A seemingly glamorous magazine job, a dashing beau and a fabulous fairy tale wedding—it sounds like Hollywood’s version of “Southern girl charms the big city” starring Academy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon, and it just so happens to be the real life story of Tennessee native Rachel Hardage.
An inherent tastemaker who believes “every thing you do is a reflection of your style,” Hardage built a career by forecasting trends and shaping content for magazines including Glamour, Real Simple and Real Simple Weddings, the publication prized for its creative, practical and inspiring solutions. In late 2010, Hardage signed on as executive editor of Southern Living and decamped to Birmingham with fiancée Brian Barrett. They bought a house, adopted a puppy and planned their wedding bit-by-bit amid such significant changes.
“Although I had spent a decade in New York City,” says Hardage, “I still very much identified with being Southern and therefore wanted a Southern wedding. However, that meant roughly 80% of our guest list would have to travel South of the Mason-Dixon—some for the very first time. We looked at several Southern cities, but we ultimately picked Charleston because it was easy to get to—and get around—and it was the location that people seemed most excited about.”
Fortunately for Hardage, the years spent divining the sublime from stacks of product pitches and sleuthing out lesser-known locations for dazzling photo shoots came into play with her personal life. The decision to host a destination wedding in Charleston was ultimately an act of professional kismet: she fell in love with an image of the Legare-Waring House, the antebellum plantation home situated beneath a grand avenue of oak trees at Charles Towne Landing.
“I can’t say enough wonderful things about Juliet Jones,” says Hardage of the photographer whose “vintage-modern”-styled grove of oak trees image cinched the locale. “Charleston has such a built-in beauty—shady oaks, cobblestone streets, gorgeous gardens—that you don’t really need to do much to have a beautiful wedding.”
With Jones hired to photograph the wedding and Charleston agreed upon as the host city, Hardage and Barrett set about to create a weekend affair full of personal and personalized touches.
“We mailed out our save-the-date info in small mason jars,” says Hardage. “Inside each jar, there was a tea bag, a packet of Domino sugar and a little card that said “Good Times Are A-Brewin’ in Charleston, South Carolina” on one side and “Save the Date for a Sweet Wedding Weekend” on the other.”
The welcome gifts were similarly steeped in charm. Iced tea pitchers filled with Moon Pies, cheese straws and other Southern staples greeted guests, who kicked off the festivities with the rehearsal dinner at High Cotton.
On Saturday, the Jones’ image of the Legare-Waring House came to life, and the lawn proved the perfect setting for a homespun affair with southern flair. Inspired by the verdant setting, Ooh! Events incorporated organic details, like bay leaf garlands and sweetgrass adorned with baby’s breath, into the floral arrangements. Hurricane lamps hanged from tree limbs with wide white sashes and tables were dressed with small silver chalices. Guests arrived to the sounds of River City Dixieland Jazz Band and cups of Whistlin’ Dixie, a bourbon-lemonade cocktail. Small paper bags filled with stone ground grits and sealed with stickers that read “Hominy Ever After” were placed on the chairs furnished for the outdoor ceremony.
The clever touches continued into the reception. Cru Catering set up a biscuit bar and slider station—each laden with an array of “help yourself” condiments. Old footballs and galvanized buckets filled with refreshments lined the bed of a vintage truck parked near the reception tent, in homage to football season. Meanwhile, orange—Hardage and Barrett’s shared collegiate color—provided a vibrant pop toward the end of the reception.
“Brian went to Princeton, and I attended the University of Tennessee, so we distributed orange foam #1 fingers as a nod to our wedding date of October 1,” says Hardage. The newlyweds departed the reception beneath a send-off arch of foam fingers, but the party wasn’t over.
Guests boarded shuttles for to the after-party at FISH restaurant and discovered a chicken biscuit waiting on each seat, a moment Hardage calls “deep-fried merriment” and “the biggest hit of the night.”
The decision to host their wedding in Charleston proved to be a gift unto them. “Now we have an excuse to go back to the city on every anniversary, and this time I won’t have to worry about fitting into a wedding dress. Bring on the shrimp and grits!”