Sometimes, wedding planning doesn’t go exactly to plan. For Ali and Gianna, it was the process of finding the perfect wedding outfits that really spun them in a loop. As it turned out, their Milwaukee wedding weekend was something so much more meaningful than they could have imagined, and any speedbumps along the way were overshadowed.
THE LOVE STORY
We met eight and a half years ago as student teachers at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Gianna claimed to be a heterosexual woman, but Ali knew better than that. After a student teaching seminar one night, Gianna invited herself to dinner with Ali and their (now) mutual friend, Rachel. We pretended to be “just friends” for a few months, even though we both knew it was more than that. We started dating in secret a couple of months before our college graduation and before Gianna moved to Spain for a year and Ali moved back to Whidbey Island.
After a grueling, heartsick year dating long-distance, we both found jobs in Milwaukee and moved back to where it all began. The rest is (mostly) history.
A: On May 6, 2017, five months after I received my double kidney-pancreas organ transplant and thirteen months after I started dialysis. Gianna plotted a ten-point scavenger hunt at our most memorable places around Milwaukee. From our old Marquette haunts, to our favorite restaurants and music venues, from our first apartment together, to our favorite place to walk the dogs, there was a friend with a clue at each location.
Our dear friend Rachel is a talented artist, so Gianna requested that she hand-paint the watercolor clues for each stop along the way. My cousin and future maid-of-honor, Jen, flew in from Seattle for the weekend and acted as my surprise chauffeur. And every time I arrived at a new destination, one of my dearest friends would be waiting with the next clever, rhyming clue (read: riddle) until I reached the tenth stop at the lakefront and saw the best stop of all, Gianna.
After so many surprises, G took me to a surprise party at Third Space Brewing, where we celebrated with tons of pizza, beer, family, and friends.
It was magical, memorable, and a reminder of everything I love in life. I wake with gratitude every morning that I’m even alive and healthy enough to experience it all.
A & G: The engagement lasted thirteen months. We had been together for seven years, three of which Ali was sick and in renal kidney failure. She asked that I wait to propose until she “felt like herself again.” So, after ten months on dialysis, she received the call we’d been waiting for impatiently. Six months later and Ali was dropping hints left and right that she was ready. Little did Ali know, Gianna began planning the engagement back in February! Needless to say, we both wanted a short engagement. We waited long enough for our forever to start.
We simply wanted a venue with an indoor/outdoor space and something that would reflect “us.” It meant that we were looking for something where classic and modern could happily merge.
The Villa Filomena was a perfect place to throw what we now call “a really fancy house party.” It formerly housed a University Women’s Club and is full of character and neat vintage pieces. We would be lying if we didn’t mention Tina Sanfilippo, the owner’s daughter, and event manager. She supported us, was enthusiastic about our engagement and marriage, and was a calm voice of reason in the months and days leading up to our wedding. We love her.
Gianna loves to garden, so we cared about greenery and attention to floral details. Ali likes shiny, gold stuff and instructing Gianna on appropriate design choices. Ultimately, our venue inspired our vibe. We wanted to honor its history and style while bringing our unique touches, which felt like “us.”
We spent a lot of time and energy giving attention to detail. Things such as sprigs of greenery on the plates, personalized signs, and Ali’s students were playing our cocktail hour. To Milwaukee neighborhoods in place of traditional table numbers, signature cocktails, insisting on a thirty-three-person Queen’s Table, a late-night Belgian waffle truck, etc. We’re glad we did.
FIVE DIY PROJECTS WE UNDERTOOK:
- We purchased our own supplementary greenery for the venue and spent time after our rehearsal setting it up.
- Our guest book was a set of wine bottles designated with numbers 1-5, 10, 15, 20 to represent our future anniversaries. Our Guests wrote their well-wishes, date ideas, and advice for the corresponding year. We look forward to breaking each bottle on those anniversaries!
- Printing, matting, and framing our “table numbers.” They were actually different Milwaukee neighborhoods.
- Buying different accouterments for our signature cocktails. Ali’s was a lavender Tom Collins (homemade lavender simple syrup, gin, and fresh lemon). Gianna’s was a Ladies Press (bourbon, a splash of ginger beer, and fresh lemon).
- Growing and cultivating various ferns and ivy for the stage. We potted them in these awesome gold vintage pots from my grandpa.
FINDING THE PERFECT WEDDING OUTFIT
A: I first went to a bridal store, and it was a train wreck, to say the very least. I was sure they had the exact dress I wanted because I stalked it on Pinterest and even viewed it on the “curvy” model. However, I arrived to a salesperson who didn’t seem excited or interested in helping me. She didn’t ask about my fiance, any engagement details, etc. I didn’t feel like much of a bride there. Of course, I try on my “dream” dress, and it looks like a glorified lace garbage sack.
I cried a little because I soon realized THIS SHIT TAKES TIME. I should have looked for a dress sooner. But I was a “chill bride,” which I eventually learned translates to “stress everyone else out with last-minute stuff.” That being said, I was still hopeful for a better experience elsewhere.
Knowing I wanted something semi-fitted, stylish, lace, long sleeves to cover my arm fistula and dialysis scars, and a deep-V neckline. Over Thanksgiving break, Gianna’s cousin, Nina, insisted we check out the store where her friend purchased a dress, Brides by Young in Schaumburg, Illinois. Gianna’s mom, sister-in-law, and niece also came along, and as soon as I arrived, the sales girls were so excited for me. They made me feel like a bride! They asked about the proposal, how we met, how long we’d been together, etc. I felt special. They listened to my wishes, and I tried on lots of beautiful dresses, but nothing felt like “the one.”
Finally, just as I was feeling a little discouraged, the saleswoman brought out “just one more” because she said I needed something a little more “sassy.” Of course, I agreed. I always thought this was corny in those TLC shows, but I put it on and teared-up as I imagined walking down the aisle to Gianna. It really was the dress I’d been picturing in my mind, and now that I’ve written this, I want to go put it on just for fun again.
G: I wouldn’t say I like dresses. I feel as though I am wearing a costume. It’s an out of body experience. That being said, I knew I wanted something special, something that was “me” for our special day.
However, this task wasn’t as easy as I hoped.
At first, I tried to piece and parcel together different jackets, shirts, and pants to make an outfit, but it always looked unfinished. I then turned to seek out a suit. Finding a fun, semi femme, formal suit in my size was a task. I knew I would have to order a custom suit.
I quickly realized that very few formal suit places would fit a woman, and others were just costly. That’s why I thought I hit the jackpot when I found an online retailer who advertised making custom suits and shirts specifically for women. I was encouraged, excited, and utterly stoked. My best friend Erica’s mum measured me for the suit as I had to send in measurements via email. She is a talented seamstress, so I trusted her to make sure the measurements were right.
Unfortunately, this plan turned out disastrous. After a long process and six weeks, my custom suit arrived. To put it plainly, it was a clown suit, a $650 clown suit. It was three sizes too big and fit terribly. The jacket was huge, the pants were baggy, and none of it looked like the fun, semi femme suit that I designed online. I immediately contacted the company and tried to explain the issues. However, because they were an online retailer, it was hard to get my problem fixed in Milwaukee. They suggested I take the suit to a seamstress to fix it.
I did as they asked, but most seamstresses either said it was way too much work to fix, they would be better off remaking it, or quoted me $450 for the job. I kindly asked for a refund and found myself back at square one.
At this point, I was ready to throw in the towel and get some black pants, a button-down, a jacket and call it a day. But, my lovely fiance would not have it. She loved her dress and wanted me to feel just as special on our wedding day, so she started calling suit places in Chicago.
She noticed that one lady left a review that said she had a suit made for her wedding. Ali called and verified that they made custom female suits and immediately booked me an appointment at Adrian Park Suits. My experience there was wonderful. The ladies were super helpful, and I got to customize everything from the style of collar, cuffs, suit material, etc. It was a little more than I was hoping to spend, but it was well worth it! Two weeks before the wedding, I picked up a beautiful suit. Everything fit like a glove. They truly made my vision come to life.
THE WEDDING DAY
G: I loved that I got to wake up in our home, snuggled with the pups, and then leisurely had a cup of coffee on my couch. The madness didn’t start for a couple of hours, so I was reveling in the calm morning.
One of my favorite memories of the day was meeting Ali on the Hotel Metro roof for our first look. Even though she couldn’t see me when I first turned the corner, I actually turned right back around because of her presence, the backdrop, the day, everything came over me like a rush of emotions. I had to take a deep breath and try again. The second time, I made it all the way to her, read a poem I wrote, and then she turned around. That moment was pure magic. We were super secretive about our outfits and any appearance details, so it was all a real surprise.
The ceremony was another favorite. We had our dear friend/cousin preside over the wedding, and he wrote the best script. It was very emotional, with not many dry eyes in the audience.
Lastly, one of my favorite memories was changing into my jordans (I collect gym shoes) and dancing the night away!
In the planning process, we stopped many, many times and asked ourselves, “does this matter?”. We wanted our day to feel like us. We are proud of how everything turned out because from beginning to end, it was the best day ever. Filled with pure love and a true reflection of the life we share together.
That’s not to say there weren’t small hiccups or snafus, but they were only details we noticed. In the grand scheme of things, any errors were lost in the love and beauty of the day. We would encourage others to remember that.
A: I want to relive this long, party-full weekend all over again, and again, and again. I’m so thankful for the happy-accident in which the Pfister Hotel upgraded us to the Governor’s Suite at no extra charge because our regular suite was double-booked. I woke up in a fluffy king-size bed and took a bath in a jacuzzi tub (as I did the night before, too, obviously).
My friend and cousin stayed with me, and it was a relaxing morning of breakfast in the room with my bridesmaids and mom and hair and makeup at the spa downstairs. I also had a quiet moment to open G’s gifts and card to me. She gifted me a gold band engraved with “some things were meant to be” – a line from the song we walked down the aisle to, a black and onyx ring from England, and custom Converse shoes with our wedding date and wedding colors.
The first look was incredible. Breathtaking. We sneaked onto the roof of the Hotel Metro, and between the warmth, the breeze, the energy, I could barely stand not being able to see her. I faced away as she walked toward me. She read me a poem she wrote, and I tried not to cry off all my makeup. I had been waiting in such anticipation to see her and her suit. God, she looked amazing. Astonishing. So damn good. I was elated; she found something that reflected her and her style perfectly.
Hands down, my favorite part of the day was the ceremony. We had three married couples and all of their children in our bridal party. So we had each family walk down the aisle together to symbolize the strong and loving marriages and families that have come before us. It was unplanned, but all the kids ended up at the “altar” with the bridal parties and us. It felt like home. I loved how intimate it felt in the ivy-covered patio and that I insisted on an “unplugged” ceremony.
I really thought that since I’d already seen Gianna, I wouldn’t weep ugly tears down the aisle, but I totally did. Our cousin-by-marriage and my maid of honor’s husband, Ron, acted as our officiant. While we gave him a template for our ceremony, he crafted a beautiful script that captured our love and commitment to one another.
As English teachers, Gianna and I wrote and read our own vows in front of one hundred and fifty of our closest friends and family. That was the most beautiful part of the day for me. I can’t wait to get our wedding video so that I can relive it over and over again.
I loved that we snuck away during cocktail hour to share a meal upstairs together; it was quiet and special, and I would advise all couples to do something like this.
Gianna’s first dance with her father was endearing as ever.
Last but never least, I am eternally grateful for stuffing several leftover waffles into my purse for the next morning. We married the day before my 31st birthday. So when I woke up and found those gems, it was the best birthday gift I could have given myself. Every hangover loves a Belgian waffle.
Photography by Megan Yanz