This is, for some reason, a very touchy subject among many – for both bride, groom and wedding guests themselves. Etiquette can be misinterpreted, or misunderstood as to what is referred as a ‘proper wedding guest’. I think the best way to answer this for yourself while reading through this post is, ‘What would I expect out of my guests from my wedding day?’
Guest etiquette I feel has only now come out of the wood works because of the higher expectations placed upon weddings today. And sadly, it’s only getting worse.
When I was younger, and when I say younger I mean 11-12 years old when I attended my first family wedding. My thought, as a guest, was simply to be there, be happy for the new couple, give a gift, say congratulations, eat food and cake (act like I enjoyed it even if I didn’t), dance a little, mingle, say farewell to family members at the end and be on our way. Nothing more.
Is that analysis of a wedding anything like that today? Not really.
There are many rules to wedding guest etiquette – where they came from and who instills them: SOCIETY. As weddings become bigger, more expensive, the higher expectations brides tend to have for their guests and bridal party altogether – for example: a pricier wedding registry. But there are also brides who do without one at all, whilst many wedding guests take that as giving a wedding gift as an ‘option’. So, with both extremes, there are a lot of misconstrued opinions.
I’m pointing this etiquette out only because I was just recently married, and I know and understand the struggle. Overall, I think I’ve learned that etiquette is simply just another word for respect. Not to say that I don’t think some people go way overboard with the etiquette ordeal, but common ground rules should be in order, no matter the size of the wedding.
I mean, if you’re invited to a wedding, you’re obviously pretty important to the couple getting married. Whether the couple is having a 100+ person wedding, or a 30 person wedding – your invitation to being there is pretty well thought out. The couple is spending money to share this special time with you, and making you a part of it.
Proper Wedding Guest Etiquette
If you are a part of that special moment in someone’s life, please DO NOT…
RSVP late, or never RSVP…
And yes, I’ve heard couples tell me they have had guests that never respond, then get upset when they are told weeks before that they’re no longer on the seating arrangement, or show up to the wedding and realize they have no seat or plate. How does that look for both parties? Think about it. When you get that RSVP in the mail (which is usually considered when you receive the save the date well before the invitation), do not hesitate on what plans you may have, because more than likely you don’t that far in advanced. Unless you have another wedding, have a non-refundable vacation in the books, a baby possibly due in that time or for some reason have a surgery scheduled – then understandably so.
Otherwise, your waiting to respond is hoping for the likelihood of something better to come along, or for something to pop up in your schedule. And that is rude.
Get that RSVP signed and back in the mailbox within the week you receive it – make it easier on everyone – end of story. If you happen to have something come up before the actual RSVP deadline (after you’ve sent in your attendance), you always have the option to call up the bride and groom and decline.
Ask or assume you can invite another guest…
Guests do not realize the guilt and frustration when the bride and groom get that RSVP that clearly has ‘Name…. & Name’ on that card – when it shouldn’t.
If the wedding invitation and/or envelope does not address anywhere, ‘Name & Guest’ or ‘Mr. & Mrs’ or ‘Name’s Family’, then it is just you invited.
The bride and groom now have the embarrassing responsibility of directly contacting you to deny you the guest you assumed could come. Now, if you asked, closer to the wedding, after sending the RSVP card back with only your name, then you’re likely to have a better chance of bringing someone without giving the couple the pressure of doing so since they likely had those who declined. But again, you better have high relations with the bride and groom to have the guts to do that.
Dress down for the occasion…
Let’s talk attire. The invitation will either specify directly if it is a Black Tie formal event. This means long gowns, a tux or formal suit. Invites won’t usually say anything regarding attire if it’s not Black Tie Formal, but if couples really want to be specific, sometimes it may say ‘Semi-formal’, ‘Formal’ or ‘Casual’ attire written on the invitation.
Let me make this easy for you: ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS dress more formal than casual if you are uncertain of the attire. Just because the wedding is on the beach, or in a barn out in the middle of nowhere – you should still dress the part. It’s still a WEDDING.
No shorts, T-shirts, flip flops, jeans or flannel. Period. Unless directly specified by the couple. If the wedding is stated as ‘Casual’ – this still does not mean what you probably think. It means khaki pants, a button down shirt or polo, closed toe shoes, sun dresses or maxi dresses, and dressy sandals or flats. Again, unless otherwise specified by the couple.
Even still today, some guests can never abide by one giant rule of attire on someone’s big day:
Never, ever, ever, ever wear WHITE…
Now, I ask because I just can’t even – I can’t even fathom WHY some women would consider this O.K. I can’t imagine that’s the only color option that person had in their closet.
All it does is drive negative attention (which may be what the person wearing white must want to begin with). Not only that, but it shows the utmost disrespect to the bride, since she is the one who should be wearing ‘white’ that day. Even if the bride is wearing ivory, cream, off-white, blush – whatever!
Whether you care or not what people think – if that is the kind of person you are to do on someone’s wedding day, it speaks volumes to the bride thereafter.
Just. Never. Wear. All. White.
Don’t be late to the ceremony; don’t skip the ceremony…
I can’t think of anything more embarrassing than to be stepping foot into the church after the bridesmaids have descended down the aisle, and you are neck and neck with the bride who is about to make her appearance. While you haven’t even taken your seat.
More than likely you will be ungratefully allowed to take your seat before the bride makes her big entrance, but just know the hidden annoyance the bride and groom probably feel.
A few weddings I went to, the coordinators didn’t allow late guests to even take a seat until the bride had finished walking down the aisle. And I applaud those wedding coordinators for doing that.
Do not intentionally skip the ceremony or the reception, either. Far too many do this (unless it was planned that way, and the bride and groom know about it). The only fad I am hearing about today is those who have a close intimate ceremony, and then have a larger number of guests who are invited to attend only the reception. All in all that seems outrageous to me – because who wants to go to a reception and give a gift to a couple who they didn’t even get to witness get married? But, I can’t speak for those who have done it that way.
The cell phone game…
I am back and forth on this ordeal. In one breath I think the guests should be allowed to take pictures during the wedding ceremony, while it seems EVERYONE does it to the point where no one actually enjoys the moment. And if cell phones go off in the middle of the vows – cringe-worthy! I’ve seen it happen – almost in every single wedding I’ve attended. WHY IS THIS? And most weddings are told in the beginning to silence their phones – do people just not check? Do they just not care? And the people that take phone calls during the ceremony (when it isn’t an emergency, of course) – double rude!
I know this sounds so stupid thinking about it, but I know some brides become very uppity about the cell phone usage during ceremony time. And I understand – I can relate. Luckily I was standing on a breezy beach during my wedding, and I didn’t really take any notice to the crowd up there, so I didn’t care. But as a guest sitting as part of the crowd, I am overly annoyed to have 10 hands up and around me holding cell phones the entire time while I’m simply trying to watch the bride make her way to the love of her life.
Let’s be real about this situation: moderation, people, moderation.
The wedding gift dilemma…
Alright, so I’ve been investigating this issue for some time. I never thought I would see so much controversy over something that is the MOST understood to me when it comes to weddings. Weddings are like childhood birthday parties in my eyes – you don’t just get invited, show up and not have a gift. Unless that completely changed in the 2000s, but in the 80s and 90s – you brought a damn gift, end of story. It was one of those standard times of giving, allowing that person to bask in their well deserving, celebratory day.
If you’re invited to a wedding, you’re obviously an important aspect in this couples’ lives, and if you’re attending the wedding, that couple is obviously pretty important to you in return. Nobody forces you to attend.
Now, I should bite my tongue when I say this, but I know all too well (and have had the thought once or twice in my time so far) that there are couples out there who invite just for the sake of…gifts.
I’m sure I’m not the only one to think that. Especially when the general rule of thumb is: even if you are invited and don’t attend the wedding, it’s still customary to give a gift. Hold your breath – now, exhale deeply – for those of you who are thinking, “double-you-tee-ehf!” I find there’s more of an exception to this rule today.
But let’s ignore that very small percentage of people who purposely invite solely for gifts. If it’s a good friend you’ve known for years, your best friend, a family member, a sibling, a co-worker you were close with – I don’t understand what would be a good, sensible reason for not wanting to show the value of your friendship and respect for this person by not giving a gift? This is said excluding financial troubles.
I will always argue with this when people say, ‘Why should they expect a gift?’ because I am always going to respond with, ‘They aren’t. The problem is that you should want to give them a gift‘. If the bride and groom expected gifts, they would go far beyond simply adding a registry link to the bottom of their invitation, and that would mean hundreds of years of wedding tradition has all been a filthy lie. And honestly, if you think this way – traditional probably is a lie in your eyes, and that weddings are just a way for people to expect gifts, only to return them for cash instead to blow on a drunk vacation in Cabo – so what? Then you shouldn’t attend weddings.
Plus, nothing says you have to give only what’s registered. If it’s financial troubles, and this is friend you whole-heartedly value, surely the bride and groom would understand if you expressed your concerns with money being tight – they’re more likely to care about your appearance to the wedding over a gift, anyhow. Sure, there’s going to be someone to argue with me on that, ‘So I need to let the bride and groom in on my personal life to get my way out of not buying a gift? No way. If they respected me as a friend, they wouldn’t expect that.’ Think and do what you want – but I’m pretty sure the definition of a true, valued friendship is one where you can be open and honest about anything to each other.
In the end, it’s also nice for the couple to know why you were the only one out of 100+ guests who didn’t send a gift, without having to debate whether to send you a ‘Thank You’ card.
Don’t leave the wedding before cutting the cake…
I know those people that leave right after the dinner portion. It’s disgusting, especially when they talk about the after party they’re supposed to be at later that night.
This one is plain and simple if you ultimately have respect for those that have made the effort to sharing this special time in their lives. Unless it’s for an emergency situation, or the baby sitter had to bail half way through – otherwise, stay until all major festivities of the reception have completed before choosing to leave.
Being a wedding guest isn’t supposed to be difficult – that’s really the point. You’re supposed to have just as good of a time as the bride and groom, whether they make it around the room to say ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you for coming’ or not. People lose respect over these issues when it comes to weddings, and many lose friends over it, too. Hence one of the many reasons I had a very small wedding.
It’s that saying we all hear a lot, but a little different. “Be the wedding guest you’d want for your wedding.”