There are a lot of stresses when it comes to planning and attending a wedding, and some of that pressure comes from knowing how to behave on the big day. Weddings are among the few (mostly) formal occasions that people still attend with any regularity, and in an increasingly modern and relaxed society, staying on top of what’s considered proper wedding etiquette isn’t always so easy.
Engagements used to be a simpler affair. Before the wedding, there might be a bridal shower, a bachelorette and bachelor party, a rehearsal dinner and then the wedding. These days, close friends of the bride and groom can expect to be invited to any number of pre-wedding celebrations. In addition to the more traditional parties, there are also engagement parties, lingerie showers, Jack and Jill parties and bridesmaid luncheons.
While bridal showers were traditionally held just for women involved in the wedding party, wedding showers with both members of the engaged couple are increasingly common. Men and women are invited to this event, and the gifts exchanged are more centered on items needed for building a home together. If you're in charge of throwing a shower, there are a lot of things you need to know.
The idea that the bride’s family has to solely pay for the wedding is no longer the norm. Today, figuring out how to budget for a wedding is a discussion between the engaged couple and their families and can be initiated by anyone involved in the wedding planning process. Sometimes both families and the couple split the cost evenly, and sometimes the couple will just pay for the whole party themselves.
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The wedding used to be considered the best day of the bride’s life, while the groom was just along for the ride. Today, assuming that the groom just shows up after being completely uninvolved in the planning process would be considered inconsiderate. Men entering heterosexual marriages or two men planning their own wedding are just as involved in the process as a woman.
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Married couples should automatically be invited as a pair, and that’s always been the case. But nowadays, when some couples actively choose to remain unmarried, longtime partners and fiances should automatically be invited. Bridesmaids and groomsmen should also get plus-ones.
Guests often assume that children are invited to weddings, but making this assumption is one of the ways you may be rude without knowing it. If you’re hosting a wedding and don’t want children at your reception, make sure you call affected families before invitations get sent out so they can get a babysitter.
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It may be tempting to have a primary guest list of your closest friends and family and then a sort of second-tier of guests, whom you send invitations to only as regrets come in. However, word spreads, and this practice is inconsiderate to that “B list” of guests. Proper planning takes into account that 10-20% of guests won’t be able to make it, so plan your list accordingly.
If the couple is looking to throw a green wedding or a budget-friendly affair, ask that invitees RSVP via a wedding website. Though it may seem unconventional to old-fashioned folks, e-vites are perfectly suitable and a wedding website should be included on response cards. If doing this, the couple should be aware that some older guests may be less tech-savvy and allow for paper RSVPs or phone calls as well.
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There are a lot of ways that etiquette has changed over the decades, but a few rules are the same. For instance, guests still really only have a few days to respond to an invitation. Weddings are all about numbers. Caterers need to know how much food and drink to prepare, the venue needs to know how many seats to put up at the reception site and the couple needs to know how many wedding favors they need to buy.
Practically everyone makes etiquette mistakes without knowing it leading up to a wedding, including the couple getting married. While it’s remarkably common, including your registry information alongside paper invitations is considered to be in poor taste.
Luckily, there is a secondary location where registry information can be included: a wedding website. Adding a wedding website URL to your invitation is not considered rude, and directing guests there (where they can then coincidentally find registry information) is acceptable and convenient for all involved. If there is no wedding website, simply spread your registry information via word of mouth. Knowing this is just one of those old-fashioned etiquette rules we need to bring back.
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Online wedding registries oftentimes give guests a convenient option for delivery: shipping the gift, wrapped, straight to the couple’s home. While it used to be considered a faux pas to show up to a wedding reception empty-handed, sending the couple a gift before or after the wedding is perfectly acceptable. In fact, many times couples prefer it, as shipping gifts prevents theft during the reception, which happens at even the most amazing wedding venues across America.
Back in the day, couples needed things to build a home together like pots and pans, bedsheets and toothbrush holders. Now, both parties in the couple may already own enough bath towels and dinner plates. Enter: the honeymoon fund, through which couples will ask for funding for specific elements of their romantic adventure in various price ranges. You can buy the couple a night in one of the most luxurious hotels in the world, a bottle of wine or a day at an amazing resort spa.
There’s an old-fashioned gifting etiquette expectation that if a meal at a wedding costs $100 a person, then guests should bring a gift worth at least $100. That’s not true anymore. A wedding is a party with guests, not a transaction between a couple and their loved ones. Couples should understand that they’re inviting people with all sorts of financial situations. If someone comes to the wedding with $30 worth of, say, hand towels, that’s still something to be grateful for.
It isn’t always easy to know how to decode dress codes, and once upon a time, black was reserved for funerals. For formal, semi-formal or cocktail attire weddings, a black dress, jumpsuit or suit is seen as a perfectly suitable thing to wear.
Traditionally, bridesmaids were always female, while groomsmen were always male. But couples may not subscribe to these strict rules. If a groom has a close female friend or sister he wants standing by his side, that’s perfectly appropriate.
Weddings are great places to meet new people and potential romantic partners. But guests shouldn’t let their new connection upstage or distract from the couple on their big day.
“We now pronounce Mr. and Mrs. Michael Smith” used to be the big proclamation deeming that a couple is, in fact, married as they make their recessional down the aisle. However, the New York Times reports that as of 2015, about 20% of women keep their maiden name after they tie the knot. The officiant should know this as the couple gets married, and family members and friends should respect the wishes of the couple regarding names throughout their married life.
It’s fine and good to take photos during wedding prep, but they should not be posted online before the wedding actually occurs, and many couples will have rules about social media and photos during their weddings. Livestreaming the wedding without the couple’s consent or trying to play wedding photographer (when the couple has already hired one) is rude. Knowing how to navigate social media is just one of the modern etiquette questions you need answered.
As much as trends change, some things stay the same. Brides will still carry bouquets and wear something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue, for instance. Scoffing at these classic traditions or breaking any of these other etiquette rules are just some of the things you should never do at a wedding.
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