From gifts to fashion, follow proper etiquette

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Social etiquette at weddings has loosened up in recent years, but even at a barefoot wedding in the mountains, it's still possible to embarrass yourself and your guests, and generally ensure that you cringe for years to come when looking back on the big day.

"There are certain guidelines for etiquette when throwing or attending a wedding," said Jill Waldman, wedding consultant and planner for The Main Event. "But a lot of it depends on the bride and groom and whether the event is formal or casual."

For example, it is important to acknowledge the people who are paying for the wedding on the invitations.

If the parents are paying, the wording on the invitation should indicate they are the ones inviting the guests.

If both parents are contributing, the bride's parents' names should be mentioned first, Waldman said.

The wording should also be tailored to the location of the wedding, she said.

"If you are getting married at a church or synagogue, the invitation should request 'the honor of your presence,'" Waldman said. "If it is an outdoor wedding on a ranch, for example, the invitation should request 'the pleasure of your company.'"

The invitation should include the full date, including the year.

"Don't abbreviate," Waldman said.

In modern times, a sticky situation often occurs when sending out the invitations.

Often, parents of the bride and groom may be divorced and not always on friendly terms.

"Never exclude one person to save the feelings of another," Waldman said. "Then again, if you haven't talked to your mother for 30 years and it will make someone uncomfortable to have her there, it's probably O.K."

If the parents aren't on speaking terms, it is appropriate to seat them at separate tables, she said.

When it comes to paying for the event, many modern weddings are paid for by the bride and groom and guidelines of who should pay for what are more nebulous than ever, Waldman said.

Traditionally, the bride's parents pay for the reception, the dress and anything bridal related, she said. The groom's family should pay for the rehearsal dinner.

The groom himself should pay for the rings, the clergy and the honeymoon, Waldman said.

The bride's family should pay for the invitations, she said, and they can also offer to pay for an element of the wedding such as the flowers or the entertainment.

The etiquette of what to provide at the reception is completely controlled by the budget of the wedding, Waldman said.

"You don't have to offer a meal," she said, "but whatever you have it should be of good quality. If you can't afford a meal, offer upscale hors d'oeuvres."

"This part of the wedding is very individual," she said. "It's up to you whether you offer a pig roast or caviar from Russia."

It is not required to serve alcohol, but alcohol is served at most receptions, Waldman said.

"It's a preference issue and a budget issue," she said. "In my opinion, it is poor form to have a cash bar."

The bride and groom should stay until the last guest leaves.

"Don't leave the party you're hosting," Waldman said. "And the bride and groom should at least make contact with each guest. Say hello to everyone."

Some people have a reception line at large weddings.

For the arriving guests, it is appreciated if they have mailed or dropped off the gift before the wedding, Waldman said. "It's such a crazy day, so it's more of a convenience thing," she said. "But do give a gift. It's inappropriate to attend and not give a gift."

If you are having an out of town wedding, it is not required to fly everyone in, but if guests must travel to your wedding, it is appropriate to provide activities for them and make them feel at home, Waldman said.

"At least have gift baskets in their rooms," she said. "And give them an itinerary of the wedding events."

Schedule a get together of some kind, such as a cocktail party, cookout or a group hike. If the wedding party is local, this is not necessary.

The bride and groom should be aware that their wedding party nominees, such as the bridesmaids, could incur a big expense while participating in the wedding.

"Bridesmaids get lured into buying dresses and shoes," Waldman said. "Some brides and grooms buy those things, but it is not required."

It is, however, required that the bride and groom buy a gift for the members of their wedding party.

"Consider how much time they put in," she said. "Did they throw a shower? Did they help the bride get dressed and do her hair and makeup?"

"It's also customary to acknowledge if the parents are paying for the wedding," Waldman said. "They should be mentioned publicly."

"It's also traditional, if your parents pay, to give them a gift," she said.

Though the bride and groom have many guidelines to keep in mind on the big day, guests should also mind their manners. It is inappropriate to wear white if you are not the bride. It is also frowned upon for women to wear black.

"If it's an evening affair, formal dress etiquette dictates that you wear a dark color," Waldman said. "It's much more acceptable to wear navy blue or dark gray."

Follow the dress code specifications from the invitation.

"If it says formal and you show up in jeans, that is not O.K. Not in Steamboat or anywhere," she said. "It happens here a lot."

"Some don't care, but when it's your day, you are trying to create your vision of the day. Some people just don't get it."

Formal or not, no guest should outshine the bride, Waldman said. "Not even the mother of the bride."

"In the scheme of things, the mother of the bride is second in line and the mother of the groom is next," she said. "The mother of the groom should be dressed well, but be at least one notch down from the mother of the bride. They should talk beforehand."

When the whole event is over, the bride and groom have a month to write thank you notes, Waldman said.

"You get two weeks for the honeymoon and two weeks to write the thank you notes," she said. Both the bride and the groom should sign the notes.

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