Wedding etiquette 101: Dos and don'ts for modern day weddings

Propriety is a thing of the past, right? Wrong! When it comes to weddings, there are still customs and traditions to abide by. Follow this guide to ensure you don’t offend.

While it's true every wedding is different, and these days most ceremonies are truly customised affairs designed to suit the bride and groom-to-be—there are a few customs you should be aware of, especially (but not exclusively) in the case of a more traditional white wedding. 

As well as remembering to RSVP formally, having your phone on silent in the church, keeping quiet during speeches, and staying until after the cake has been cut—there are a few key rules and niceties to follow when it comes to weddings.

Some couples may be more relaxed, and each wedding will have its own rubrics amongst all the fun and celebration—but if you keep the following do’s and don’ts front of mind, you can’t go wrong.   

Do: Buy a gift that’s listed on the registry

Even if you know the couple personally, it’s generally best to buy something from the gift registry. And get in early too—you'll be able to pick something that may be a little more personal, and you'll avoid buying tea towels, placemats, or oven mitts.

If your gift is large, ship it directly to the bride and groom’s address instead of bringing it along to the ceremony. You’ll save them the trouble of having to cart it home from the reception. 

Don’t: Bring an uninvited date

Unless your invitation specifies a guest or plus one, you can safely assume it’s not okay to bring along the new love in your life. As the bride and groom and their families are working to a set budget for the special day, it’s also not polite to ask the couple for an extra seat for your friend after invitations have been sent out.

Don’t: Wear white

As a general rule, guests should avoid wearing white or pale ivories and greys to a wedding. Brides have worn white as a time-honoured wedding custom since Queen Victoria donned a white lace and satin gown when she married Prince Albert in 1840. And while some non-traditional or trend-focused brides might opt for a brightly coloured dress, it’s best not to risk clashing with the bride-to-be on her big day.

Do: Look the part

To avoid being underdressed or overdressed—pay attention to the details set out in your invitation, as well as the wedding location. As a general rule, wear a dress, smart-casual style pants, a skirt, or a suit. 

Don’t: Be late

Of all the occasions not to be late for, your loved ones’ wedding is probably in the top 10. Aim to arrive 20—30 minutes early to avoid traffic or transport disasters. This is especially true if you are in the bridal party.

Do: Leave the front few rows for family

While it may not be cordoned off, the front couple of rows of pews or seats at the ceremony are typically reserved for the bridal party, family, and close friends. 

Don't: Take photos when you've been asked not to

Check the program to see if the couple is happy for photographs during the ceremony, or if they'd prefer Instagram be left until after they've said 'I do'. As a general rule, refrain from being on your phone during the bride's stride down the aisle, the couple's vows, and any ceremonial speeches.

If photos are permitted and there's a wedding hashtag, make sure you use it so the couple can scroll through party moments after the big day is done and dusted. If a photo rule has not been stipulated, err on the side of caution and don't post anything on social media. 

Do: Keep your speech short, sweet, and simple

If you've been asked to speak, ensure your congratulatory message doesn't get lost in the moment. Stick to one story about the bride or groom or the couple as a pair that gets your point across without people feeling you're hogging the mic. One to two minutes is best. Keep it light and clean too—this is a wedding after all, not a roast. 

Don’t: Hit the dancefloor before the bride and groom have their first dance

While some wedding customs may have fallen by the wayside, the all-important first dance is a treasured tradition for most couples, where they will have chosen a special tune and even choreographed an entire routine. Save your dancing feet for later. 

Don’t: Forget your favour

The bride and groom will typically have put a lot of thought and care into their wedding favours, so whether you love that soy candle or tiny succulent or not, don’t leave your little thank you gift behind.

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