WASHINGTON — When Capitol Hill couple Jennifer Miller and Michael Bennett got engaged, the two weighed a few ideas for their wedding day.
They contemplated planning a traditional wedding; they considered eloping to Maui. Making it official with a justice of the peace was another idea the couple discussed.
“Nothing really seemed right,” Miller says. “[Those ideas] didn’t seem symbolic or significant.”
Miller, who met her fiancé in the D.C. area, started researching types of local elopement possibilities.
“D.C. is where we started our relationship; I wanted to stick to D.C.,” she says.
During an Internet search, Miller stumbled upon Pop! Wed Co., a local business that marries couples and photographs pop-up elopement ceremonies in various places around the city.
“It was amazing. We both became really, really excited about it,” says Miller, 40. “And that’s when we knew. It just felt right.”
D.C. chefs have embraced the pop-up concept for a few years now; artists and retailers also welcomed the model. Now, couples looking to tie the knot can join the pop-up trend.
Maggie Winters, 23, and Steven Gaudaen, 24, launched Pop! Wed Co. in March.
Winters worked as a professional photographer throughout her college years. Her favorite events were elopement ceremonies, she says. After graduation, Winters took a job at iStrategyLabs, a creative agency in Dupont Circle.
“[My job] is too much fun to pass up, but at the same time I didn’t want to lose the elopement photography I’d been doing,” Winters says.
Gaudaen, a full-time business student at George Mason University, echoed Winters’ desire to stay active in photography, so the Arlington-based couple developed a business idea: holding and photographing pop-up wedding ceremonies in D.C.
“We came up with this idea of doing a few weddings in one day and having all sorts of crazy and fun locations,” Winters says.
Gaudaen became ordained as a wedding officiant; Winters dusted off her lenses.
“We just went for it,” she says.
Planning a Pop-Up Wedding
On March 8, Georgia-based couple Megan and Michelle Sharp flew to D.C. to officially start their life together. Michelle visited the nation’s capital when she was younger, but the trip was Megan’s first time.
Michelle says the couple decided to elope to D.C. because they wanted something “different, but easy.”
Hours before they exchanged vows, Michelle and Megan got ready for their wedding in the hotel room Megan’s mom rented for the weekend. Michelle wore her Air Force dress uniform; Megan put on a white strapless gown.
Then, the two walked over to the Navy Yard to meet Winters and Gaudaen, where they were married in front of a small group of family and friends.
“Everyone was cheering them on as they were walking through the streets,” Gaudaen says about the ceremony.
“It turned into something bigger than we expected,” says Michelle, who says their families threw them a party after the ceremony at a house Michelle’s mom rented for the occasion.
The Navy Yard is just one place where Winters and Gaudaen have married couples. They’ve also preformed ceremonies at the Spanish Steps, in Dupont Circle, and at the Blind Whino SW Arts Club, in Southwest.
“It’s nice with the elopements because we don’t have all of the things that traditionally go into a wedding. There’s no aisle runner; there’s no music; there are no chairs. It’s a lot easier to have a wedding at a really awesome spot,” Winters says.
On June 7, Winters and Gaudaen renewed a couple’s vows at the Meet Market, in Logan Circle, and then marched in D.C.’s Pride Parade with the couple.
“It was too much fun,” Winters says.
Capitol Hill couple Miller and Bennett are days away from saying their vows in front of the iconic Fénykövi Elephant in the lobby of the Museum of Natural History. Miller chose the location after returning home from an African safari. Besides, she says, elephants are known to bring good luck.
“It was kind of suiting,” she says.
As far as planning goes, Miller says, choosing a pop-up elopement was the right decision.
“There’s just no stress with invitations and the guest list. Everything’s just falling into place,” she says. “We went back and forth about what we were going to wear — how formal, how casual. I ended up getting this fabulous tutu-lace type of skirt.”
Miller says Bennett will wear a khaki suit.
After the ceremony, the newlyweds will celebrate with a backyard reception, filled with pulled pork barbecue and Maryland crabs, at her sister’s house in Potomac, Maryland.
“[This idea] was just close to home and kind of made sense,” Miller says.
Redefining What it Means to Elope
Eloping has evolved: It no longer conjures ideas of shame, secrecy or objections from friends and family.
“Elopements are so different now. They’re not just running off, just the two people. They’re sometimes family events,” Gaudaen says.
Because of that, Winters and Gaudaen are working to expand their business. Currently, a package that costs $1,500 includes a 45-minute picture session, a legal marriage ceremony, a custom photo album of the wedding and a few additional treats, such as a bottle of champagne.
Adding packages that include coordinated sites for a post-ceremony lunch or dinner, hotels with reduced rates and activity itineraries for couples and their friends and family is in the works.
Regardless of the package selected, Winters and Gaudaen customize every wedding based on the couple’s personalities and requests. A recent Pop! Wed Co. couple exchanged their vows on puzzle pieces, Winters says. And most couples request a specific reading or personal story to insert in the ceremony.
Similar to many of their clients, Winters and Gaudaen are planning their own elopement-style wedding. The couple plans to say “I do” sometime in the fall. Until then, Winters and Gaudaen will spend their weekends helping other couples begin their lives together.
“You get to see couples in love on their wedding day and just celebrate their marriage and there’s nothing else,” Winters says. “By the end of the day, we’re exhausted and our feet are hurting, but we can’t stop grinning. It’s just too much fun.”