A couple walk in snowy woods, holding hands, after they have eloped

What is an Elopement?

An elopement is a way of getting married that gives the couple total freedom to express themselves, without the constraints of old traditions.

Eloping is a beautiful and romantic way to get married, away from the hustle and bustle of large venue weddings. When you hear the word “elope,” you might think about running away to Las Vegas (like Ross and Rachel, even after they were on a break). Maybe even getting married by an Elvis.

Well, that CAN be an elopement. But there’s a whole range of options at your disposal when it comes to an eloping. And with elopement style weddings becoming increasingly popular, new ideas and meanings of the word are forming all the time.

What does Elopement Mean?

Traditional Elopement

Traditionally, an elopement is a secretive wedding where the bride and groom run away to another location. Historically, couples would elope when their marriage was forbidden. This could occur for various reasons, but some of the most common were:

  • The bride’s father refused to give permission. Yep, as outdated as it is to us in 2022, a daughter essentially belonged to her father until she was married (hence the tradition of “giving the bride away” when he walks her up the aisle). A father would also be expected to provide a “dowry,” or payment of wealth, to the groom and his family, which gave him even more control. Love may or may not have played a role in who the bride married. If the father had refused a potential suitor, elopement was a way for a couple who were in love to marry anyway.
  • Religious reasons. Marriage between faiths was difficult, and often a bride would be expected to marry someone from within their own faith. In 1773, Betsy Ross (who probably didn’t really create the first flag of the USA, but hey it’s a great story) eloped with a future Founding Father, George Ross Jr. Ross wasn’t a Quaker like Betsy, and their marriage caused her expulsion from the Quaker congregation and a split from her family.
  • Circumventing laws. Sometimes laws forbid a couples’ marriage in one country or state, which would be legal in another. The couple may elope to have a legal marriage. The famous elopement destination of Gretna Green in Scotland traces its origins back to 1753, when couples under the age of 21 in England were forbidden to marry without their parents’ consent. As Scotland had no such law, young couples began travelling to Gretna Green to get hitched, one of the closest and easily accessible villages over the Scottish border. The ceremonies would take place in the village blacksmith’s shop. It is still an incredibly popular destination for eloping couples today.
  • Urgency. Sometimes a quickie wedding was needed, and this could mean eloping to a church or wedding venue away from familiar folk. For example, pregnancy outside of marriage was considered shameful, so elopements would occur to ensure that the baby was born inside of wedlock. During World War Two, many young couples eloped so that they were legally married before the man was called up for active service.
The blacksmiths at Gretna Green, Scotland, where young couples still elope today.
The famous blacksmiths at Gretna Green, Scotland, where young couples can still elope today.

Modern Meaning of Elopement

Thankfully, we’re living in a time when couples have more freedom of choice in who they marry. So to some, elopements might be deemed as unnecessary. This may be true in the traditional sense, yet the meaning of elopement has changed to reflect the times we’re living in. In fact, elopements are becoming more popular in 2022: fuelled by the pandemic and changing celebrity fashions.

So what does elopement mean in 2022? It’s more about expressing yourself than escaping. Now I’m a traditional wedding photographer too, so let’s not knock the big venue and lavish ceremony. For many, this is what they imagined when they thought about their dream wedding. But they’re certainly not for everyone. Some people just want a smaller, more intimate day, with a close selection of loved ones around them.

Nowadays, elopement usually describes a smaller, more low-key wedding, with limited guests. Eloping is a way to ensure that only your nearest and dearest come along.

For others, it’s about breaking free of tradition and expressing themselves. Getting married is all about you and your partner, and for many, getting married in a way that shows who they are as a couple is as romantic as it gets.

A couple holding hands celebrate their elopement in the woods.

An elopement is a wedding day that is all about what YOU want.

Why Elope in 2022?

So now we’ve cleared up that an elopement doesn’t require you to run away in secret. But that begs the question of why you’d want to elope? The reasons are as varied as the couples who do it, but here are some of the most common.

You have full control of your wedding

A couple who have eloped, sitting together near a hill. They are surrounded by candles.

A traditional wedding can sometimes become an event for the benefit of your guests, rather than yourself. Eloping allows you to fully control the day, and not worry about traditions or organising a big party. The main benefit of an elopement is that nothing is “expected,” so you can make your day whatever you want it to be.

An elopement is adventurous.

A bride looks out over a mountain after eloping.

An elopement is way more than a wedding ceremony. It’s a whole experience, dedicated to your love for each other. And if you have a love of adventure, what better way to express it than by eloping? Whether you want to hike in the woods, climb a mountain, go on a riverboat cruise, or even sit in an open field and have a quiet lunch with your partner and closest loved ones, the choice is yours. Elopement means that you get to choose your own adventure, without being restricted by traditional expectations.

Manage Costs

A newly married couple hold hands at the beach after their elopement.

Getting married in 2022 can be very expensive. Recent figures suggest that the average cost of a wedding in the USA is $28,000. With the cost of living increasing for people across the country, this sum may be out of reach for many. And that kind of money could go towards something longer lasting than a one-day ceremony, like a down payment on the home you’re going to share with your forever partner. Eloping allows you to control costs much more effectively: from choosing an outdoor venue that doesn’t have a hiring cost, to reducing the number of guests to cater for.

Eloping is less stressful

A bride and groom kiss on the seat of their campervan, after eloping.

A wedding day comes with lots of planning. And that’s simply not for everyone. From managing guests, sorting transportation, finding a dress or suits, choosing the right venue, arranging catering, trying out color schemes, it can be easy to lose focus on the really important part of the day: your commitment to one another. Elopements strip back the complexity of your wedding day and allow you to relax and enjoy the first day of the rest of your lives together.

Control your guest list

A couple lie on the beach together after their elopement.

Large weddings can be logistical nightmares. Some people will be offended if they’re not invited. You need to organize who sits where, which isn’t easy if everyone doesn’t get along. There’s a balancing act between the number of guests on the bride’s side and the groom’s. If sorting this isn’t something you’ll enjoy, then an elopement means you won’t have to. Simply invite those closest to you, and don’t deal with the headache of guest management.

Elopement Photography

Photographing an elopement is unlike a traditional wedding. With less control over lighting, challenges presented by natural elements and being in unfamiliar locations, it is important to choose a photographer who understand this and can still capture amazing photographs of your day.

I am a specialist in elopements and have traveled for weddings widely across the USA. Whether you want to get married close by in Nekoosa or Central Wisconsin, or have me travel with you to a location further away, I can help you out with your big day.

Keen to learn more? Get in touch and we can get you booked in for a virtual or in-person chat to start the planning for your elopement.

Rachel Sue Boehm, elopement photographer, pointing a camera.