Wedding Etiquette 101

We’re right smack dab in the middle of wedding season, if there is such a season anymore.  So what better time to discuss being the best guest possible at the weddings you may be lucky enough to be invited to this year? In planning my own wedding, I have been thinking a lot about protocol for wedding guests and how to best communicate what you expect. A few similar questions kept coming up in conversations about weddings with other people, so I turned to a few friends and colleagues for tips from their own experiences, and ones that can truly make all the difference to the overall experience.

More than anything, having a sense of gratitude and respect for the couple, how they choose to celebrate and for choosing you to be a part of it, is the most important tip you can remember!


This may seem like a no-brainer, but some loved ones may simply forget or they assume the couple automatically knows they are attending. “Always RSVP! Even if it’s your best friend or close family,” says Alanna Balilty, married June 2016. “There’s nothing worse than people not RSVPing.” You don’t want the couple to have to chase you for an answer when they have so many other tasks, and other guests, on their list.

Today, it may seem like an extra step to send back an RSVP card in the mail when you could send a text or email, but make sure you always RSVP in the form that the couple has requested. If they have chosen to send evites only, then make sure you follow the instructions accordingly. Don’t put it off! Send it as soon as you can so they know they can count on you to be there (or that you unfortunately send your regrets).

  1. Read the invitation carefully

When you receive an invitation, make sure you read who it is addressed to carefully, as those are likely the only invited parties. “If it doesn’t say ‘and guest’, then no, you don’t get a +1. If you and you boyfriend who is named on the envelope break up, then no, you can’t just bring someone else. If your kids names aren’t listed, then no, they’re not invited, even if other people’s kids are,” says Jen Masseau, associate editor of The Bullet, married June 2017. “There are lots of possible reasons why the couple made the guest list decisions they have, and trust me, they discussed it for literally hours. Don’t make them feel guilty for not inviting whoever it is you think should be invited but isn’t. (They probably already do).”

  1. Follow the dress code and registry

Carefully reading the invitation is equally as important when it comes to what to wear. Follow the general rules for dress code for when you’re choosing yours, your partner’s and your children’s outfits, if applicable. Black tie means floor-length gowns and suits. Cocktail chic or semi-formal is a bit more flexible, but still elegant. Beach, garden and brunch weddings still require a polished look, but are more casual. If the dress code isn’t explicitly stated, take your cues from the style of the invitation, the venue and time of day. When in doubt, ask someone in the bridal party. Still stumped? It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed for a wedding. And absolutely never wear white. This may seem like it goes without saying, but I saw not one but three women in white at a recent wedding I attended. Yes, it’s 2018, and the bride may not even be super traditional in this sense, but there are so many other colours in the rainbow, so why risk it? Unless the bride explicitly asks you to wear white (like the popular bridesmaids in white trend), just don’t do it.

Finally, abide by the couple’s wishes when it comes to gifts, but only spend within your means. The most important gift is your presence, especially if you’re travelling from afar. If they registered, buy something off the registry. Depending on your relationship, you may want to add a more personal, heartfelt gift as well. If they didn’t register or you’re not sure what to purchase, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a beautiful card and money, which can also be sent directly to their home if you are worried about it being misplaced. A wedding is a costly investment for most couples, so a gift that helps towards that is always appreciated. If the couple has expressly requested no gifts, consider a handmade token of your affection, or making a donation in their name to a charity close to their hearts.

Photography by: 5ive15ifteen Venue: Four Seasons Toronto
  1. Be on time

There are a couple of occasions in life when it is acceptable to be fashionably late, but a wedding is not one of them. Make sure you carefully read the invitation for all start times and account for traffic, finding parking and your seat, etc. If possible, plan to be in your seat 15-30 minutes before the time marked on the invitation.

Punctuality is especially important if you’re in the bridal party. “If you’re in the wedding party, be on time for photos,” says my friend Amy Statham, who attended seven weddings last summer and was in the bridal party for two of them. “It’s tempting to mingle and even grab a drink after the ceremony, but pictures take an eternity, so be on time and also be patient with the photographer. Remember that your role is to support.”

  1. Put your phone away!

Even if the wedding isn’t ‘unplugged,’ as many couples are now opting for, make sure you don’t get in the way of the wedding ceremony, or of the professional photographer, by being on your phone. “Don’t spend the whole wedding taking photos and videos. Actually enjoy all the love that is happening!” says Genevieve Yam Kopman, married April 2017. “It makes it so much harder for photographers when all you see are phones in every photo.” If a professional photographer is present, it is their job to get the best photo. So let them do what they were hired to do, and enjoy the moment!

Considering when to post and when not to post photos from the wedding is also key. “Don’t assume a couple wants a million photos of them and their day out there. Do a little recon before the wedding and ask if the couple has any rules around the social media treatment of their day; what the hashtag is; when they would like you to post; and if indeed they want social media from guests on their wedding day,” says Alison McGill, editor-in-chief of Weddingbells. “Though it’s more the exception than the norm, some couples are taking control of their wedding back and want to present it as their story on their own social media. A simple check in before the wedding day with the couple will set everything straight.”

What do you think is the most important tip to remember as a wedding guest? Let me know in the comments or on social!




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