The dress code was “Zoom formal, pants optional.” And when Mark Van Name and Jen O’Leary got married in their New York City apartment Saturday afternoon, their virtual guests dressed for the occasion.
They wore tuxedos on top with shorts on the bottom. They donned pearls, T-shirts, cocktail dresses, swim trunks, and festive hats. One friend, a doctor at a hospital, called in wearing scrubs and a face mask.
“The one thing Mark wanted to make sure was on the invite was that pants were optional,” O’Leary, a 27-year-old who works in technology management, told BuzzFeed News of Van Name, 28, who works in customer experience strategy for Con Edison.
Since they got engaged a little over a year ago, the couple from Queens’ Long Island City neighborhood had been planning a fairy-tale wedding that involved getting married in a picturesque Manhattan church, a big reception in Brooklyn, and over 200 of their family members and friends by their side.
But when the coronavirus pandemic began shutting down New York in March, it became clear that their wedding wasn’t going to happen as they’d hoped. They postponed the big celebration till September, but as the original date loomed, they felt disappointed that they wouldn’t be able to call each other husband and wife as soon as they’d expected to.
Then, on April 18, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he would sign an executive order allowing New York couples to obtain marriage licenses remotely and authorizing clerks to perform virtual weddings. The entire process can now be done online, New York City officials announced Wednesday, as part of a secure, virtual process dubbed Project Cupid.
With New York officials encouraging online weddings, Van Name and O’Leary found the inspiration they needed. “We were like, Well, maybe we should just do it!” O’Leary said. “It was just kind of a way to make the original day still a happy day.”
In less than a week, O’Leary and Van Name planned a whole new virtual wedding that allowed their loved ones and themselves to celebrate, even during social distancing.
“Everyone was just really excited that we still did it, that we got everyone together and didn’t let the pandemic stop us,” Van Name told BuzzFeed News.
The couple already had their marriage license, having rushed to obtain it in a panic in March when they heard the courts might close. They reached out to their local council member, Jimmy Van Bramer, to make sure they were going about the process correctly. But rather than simply advise them or join the pair via Zoom, he offered to marry them in person.
So that morning, before the big Zoom ceremony, they put on their wedding attire — accessorized with sneakers, masks, and gloves — and walked a mile and a half to Van Bramer’s house in Sunnyside.
They stood about 10 feet away from him in the backyard he shared with his neighbors for the short legal ceremony. There, amid brilliant New York sunshine and surrounded by their council member’s lush greenery and flowers, they were legally married.
“We put the marriage license on a table in the middle of the yard and approached it one by one to sign it,” said O’Leary. “Everyone brought their own pen.”
When they were pronounced husband and wife, they pulled down their masks and kissed. Onlooking neighbors cheered.
Then, they walked all the way back home and got ready to say their “I do’s” in front of loved ones watching on their screens.
O’Leary wore an outfit she’d been planning to wear for her rehearsal dinner: an ankle-length cap-sleeve cream dress from the Los Angeles–based fashion brand Frame, paired with blue heeled sandals. Van Name wore a tux from Suitsupply he had in his closet.
They had ordered a tripod to stream the ceremony from, but it didn’t come in time, so instead they got creative. “We stacked like 14 books to make sure the computer was at the right height,” Van Name said.
Half an hour before the ceremony began, the couple’s friends and family started logging into the Zoom call in droves, which O’Leary said was “the most entertaining part.”
“Our parents were trying to introduce aunts and uncles to each other, but it was all on Zoom,” she said.
By the time the ceremony kicked off, more than 100 people were on the call.
“We had been debating keeping it to a smaller group, but luckily we were able to use Mark’s sister’s work Zoom account,” O’Leary explained. (With paid versions of Zoom, calls can include a greater number of participants and can go on for much longer.)
With a little planning, and a lot of love from guests and vendors, the couple turned what might’ve been a quick legal proceeding into a genuine celebration. Their florist sent them a bouquet. Guests sent more bottles of champagne than they could drink. Their photographer offered to edit iPhone photos of their big day, which the couple shot using the self-timer feature in their apartment — coincidentally the same place they had taken their engagement pictures.
Their remote officiant, Mirelle Eid with Honeybreak Officiants, delivered a heartfelt speech via Zoom about how the couple met and fell in love, recounting how they both attended Lehigh University in Pennsylvania but never crossed paths, met as coworkers in 2014, and finally started dating two years later when Van Name asked O’Leary out — to enjoy some homemade chicken parmigiana.
“My mom’s side of the family, we make our own tomato sauce and we jar it every year,” Van Name said. “I had some leftover sauce, so I invited her over.”
“We always try to eat chicken parm on the anniversary of our first date since then,” O’Leary added.
How are you marking life events in creative ways during the pandemic? Email this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Throughout Saturday’s ceremony, guests sipped Bee’s Knees cocktails that they themselves had prepared in their own homes. The couple had planned to serve the drink as their signature cocktail at their wedding, so instead they emailed out the recipe — gin, honey syrup, and lemon juice — ahead of the Zoom festivities so people could really get in the, well, spirit.
They also requested guests send them photos of themselves in their “Zoom formal” looks, which they’re planning on compiling in a guestbook.
Of course, so many things can go technologically wrong with a Zoom wedding, but the couple planned ahead to make sure it all went smoothly. “We broke out the plan minute by minute, like when we’d mute everyone, and when we’d hand off the host privileges,” Van Name said.
“My maid of honor was the designated muter of everyone,” said O’Leary.
But the ceremony went off without a hitch.
When their officiant said, “You may now kiss the bride,” O’Leary’s maid of honor unmuted the guests, who erupted in cheers as the couple kissed in their living room.
From there, it was time for the party. The couple bounced between six different Zoom meeting rooms, chatting with smaller groups of family and friends for about half an hour each.
“We were joking that it felt just like a standard wedding reception feels, because every group that we visited we had some conversation, talked about how nice the ceremony was, and it all went by way too fast before we had to move on to the next one,” said O’Leary. “After a couple, we were joking, ‘Time for the next table.’”
On one of the calls, they sliced a brown butter cake, which Jen had baked the day before and frosted with coral-colored flowers.
Another smart technological move the couple made was setting up different links for each of the smaller Zooms, so their loved ones were able to stay online even after the couple left and keep chatting and celebrating with one another.
“I know [that in] one of my family Zooms, they stayed on and talked for two more hours,” said Van Name.
Just like at a standard wedding reception, the bride and groom found themselves rather exhausted by the end of the festivities. They wrapped up with the smaller Zoom calls around 10 p.m. and much like many newlyweds who spend their wedding busily chatting with guests, they realized they hadn’t even had dinner yet.
“We were planning to order a fancy French meal during one of our breaks, but our Zoom calls went over time. So by the time we got around to ordering, it was late, so we got Greek food,” said O’Leary.
The food choice was fitting. They’d planned on going to Greece for their honeymoon, but that too will have to wait a while. “We basically went on our honeymoon early,” she joked.
Once it’s safe to do so, they still intend to get married in their church and have an in-person party with guests like they’d planned. But they’ll always look back on their Zoom wedding as the joyous, unique occasion that it was.
“It wasn’t about the party, or the band, or the food,” said Van Name.
“Or the open bar,” said O’Leary.
“The most important part of a wedding day is marrying your person,” she said. “We were still able to do that.”