Engaged? Congratulations! Now all you've got do is plan, coordinate and pull off the actual wedding. No small task. Weddings are still formalized affairs, no matter how simple a ceremony you're dreaming of, and there are a lot of traditions involved. You want to enjoy your day, creating memories for both you and your guests. Yet you also want to follow that somewhat nebulously-defined thing called "wedding etiquette." But which rules work for everyone?
Weddings are no less imposing for those of us attending, either. What to wear, what to buy the happy couple, travel details...it's a lot to deal with. And yes, those endless traditions also affect guests. Wedding etiquette seems to change with every new issue of the bridal magazines, and knowing which rules are tried and true and which can be overlooked is nerve-wracking.
Deep breath, though. We've gathered a list of wedding etiquette dos and don'ts for couples and guests alike. These are simple guidelines that have stood, and will stand, the test of time. Fashions come and go, but these classic rules remain the same.
Etiquette refers to standardized ideas of polite behavior. When it comes to weddings, the concept of "proper" etiquette is often steeped in tradition. Why? Because once upon a time weddings involved formal contracts between families, not just couples, and even included negotiating "bride prices" and other economic considerations, like dowries. Tradition dictated etiquette to make the ceremony (and its contracts) valid in the eyes of the community.
These days, while some weddings are still quite formal, the actual rules making up the day can be played with, a lot. Core elements remain, such as bridal and groom parties, a procession and a formal exchange of vows, but even these are open to interpretation. So when it comes to modern proper wedding etiquette, what we're really talking about is how to be polite, be respectful and make sure everyone has the best time possible.
Yes, there are a lot of details to firm up between now and when you tie the knot, but do your best to keep your perspective (and your sense of humor) along the way. Very few details will actually make or break your day, and absolutely none of them are worth driving yourself crazy over. You want to be able to enjoy your day, and your loved ones, not be a bag of eye twitches crying in the bathroom.
Not everybody wants to release live doves or go all extra with the reception. If simple suits you and your partner's style, then don't worry about the glitz and glam. Do what feels like you and what will make your guests feel welcome. The point, after all, is to enjoy your day. Pretending to be who you're not will actively work against this.
If your friends and family are wealthy, go ahead and register for high-end everything. If your loved ones are like the rest of us, though, they're going to have a budget. Be mindful of that. Only register for things you actually need. And yes, if you'd rather do a cash box or something similar, go ahead. Let guests know they can contribute anonymously, as well.
Is this a lavish white tux with tails, ball gowns with gloves kind of shindig? Or a barefoot beach party? Spell out the dress code in your invitations, along with any other details they need to know. These include if the ceremony is going to be outdoors and if guests will need to park somewhere away from the ceremony location and walk or ride in together.
Rehearsal dinners, bridal showers, stag parties...this is all about celebration. And while careful planning is still involved, remember to be present at every step on your way to the altar. Enjoy the time you have with your loved ones, and don't hurry through anything. After all, if everything goes well, you're only going to get to experience this once.
You set one, right? Having a clearly-defined budget helps you with everything from keeping your guest list trim to talking yourself out of having a live giraffe walking the grounds at the ceremony. Don't laugh. Read enough bridal magazines, go down a few too many Pinterest black holes and you'll start launching the wildest of what-if plans. Go ahead and dream big, but let your budget be your first reality check.
Don't want to wear white? Don't! Your outfit and wedding party are all up for individualized iterations these days. Add in your kids, your pets or a beloved relative. Have men stand for the bride, put women in the groom's party or let your best friend get ordained so she can perform the ceremony. Make sure this day is about what makes you and your partner happy. Have fun with it.
There's something to be said for having the wedding on your home turf. You know the area and probably already have some connections to local vendors and locations. Destination weddings can be awesome, but ask yourself: Will that spot have everything I need to have my wedding? And is everyone I want there going to be able to afford this? If you're not in a position to pay their way, maybe save that island destination for the honeymoon.
Even if you're not particularly religious, if you or your partner come from a religious background, think about what traditional elements you might want to include that your families would appreciate. You don't have to have a full orthodox ceremony, but you can give it a nod in some way. Unsure how? Talk to your more devout relatives about what the most meaningful elements of traditional ceremonies are. They'll be happy to contribute to your day.
From the wedding party to the caterer, remember that these people are doing a lot to help make your day great. Your friends put time and money into being there for you, so gifts are customary, along with thanking and feeding them. For caterers and other staff, tipping is generally expected. Some vendors will already include this in your bill, so be sure to check.
Planning a wedding involves just...so many details. Knowing who is and isn't coming, who is and isn't bringing a guest, are some of the most important things a couple needs to have confirmed. As a guest, your first act of due diligence is to respond to your invitation. One of your last? Being on time to the actual ceremony. Check the invitation, and be on the lookout for special instructions such as where to park and when the ceremony officially starts. Being a little early is also a good idea.
The LGBTQ+ can now openly, and legally, celebrate their unions, and this is a beautiful thing. Chances are, if you're invited to a same-sex wedding, you're already cool with this. If you're not, either send your apologies or put your personal politics aside to celebrate the day with a couple that clearly wants to make you a part of it. This is also the time to step away from any smoldering family arguments as well (looking at you here, Uncle Dave).
The happy couple should have included a note as to the dress code for the day and any other pertinent details. For example, some couples ask for donations to charities in lieu of gifts. Or maybe it's a dog-friendly day. Remember to look for, and follow, these instructions. Every guest can help the day go more smoothly and beautifully by just doing this.
Naturally, you'll want to grab a few shots of the wedding procession, the couple at the altar, the kiss. What you don't want is your phone ringing right as the vows are exchanged. Set your phone to silent, and try to stay off social media for at least the length of the ceremony.
This holds for other important parts of the reception, such as toasts and speeches, cake cutting, first dance and other special moments, as well.
Think about how well you know your couple and, if you've been to their home, what their style may be. Gifts don't have to be lavish to make an impact, and the more personal and meaningful presents will be the ones most cherished. Take some time choosing what you give.
No matter how close you are to the couple, unless you're directly asked for help or input during the planning stages, keep your opinions to yourself. This rule holds throughout. Nobody likes a Monday morning quarterback critiquing the ceremony, or anything else. Your mother was right: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.
No matter what the official attire for the ceremony (formal, casual), your job is to dress nicely but without any real degree of extravagance. At no time should you upstage the couple. Even if you know for a fact the bride will not be wearing white, do. not. wear. white.
This is a party, yes. There might be free booze, obviously. But it is first and foremost a celebration of love, and absolutely no one needs a guest getting blackout drunk coloring the memories of their big day. Someone's probably going to do this anyway, but don't let that someone be you.
Unless they're old enough to sit through the ceremony quietly or if there will be a designated play area for little ones while vows are being exchanged. Some families love having everyone around during the preparations, so toddlers and babies underfoot might be allowed at that time, but during the ceremony play it safe and only let older kids attend. You can pick up younger kids on the way to the reception.
Don't ruin the newlyweds' giddiness with a half-hearted congratulations or poorly-timed comments about the decorations. Thank your hosts, tell them how wonderful the ceremony was and how gorgeous everything looks. They put a lot of work into making this day happen. Give them their due, then go make sure the reception is a success as well.
One last rule pertains to couples and guests alike: remember what you're there to celebrate. In the end, it doesn't matter if your stationery was the wrong shade of white. It doesn't matter who you sat next to at the reception. Weddings are about the celebration of a union. Doing your best to make sure the day is all about that is the ultimate wedding etiquette do, for everyone.
Once upon a time, the groom's family was expected to buy the rings, pay for the rehearsal dinner and the honeymoon. The bride's family took on the ceremony, the reception and entertainment. Today's couples are more firmly at the wheel, handling the bulk of the expenses themselves but also getting to make their own decisions. Common sense now dictates most wedding etiquette, for couples and guests alike, while tradition is pretty much a potluck, choose-your-own situation.
One final, slightly opinionated, piece of wedding etiquette: Don't invite someone to your shower if they aren't also invited to the wedding itself. This is basically saying, "Buy me a present but don't come to my party." Rude. An exception is for a close friend or relative who would like to help you celebrate but won't be able to attend the ceremony. In which case, tell them straight out a present is voluntary and not expected.
Remember the golden rule: this is all about celebration and togetherness, not exclusion.