Q: Does etiquette vary by region of the country?
A. No. While customs vary by region of the country, wedding etiquette is the same regardless of location.
Q. Do I have to invite the officiant to the rehearsal dinner?
A. Formal rules of etiquette state that an officiant and his spouse are to be invited to the rehearsal dinner. This applies to an officiant of a church or synagogue in which you are an active member not necessarily an officiant you’ve contracted for a service.
Q: Do I have to pay the officiant at my church for performing the marriage ceremony?
A: Sometimes this question is answered for you in a church published wedding guidelines booklet. If not, a gratuity is especially appropriate if he played an active role in creating a meaningful service for you. Formal etiquette rules suggest the bestman or groom present the officiant with a payment and gratuity in an envelop after the service.
Printed Items: Invitations & Thank You Notes
Q. What is the timing for sending thank you notes?
A. Formal etiquette requires sending a thank you note within a week if you receive gifts before the wedding and within a month, but no later than three, if received after the wedding. Be aware this is a hot button issue for guests, especially older guests who expect to receive a genuine hand-written note promptly after delivery of the gift. Rumors of it being okay to send a note within a year after the ceremony are false. That is seen as being ungrateful and as poor manners.
Q. When do I use wording “pleasure of your company”?
A. If your ceremony takes places somewhere other than a church or synagogue, you use that wording instead of “the honour of your presence.”
Q: When do we send rehearsal dinner invitations?
A: These are sent by the groom’s family after guest RSVPs are returned. Never invite guests to any wedding event over the Internet or through text. Both sets of parents, the bridal party, grandparents, the officiant and his spouse and out-of-town guests are extended a rehearsal dinner invitation.
Q: Do we need to include our parent names on the invitation if we are paying for the wedding?
A: Mature couples paying for the wedding issue their own invitations and do not include parent names.
Q: What do I do if an invited guest has not returned the RSVP card?
A: You must call all guests who have not returned a RSVP card so you can get an accurate count for catering and seating.
Q: When do I mail the wedding invitations?
A: The general rule is 6-8 weeks before the wedding to out-of-state guests and 4 weeks for in-state.
Q: Where do I put a note that we want money, not gifts?
A: Nowhere. An invitation is not a request card for a gift. A gift is something given out of love and generosity. If someone chooses to present you a wedding gift, accept it graciously and with appreciation. Couples never ask for gifts or dictate a preference. Your mother or attendants can express your wishes, if asked, or guests may understand your wish if you don’t have a retail bridal registry. Also, keep in mind it is never appropriate to insert bridal registry information into an invitation either. Shower hostesses can mention where you are registered on invitations. And, bridal showers are never hosted by immediate family members.
Q: I don’t want anyone wearing white or a hat at my wedding. Can I slip a piece of paper into the invitation with this message?
A: No. This message is best communicated from family and friends to guests, not put in writing.
Q: Where do I use the word “to” vs. “and”?
A: The names of the bride and groom are joined by the word “to” on ceremony invitations and the word “and” on reception invitations.
Q. I’m getting remarried and I don’t understand today’s “rules” compared to when I married the first time.
A. You’re right. The “rules” have become somewhat relaxed. Keep these etiquette tips in mind to look like a pro: Second weddings are more sophisticated because the couple is older and more established, thus has more money to contribute to the event. Therefore, most encore couples pay for the wedding themselves. Ceremonies are smaller and usually only include family and very close friends. If you’re blending families, include the children in the ceremony. Wear a simple, elegant, sophisticated dress (floor length, cocktail length or designer suit) in white, off-white or pastel. Wear a headpiece or hat, and avoid a blusher veil covering your face. Do not print “No Gifts Please” on your invitation. If you prefer a contribution to a certain non-profit, spread this word via family and friends.
The Bridal Party a.k.a Attendants
Q. Is there a proper way to ask someone to be in our wedding?
A. Yes, formal etiquette dictates you meet the person face to face and describe why she is important in your life and why you would value her support. Follow up by asking if she will support you in your wedding and marriage by serving in your bridal party. If a face to face meeting is not practical, a telephone call or hand written letter is preferred to an email or video chat.
Q. Am I obligated to ask someone to be an attendant because I was in their bridal party?
A. No. You should never feel like you need to pay someone back by asking them to be an attendant in your bridal party.
Q: I’m having both a Maid of Honor and a Matron of Honor (married honor attendant). Which takes precedence?
A: The Maid takes precedence over the Matron and stands next to the bride.
Q. How do I tell my bridesmaids I don’t want them wedding dress shopping with me? I’d already promised this to my Mom.
A. Be honest and let them know that this experience is something both you and your Mom have been looking forward to for years. Schedule a later date with your attendants for a dress reveal. Maybe you can address invitations or make wedding favors at this same gathering.
Q. I don’t want bridesmaids but my groom wants groomsmen. Is this okay?
A. Maybe. Check with the Marriage License Bureau in your ceremony location to determine requirements. Most states only require three people be present: bride, groom and officiant. But, there is no rule requiring an equal number of attendants, if you do decide to have bridesmaids.
Q. What arm do my ushers offer to seat guests?
A. Male ushers offer their right arm to the woman of a guest pair or the oldest woman in a group of ladies. Single men walk beside the usher to be seated. A female usher does not offer her arm when escorting guests to their seats. She is dressed similar to the bridesmaids, if not identical, and stands with the bridal party during the ceremony.
Q. Who is the last guest seated before the processional begins?
A. The mother of the bride is seated last and is the first guest to leave after the recessional. No one should be seated after the mother of the bride.
Q: Who’s first-the ringbearer or the flowergirl?
A: The flowergirl and ringbearer may walk side by side. If they do not, the rigbearer precedes the flowergirl.
Q. I’ve made a horrible mistake in my choice of maid of honor. She doesn’t seem one bit interested and hasn’t helped with anything.
A. First, try to figure out why she’s become so disinterested. Is she fearful of losing your friendship? Are you overbearing and only talk about your wedding? The gentlest way to re-engage her is to sit down together with a To-Do list and express your excitement about completing some of the list with her. A good honest talk and having some non wedding related fun may restore her interest.
Q. My groom just told me the best man has written a four page toast. Isn’t this too long? What is the norm?
A. Yes, that is too long. No wedding toast should be more than 3 minutes. Toasts should be heartfelt, delivered top-of-mind, not read. Your groom should let his best man know a speech is not needed, simply a toast offering his best wishes will do.
Q. When toasts are being made, what do we do?
A. When a toast is offered at a sit-down dinner, all rise except the couple who remain seated. Afterwards, it’s appropriate for the groom to rise and toast his new bride who remains seated.
Q. All of my bridesmaids are flying in for our wedding. Do I need to rent them a car?
A. Renting a vehicle for your attendants is not expected. If you have the funds, you might rent one or two vehicles and arrange arrival schedules so they can carpool to lodging together. Transportation logistics should be considered when choosing venues.
Q. One of the groomsmen will be in his military uniform. Do I order a boutonniere for him?
A. No. Men in uniform don’t wear boutonnieres, this includes your groom, if he’s in uniform. Others wear their boutonnieres on the left lapel of their jackets.
Q: Can you clear up confusion about dress length for my family?
A: Simply put, bridesmaid and mother gowns should never be longer than the bride’s gown.
Q. My bridesmaids told me they’d rather sit with their dates or husbands than at a head table. Is this appropriate?
A. Yes and no. They should sit where you’d like them to. However, seating has changed a lot. You could have a sweetheart table for just you and your groom. Or, you two could sit with both sets of parents.
Q. Where do I send the wedding gift before the wedding day?
A. It is not proper to bring gifts to a ceremony or reception because the burden of transport goes to the bride or her family. Gifts should be sent to the bride’s home before a wedding ceremony. Upon receipt, accurate records need to be kept so the correct thank you note is sent in a timely manner.
Q. A lot of our family doesn’t have fine dining experience. Should I include dining etiquette rules and tableware diagrams in the invitation?
A. No. Your wedding day is a time of celebration. Forgive your guests for what you perceive to be their lack of dining etiquette and enjoy their company and willingness to celebrate with you.
Q. My divorced parents are uncivil. Dad’s remarried. Mom hasn’t. How do I seat them at the ceremony?
A. Let’s hope your parents will remember the wedding day is about you and put their dislike for one another aside. Proper etiquette requires your mother be seated in the first row with her immediate family behind her. Your father is seated in the row behind your mother’s family with his immediate family behind him.
Q. How do I deal with future in-laws putting their two cents in when they aren’t paying for anything?
A. Remember they will be in your life for a long time. To keep harmony, listen to their suggestions, consider them and then decide what is best. If this continues, ask your fiancee to speak to them since you are setting family interaction patterns while you are engaged. Good luck!
Q. How do I ask my groom’s mother if I can help select her dress?
A. First the bride’s mother chooses her dress. Show your mother-in-law a photograph of that dress and then suggest that you and she set up a day to go shopping together, making it a fun day to look forward to. Try not to be controlling and remember you want her to be both fashionable and comfortable in what she is wearing.
Q. My father died a few years back and my mother has recently remarried. I like him but I’d prefer my brother walk me down the aisle. How can I make this happen without hurting feelings?
A. There are several options to consider so that your step-father feels included. Both your brother and step-father can escort you. Or, he could meet you half ways down the aisle and walk the rest of the way to the altar with you and your brother. You could list him in your wedding program, especially if you mention your birth father. At the reception, you could do a spotlight dance with him.
Q. What does the step-mother wear to the wedding?
A. The only rule of etiquette applied to your role is to wear something that doesn’t upstage the mothers and that complements the wedding colors, so that you blend in, not stand out in wedding photographs.
Do you have a wedding etiquette or planning question? Ask me.
©Copyright October 2015 Linda Leier Thomason
All Rights Reserved.