How Traditional is Your Wedding: From Formal to Casual and Everything Between
On a scale of Formal and Traditional to Casual and Un-traditional, there is a lot of variety. One of the things you as the couple get to do is decide how you want to fall between these lines. Here's how I think of it:
Formal - Black Tie: your guests are gonna be decked out in their best digs and ready for a swank event; probably a more high-end venue
Fancy, but not formal - Beach or Barn: what I'd consider to be the most common in the 21st century; guests will get dressed up, but not black tie; the location and decor will be lovely, but not over the top and glitzy
Rustic, Casual - Backyard Party: this one is homey and intimate and a little DIY (don't get me wrong, I love DIY - my wedding was full of it!); probably smaller attendance
And lets face it, a lot of this has to do with $$. As much as we wish it didn't, truly it does. So if you go back through and rate those by wedding budget/cost, it would look like this:
$$$ Formal - Black Tie
$$ Fancy, but not formal - Beach or Barn
$ Rustic, Casual - Backyard Party
Some weddings don't fit into any of these molds, and that's awesome. These are just guidelines anyway - definitely not "official." I think they can help to illustrate the spectrum - you put your event on that spectrum wherever it fits best!
In terms of the gauge of Traditional vs Not-Traditional, there's so much wiggle room that it's hard to pin down exactly what "traditional" means. There are also a million different traditions! You may have cultural traditions, religious traditions, family traditions, etc. Here's how I look at it:
Traditional: you are sticking to the book and doing a traditional (per your cultural, religious, and familial beliefs) ceremony with a reception afterward
Sort of traditional: maybe you have some of the traditional pieces, but you've added some of your own and left some out; reception afterward
Not traditional: you've made your own way and your own style and it's still a legal marriage; probably a reception afterward. I'd also venture to add elopements into this category simply because they're less common, if not necessarily less traditional.
These are just generalizations - your event will fall somewhere in between or be a completely different aesthetic than what I listed because that's the best part! It's about you! Find a way to tell your love story and share it with those nearest and dearest to you. Make it personal and special, regardless of where it's held or what outfit you're wearing.
What you decide along the way in your planning will determine where your wedding falls in this "scale" of tradition. How much do you want to spend? What is your venue? What kind of styling are you going for? What are your must have's? What will your attire look like? What meal will you serve? All of these things are decided by what things you value... by that I mean that the things you want to keep traditional may dictate where your venue is, what your dress looks like, and what kind of ceremony you have. On the other hand, you decide what colors, cost, food, flowers... everything should be priority as well! They go hand in hand.
So why should any of this matter? It'll help you with the etiquette to follow based on the type of wedding (or event!) that you're having. There are certain things that should be done, no matter where you fall within the scale. Check out the Modern Wedding Invitation Etiquette series I posted for more specific information and to make your wedding wonderful and amazing, but also make sure it's PC to not offend any grandmas!