Proper Wedding Etiquette

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Weddings are one of the most celebrated events in which people can participate and share. They are personal, and the bride and groom should design their special day around their personalities and desires. Weddings are also a traditional affair, with years of proper etiquette set in place. While some couples throw etiquette to the wind and have non-traditional wedding ceremonies and celebrations, other couples might wish to have a more formal and traditional affair. Either way, at least a portion or all of proper wedding etiquette applies to the special day.

The Guest List

The bride, groom and their respective parents should designate who they wish to invite to the wedding. The bride and groom then narrow the lists down to one to a reasonable number of guests. There are some dos and don'ts when it comes to wedding guest lists. Do invite immediate family and close friends; don't feel obligated to invite acquaintances. Encourage single friends to bring their significant other; don't feel obligated to include an "and guest" invitation to single people without a significant partner. Do invite bosses and co-workers if close; don't feel obligated to invite bosses and work colleagues otherwise. In general, don't invite ex-spouses.

The Invitations

Mail out "Save the Date" cards six to eight months prior to the wedding date to alert guests of the impending nuptials. Mail out the actual invitations three months before the wedding if the ceremony is being held at a dream location away from home. Mail the actual invitations out six to eight weeks before the wedding if the ceremony is in the home town. Set the RSVP date for three weeks prior to the wedding, and provide the invitees with any dress codes and bridal registration information they will need.

The Bridal Party

Brides should always keep in mind that their bridal party will be sacrificing a lot to be in her wedding. Bridal attendants must pay for the bridal shower, buy their shoes, dresses and any required accessories, ensure their hair and make-up is how the bride wants it and help the bride with whatever she needs before the wedding and during the wedding and reception. Brides customarily gift their bridal party as a thank you for all of their help. Gifts are generally presented at the rehearsal dinner and can be something such as matching necklaces for the maid-of-honor and bridesmaids to where on the wedding day.

The Rehearsal Dinner

The groom's parents are responsible for the rehearsal dinner. It is common courtesy to invite immediate family and both the bridal party and groomsmen. This is not a set rule, however, and the groom's family may choose to invite additional guests if they so desire. The rehearsal dinner is customarily the night before the wedding right after the wedding rehearsal.

The Wedding Ceremony

Wedding ceremony etiquette is something that is difficult to express in general terms. The wedding ceremony is very personal and oftentimes based upon the couple's religious or secular beliefs. As such, etiquette varies depending on the type of wedding ceremony being performed. Generally speaking, however, guests should arrive dressed as designated in the invitation; if the wedding is a black tie affair, guests should not attend casually dressed. Family photos during and after the ceremony should include step-parents, even if the bride or groom does not get along with the stepmother or stepfather. All guests should be respectful of the bride and groom's choice of ceremony and not express offense should it not agree with their personal beliefs, and no guest or member of the wedding party should disrupt the ceremony.

The Reception

Wedding reception etiquette also depends on the type of wedding reception the couple is planning. If the reception consists of a full sit-down dinner, the order of events typically progress as follows. The receiving line comes first, so guests can give the happy couple their well wishes right away. Cocktails follow, if serving them, and the bride and groom should share their first dance. The best man and maid-of-honor should toast the happy couple once all guests are seated and awaiting their main dinner course. After dinner, the cake is cut and served once the bride and groom have traditionally fed each other bites.

Thank You Cards

Thank you cards for wedding gifts are a must. This tried-and-true tradition has not gone out of favor and both the bride and groom should absolutely take the time to send handwritten thank you cards to all of their guests. An electronic thank you note is not acceptable, nor is waiting too long to send out the thank you acknowledgments. The newlyweds should send their thank you cards within three months after their happy day, and they should also include notes to the wedding planner, wedding and reception location coordinators and all vendors if they are truly pleased with how their special day went.