Wedding Etiquette

Be Polite and Other Useful Tips

Weddings are one of those seemingly inevitable milestones that come along somewhere between the diaper eras. Whether as a bride, groom, participant, family member, or guest, these social events are impossible to avoid, particularly if you are me.

Mind you, I’ve never actually been a bride. But I have been a bridesmaid 12 times, as well as the best man, the deejay, the limo driver, the photographer, and the minister. During The Year of Bad Taffeta I pulled four — count ’em, four — tours of duty. (I have yet to be the maid of honor, a fact that vexes me to no end.) In short, I’ve been the ultimate observer and, believe me, I’ve seen everything: bridezillas at various stages of meltdown, heart attacks at the altar, fist fights at the bar, a bouquet-toss bloodbath, and all the usual stress, excitement, and emotional awe that go with the nuptial territory.

I’ve noticed that weddings are absorbing the casual informality our modern lifestyles now reflect. When young girls wear flip-flops to meet the president (all together now: Harrrrrumph!), shorts to church (or so I hear), and sweatpants to fly on airplanes, there are fewer and fewer occasions to apply standard manners or even a spritz of decorum. Weddings are the final place where “Be on Your Best Behavior” is clearly written between the lines of fancy font. Without getting too stuffy (yes, you can still get drunk but try not to hit on the bride), consider a few social guidelines for the modern wedding.

At the very bare minimum, “suiting up” and “shutting up” may be the best place to start. Some modern social rules are obvious (no Evites, no exceptions) and some less so (pregnant brides/unwed mothers are not supposed to wear a veil). The freshly affianced may be so blissfully in love they may not care what others think, but I’ve never met a starry-eyed couple who didn’t want to make the event as beautiful and ideal as they felt. Turns out, there are a million ways to do it wrong, which is precisely how bridezillas are born. (For some alarming evidence, check out

The About-to-Be Betrothed Though I have seen it done, it is considered poor taste to have the invitation clarify “no children.” Unless you are trying to protect them from your wicked aunt who lives in the forest and likes to eat wayward young ’uns, this instruction ends up excluding entire families. It also begs the questions, “How old is a child?” Does this means 12 or under? However, if two larges families are merging and the guest list budget is going to be eaten up by various rambunctious cousins, you may want to add a note apologizing and clarifying that the request was made for monetary concerns. If you are resolute in this decision, then stick to your own rule; any exceptions will result in hurt feelings. When addressing your invitations, leave the children’s names off and don’t mention them in the invitation. Also, have friends and family pass the word — let the network work.

Never give a verbal invitation to your wedding without following it up with a formal invite via U.S. mail. Furthermore, make sure you add that person’s name to the final guest list. When I have been invited verbally, I always ignore it (especially if it is the groom, who, by tradition, is clueless) unless I get that hard copy in my paws. Even then, I call the bride to confirm she is on board with my sudden appearance. Of all the dreams a bride has on her wedding day, none of them involve surprises.

Try to resist the urge to involve helpless animals in your wedding. Arriving in a horse-drawn carriage? Sure, that’s lovely. Having guests release envelopes of trapped butterflies that may or may not drop dead at their feet? Not recommended. I’m no vegetarian, but I still think it’s a bad omen to celebrate your new life by having your guests witness the death of many. Redirect that PETA guilt for something more predictable, like the dry, overcooked chicken everyone is about to eat at the reception.

Limit the time gap between ceremony and reception. Lord knows there needs to be 28 sets of formal photographs taken with every possible family arrangement (“Now let’s get just the bride and her nephews …”) but have some consideration for the guests. Having folks happily mingle at a pre-dinner cocktail party is a wonderful plan — for one hour. Anything longer and guests are just going to get sauced and impatient.

Threaten the deejay with medieval violence if “What I Like about You” gets played ever again. Okay, not really etiquette, more of a personal request.

Wedding Party Ways Do whatever the bride wants you to do, no matter how insane she is. Bride Cindy once told me I would have to part my hair on the right side for the ceremony, despite nature insisting otherwise. I then wondered aloud to the crazy woman if the B-maids Unit looking as uniform as possible was really the best plan for firmly cementing their holy union for all eternity. Her eyes welled up with tears, and so left became right for a day. I’m telling you, the compounding frivolous details make some of these gals flat-out bonkers.

If you are the best man, you must give the first toast at the reception to the couple, not just the groom. I have seen this happening more and more lately and what was left unsaid is now being picked up by a bridesmaid or maid of honor. This is not the time for either one of them to be singled out — it isn’t someone’s birthday party. If a person does not know the bride or groom and still wants to give a toast, they must acknowledge the other half, as in, “Though we’ve just met Kent, he seems like a wonderful guy and he obviously makes Courtney very happy … blah blah blah.” You can still tell the fishing story from when you were 13, but it better end with them.

Best Guest List When you receive the invitation, please — I’m begging you — RSVP! Failing this simple task is incredibly rude and insensitive. More and more people ignore this request so let’s review some history: The acronym RSVP comes from the French expression “répondez s’il vous plaît,” meaning “please respond.” It’s really just that simple.

If the invitation specifically states: “John Q. CollegeBuddy and Guest” then you may certainly bring someone. If the invitation is addressed to you and you only, you may not bring a guest. However, if you too have found The One and would like to bring him/her along, you can phone the bride and ask her permission. She, drunk with desire and on the biggest shopping spree of her life, may cave immediately. She may also (politely) refuse and she may even say, “I’ll let you know after I receive more RSVPs,” — a perfectly fair compromise. (At $50-$100 bucks a plate, a girl has to watch it.)

When a wedding date I had cancelled once, I phoned the bride the day before to let her know. The spot then was made available for another guest to bring a date — an opportunity not gone to waste. Alas, my date’s table card could not be changed in time so another fellow impersonated my date all evening. An inaccurate list of attending guests can cause preventable problems: shortage/surplus of food, minimum-guarantee issues with catering halls, party favor quantities, and seating planning. The average wedding costs $20,000 and has 175 invited guests, so communicate clearly with your hostess.

And, finally, a tip for everyone: Turn off your cell phone.

Remember that a wedding, in its most sincere form, is a celebration of love, and as you may recall, love makes the world go ’round. Now go ahead and grab a second piece of cake — there should be plenty for all.

Wedding Etiquette Sources


Emily Post’s Wedding Planner by Peggy Post Miss Manners on Painfully Proper Weddings by Judith Martin Wedding Etiquette Hell: The Bride’s Bible to Avoiding Everlasting Damnation by Jeanne Hamilton Wedding Etiquette for Divorced Families: Tasteful Advice for Planning a Beautiful Wedding by Martha A. Woodham  New Book of Wedding Etiquette: How to Combine the Best Traditions with Today’s Flair by Kim Shaw Bad Bridesmaid: Bachelorette Brawls and Taffeta Tantrums — Tales from the Front Lines by Siri Agrell The Wedding in Ancient Athens by Rebecca Sinos and John Oakley The Wedding Complex: Forms of Belonging in Modern American Culture by Elizabeth Freeman Brides and Bridals (published 1872) by John Cordy Jeaffreson

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