Wedding Etiquette

As one of the biggest and most potentially stressful events of your life, getting engaged and subsequently planning a wedding brings with it an onslaught of questions. As times change and weddings evolve, traditional rules of etiquette have followed suit, only adding to the confusion.

To gain perspective, first understand that “etiquette” is above all about treating people with courtesy and making them feel comfortable. When an etiquette question arises, consider the feelings of those who will be affected.

Family Etiquette

Introducing Your Parents
If the bride and groom’s parents have not met prior to the engagement, tradition dictates that the groom’s family calls and introduces themselves to the bride’s family and arranges a meeting. If the groom’s parents do not make the first introduction, then the bride’s parents should. Nowadays, who makes the first call is irrelevant; all that really matters is that the parents meet. If meeting face to face is impossible, a letter or phone call will suffice.

Introducing Divorced Parents
If the groom’s parents are divorced, the parent with the closest relationship to the groom should take the first step in meeting the bride’s parents. If both sets are divorced, the parent closest to the groom should first contact the bride’s suggested parent. If no one begins the introduction process, the couple should step in and ensure that everyone meets, while refraining from forcing potentially awkward situations.

Your In-Laws
The groom’s parents often feel left out of the planning process. To avoid this, invite your future in-laws into the initial dialogue. You should immediately inform them of your ideas regarding location, date, size and style of the wedding. Take queues on their desired level of involvement, and include them accordingly. Let them make offers to pitch in with finances or planning (here is a useful list of the traditional wedding costs the groom’s family is responsible for. Above all, keep them in the informed throughout your engagement.

Invitation Etiquette

Inviting partners and guests
If an invited guest is married, engaged or living with a significant other, that partner must be included in the invitation. A single invitation addressed to both individuals should be sent to spouses or couples who live together, while separate invitations should be sent to each member of an engaged or long term couple who don’t live together. Inviting single guests with a date is a thoughtful gesture, but one that is not required. If you are inviting a single guest with a date, try to find out the name of your friend’s intended date and include that person’s name on the invitation. Otherwise, inner envelopes may include “And Guest,” indicating that he or she may bring any chosen escort or friend. For more advice on invitation etiquette, consult this complete wedding invitation guide.

Inviting Children
To invite or not invite the little ones – this is a situation that can quickly get ugly. Make your decision and stick with it – then inform your guests through carefully addressed invitations:

Children over 18 who are invited to the wedding should receive their own invitations – regardless of whether or not they live with their parents. If you don’t send them an invitation – it’s clear that they’re not invited.

Children under 18 who are invited to the wedding should have their name included on the invitation. If you’re inviting Joe and Mary Smith without their two little ones, their invitation should read “Joe and Mary Smith.”

If you’re still worried that some guests may add write-ins on their reply card – print the names of those invited on the reply card as well.

Guests Who Ask to Bring a Guest
Your guests should know better! It is never appropriate for a guest to ask to bring a date, and you have every right to politely say no. However, if you discover that a guest is engaged or living with a significant other, you should extend a written or verbal invitation.

Invitations to out-of-town guests
Many brides ponder whether or not it’s appropriate to invite long distance guests for whom it may be impossible to attend. Use your best judgment. Is this person truly a close friend who would want to attend your celebration? If so, failing to extend an invitation may be insulting. Remember, these days friends and family are often spread all over the country, and people are accustomed to traveling. On the other hand, if you haven’t spoken in years, an invitation may look like no more than a request for a gift. In those cases, send a wedding announcement instead, which carries no gift-giving obligation.

Gift-giving Etiquette

Yes, everyone likes to get gifts, and weddings are a perfect occasion for gift-giving. Friends and loved ones customarily honor the commitment of the newly betrothed by showering them with gifts. As the happy couple, just remember to always feel privileged not entitled. Here’s some useful wedding gift etiquette advice:

Do not print registry information on the invitation.
Do publicize your registry information by word of mouth only
Don’t explicitly request cash gifts; your close friends or family numbers can inform guests of your preferences if asked.
Do return all gifts – even shower and engagement gifts – if the wedding is called off (so don’t be tempted to use any gifts until after the wedding!)
Do respond to each gift with a personal hand-written thank you note within two weeks of receiving the gift (or within 2 weeks of returning from your honeymoon)
There is no special formula for determining the appropriate amount a guest should spend on a gift. The idea that each gift should cost as much as one plate at the reception is an impractical misconception.

Attire Etiquette

Rules for modern wedding attire have evolved with the times, but there are still traditional standards for fabrics, lengths and styles. Here are some guidelines:

The formality of your bridesmaids’ dresses should match that of your wedding dress. Although traditionally the dresses were the same length as the wedding gown, the rise in popularity of tea- and knee-length bridesmaids’ dresses has relaxed that rule. As long as the fabric and overall style matches the formality of your floor-length gown, shorter bridesmaids’ dresses are perfectly acceptable.

For evening weddings, guests should dress for a nice dinner or event – which includes suits (or black tie) for men and dresses or skirts in sophisticated colors and fabrics for women. Lengths can vary according to the style of the event and location. Female guests may now wear black, but never white.

The Cash Bar Issue

Yes, weddings are expensive. Yes, couples should be on the lookout for budget saving tips. Yes, weddings are expensive – we know. But never – under any circumstances – should you ever consider hosting a cash bar at your reception. Think about it – you would never ask anyone to pay for a cocktail in your own home. People at your reception are still your guests, even if the event is not held in your house. That said, if a full bar is not within your budget, consider these alternatives:

Host a soft bar, in which guests can order champagne, beer and wine.

Find a reception site that allows you to bring in your own alcohol; you will save serious cash, and anything unopened can be returned for a full refund.

Cut down the size of your guest list – the only significant way to reduce costs in the first place.

Asking for Monetary Gifts

You’re planning a bridal shower, and let’s face it – the bride and groom have been living together for three years, already accumulating at least two blenders and a toaster oven. What they could really use is some extra cash (they’ve been dying to remodel their bathroom.) However, blatantly asking for specific gifts – monetary or otherwise – is in poor taste. Just imagine an invitation that reads: “I could really use some new shoes – please send me some strappy sandals.” (Just because Carrie Bradshaw got away with it does not make it ok!) What you can do is let guests know if they ask that the bride prefers cash gifts. Send shower invites without registry information; inquiring guests will ask where the couple is registered, presenting a perfect opportunity to respond with the bride’s preference. Some guests will still prefer to give a tangible gift, so the couple should register for a few items. Avoid drawing attention to the cash with a “money tree,” or other cash-displaying gimmick, so guests bringing tangible gifts don’t feel awkward. Simply display all cards and gifts together for the bride to open and acknowledge.

Bottom line? The happy bride-to-be should always remember to feel privileged, not entitled.

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