Wedding Guest Etiquette

Love is in the air! It’s officially wedding season! If you’re somewhere between the ages of 20 and 35, chances are you have a few weddings to attend this summer. This can lead to questions about etiquette, proper attire, and (SUPER IMPORTANTLY) whether or not you get to bring a guest OR your kids with you! 

Having gone to quite a few weddings as a guest, worked casually as the assistant/second shooter for a wedding photographer, and planned my own wedding, I’m hoping I can help clear a few of these questions up! 

Do I get to bring a plus one? Can I bring my children?

  • Look at the envelope. ESPECIALLY the inner envelope (if there is one). This will tell you exactly who is invited. If your invitation says just your name, you are the only one invited. No guest. No kids. If the inner envelope says “Your Name + Guest” or “Your name + Your Spouses Name”, then the invitation was for two people and that’s it. If the inner envelope says “Your name + Your Spouses Name + And Family”, then your immediate family (i.e. any of your children) have been invited to the wedding with you. 
  • Please keep in mind: whom a bride and groom invite to their wedding is a completely personal decision. It usually takes a variety of factors into account: how many people the venue can hold, the budget for the wedding (this is a huge factor because some plates per person are upwards of $80 to $100), and whether or not the couple has chosen to include kids on the guest list.
  • Please please PLEASE do not call the Bride and Groom and question them about the invitation and whom is invited unless you are TRULY confused. It really makes the situation awkward for everyone involved. 

Is it necessary to RSVP by the date?

  • ALWAYS respond to a wedding invitation – even if you’re not going to attend. Respond as soon as humanly possible. I make sure that if I get a wedding invitation in the mail, I take care of it and put the RSVP card (which generally is pre-stamped and ready to go) back in the mailbox before I do ANYTHING ELSE. The bride and groom are waiting to receive every. single. one. so they can give a final meal count to the venue. 
  • If you say you’re going to attend, the bride and groom have paid for your plate in advance. It’s truly bad form to flake if you’ve RSVP’d yes, because chances are the bride and groom will NOT get their money back. If it’s you and a guest, this could mean they’re out $150-$200 OR MORE! If something truly unavoidable comes up, let the bride and groom know as quickly as possible. That being said, your “Yes” RSVP should take precedence over just about anything else. 

Should I bring a gift to the wedding? How much $$ should I give the happy couple?

  • Knowing what gift to buy or how much to give the bride and groom at a wedding can be tricky. A good rule of thumb to follow is to either….
    • Stick to the registry
    • Try to, at least, cover what you think is the cost of your plate.
  • That being said, this is not a requirement. If you are financially strapped, just give what you’re comfortable with. At the very least, bring a card to the bride and groom wishing them the best of luck in starting their new life together. 

What should I wear? What’s the dress code?

  • The invitation will be a HUGE help here. If the wedding is very fancy, it will probably say “Black Tie” or “White Tie” on the reception card. For these types of events, many women choose to wear a more “casual” dress to the wedding and really go all out for the reception, though this is not a requirement to switch outfits like this. I’ll break down the dress code here…
    • Black Tie – For men, a tux. For women, a formal, long dress.
    • Formal – For men, a suit and tie (jacket required). For women, a long dress.
    • Semi – Formal/Cocktail – For men, a dress shirt and tie (jacket optional). For women, a casual long dress or shorter cocktail dress
    • Casual – THIS DOES NOT MEAN JEANS!!!!! In wedding-speak, casual for men means that there is no jacket required. For ladies, it can mean a nice dress – but not as dressy as a cocktail dress. Think more along the lines of a sundress.
  • If the invitation doesn’t say anything about the attire at all, you can safely assume (based on location) it falls somewhere on the spectrum between “Casual” and “Semi-Formal”. For me, a classy cocktail dress is always a safe bet. For men, a dress shirt and tie would also be a safe assumption. The location of the wedding reception can also give you a big clue as to how to dress! For example, you’re not likely going to wear Black tie attire to a beach wedding.

What are some Dos and Don’ts for behavior as a guest at the wedding?

  • Do find a moment to congratulate the bride and groom!
  • Don’t give a speech or toast unless you’ve been asked to do so.
  • Do try to make conversation with the other guests at your table!
  • Don’t use this as an opportunity to air family drama – keep the mood light! 
  • Do make sure you make it to the dance floor for at least once dance! 
  • Don’t get so enthusiastic at the open bar that you get sloppy, sick, or belligerent.
  • Do sign the guest book!
  • Don’t stare at your phone the whole night.
  • Do smile for the photographer when they come around to take pictures of groups or tables.

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