Photo: Elizabeth La Piedra.
Bianca Betancourt and her fiancé.
When New York-based editor Bianca Betancourt announced her engagement, which happened over a romantic weekend in New Orleans, on Instagram in October 2022, she and her fiancé were already thinking about their wedding, from the location and the flowers to the guest list and music. Also: an engagement shoot to announce the forthcoming nuptials.
“We wanted something that would stand the test of time,” Betancourt tells Refinery29 of her shoot, which took place in February 2023. “[When we met] we were two people doing different things in the creative scene in Chicago, so we really wanted something artistic, too.”
“I think that there is so much more pressure on brides today having to put together fantastic outfits for everything,” says Julie Sabatino, a bridal stylist and founder of The Stylish Bride, a wedding styling service.
This is especially true for couples who plan to post their photos on social media. Because, while engagement shoots are not necessarily new, the TikTok factor certainly ups the ante. On the app, for example, searches for the #engagementphotoshoot have generated over 800 million views, with everyone from couples and photographers to wedding stylists sharing their insight into how this (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime photo session should look like. “Everyone wants something unique and a location that will either stand out or no one’s ever really done before,” says Kentucky-based wedding photographer Olivia Avers. “Couples want to reflect more who they are than what fits the mold.”
While they didn’t do it in pursuit of views, Betancourt and her fiancé wanted their outfits to be a tease of what guests could expect from their wedding, as well as reflect them as creatives. They opted for a more laid-back feel to the photos — which were taken in an empty room with white walls and wood molding — and a white suit and nameplate necklace for Betancourt and a black suit with a matching T-shirt for her fiancé. For those looking closely, there was one Easter egg that hinted at the vibe of their wedding: Betancourt chose to go barefoot in the photos. “We want [the wedding] to be elevated and elegant and you know a little bit glamorous,” she says. “[But] at the end of the day, we’re gonna get really drunk and have a good time in New Orleans.”
Sabatino says that engagement shoots are a moment in wedding planning in which couples often choose to represent themselves more than in any other event, from the setting — couples today are going for art galleries and dive bars — to the outfits, which can range from black tie gowns and red velvet dresses to casual jeans and leather jackets. “From a fashion perspective, it’s just a moment to express your personal style in a different way,” she says, adding that people also choose to forgo traditional white. “It’s a moment that isn’t limited to just a single palette.”
Denver-based Lesley Pace and her fiancé, for example, decided to match in green, symbolizing both their hope for their future and their love of nature. “That is how we wanted to step into marriage together with the concepts of growth,” she says. It was a uniquely personal decision for the two, who married last year in private, with no guests, and used their engagement shoot to notify loved ones of their nuptials. “It was kind of a series of conversations of us sitting down trying to determine how we wish to express ourselves and celebrate this moment that we may not have gotten to have with everybody,” says Pace. A former beauty pageant contestant, Pace picked a sequined mermaid gown from her own archive to fulfill her love of “being sparkly,” while her fiancé ordered a traditional Nigerian suit from an artisan on Etsy.
Pace sees the popularity of engagement shoots as a purely generational phenomenon. “My mom said the other day, ‘Oh, now you have to do bridesmaids proposals, engagement photos, all of these extra steps, and for us, it was just the wedding,” she says of the differences between her and her parents’ nuptials. “I think that maybe we are more nostalgic and capturing those moments and maybe not just being so immediate in just doing the wedding.”
Betancourt agrees. “The wedding isn’t just about the wedding anymore. It’s kind of about everything that leads up to it, the weekend, what you do after it, they’re all becoming a part of the wedding extravaganza,” she says. And when it comes to the engagement shoot, which normally sets off the race to the altar, for many couples it’s a moment they can be sartorially themselves within a centuries-old tradition.
“Of all the wedding events, it’s the least I’ve been stressed about in terms of what to wear,” Betancourt says. “It just felt like us.”