LET’S BE FRANK. A big part of wedding planning is about control. From the guest list to the menu, you and your darling are going to have to decide when to hold tight on the reins and when to cede control to others. At some point in the planning process, things might get so hairy you’ll be thinking elopement, and while we do love a good

elopement story, there is another option. Enter the surprise wedding. “Where an elopement is just the bride and groom, a surprise wedding allows all your friends and family to be part of your celebration—both ceremony and reception—with the ultimate reason for everyone gathering being unknown to the guests,” says Kaleb Norman James, floral and event designer and owner of Kaleb Norman James Design. This means just about the only thing that differs between a surprise wedding and a traditional ceremony you’ve spent months (or even years) planning publicly is the public part. “You’ll miss out on some of the pre-wedding festivities like showers and bachelor and bachelorette parties, you won’t get wedding gifts (at least not at the wedding), and you won’t get to share some of the planning process with close friends and family, like dress shopping with your maids,” says Carina Van Son, wedding planner, designer, and owner of Carina Van Son Weddings. On the flip side, she says, you’ll end up with a

wedding that “no one will forget.” “You’ll have your guests talking about how amazing this was for years to come,” she says. If this sounds like something you might want to pursue, here are some additional things to consider.

Is a surprise wedding right for you?

VAN SON: “It’s great for the independent couple. Surprise weddings remove some of the conventional stressors, like questions and suggestions from guests and family members. It’s also good for couples who are looking to do something a little out of the ordinary—maybe they’re known for doing the unexpected and love the shock value.”

What are things you can let go of with a surprise wedding?

JAMES: “Traditional wedding attire: Most guests won’t expect to be dressing up as they would for a wedding, because they just think they’re coming to a party or a gathering. You can also eliminate the potential hassle of determining and arranging a bridal party, avoiding the potential drama of asking people who maybe couldn’t afford it or

offending people who would expect to be in it but whom you didn’t plan on asking.”

How much time should you reserve for planning?

JAMES: “It still requires the same amount of planning, if not more, since you’re adding the extra layer of it being a secret! You’re still having to determine a venue, food and alcohol, transportation, letting everyone know when and where, etc.”

VAN SON: “What’s more essential is to try to plan the wedding around another life event. This provides a distraction big enough to lure everyone there. Engagement parties, milestone birthdays, and graduations are a few great diversion options.”

Any potential drawbacks?

JAMES: “The possibility of people not prioritizing the event, thinking it’s just another party, as opposed to a wedding. This is heightened a lot if you’re hoping for out-of-town guests to be in attendance. The same goes for people assuming what they’re coming to is more of an open-house style of event and missing the wedding portion of the event. I strongly recommend having a defined start time so guests are present for the main event!”

Final words of wisdom?

VAN SON: “Just make sure you and your fiancée can keep a big secret!”