Wedding Etiquette 101

Two weekends ago my best friend got engaged. I am sincerely excited for her, and can’t wait for the wedding (surprise- I’m in it). She is the third friend of mine to be planning a wedding and it’s made me realize more invitations are eminent. As a (most of the time proudly) single woman I’ve come to the realization that I know absolutely nothing about what goes in to a wedding. Sure I have a massive Pinterest board dedicated to the event, and I know not to wear white unless I’m the bride. But any further than that and I feel like I’m upstream without a paddle. I don’t know the first thing about real weddings, having only been to two in my life and really just following everyone else’s lead when it came to gifts/outfits/cards, etc. Given that weddings are something every modern woman will experience in some form during her lifetime, I decided this would be a great topic for the blog. I’m in desperate need of help, and I bet some of you are too.

So, in a quest for information about wedding dos and don’t I went to the etiquette Queen – Emily Post. For those of you who don’t know, she’s the one who managed to write down everything about manners and etiquette so that women such as myself can avoid committing any major flubs in our quest to being fabulous hosts and guests. Check out the website dedicated to this wonderfully helpful women if you’re interested in more etiquette tips. The ones I’ll be sharing with you today are straight from her wise works:


    • Send your response immediately. This allows the bride and groom to plan and budget accordingly. You wouldn’t want 10 extra people showing up to your wedding, or anyone you’ve spent money on to not show up simply because they didn’t RSVP. Don’t be that person.
    • Do not ask if you can bring your boyfriend/husband/children/parents/date/randomguyyoumetatthebar. The invitation will state whether anyone additional is invited to attend. If it’s addressed only to you and does not reference a “plus one” then expect to attend solo.
    • If your invitation does not contain a response card, you may write a response on your own, or send an email. Try one of the following formats-
      • Formal Response: Written in the third person, this reply follows the wording of a formal invitation.

Mr. and Mrs. Harold McGowan

Accept with pleasure

[or regret that they are unable to accept]

your kind invitation for

Saturday, the nineteenth of June

      • Personal Note: Usually written to hosts you know well, a personal note should be brief but sincere.

Dear Ann and John,

Rob and I are delighted to accept your invitation to attend Margaret and Tom’s wedding on June nineteenth.

Yours sincerely,

Brittany Ellis


Dear Agatha,

I am so sorry that I can’t join you and Max for your wedding.  I have to be in Chicago on business, but you two will be first in my thoughts on your special day.

Love to you both,


    • If you have to cancel after you’ve accepted an invitation, CALL your host immediately. This gives them time to invite someone else. (Remember that once you decline to attend you cannot change your mind – never ever ask to be re-invited.)

What to wear

    • When deciding what to wear always consider what is appropriate for the occasion. Don’t forget to include any religious customs (head coverings, no bare shoulders, etc.) and local cultural expectations (consider how conservative the culture is and the meaning of certain colors, for example white is a color of mourning in certain parts of Asia).
    • Formal Attire
      • Daytime: Women may wear either a cocktail dress or a dressier sundress. Men should wear a dark suit, conservative shit, and a tie.
      • Evening: Long eventing gown or a dressy cocktail dress depending on local customs for women. Men should wear a tux if the invitation expressly says “black tie,” otherwise a dark suit is acceptable.
    • Semiformal
      • Daytime: Try a dressy afternoon dress, a suit, or even a tailored pantsuit. Men may wear either a dark suit, a blazer with grey flannels, and always a tie.
      • Evening: Cocktail dresses for women, dark suits for men.
    • Informal
      • Daytime: Sundress, or a dressy skirt/pants and a blouse for women. Men should wear a sport coat or blazer with slacks. A tie is optional, but recommended.
      • Evening: Ladies should wear an afternoon or cocktail dress, while men should wear a blazer and slacks – once again, a tie is optional.
    • Always avoid wearing the following:
      • Clothing that’s too skimpy or overtly provocative.
      • Costumes, except when you’ve been expressly asked to dress to the wedding theme.
      • Blue jeans and T-shirts.
      • Any jewelry that calls attention to your own faith when attending a service of another faith.
      • Baseball or sports caps; large fashion hats that block other guests’ view of the ceremony.
      • Casual shoes or boots with formal or semiformal outfits.
      • Sunglasses worn indoors (except for a legitimate medical reason).
      • Boutonnieres or corsages unless supplied by the hosts.


    • Gifts often provides the most difficult area of attending a wedding because there are so many factors to consider. Here are some common questions and solutions from the Emily Post website.
      • Do I have to choose something from the bridal registry? No.  The registry is a convenience for guests, not a mandate.  Checking a couple’s registries may give you a better idea of their tastes and needs.
      • Am I supposed to buy a gift that costs as much as what the hosts spend on each person at the wedding? No.  This modern myth causes considerable anxiety for guests, but it is simply untrue.  The amount you spend is strictly a matter of your budget, how close you are to the bride and groom, and what you think is an appropriate gift.
      • Is it tacky to send money? Not at all.  Cash gifts are often just right for couples who have already established their households or are saving for something special.
      • How do I give the couple a gift of money? A monetary gift is either sent directly to the couple with a personal note, or into the financial gift registry.  When a gift is sent to a financial institution or a travel agency where the couple has registered, the couple receives notification of the gift and its amount.
      • Can I send something I already own? Yes, but only as long as it is in good condition—not a castoff—and you’re confident that the couple will like the item.
      • Don’t I have up to a year after the wedding to send a gift? No, this is another myth.  Gifts should be sent before the wedding or as soon after the wedding date as possible.  But late is better than never so send your gift when you can.
      • Can I take my present to the wedding? You can, but only if this is the tradition in the couple’s culture or community.  If you’re sending a gift from one of the couple’s registries, it will be clearly listed where the gift is to be sent.
      • May I send a group gift? Married couples and nuclear families generally send one gift, as do couples who live together.  Group giving, when guests pool their resources to purchase a more elaborate gift, is also fine.
      • How do I know if my gift arrived? A thank-you note from the couple is your best guarantee.  You can also ask for delivery confirmation on gifts sent by mail or commercial delivery service.
      • What do I do if I don’t receive a thank-you note? Give the couple a reasonable amount of time to send their thank-you—usually three months postwedding.  After that time, you’re free to ask if the gift was received.
      • What if I learn that my gift was returned or exchanged? Say nothing.  Returns and exchanges are common when a couple receives duplicate items.
    • You must always get a gift for the couple, regardless if it’s a destination wedding or you cannot attend the ceremony. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive, even a small but meaningful token will do.

Take the Good Guest Pledge

    • The Emily Post website has a wonderful way to help remind yourself to be a good guest at any wedding. The following is a pledge that was originally posted here.
      • During the Ceremony
        • I will respect the sanctity of the occasion and not talk during the wedding ceremony or interrupt the service by taking pictures with a flash camera. This is also not the time to mingle or loudly greet friends or acquaintances. I will turn off the ringers on my cell phone and pager.
        • I will participate in as much of the ceremony as my own religion and that of the ceremony permit. If a mass or communion is offered and I choose not to participate, I will remain quietly in my seat. Otherwise, I’ll stand when others stand and sit when others sit. I am not required to kneel or to recite prayers that are contrary to my own beliefs.
        • I will not show up at the ceremony or reception with a surprise guest, whether a date, children, or extras in general.
      • During the Reception
        • I will not grab the microphone to croon a few favorite numbers, no matter how impressive my singing voice, or broadcast stories or jokes, no matter how humorous I can be.
        • I won’t monopolize the bride and groom in the receiving line. I will offer brief comments and then move on quickly.
        • I will not alter place cards or switch tables at the reception. Instead, I will be as cordial as I can be wherever the bride and groom have designated that I sit. I will introduce myself to my tablemates and add a little explanation about how I know the couple.
      • After the Reception
        • I will not take the centerpiece upon departing, scoop up matchbooks, or request that any uneaten portion of my meal be put in a doggie bag to be taken home.
        • I will not get behind the wheel if I’ve had too much to drink, nor will I allow others who are intoxicated to endanger themselves.

Now you and I should both be well versed on how to be wonderful wedding guests. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself, and never be afraid to ask if you are unsure what is expected of you.


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