Answers to Your Top Wedding Etiquette Questions
Solutions only a Southerner could provide.
If you've attended a wedding down here, you know that Southerners would rather stay home than forget a single etiquette rule. From proper attire to gifts, and thank-you notes, we'd hate to imagine that we offended a single person with a rogue display of careless behavior. With this in mind, it's no surprise that our dear readers posted more than a few dilemmas in our Facebook group, There's No Excuse for Bad Manners.
We took your thoughtful questions straight to Diane Gottsman, our wedding etiquette expert and the founder of the Protocol School of Texas. Whether you're a bride or a guest, we suggest you study her solutions to show off your Southern hospitality and make the most of the busy wedding season ahead.
Are black and white still forbidden colors for wedding guests?
Even today, in modern times, guests should steer clear of wearing white or ivory. Black is acceptable; however, the dress should appear festive rather than solemn. Of course, a black-tie event would lean towards formality and a long, dressy evening gown in black would be appropriate as long as it is tasteful and celebratory.
What is the proper time of day to follow black tie dress code to a wedding?
Protocol states that a tuxedo (black tie) should be worn after 6 p.m., however, traditions change over time. It is now acceptable to follow black tie dress code when the wedding begins earlier than 6 and continues into the evening. This is especially true when the reception follows immediately after the ceremony, without leaving guests time to change into formal wear.
Is there ever an occasion when guests should wear hats to a wedding?
A guest may wear a hat to a wedding as long as it does not appear over the top (too big, too loud or distracting in any way). Keep in mind those that may be sitting behind you during the ceremony, you wouldn’t want to block anyone’s view. And while hats may be acceptable for men to wear to an outdoor ceremony, hats are not appropriate in many places of worship and should be taken off prior to entering.
Should you include people in wedding events if you don’t plan on inviting them to the actual wedding?
No. It is considered impolite to ask someone to attend an event (and bring a gift) when they are not invited to the wedding. If you want everyone to feel included, plan a special party after your wedding inviting everyone that was left out. Perhaps a barbecue or a cocktail hour. Do not include a registry or in any way make it feel like it’s another opportunity to garner gifts.
Who should be invited to the rehearsal dinner? Does this differ for a destination wedding?
Typically, the bride and groom will invite the attendants and their partners; the parents of the flower girl, ring bearer and any “junior” attendants; immediate family and the officiant. However, when it comes to destination weddings, more and more couples choose to include some of their guests which is absolutely acceptable should your budget allow. Keep in mind that if you choose to invite some guests while excluding others, word may travel. Consider only inviting wedding guests who are family in order to have a definitive explanation should anyone have their feelings hurt.
What is the appropriate timeline for save the dates? How about the invitations?
It’s best to send out save the dates at least 6 months in advance and the invitations at least 8 weeks before the wedding. Take into consideration holidays and important sports and community events that others will have obligations to attend. The more time you give your guests the better when it comes to putting your wedding on their calendar.
What’s the best way to ask for addresses for wedding invitations?
When writing out your guest list, it will be clear whose addresses you are missing. There is nothing wrong with going straight to the source. Pick up the phone and ask for their address. It’s understandable that not everyone has a complete contact list and they will appreciate being acknowledged for a future wedding invitation.
If you’re not interested in having children at your wedding, what is an appropriate way to let guests know?
Do not put your request on the invitation. If you have a wedding website, that’s the perfect place to announce it. You must be tactful and say adults only rather than no kids allowed. Also, leaving their names off of the invitation is the first clue when it comes to who is invited and who is not.
Do wedding guests always need to give a gift to the bride and groom?
Yes. When possible, it’s customary for a guest to give the bride and groom a gift. While a gift is not an obligation, it’s a nice gesture and sign of support. If a gift is not possible, send a card or a handwritten note. No explanation is necessary. You give what you can afford and you may also consider offering an experience or something personal that you have created with your own two hands.
What is the appropriate amount of money to spend on a wedding gift?
Although it would be wonderful to have a guideline, there is simply not such a thing. Everyone has their own personal budget and set of financial circumstances and a dollar amount should not be placed on a gift. The best thing to do is check the registry and find something the bride and groom want that fits a comfortable price point for your particular situation.
When you are invited and attend both a bridal shower and a wedding, for the same couple, do you buy a gift for both events?
An engagement party, shower invitation and a wedding require different types of gifts. The wedding gift should be the largest, with a nice bottle of wine being a great choice for the engagement party and a moderately priced gift for the shower.
If you can’t attend a wedding, but you’ve received an invitation, is it required that you send a gift?
If you have a close relationship with the person who sent you the invitation, you would want to send a gift to show your support. If you are receiving an invitation, you clearly have some kind of relationship so at least a card of congratulations is in order.
Are there certain items that should never be included on the wedding registry?
A wedding registry is a wonderful guide for guests to select from. Certainly, you don’t want to put overly personal items on the registry such as expensive jewelry, clothing items, expensive purses, shoes, technologies like cell phones and iPads or anything you would not feel comfortable if your mother or first-grade teacher watched you open. In other words, it’s not a personal shopping wish list but an opportunity to provide something for both the bride and groom to be able to use and enjoy.
What is the appropriate timeframe for the bride and groom to send thank-you notes?
Contrary to what history has dictated in the past, you do not have a year to send a thank you note. Thank you notes should ultimately go out as soon as possible. For a very large number of gifts, attempt to make a goal of sending out thank you notes within a month.
If you’re asked to be a bridesmaid and you just can’t afford it, would it be rude to say no?
This situation is more common than you might think. Brides ask their close friends and family members to be part of the wedding party, however, due to finances and personal situations it’s not always feasible. It’s important to be honest. Let the bride know you love her and are honored she asked you to be such a special part of her big day. However, you aren’t in a position where you can comfortably afford to be a bridesmaid and comfortably keep up with your current responsibilities. It’s not necessary to give too much information But you may want to share that you have financial obligations such as rent and tuition you’re struggling to keep up with. A good friend will understand.
What is the role of the Mother of the Groom in the wedding planning? How much should she contribute?
The mother of the groom plays an important part by supporting the groom, the bride and the mother of the bride. She generally defers to the bride and the mother of the bride when it comes to special requests and also what to wear. The mother of the groom is equally as important and should offer whatever she is comfortable assisting with. Each family will have their personal relationships and some mothers of the groom actually assist with finances while others will host the rehearsal dinner. Other mothers of the groom offer to make an introduction to their family and will host a luncheon in the bride’s honor. Nothing is mandatory and certainly the roles of the wedding party are up for discussion and compromise.
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OTHER ETIQUETTE CONUNDRUMS
How early should guests plan to arrive before the ceremony starts?
I suggest arriving 20 to 30 minutes before the ceremony begins. This will give you time to park and find your seat. If you have a baby or active toddler, take a seat closer to the aisle so you can quietly step away if your child needs attention.
What if something happens and you find yourself absolutely unable to get to the ceremony on time (ex. leaving early and still getting stuck in standstill traffic)? Should you just meet everyone at the reception?
Sometimes, life is unexpected and circumstances beyond your control prohibit you from getting to your destination, namely an important occasion such as a wedding. When possible, you want to make an appearance at the ceremony before the reception. Enter quietly and sit in the back. If you absolutely cannot make the ceremony, arrive at the reception and be a polite and considerate guest. Don’t go into too much detail with the bride at the reception but explain the situation to her later. She will undoubtedly ask you how the service went and you will want to be upfront and truthful.
Is there a tactful way to ask guests to put their phones away during the wedding ceremony?
There are so many creative ways to let your guests know that cell phones are not welcome. Check Pinterest to find some fun signs that people have made requesting no cell phones. You can also ask the officiant to announce your request in advance.
If you’re invited to two weddings on the same day in the same town, is it ever appropriate to try to attend part of both?
It depends on the relationship with both couples. Optimally, you would want to attend one or the other. If you are close to one and only acquaintances with the other, it would be easy to explain. If you were very close to both you might explain to both of them that you were going to make an appearance at each. Go to the ceremony of one and attend the reception of the other. However, you will have your foot half in and half out of each unless you participate fully during each event.