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Southern couples are just plain lucky. In addition to having access to some of the most beautiful venues in the world, we have delightful weather most of the year AND gorgeous outdoor spaces – the two main necessities to throw a tented event! If, like many of our readers, you’re thinking of dining and dancing al fresco on your big day, you’ll want to read up on the ins and outs of renting a tent. We’ve broken it all down for you in Tented Weddings 101 with the help of our friends at Sperry Tents!

If you refer to the timeline at the front of your Southern Weddings Planner, you’ll see that “renting a tent” should be checked off right after or alongside “secure a venue.” You’ll want to take into account the cost of a tent AND your venue cost right from the start to make sure you’re getting an accurate picture for your budget!

Sean Money + Elizabeth Fay

The two main types of tents are pole tents and frame tents. Pole tents tend to be prettier right from the start (they’re the ones with the swooping skyline!), but they do have center poles you’ll need to design around and they require 5-8 feet of clearance on all sides for staking into the ground. Frame tents can be set up on any surface (like pavement), can be configured into more shapes by joining multiple tents together, and do not have center poles. However, the frame is visible from the inside (and if you don’t like the look of the frame, an expensive liner is required to cover it up).

A gorgeous Sperry tent at night from Lauren + Rob’s wedding (photo by Jen Fariello)

A Sperry tent is, in my opinion, the ultimate pole tent: thanks to their hand-milled support poles, genuine sailcloth ceilings, unobtrusive side walls, and cheerful pennant flags, they are the epitome of effortless elegance. Their classic aesthetic pairs perfectly with any landscape, from a beach to a sculptured garden. And because their tents are made from sailcloth, they are equally attractive adorned with decorations or left simple and clean. It also means their canopies are translucent, allowing natural light to seep in during the day and electric light to glow out during the night.

How cool is this?! Sperry center poles are milled by the company founder in the historic saw mill on his property.

To determine the right size tent, you’ll need at least a ballpark figure of the number of guests you’re expecting and a rough idea of the type of meal you’re serving. In general, in terms of square feet per person, the order goes: cocktail party (about 6-12 square feet per person), seated dinner (about 18), buffet dinner (about 20). Those numbers can easily change based on the type of tables you rent, your other decor, the size of the dance floor, and whether you’re hiring a band or a DJ, so it’s best to work directly with your rental company to determine the right size and shape.

And be sure to review your rental contract for the change or cancellation policy – you’ll want to be able to size your tent up or down if your plans or guest list change over your engagement!

Here are a few add-ons you might want to consider:
— A catering tent: Even if you rent a Sperry for your main tent, ordering a simple frame tent from another rental company for your catering tent can be a great way to save money – nothing fancy needed there!
— A clear top or a liner: If you’re not ordering a Sperry, these are two options to consider. Just remember, a clear top is not a great choice if your event is taking place during the day (it will heat up faster than butter melting on a biscuit!), and a liner can add three times the cost of the tent to your budget (though they can be lovely!).
— Flooring and lighting: Not all sites require flooring, but if you’re worried about uneven ground or rain in the days leading up to your event, laying down flooring is smart. Renting just a dance floor is a good intermediate budget option. And make sure you have a plan for lighting – Sperry retailers offer a variety of beautiful options, from cafe lights to classic fisherman-style lanterns.
— Heating and cooling: Very important considerations in the South! The best options are large portable fans for cooling, and a tent furnace for cooler months (portable heaters can be fire hazards and are square footage hogs).

Ira Lippke Studios

If you’re pitching your tent near an existing structure, you might only need to rent tables and chairs. If, however, you’re not near a fully-equipped venue, your rental list might run considerably longer, from a generator to portable restrooms to flatware, glassware, china, and a complete bar set up.

Even the smallest details on a Sperry are gorgeous, like these handcrafted support patches that allude to their sailing heritage! (Photo by Snap! Photography)

When you start receiving quotes from tent companies, make sure they cover the basics: fees for delivery, set-up of the tent and accessories, and breakdown, as well as any costs associated with fire or zoning permits. Also, be sure to go over the timing of the set-up and breakdown with your venue, as many companies will want to set up the day before and breakdown the day after your event.

Any other questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer!

Sperry Tents are only available through a network of licensed providers and are available for rent throughout the South. You can find out much more on their website here! I personally guarantee you will not regret your decision to go with a Sperry :)

This post is brought to you by Sperry Tents – thanks for your support of the brands that make Southern Weddings possible!

emily Written with love by Emily
1 Comment
  1. avatar Anne reply

    Emily, whenever I think of Sperry tents, I think of your wedding! Beautiful! I love this post (and all SW posts), but am REALLY missing Southern Newlywed posts on Fridays… are they coming back or gone forever? (Say it ain’t so!) Happy weekend to you and your loves!

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Erin and Joe’s love story is a testament to the idea that “when you know, you know.” They knew after their first meeting that what they had found in each other was worth starting a long-distance relationship for. Joe knew by his first Christmas with Erin’s family that he would someday ask her to marry him. That same confidence carried into their engagement as they planned their Salt Harbor celebration, knowing that they wanted to start their marriage surrounded by community. Their big bridal party and the effort they put into caring for their guests is proof of that, and I can only imagine how palpable the love for this sweet couple was on their special day!

Thank you so much to A.J. Dunlap for sharing Erin and Joe’s wedding with us!

I traveled down to my friend’s bridal store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to find the perfect gown. I thought I wanted something with lace, but after trying some on, all of the lace dresses felt too formal for me. When I tried on my beautiful ombre gown, I knew it was the one. It had the special touch I was looking for, and the silk organza was so soft and light. It was perfect, and I knew right away that it was the dress I would wear on my wedding day.

Did you have something borrowed, blue, old, and new? If so, do tell! As my something old, I had a gold “A” brooch that belonged to my paternal great-grandmother and a gold heart charm necklace with my maternal grandparents’ names on either side that I attached to the stem of my bouquet. My grandparents were not able to make the trip to the wedding, so the necklace was in honor of them. My dress, shoes, veil, jewelry, hairpiece, and garter were new. At the last minute right before the ceremony started, my mom gave me her engagement ring to borrow for the evening–since she has such small fingers, I wore it on my pinky finger!

Our favorite detail was our GIANT wedding party, which included important people in our lives from lower school and beyond. We also had gentlemen (my brother and a friend) who stood on my side and ladies (Joe’s sister, sister-in-law, and a friend) who stood on his side.

For our ceremony and cocktail hour, we had a quartet that was led by my former high school orchestra teacher. I knew from the beginning of wedding planning that I wanted him to play for the ceremony. It was especially meaningful because our officiant, my maid of honor, and my brother are all former students of his as well, so it felt like a little reunion.

What made you choose your ceremony and reception venues? Did they have any special significance to you? Our ceremony and reception were held in the same place–we were aiming for simplicity and did not want guests to have to travel between different locations to get from the ceremony to the reception. We “flipped” the ceremony space into a reception, which was the easiest and most efficient way for us to achieve that goal. The food and the cake were provided by the country club, and having an all-inclusive experience helped us streamline our vendor list.

We planned our wedding with the emphasis on making it as easy and fun for our guests as possible. We had shuttles take our guests to and from the wedding, so drinking and driving wouldn’t be a concern. We were blessed with cool summer weather, but held our events under nautical sail cloth tents that provided shade, and created our programs in the shape of fans, just in case of warm temperatures. We had corn hole boards set up that were painted with UNC and Vanderbilt themes (in honor of our alma maters). We also had a bourbon bar (Joe is a whiskey man), where guests could sip their favorites, and my brother painted us a sign to hang over the bar that said “Franklin & Broadway” in honor of the main streets in Chapel Hill and Nashville. During the cocktail hour, the bourbon bar served mint juleps and Moscow mules for guests to enjoy.

Describe your wedding cake or dessert. We had a simple, three-tiered wedding cake, but as a little surprise, it was a funfetti cake with strawberry cream in the middle! It’s too easy for a wedding to feel “stuffy,” so we wanted to go with a cake flavor that so many of us loved growing up. We also had a groom’s cake that was Vanderbilt-themed (because Joe loves Vanderbilt sports), with a perfect replica of a football helmet on it. The cake was Rocky Road flavor, which was definitely a guest favorite!
Did you pull any wedding inspiration from memories you have together? Tell us about it! Joe and I enjoy going to UNC and Vanderbilt sporting events together, so our exit with pom poms in our schools’ colors was a fun little addition! As we were waiting for everyone to get lined up so we could run through, we could hear people yelling the schools’ chants. It was a very memorable end to our wonderful night.

How did y’all meet? Tell us your love story. We met over Memorial Day weekend in 2011 on the patio of a little bar in Topsail Beach, North Carolina. We were both in town visiting friends for the holiday weekend, and met through mutual friends. After chatting for most of the night, we realized there was something special between us and we wanted to see each other again, even though we were living five hours apart (I was in Durham, North Carolina and Joe was in Washington, D.C.). We spent the next year driving to see each other on the weekends, before we got the chance to move to Boston together for two years of grad school (yay, no more long-distance!).
Tell us all about the proposal! Joe proposed over Memorial Day weekend in 2014, at the very same beach where we had met three years prior. I had spent most of the day at the beach while Joe stayed up at my parents’ house. Later in the afternoon, Joe met me down at the beach, and we proceeded to set up our beach tent so we could enjoy some time together. I was laying on my stomach reading when he got down on the beach towel next to me and started talking about how much he loved me. He then pulled a ring box out of his pocket and asked me if I would marry him. I, of course, said yes, and then we celebrated with a bottle of my grandpa’s homemade wine, which had been given to Joe the first Christmas he spent with my family. He said he knew when he received it that it would be the wine that we would use to celebrate our engagement someday.
When did y’all get married? May 24, 2015
How many friends, family members, and loved ones attended your wedding? 150
What readings, if any, did you have at your ceremony? We did not have any formal readings, but Joe’s brother recited a verse from the Old Testament and a prayer, which talked about being physically and mentally present for each other throughout our lives, especially in the first year of our marriage. It was really special.
If you are comfortable responding, what range did your wedding budget fall into? $50,000-$75,000
What was one way you saved money or cut costs at your wedding? We purchased a GoPro camera for guests to use to videotape the ceremony and reception. We were able to save money, and the GoPro provided more personal candid shots of the wedding, which was what we wanted. We also made our own save the dates instead of purchasing them from a paper vendor.
What advice do you have for folks currently planning a wedding? Use spreadsheets to track everything (budgets, guest lists, gifts received, vendor contacts), and be as organized as possible. Also, let people help you with wedding tasks–don’t try to do it all yourself. You will find that you’ll enjoy the wedding planning journey a lot more if you distribute some of the work. People will offer to help, so let them (and then thank them for making things easier for you).
What’s next for you as a couple? What memories are you looking forward to making together? We just returned from our honeymoon in Puerto Rico, and we are excited to ease into a “normal” life of cooking together and spending our free time on the weekends together. There are many date nights in our future!

Photographer: A.J. Dunlap Photography / Planner, Florist, and Rentals: Salt Harbor / Venue, Catering, and Cake: Country Club of Landfall / Tents: Sperry Tents / Furniture Rentals: Party Suppliers / Lighting: High Performance Lighting / Band: Band: Mr. Potato Head via East Coast Entertainment / Invitations: Invitations by Dawn / Programs: Woodlark Designs / Save the Date Stickers: Social Print Studio / Bride’s Gown: Martina Liana / Bride’s Jewelry: Nadri / Bride’s Hairpiece: Richard Designs / Hair Stylist: Wedding Hair by Liz / Makeup Artist: Lauren Tedino / Bride’s Shoes: Jimmy Choo / Bridesmaids’ Dresses: Donna Morgan / Bridesmaids’ Necklaces: Stella & Dot / Groom’s Attire: Hugo Boss / Groom’s Shoes: Ted Baker / Groomsmen Attire: Savvi Formalwear / Groomsmen’s Cuff Links: Release Me Creations / Bridal Salon: Bustle / Dress Alterations: Isabel Donnelly / Bridal Suite: The Loft on Front / Transportation: Wilmington Trolley Company and Cape Fear Transportation

Invitations by Dawn and Donna Morgan are delightful Southern Weddings advertisers. Bustle, Sperry Tents, and East Coast Entertainment are members of our Blue Ribbon Vendor Directory.

lisa Written with love by Lisa
  1. avatar Yours Truly Wedding Albums reply

    Breathtaking images! What a gorgeous wedding!

  2. avatar A.J. Dunlap reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful southern wedding that we had the privilege of photographing. We are so honored to see it featured here!!! xoxo~A.J. & Kyle

  3. avatar Dana reply

    I like his sweet, low-key proposal!

  4. avatar Reece reply

    Love Social Print Studio!!! I used their photostrips and tinybooks as my save the dates. ❤️

  5. avatar Tatyana Lee reply

    That bouquet is incredible!

Southern Weddings reserves the right to delete comments which contain profanity or personal attacks or seek to promote a business unrelated to the post.  And remember: a good attitude is like kudzu – it spreads.  We love hearing your kind thoughts!

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The best weddings feel like experiences outside of time and set apart from normal life, where everyone has the attention, space, and energy to focus on what matters most. There are many ways you can help cultivate this atmosphere – have a strong logistics plan, budget time for moments with family members – but one of our favorites is creating an environment that feels special, and marks the occasion. I can think of no better way to accomplish this than with a Sperry Tent. (I will admit to a bias, though – I rented one for my wedding!)

Three looks at a Sperry tent from Lauren + Rob’s wedding (photos by Jen Fariello)

The beauty of Sperry Tents is that they are strikingly beautiful just as they are – no tent liner, no draping, no elaborate florals or lighting needed. They are elegant and classic.

Sperry Tents are handcrafted by sailmakers in coastal Massachusetts and are made from genuine sailcloth. The wooden support poles are hand-milled at a historic 1930s sawmill. All of their design decisions prioritize craftsmanship and have a minimal, classic aesthetic that’s at home anywhere from a field to a beach to a manicured backyard. You can really feel the love that went into each one when you’re standing inside!

Jacqueline Campbell via Southern Weddings

And yes, those merry pennant flags come standard with every rental. I adore them!!

If you do have a strong color scheme or elaborate decor in mind, a Sperry Tent is the perfect neutral backdrop – no clashing carpet or bad lighting to get in the way! Speaking of lighting, Sperry retailers also offer a variety of beautiful options, from cafe lights to classic fisherman-style lanterns.

Nancy Ray via Southern Weddings

Sperry Tents are only available through a network of licensed providers and are available for rent throughout the South. You can find out much more on their website here! I personally guarantee you will not regret your decision to go with a Sperry :)

This post is brought to you by Sperry Tents – thanks for your support of the brands that make Southern Weddings possible!

emily Written with love by Emily

Southern Weddings reserves the right to delete comments which contain profanity or personal attacks or seek to promote a business unrelated to the post.  And remember: a good attitude is like kudzu – it spreads.  We love hearing your kind thoughts!

Reply to: