person. That way you can see the “4 C’s” (cut, color, clarity and carat) and judge what might look best on your fiancé’s hand. While one carat is currently a popular size, Monn advises, “Work towards the ring—get what works at the time and upgrade for a later anniversary.” She recommends buying as high a quality as you can within your budget with no visible inclusions to the unaided eye. “Focus on the beauty of the diamond, not the certifications,” she says. “The cut is most important.”

Author Audrey Harman has a B.A. in English and Spanish from Hollins University and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Publications Design at the University of Baltimore. She resides in Woodbridge and can be reached by email at


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