The Problem with "Styled"

Photo by Shandi Wallace

Photo by Shandi Wallace

I had a bit of a revelation the other day. A hosting revelation. An event epiphany, so to speak. I’ve been fairly vocal on my blog about trying to ease the pressure to be crafty, keeping things simple when it comes to party and wedding decor and DIY projects, and even shared my own personal holiday and party decor to show that it can be easy and uncomplicated. However, I wasn’t sure where this desire to calm people the eff down about decor came from. Why was I so anti-decor and making tables and centerpieces and events look nice? I realized the other day that it’s about the motivation. It’s about staying true to WHY you want your table to look beautiful.

I attended a small event recently that was really lovely. At the event was a beautiful dessert and drinks table that was “styled” by a local event stylist.

I got the creeps.

In today’s age of Instagram and Twitter and blogs, I had the sneaking suspicion that this styled table was not for the guests’ enjoyment. It was to be viewed through a filter. It was to be enjoyed by those who could not be there. For those who maybe wish they’d been invited.

Styled shoots are not my cup of tea. I prefer real weddings. Real parties. Real people. The fact is, if it’s a good party, shit’s gonna get messy.

Now, I obviously don’t know this for a fact. And I realize I’m walking a very thin line here. Why does it matter if we make things beautiful for ourselves, for our guests, or for Instagram followers? Maybe it doesn’t. But I think trying to stay as genuine as we can, in any celebration, is really important. Our motivation to host should be real. It should come from a grounded place. It should reflect the desire to meet, and celebrate, and interact and socialize – not take photos of a table with our phones. We should be motivated to please our guests, absolutely – but to the point that they feel like an effort was made, and you care – not to the point that they’re afraid to reach for a bite of food.

I’ve always had a negative reaction to the word “styled” in the wedding industry, so I realize I’m biased (when I make my dinner table look nice, I don’t tell my guests that I “styled my table” just for them). Styled shoots are not my cup of tea. I prefer real weddings. Real parties. Real people. The fact is, if it’s a good party, shit’s gonna get messy. The cake will be eaten. Crumbs will be dropped. Drinks spilled, and food consumed. I’d really love to see more “after” shots in this industry. The first-looks are great, but some of my favorite photos are of the sweaty couple at the end of the night, hair disheveled, tie undone, dress hem dirty. I realize photos of a picked-over buffet or an empty plate aren’t glamorous. I really do get it. But in our over-styled world, our curated and filtered lenses can blur things sometimes.

So I want to emphasize that if the food is good, if the drink is plenty, and the company is great, people will have a good time. You don’t need a styled dessert buffet if the pie is the bomb. You don’t need an elaborate Thanksgiving centerpiece if you have your loved ones around the table. If you want to spend 2 hours arranging decor for your next event, do it – just make sure you’re doing it because it brings you and your guests true pleasure, and not so that you can get 1,000 likes on Instagram. We can’t live our lives and enjoy our celebrations in a “styled” frame of mind. Because life is beautiful and messy.

(This piece was originally shared on The Plannery blog.)


Katie Wannen is the lead planner at The Plannery, a boutique wedding planning and coordination company in Washington, D.C. At The Plannery, there are no “shoulds” – they support and nurture each unique client. Their business style reflects Katie's Brooklyn background and her current Del Ray neighborhood – friendly, real, creative, and open-minded, where inspiration is more important than aspiration and where the priority is spending money in a smart and conscious way.