Wedding etiquette - the dos and don'ts of "I do"

People have been getting married for thousands of years – and over that time different cultures have developed different traditions.   Etiquette is what those traditions dictate – it’s “what’s typically expected”. 

You might be the kind of couple that likes the idea of conforming.  Or you might be sort that feels rules, unwritten or otherwise, are there to be broken.  Either way it’s useful to know, in advance, what the form is.  So in this post we pick some common etiquette questions that regularly pop up so you are aware of the social norms.

Does the groom have to ask the dad’s permission before popping the question?

Traditionally, yes.  However, this is based on the idea that the woman is the ‘property’ of her family, which is slightly outdated (slightly?!).  None the less this tradition still persists.  You might upset your future father-in-law very early in the relationship if you ignore this one.  On the other hand you may upset your future wife if you ask her dad first.  Welcome to the tricky world of families, relationships and cultural complications.  You are going to have to use your judgement on this one.

Photo by  Jose Martinez  on  Unsplash

Is there a right and wrong way to announce your engagement?

Traditionally the bride’s father would announce your forthcoming nuptials in a good quality newspaper.  Now the norm is to spread the news yourself on social media.  However, you might upset close family and friends if you don’t tell them personally before you broadcast your happy news to the world at large.  A word of warning to those close friends and family – don’t congratulate the couple on social media until they have posted the news themselves. 

Who traditionally pays for what when you get married?

Money is always a sensitive topic and different families tend to have different attitudes – so this can be a minefield.  Check our earlier blog post for details on how things are traditionally handled.


Is a free bar the norm?

Most couples, and their families, have to keep a close eye on the budget – and most guest will understand that.  Typically you’ll be expected to pay for all the drinks up until the evening reception starts.  In other words you’ll provide the post-ceremony drinks reception and the wine throughout dinner but from there on you ask guests to pay their own way.  Having said that you could consider providing a very limited selection of free drinks in the evening – perhaps a couple of kegs of beer and a box of draught cider.

Can we invite someone to the Hen or Stag do but not the wedding?

Technically yes, but in practice a very bad idea.   Anyone you invite to either of these events will expect to be included in the main event.

What’s the etiquette with inviting partners?

The usual form is to invite long term partners.  Weddings are expensive so you don’t want to be paying for people neither of you know – you could invite just partners that you have met and are on friendly terms with.   Having said that, be consistent – if that’s your decision for one couple it has to go for all of them.  On a slightly different tack, what about the traditional idea that single guests are given a “plus one” invite?  That idea is probably past its sell by date – most singles will expect to come on their own.

Are we obliged to invite friends of our parents?

Tricky question and you need to tread carefully.  Depends on whether the parents are going OTT with the invites or just limiting it to a handful of their closest mates.  If it’s going to break the budget then it’s time for a little chat.  However, if mum and dad are footing the bill then you don’t have a leg to stand on!

Who is the invite from?

Traditionally the bride’s parents are the ones who invite the guests and the invitation is worded accordingly.  Today most couples dispense with this slightly quaint practice and word the invitation from themselves.

How to handle guests who fail to RSVP?

Although getting someone to formally RSVP in writing, or at least by email, may seem a bit harsh it will avoid embarrassing misunderstandings.  The invite or response may have got lost in the post, they might think they’ve replied when they haven’t, people are really busy and get confused.  Best think to do is politely check with them.  Otherwise you could have some empty places or, even worse, nowhere for them to sit – either way feelings are going to get hurt.

How should guests dress?

You can stipulate a dress code on the invitation and etiquette suggests guests should respect that.  But what should guests do if appropriate attire is not specified?  Play it safe and dress formally.  Unless the invite says dress is casual then  jeans, even smart ones, are almost certainly not acceptable.  Women should not dress in white, or ivory – that’s for the bride and bride alone.


Do guests have to bring or buy a gift?

Unless otherwise directed the answer is yes.  Even if the invite says “no gifts” you might like to politely ignore this and give them something inexpensive but thoughtful anyway.  If there’s a gift list try to stick to that but if everything is outside your budget think about a unique gift you think they’d like – it’s the thought that counts.


Should guests post pictures of the wedding on the day itself?

As a guest use your judgement.  Generally speaking you shouldn’t post photos of the couple on social media before the evening guests have arrived – that will spoil the surprise of later guests seeing the dress for the first time.  As bride and groom you should clearly communicate be specific about what you do and don’t want people to do with regard to social media – that will make it easier for everyone and avoid any awkwardness.

Photo by  Timo Stern  on  Unsplash

Photo by Timo Stern on Unsplash

Should the honeymoon destination be a surprise for the bride?

Etiquette says yes but in these days of gender equality the answer is probably no – it should probably be a joint decision.  The element of surprise will be lost but that’s probably better than her being disappointed!

Don’t be afraid to ask

We’ve covered some of the most common questions about traditional and current wedding etiquette but you probably have a few more.  Just give us a call and the team will be happy to help – we’ve hosted so many big days that we’re not short of experience when it comes to helping with matters of custom,  protocol and convention.

Jim O'ConnorComment