We love any excuse to celebrate, so when one of our own—Madison Avenue personal shopper Sonya Benson—got hitched, we couldn’t help but tag along for the fashionable festivities. The bride, along with James Markey, her groom, spread the celebration over the course of a weekend, their City Hall ceremony taking place on a Friday evening, followed by an intimate dinner with family. The party carried on with a larger reception Saturday night and a bagel brunch on Sunday. A true New York occasion, the Saturday reception was graced by none other than Sonya’s long-time friend Rihanna. Yes, that Rihanna.

Being that Sonya is one of the most fashionable women we know, we needed the scoop on every aspect of the nuptials: the party, the guests, the dress. Make that dresses: She wore one gown for the ceremony and another for the reception dinner. Scroll on for a look at all the merrymaking, as well as Sonya’s tips for making sure you’re a stylish standout at the next wedding you’re invited to.

Sonya Benson
The bride and groom at their City Hall ceremony.

“For my ceremony, a lot of people expected me to have this custom-made designer dress, and I did have a few friends who are designers offer. But my grandmother—who inspired all of my tattoos—had passed away, and while I was home for her funeral, I decided to make a dress appointment at a little bridal boutique with just my two best friends from high school and my mom. I wanted to share that intimate experience with them, where it wouldn’t be about a big, expensive designer moment for me, but it’d be about the time that I got to spend with them. We walked into this appointment expecting just to have a moment together, but I walked out with a dress.

I wanted it to be extremely simple—I’m not a 20-year-old bride. I’m not a petite size 2. I’m 6 feet tall! I was enamored by the ‘60s, and I liked that really rich cotton lace that you just don’t see all the time and that not many people wear. I knew I wanted it to be simple—I wanted it to be about me. I tried it on and I thought, this is my dress. It couldn’t have been any more classic, and it’s not what anybody expected of me.”

Sonya Benson
James Markey and Sonya Benson, along with their bridesmaids and groomsmen, James’ four children: Grace, David, James, and Anna.

“My maid of honor was my best friend from high school, Amy Rohwer, and James’ daughters Anna and Grace were my bridesmaids. James had standing with him Craig Washington, his best friend from the naval academy who served as his best man, plus his two sons, James and David.

Sonya Benson
The bride and her mother share an intimate moment following the ceremony.

“What was most amazing was that every single one of my relatives from Iowa came, so they kept calling it the Benson Family Reunion—my one uncle hadn’t left Iowa in about 50 years! I had one uncle and one cousin who couldn’t make it, but otherwise, everyone was there, which has never happened in my family before.”

Sonya and Jim Wedding Ceremony NYC - 08.28.15 Credit: Jonathan Grassi

“My something old was my necklace, a cross made of 22k gold and antique rose-cut diamonds that Renee Lewis designed for me and that I wear almost every single day. My something new was both my dress and my Manolo Blahniks. My something borrowed and something blue were both the same thing—a one-of-a-kind bracelet from Irene Neuwirth made of 22k gold, lapis, and rose-cut diamonds.”

Sonya Benson Ceremony (5)

Following the ceremony, the wedding party hit the tracks, taking the subway from City Hall to a private dinner in Little Italy at Rubirosa. “I lived on Mulberry between Prince and Spring for 20 years, and Rubirosa was in my building, so I’ve always thought of it as my restaurant. The night of my wedding, they closed down so we could have a private dinner for 32 people, and it couldn’t have been more perfect.”

Sonya Benson

The scene at American Whiskey, where the reception was held the day following the ceremony. “My friends Kevin and Robbie closed on a Saturday night for us so that we could have a seated, family-style dinner for about 140 guests, followed by dancing. It was supposed to be 5-10PM, but ended up going until 2AM!”

Sonya Benson
James and Sonya at their reception dinner, which was hosted at American Whiskey.

“About 10 years ago, Barneys’ bridal boutique was closing. When they were clearing everything out, every single dress was marked down to an almost ridiculous point, and my boss at the time found this beautiful Collette Dinnigan gown. We couldn’t believe it—it had never been worn and looked like it hadn’t even been tried on. I tried it on, and it fit beautifully, so I thought maybe I could have it dyed to wear for an event, or even give it to somebody. It was just all French Chantilly lace, and I couldn’t pass it up. I bought it and I’ve kept it all these years.

“When Jim proposed, I knew it wouldn’t be my wedding dress because I wanted to pick out something more traditional—he’s a more traditional person—so, I knew I’d wear it as a reception dress. I had always envisioned a big fashion moment, and I wanted that dress to be a part of it, so I had a milliner make me the feathered headpiece and I added the cream Balmain blazer with the gold buttons. I just was lucky enough to find the dress and to know that it was a timeless style that I’d be able to wear whenever the time came. And I was lucky enough to get it for a steal. It’s not about how much money you spend; it’s about how you feel in it.”

Sonya and Jim Wedding Reception American Whiskey - NYC - 08.29.15 Credit: Jonathan Grassi

A true New York moment!

Sonya Benson

One of the guests at the wedding was Sonya’s long-time friend and styling client Rihanna.

Sonya and Jim Wedding Reception American Whiskey - NYC - 08.28.15 Credit: Jonathan Grassi

Girls just want to have fun! A playful moment in the photo booth, shared by Rihanna, Sonya, and some of the party’s younger attendees.

Sonya Benson

A girl must know how to accessorize, and clearly the pink bow goes perfectly with Rihanna’s Dries Van Noten robe dress.

Sonya Benson

Rounding out the weekend of festivities was Sunday’s bagel brunch at Baz Bagel, where Sonya and James shared a quiet moment. “By the time Sunday rolled around, I wasn’t even wearing any makeup. It wasn’t important to me—it was just about spending time with friends and family and about how happy I was.”

Sonya Benson
Who says it has to be a bouquet that you throw?

After the experience of planning the entire soirée, Sonya’s officially a wedding expert, so who better to ask for tips when it comes to dressing for the next nuptials on your calendar? Her main tip: “Comfort, comfort, comfort! Wear flats! I told my guests not to wear heels, because I wanted everyone to dance. You can still be chic in flats, and you’re not going to have fun if your feet hurt.” Her other tips:

  1. Know your audience. Plan your outfit according to the invitation specifications. “If an invitation says ‘Black Tie,’ that means it calls for a long gown. If a bride takes the time to include that, she doesn’t want you to wear a midlength cocktail dress. It doesn’t have to be a ball gown, but it should go to the floor.”
  2. Know your venue. “If you’re going to a more conservative or religious ceremony, a strapless dress may not be appropriate. Especially for temple or church, you might need something with sleeves. Similarly, if you’re at a beach wedding, you don’t want to be hot all day.”
  3. Know what you like and what you’ll feel your confident in. “If you don’t think you look good in pink, don’t wear pink—even if the colors of the wedding are blush and bashful and you want to be a bit festive. Wear what you’ll feel your best in.”
  4. Rule number 4—there are no rules. “You have to take each invitation and each wedding on a case-by-case basis. There’s no one rule that will fit for every person and every wedding. Well maybe one—don’t wear white! No one wants to upstage a bride.”

Put these rules into practice as you scan the below picks from Sonya, one of which is sure to be perfect for the next wedding on your calendar.

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