TORONTO - Nina Durante had been to so many traditional weddings as a kid that she could instantly identify the year, location and highlights of a stranger's nuptials when they showed her an old wedding photo.
It was easy, she says, because of the entrenched customs that defined so many unions decades ago.
"That was the dress that was in style and that was the bridge that everyone had to get their picture taken at," explains Durante, the daughter of a wedding photographer who now works as an etiquette consultant with Vancouver's Social Graces.
Those days are long gone, she says, noting many modern couples seem eager to break the wedding "rules" rather than follow them.
With wedding season in full swing, Durante and other experts mused on some of the trends they're seeing:
1. The death of the wrapped wedding present.
Like the garter toss and veil over the bride's face, consider this an outdated relic.
Most duos now ask for cash, says wedding planner Laura Olsen, and it seems most guests welcome the more practical offering. Sure, it's less personal, but it is a much safer bet than superfluous glassware or an expensive espresso machine that could break in a year.
"You never know what anyone's going through. Maybe they're trying to buy a house, maybe they want to pay down debt — or just pay off the wedding," says the head of Toronto's Laura Olsen Events, who nevertheless discourages couples from specifying a preference for cash or gifts on invitations.
"I'd say for a 150-person wedding maybe two gifts show up. The rest is all cards."
2. Let's party.
These days, soon-to-be-wed couples are focusing more on throwing a memorable party for their family and friends, with some relegating the formal marriage ceremony and photos to an intimate event on the previous day, or even weeks before the reception.
That allows the couple a private, meaningful moment with an officiant and a close circle of friends and relatives, says Olsen, who did something similar for her wedding.
Later, they can throw a splashy bash with their pals that's simply focused on fun.
Olsen says there are all sorts of ways couples are streamlining a traditionally awkward schedule of events in which guests are often forced to hurry-up-and-wait.
"It could be ... not wanting to do as many speeches during dinner and having it be more of a party and having really great food and drinks," says Olsen, also noting there are fewer "head tables" these days in which the couple is on display.
3. A personal touch — for the guests, too.
Many couples are still setting up photo booths for their guests but Toronto-based planner Karina Lemke says some have moved on.
Lemke, who's appeared on the TV series "Rich Bride Poor Bride," says she's seeing couples hire artists to paint guest portraits or caricaturists whip up mementoes during the cocktail hour.
Durante says the big trend is to avoid wedding cliches and involve guests in the experience. Why do a wedding cake when you can have a tower of doughnuts in every flavour?
"There's so much outside-of-the box thinking. They want to do what hasn't been done before and that's everything from invitations to the venue. And they really want it to reflect the couple," Durante says of her clients.
4. A new kind of bridal party.
Olsen has noticed two extremes when it comes to the number of groomsmen and bridesmaids at a wedding.
"It's either having one or two people in their wedding party or they're having 20. There isn't really that medium number of five anymore on either side.... They're either including everybody or just the siblings or whoever's most important."
Even the dog might be enlisted to play a role.
"You never know what they're going to do but if it's someone that means something to them — whether it's a pet or a person — let's do it."
5. Skip the church, and the officiant.
Out of about 60 recent wedding clients, Durante says 15 consulted her on how to pull off "commitment ceremonies" — a public affirmation between two people that is not legally binding.
"People have various reasons for why they're not legally tying the knot," she says. "But to them this is their 'wedding.' ... They're planning a wedding, just minus the legality"
Durante says they can be simpler affairs, but no less meaningful.
"They're personalizing it to really celebrate the love between two individuals and it's really done in their way. Personally, I think that is fantastic and I see a lot more meaning in those types of ceremonies or services than I do when it's more the cookie-cutter that you can pretty much recite in your sleep."