There are tons of books on proper wedding etiquette out there for brides and grooms. They have no choice but to familiarize themselves with what is and is not considered polite at weddings. However, many guests seem to remain in the dark about the proper manners associated with attending a wedding. There’s more to it than you would think!
First and foremost, it’s important to RSVP as promptly as possible. It’s a great idea to fill out the card as soon as you get it and stick it back in the mail. This way it won’t get lost in the shuffle. If you need to double check some calendars and arrange for a babysitter or hotel, check while it’s still fresh in your mind and send it back as soon as possible. The RSVP date is there for a reason – it’s important for planning purposes to have as exact a number as possible.
Don’t add names to the invitation or assume that you can bring a guest. Unless the invitation specifically says your name “and guest” you’re probably invited solo. While generally, it’s considered proper to invite any single adults with a guest, some couples may be on a tight budget and decide that in order to invite as many people they love as possible, they need to invite guests solo. If you have RSVP’d that you will be attending and an emergency comes up, let the bride know as soon as possible. Obviously if it’s the day of the wedding, call someone other than the couple getting married. Avoid just not showing up if at all possible.
Deciphering an appropriate dress code from the wedding invitation is not always an easy task. Generally speaking, the time of day is the key to figuring out what to wear. If the wedding is in the morning or afternoon, wear a nice suit or dress for women, suit/shirt and tie for men. For evening weddings, take your cue from how fancy the invitation is. If you cannot tell from the invitation, check in with other guests to see what they’re wearing. Generally for an evening wedding, the dress code is the same as it would be for a cocktail party. Cocktail dress for women, suit and tie for men. If it is a black tie affair, it will typically state that on the invitation.
Try not to show too much skin or wear anything too flashy – particularly if the ceremony is a religious event. Contrary to what used to be popular belief, it is perfectly acceptable to wear black to an evening wedding. It is not acceptable for women to wear white, cream or ivory – there are so many other colors to choose from, ladies. Don’t rain on the bride’s parade and steal her color palate.
Do not arrive late to the ceremony if at all possible. Try to aim for 15-30 minutes earlier than the time specified on the invitation. If an unforeseen problem occurs and you must arrive late, seat yourselves quietly in the back. If the procession has already begun, wait until the bride has reached the altar before seating yourself at the back.
Once you get to the reception, make your way through the receiving line if there is one to congratulate the newly married couple. If there isn’t a receiving line, check to see if there’s a seating chart and sit where you are supposed to. Introduce yourself to anyone you don’t know who is seated at the same table. Make small talk by asking how everyone is connected to the bride and groom. It makes dinner far less awkward this way!
Receptions usually last a few hours. You attempt to stay at least until after the cake has been cut. When you do decide to call it a night, find a member of the bride’s immediate family – mom or dad – and thank them for hosting. Attempt to find the couple if at all possible to offer one last congratulatory hug.