Wedding etiquette – what you need to know

Wedding etiquette – what you need to know

People have been tying the knot since year dot and certain traditions have become established over the years. This can be an issue when you want your wedding to be a unique celebration of your personal relationship, personalities and tastes – if you stick with conventions this can cramp your style. Times have changed which means that following customary wedding etiquette is no longer obligatory – but there are some traditions you should still be aware of.

Popping the question

Many centuries ago women were regarded as “chattels” and a wedding involved one family passed their property on to another – so gaining the permission of the bride’s father was essential. In most societies the idea that women are “owned” is way past its sell by date. However, the tradition of asking dad still lingers, if only as a quaint custom.  So, will you upset your future father-in-law by ignoring him?  Or do you stick with tradition and possibly insult your intended?  Welcome to the tricky world of families, relationships and cultural complications - you have to use your judgement on this one!


Announcing your engagement

Not so long ago the bride’s father was expected to announce the forthcoming nuptials in a good quality newspaper. These days the couple do it themselves on social media.  But don’t be too hasty – it’s still courteous to personally tell close family and friends before you “go public” (and these individuals should not splash the news before you have posted it).

Paying for your big day

When marriage was more of a commercial transaction the parents of the bride were expected to pay for the big day.  This arrangement is largely history – who pays for what is now open to discussion.  Parents on both sides generally make a contribution but the couple themselves will probably be expected to fund some things themselves.  It all rather depends on individual circumstances but it’s important to clarify at a very early stage who is proposing to pay for what and how much they’re happy to contribute.

Buying the drinks

Weddings tend to be boozy affairs and the budget for liquid refreshments is usually substantial.  Today most couples provide drinks for the post-ceremony reception and the wine throughout dinner.  For the evening celebration most guests will be happy to pay their own way.

Issues with the invitations

Can you invite someone to the Hen or Stag party but not the wedding?  Not advisable, unless you want to create a lot of bad feeling!  Anyone you invite to either of these events will assume they’re welcome at the main event.

Do you absolutely have to invite partners?  It’s normally expected that long term partners are included but you might decide to exclude those that you have not met – but make sure to apply this consistently to avoid bad feeling.  In the case of single guests there was a time when you were expected to give them a “plus one” invite – now most singletons will be happy to attend alone.

Are you obliged to invite friends of our parents?  In the days when the bride’s parents were footing the bill it was hard to say no – and if you are drawing heavily on the bank of mum and dad then this is still the case.  Letting them invite a couple of their closest mates is probably acceptable but any more and it’s probably time for a word.

Who is the invite from?  When the bride’s parents were funding everything they also issued the invitations in their own names.  Today the invitations usually come from the couple themselves.

Should you chase up RSVPs?  It may seem a little old fashioned to send printed invites and rather formal to request a written reply (by post or email) but it makes organisation a lot easier.  When someone doesn’t reply it’s important to contact them and politely check whether the invite or reply got mislaid.  Otherwise you could have some empty chairs or, even worse, nowhere for them to sit – either way feelings are going to get hurt.

Dress code

Weddings are traditionally formal affairs but things have become a lot more relaxed in recent years.  You decide how you would like people to dress but be sure to communicate this clearly – try to avoid something vague like “semi-formal” as many guests will be left guessing what you mean!

Honeymoon destination

In days gone by this was a surprise for the bride but now most couples make it a joint decision.

Final thoughts

Almost every aspect of a wedding, from the order of speeches to the seating plans, has its conventions.  Things are getting more relaxed and you now have more freedom to have your day your way – just be prepared for a few raised eyebrows from elderly relatives!

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