Wedding Etiquette: The Do's and Don'ts of Being a Guest

HuffPost's Guide to Weddi-quette: The Do's and Don'ts of Being a Stellar Wedding Guest

Maybe you think of wedding etiquette as pertaining only to the bride, but there is, in fact, a long list of do's and don'ts you should abide by as a guest, from the moment the invitation arrives in the mail until after the happy event has occurred.

Some rules of conduct are obvious: do not to get embarrassingly drunk, plant one on the groom or write a check at the reception that corresponds to how much you estimate the wedding cost per head (yes, according to our experts, people actually do this). Others are less intuitive but still essential to being a stellar guest.

To guide us, we enlisted the help of Sharon Naylor, who has written over 35 books about weddings, and Anna Post, who hails from the etiquette empire that bears her great-great-grandmother's name, the Emily Post Institute.

Without further ado, here is HuffPost Women's Guide to Weddi-quette:


1. RSVP.

If there's anything that gets on brides and grooms' nerves before the wedding, it's guests failing to RSVP in a timely manner. "RSVP as soon as humanly possible," Naylor advised. "Within a couple of weeks, send it back, even if the deadline is far off. It's just good manners," and it's essential to determining how much the wedding will cost. "There is so much expense to planning, and most of that expense is dictated by the numbers on the guest list," Post added.

2. If you were invited to the ceremony, don't just show up for the reception.

"The ceremony is the most important part," said Naylor, adding that guests should make all efforts to attend. Even when the invitation bears those three little words, "full Catholic Mass," it’s in poor taste to show up to the open bar without first attending the main event.

3. Dress as the style of the invitation suggests.

"If it’s a causal invite with sea shells and sand dollars, we're probably not talking long silk dresses," Post said. And on the flipside, "If it is gilt-engraved and scripted and formal, we're probably not talking cotton sundresses."

If you're unsure of the dress code, ask someone familiar with the wedding, perhaps a bridesmaid or member of the bride's family, but not the bride herself. She has her own dress to worry about.

4. Arrive at the ceremony on time.

Leave plenty of time to get to the wedding itself -- even enough time to get lost on the way.

If you must be late, there's protocol for that, too. Don't think, "I'll slip in while the bride is coming up the aisle. No," Post said. "If you're really late, stand in the back or slip quietly into a back pew or row once the processional is completely finished."

5. Send a gift, even if you can't attend.

Etiquette dictates that if you were invited, you owe the couple a gift, even if you can't make it to the wedding. "People lose friends over this," Post said. "I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't remind people to take care of this: one invitation to a wedding ceremony equals a wedding gift."

6. While we're on the topic of gifts, shop from the registry.

If you don't, "It comes off as 'I knew what you wanted but I didn’t care,'" Naylor explained. "Or it comes off as 'I had this laying around and I'm re-gifting,'" even if you actually purchased a new gift specifically for this couple.

7. Sit at your assigned table

"There's a lot of thought that goes into these seating arrangements," Post said. Yes, the bride and groom actually spent time thinking about the various relationships their guests have to one another, and there could be a very good reason the cute guy you want to sit next to is at the other end of the room. Maybe his crazy ex-girlfriend will cause a scene and take you out for flirting with him. Who knows? Only the bride and groom, so don't mess with the seating.

8. Bring an appropriate guest (if you have actually been invited with a guest, that is -- but we'll get to that in the Don'ts).

If you have a sulky boyfriend who will keep you in the corner all night, or one with an unpredictable temper after too many Jack and Cokes, leave him at home.


1. If you weren't invited with a guest, don't show up with one.

Do not pencil your significant other's name onto the RSVP card, and do not call and ask the bride for a +1. "It is just beyond not okay," Post said, adding that it's one of the top ten complaints she gets from couples. "Once the bride and groom have come to their decision, it is what it is. Asking them to change is disrespectful, and it puts them in an awkward position."

The only exceptions, according to Post, are if you're married, engaged or cohabitating. In that case, modern day etiquette says the bride should have included your romantic other in the first place, and you can very diplomatically and politely broach the conversation with her.

2. Yes, the "no bringing uninvited guests" rule includes your kids.

"People think 'Oh this wedding would be great chance for everyone to meet my new baby! Or to see my kids!' No, just don’t bring an uninvited child." Naylor said. The couple may not have the space and the budget, or they may just prefer not to have children present; they are allowed to have an adults-only wedding.

3. Don't dress to compete.

Even if you worked out all spring, look better than you ever have before, and are dying to show off your beach-ready bod, a wedding is not the time. If your personal style tends toward the revealing, "Tone it down," Naylor said. And don't, don't, don't wear white.

4. Don't be disrespectful of the couple's religious or cultural traditions.

That might mean covering your shoulders in church or temple, or being quiet during a ritual you don't quite understand. "When those kinds of things are going on, you be quiet and you pay attention," said Naylor.

5. Don't be all about your own wedding.

If you're getting married soon after the wedding you're attending, congratulations! Today, however, belongs to the bride of the moment. "Consider your own wedding to be off topic," Naylor said.

6. Don't use your phone.

Don't Facebook, Tweet or text, and certainly don't make a phone call during the wedding or the reception. "Who are you Facebooking? Who are you texting? People who didn’t get invited?" asked Post. "That’s lovely but your job is to be at the wedding, not reporting on the wedding.”

7. Don't leave before the cake is cut.

It's an old rule, but Post says there's a good reason for it: "It's considered a quiet sign to elderly guests that it's okay to leave," she explained. That’s when it's acceptable for you to depart as well.

8. Don’t share wedding photos -- yet.

While the barrage of day-after wedding photo postings are inevitable, Post explains that brides are very sensitive about their image. It’s best to wait until either the bride or the groom have publicly posted pictures before you post your own. Otherwise, said Post, "You’re kind of Facebook scooping them … on their own big day."

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