Fairytale Flair: Your Little Mermaid Wedding

We were alone. Nobody hid behind the rubber ficus. The waiter was on hiatus. On the other side of the booth, Lenna looked at me pleadingly. In a voice normally reserved for confessions like, “I have a pathological crush on Richard Simmons and he’s filed a restraining order against me,” she said, “I’m toying with the idea of an Ariel-themed wedding. You know, like The Little Mermaid.”

Then her lips clamped shut while her eyes begged me not to judge.

Which I could never do because Lenna makes the most amazing sushi, in her very own kitchen, and always uses the good kind of nori you don’t need those vampire fangs to bite through. Anyway.

No Sweat, Yvette …

What Lenna didn’t realize is that she’s actually in good company. “The Little Mermaid” belongs to that class of fairytale-themed weddings that won’t be washing out to sea anytime soon.

Let’s face it, few subjects can lay claim to higher-wattage romance than mermaids. Mash up their goddessy history, the Grimm story, the Disney re-telling and the endless options for “under the sea” weddings, and you have plenty of ways to make a splash without inspiring cringes or coming off childish.

Okay, But Can We Hold the Mermaid Puns?

This is kind of unusual, but I think the best place to start planning a mermaid wedding is by looking at the little gifty things you might end up buying for your bridesmaids … or out-of-town gift bags.

It might seem backward. But I practically guarantee it’ll get you in the mood. The mermaid jewelry out there is the cutest ever. The seaweed-based botanicals to plump up your skin are insanely luxurious. Take a look at this stuff, but try not to buy $2000 worth of floating-pearl chokers right before your wedding, or you might have a pouty fiancé.

Along the way, you’ll come across finds like this incredibly adorable clamshell trinket box that couldn’t be more perfect for your ring bearer. Oh, and diehard Ariel fans might get a kick out of buying nautilus shell necklaces for their best girls.

Prepping Your Royal Proclamation

Mermaid-ready invitiations range from the “I don’t care what the Moymerheimers think!” Ariel invites in blue, to the popular white and embossed z-fold featuring Ariel, Eric and your monogram, to more generally beach-themed invitations featuring starfish, hibiscus blossoms, seashells, sea horses or sand dollars. And then, of course, there’s the ever-popular message in a bottle invitations.

Bathing Beauties (and Above-Water Debuts)

We could jump right into wedding décor here, but talking about your future finery is way more fun. The gown, for example. Not only is the mermaid (or trumpet) gown tailor-made for this event, it was also the champion on the bridal catwalks last fall, with heavyweights like Herrera and Wang trotting out major collections in 40’s-style curves.

Of course, you’re not just looking for a mermaid silhouette — you want the whole flippin’ mermaid fairytale. So amp up the glamour with a pair of elbow length gloves, a super-sparkly choker, and dangly earrings. You’ll probably want your hair in sexy, long-and-loose ringlets (if nature wasn’t generous, now might actually be the time to think about a little help in the form of extensions). Perhaps get some orchids woven in, or silk ribbons, or a tiara that winks at the sea.

And think sequins. A purse, say, beaded with rows of large white sequins looks suitably fishy and bridal at once. Consider a sequined bodice in oceanic hues for your bridesmaids, too. And floating chiffon scarves in azure, and perhaps a few blooms for their hair.

Make sure everyone’s footwear sparkles: barely-there sandals with thin, feminine straps.

The Greatest Ball of All

The big fairytale themes aren’t easy to do on a budget, or in the local VFW. They beg for over-the-top treatment, big gestures, dramatic visuals that won’t shrink to nothing in a grand interior. The mermaid bride can save herself a lot of trouble by picking a venue that does most of the heavy lifting. Really, you can’t overstate this.

Try to find an aquarium, a water park, a zoo with a lot of fish tanks. If this just isn’t happening, go for a ballroom with tall ceilings, elegant banquet chairs and light and airy decor. For the latter, be prepared to go nuts with swags (tulle, organza), and tap a lighting designer to create a sense of liquidity and depth. Make sure it doesn’t go so far that Aunt Sadie gets violently sick.

Tricks of the trade: a great rental or prop shop. Even if your venue isn’t perfect, a prop shop can save the day. A well-stocked one might offer Greek pillars wrapped in ivy (for that Lost Atlantis look), wine barrels, treasure chests, wooden pilings, Captains wheels, fishnets and other indispensable trinkets that probably aren’t lying around your basement.

Then, for those DIY touches: consider stocking the place with giant pearls (pearlescent quality latex balloons, or styrofoam balls you’ve painted with pearl paint and suspended from the ceiling). Drape swags of fishnet down your pews.

Doll up your centerpieces with sea glass, faux pearls, beta fish*, and/or seaweed-colored raffia wraps. Tuck flowers into conch shells. Or create a dreamy look with clear glass cylinders filled with loose orchids, lit from below with an otherworldly blue or fuchsia glow.

Hang aquatic silk canopies over the cake table, guestbook table, the “I am so fabulous” table, whatever you’re doing. You get the picture.

Flank your entrance with two industrial-strength bubble machines and a couple of older kid nephews. (Hint: the former’s as cheap to buy as it is to rent. The latter might help out for free.) Have the nephews play “herald” and mark your entrance with giant wedding horns made from conch shells. Make sure they know they have to eventually stop.

No royal mermaid goes anywhere without her trusty dolphins, so have them chipped out of ice. And guide guests to their seats with a sandy tray filled with seashell card holders … or tagged pencil starfish.

Sound is one of the main secrets to ambience, and mermaids love harps. So see if you can get some dreamy strings to play, at least at the start. Later, have your DJ and lighting expert stage a dramatic waltz for two to the strains of “Kiss the Girl.”

A Siren Song Before We Part

Remember: while beach weddings are all about things we see on land … with a few items from mysterious deep washing up on shore, maybe … an undersea wedding takes us straight to the heart of those hidden mysteries that few ever get to see. So play up those not-quite-tame things, like coral, seahorses, seaweed, tropical fish and other briney delights.

A mermaid-worthy menu can be just about anything suitably grand, but consider a raw bar, stocked with fresh oysters, and sushi (mmm, sushi.) and an asian seaweed salad.

For favors, hand out lighter-than-air “seafoam” confections in aqua blue favor boxes, or personalized engraved sand dollars, or chocolate fish.

Even Mermaids Sing the Blues (and Pinks, and Whites)

What does your mermaid, Ariel-theme or “Under the Sea” wedding look like? Share your planning up, downs and inspirations with the rest of us.

Oh, and That Asterisk

*Live fish are controversial. And for good reason. If you’re buying 12 or 20 betas for your wedding, please make sure you have some fish-friendly people to take them home afterward. Don’t put two male Betas in the same bowl. And for the sake of all things fishy, don’t put food coloring or candles in the water. Fish are very sensitive. Even the chlorine in normal tap water can kill.

That said: if you want fish, have them. In all honesty, those little guys in the tiny plastic tubs at the pet store aren’t always long for this world. If you take care with them at your wedding, you might actually save some lives.