Julie Russell always dreamed of getting married on New Year's Eve.
It just seemed like the ideal way to start a life with her groom, Eric Gullett.
So when Russell and Gullett of Baltimore designed their Save the Date cards, it was all about setting the stage for the big party Dec. 31. Each shimmery card included a packet of confetti: a precursor to the reception that will include a "confetti bar," where guests can pick among colors to throw at midnight. The theme for the wedding is "Cue the Confetti."
"We wanted to build the excitement. If people are going to spend the holiday with us, we wanted it to be fun and funky," says Russell.
Russell and Gullett are among many couples getting innovative with Save the Dates. The informal cards, typically sent to guests shortly after the engagement, have become increasingly popular in the past seven or eight years. According to Style Me Pretty, an online wedding resource, about 75 percent of engaged couples send Save the Dates.
Rachel Zemel, owner of Kindly RSVP Designs in Baltimore, has created cards modeled after race bibs, boarding passes, even scratch-off tickets. Couples want to show their personalities and make an impression, says Zemel.
"It's a nice touch to share about the couple or what they're interested in or what the theme is for the wedding," Zemel says.
Magnets, pop-up cards and miniature books listing the details are popular cards, says Mariam Naficy, CEO and founder or Minted.com, an online design company.
"A quirky backdrop, an empty frame, a shot of the couple's shoes are all fun images we've seen a lot of lately," Naficy says.
Like many who find ideas on Pinterest or wedding sites, Ashley Rios says she got the inspiration for her Save the Date from Style Me Pretty. "I was looking at some pictures on there. We took a little bit of that and made it our own," says Rios.
Josh and Ashlie Strevig of Taneytown love photo booths and planned to have one at their September 2012 wedding. When it came time to design Save the Dates, the idea stuck.
"We thought: Why don't we do something a little different and make it look like a photo booth?" says Ashlie, who hired April Wright, owner of Ellicott City-based Elusion Photos to design the cards. "Everyone loved it."
The cards are a showcase for creative design or, often, fun photography.
Rios and her now-husband, David, decided to shoot their engagement photos in a hotel suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown, close to where David owns a hair salon. The result? The Riva couple snuggled under the covers with only their eyes peeking out. "We just wanted something fun and silly," Ashley says.
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Ziegler sometimes doesn't know what direction the photo shoot will take until it happens. She'll get to know the couple and then they will collectively decide on a location that best suits the pair's interests and lifestyle. "Usually I'll bring along some chalk or spray-paint to the session. Sometimes we don't know what we're going to do," Ziegler says.
During one session, she and a couple were walking through an old train tunnel at Patapsco Valley State Park. They spray-painted their wedding date on the tunnel walls, and the couple used the photo for their Save the Date. Another time, Ziegler was photographing a couple in a park while they were drinking coffee. The couple wrote their wedding date on the coffee cups, and that became a Save the Date.
Though brides brag about details of their wedding on Facebook and Twitter, and share snapshots on Instagram, snail mail still reigns when it comes to Save the Dates.
Wright says some brides might send e-cards or post on Facebook about their wedding date, but a postmarked card is preferable.
"I personally think it's better to have something printed. It's timeless. It's something your parents can keep in a scrapbook. It's always better to have something printed in addition to digital. You can put it in a box and pull it out in 50 years."