Wedding Etiquette

Bybkeating9 Brian Keating

The day a couple gets married is one of the most important and memorable events in their lives together.  Weddings can obviously be stressful, requiring months of planning and preparation--from flowers and cake to seating arrangements and music.  Our goal in this guide is to provide a helping hand.

We believe that no one should be stifled by tradition on their big day; however, we also understand the importance of etiquette when it comes to matters of ceremony.  A wedding is a joyous celebration, and we hope that with our help, your trip together down the aisle will be as incredible as you always imagined.

From Something Old to Something Blue...

As the adage goes, "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue," and the oft-forgotten final line, "...and a silver sixpence  in your shoe."  We thought the best way to begin a guide on wedding etiquette  would be to review some of our favorite wedding customs, and examine their unique significance.

  • Something Old...
    • On the day of her wedding, the bride will wear something old to symbolize the her old life, prior to her engagement and marriage.
    • By wearing something new, the bride is putting faith in her new life and offering a symbol of hope for the future.
    • Something borrowed refers to an item lent to the bride by a happily married friend, often a garter meant as a token of good luck.
    • The color blue symbolizes purity and faithfulness, wearing something blue represents the bride's commitment to her new husband.
  • First Purchase
    • One cheeky wedding tradition holds that whichever partner makes the first purchase after tying the knot, then will have the upper hand throughout the rest of the marriage.  With this in mind, it is customary for the bride to offer a coin to her maid of honor in exchange for a hair pin.
  • The Best Man
    • The institution of marriage was not always the bastion of love and civility that it is today.  There was a time when daring grooms were forced to kidnap their brides, and wedding ceremonies were little more than clandestine meetings between two eloping lovers.  No one can attest to this quite like the best man.  In days long past, the best man was charged with protecting the groom and his recently kidnapped bride, ensuring their safe arrival at the church, and fending off the bride's family if they attempted to snatch her back.

Paying for the Wedding

Traditionally, the cost of paying for a wedding would fall to the bride's parents, this custom stretching back to the days when the bride's father would pay a dowry to a promising suitor.  While this tradition invariably remains intact, it is more common today for both sets of parents to split the cost of the wedding, and in some cases the bride and groom will pay for the wedding themselves.

Planning a budget ahead of time is tantamount to ensuring that the wedding plans go seamlessly, and that any monetary issues are resolved early.  Of course, it is important to stay within your means, despite the obvious excitement and the desire to spend a bit more than you normally would.  Below we will provide a list of various wedding costs and who, traditionally, pays for them.

The Bride's Parents:
  • Invitations
  • Order of service sheets
  • Announcements in the newspaper
  • Wedding cake
  • Bride's dress
  • Reception venue
  • Catering
  • Entertainment
  • Bride's transport to the ceremony
  • Flowers
  • Photographer / Videographer
The Bride:
  • The groom's wedding ring
  • The groom's present
  • Bridesmaids presents


The Groom:
  • Bride's engagement ring
  • Bride's wedding ring
  • Wedding ceremony
  • Ceremony music
  • Marriage license
  • Bridal flowers
  • Flowers for bridesmaids
  • Buttonholes
  • Corsages
  • Presents for the ushers and the best man
  • Transport to church for him and his best man
  • Transport to reception for him and his bride
  • Bouquets for the mother's
  • Honeymoon

Wedding Invitations           

The timing and the wording of wedding invitations  are essential facets of proper wedding etiquette.  Wedding invitations must be selected and ordered well in advance, as it is customary for wedding invitations to be sent out approximately six weeks prior to the wedding day.  It has also become common for save-the-date cards  to be sent out up to six months prior to the wedding day.

The wedding invitations are made out in the names of whomever is hosting the wedding; traditionally this is the bride's parents, for example:

  • Mr. and Mrs. Charles McBride request the pleasure of your company at the marriage of their daughter, Susan, to Mr. Brian Keating at St. Elizabeth's Church, Hampstead Heath, on Saturday 14th May 2011 at 3:00 o'clock and afterwards at The Spring Lake Golf Centre, Hampstead Heath, Greater London.

The RSVP information is to be placed at the bottom left-hand corner of the invitation.  The names of the guests should be handwritten and placed at the top left-hand corner of the invitation.  If the wedding is formal or black tie, indicate this at the bottom right-hand corner of the invitation.

The Gift List

Originally, wedding gifts  were purchased in order to help newlywed couples establish their first home together.  Obviously times have changed, and today most couples live together for some time before getting married.  Still, it is nice for wedding guests to contribute to the new life of the married couple.

It is common for engaged couples to register at different stores prior to getting married; this process makes it easier for their guests to purchase gifts that the couple want and need.  It has also become customary for brides to include an extra slip of paper with the wedding invitation that informs the guests where the couple have registered.

Your gift list should not be too extravagant, and if there are expensive items on the list try and let it be known that guests have the option of grouping together in order to ease the cost of the gift.  Shortly after the wedding, it is polite to send out handwritten thank you cards  to all of your guests, which should mention the gift they purchased, so remember to keep a list of all your wedding presents!

Popular Wedding Gifts

Bed Linen 

Not the most exciting gift, but something that every married couple needs.  Even if you have your own set of nice bed linen, which I'm sure you do, a fresh set of bed linen can be a great gift for a new home, especially if you have a guest room, or a new mattress.

Cutlery Set 

Cutlery sets can be incredible expensive, especially antique sets, which are often inherited from parents or grandparents.  Some cutlery sets come with full utensils, while others are block sets, which come equipped with an array of cutting knives.

Coffee Maker 

This is a gift I would love to receive!  Coffee makers are great presents because often people do not want to splurge and purchase a top of the line model for themselves.  An expensive coffee maker is an example of a gift that several guests could buy together. 

Editor's Pick: Bridesmaids' Gifts


Swarovski Crystal Bracelet 

One of the best aspects of choosing this bracelet for your bridesmaids is that they can all wear it on the day of your wedding, adding a special touch and an extra symbol of your love and friendship.  These bracelets can be very colorful and you can choose to add an engraved pendant with the bridesmaids' first initial. 

Wedding Etiquette Question

Planning a wedding is no easy task, and of course a million questions will arise about the proper way to handle various situations.  No bride or groom should have any added stress in the build-up to their wedding, so we are here to provide a little help with the nagging questions.



  • To begin, a bride needs to keep in mind, that in many instances the wedding may be the only time that a bridesmaid will wear her bridesmaid dress; the implications here are twofold.  On the one hand, if the bride is willing to allow for a bit of input from the bridesmaids concerning color, dress type, etc., then there is an increased chance that the bridesmaid will really love the dress, and will want to wear if after the wedding, therefore increasing the likelihood that the bridesmaid will have no problem paying for the dress.  If the bride wishes to retain total control over choosing the dress, then the bride should be willing to pay to get exactly what she wants.  A good compromise will include input from the bridesmaids on the dress, as well as the bridesmaids contributing a certain amount, perhaps 30% to 40%, to the total cost of the dress. 


Guests: How to Look Your Best

These days, weddings very rarely have a strict dress code; however, you will still want to look your best.  Wedding invitations will include the dress policy, for example if the ceremony is a black tie affair.  The tradition of ladies wearing hats to weddings is still very much alive, and we will look at this and several other classic wedding staples.

Men's Suits 

Dressing for a wedding is fairly simple for a man; with a sharp suit and a smart pair of shoes, you will be universally accepted at almost any wedding.  Often a man opts to complement his date, this can be achieved by selecting a tie  that matches the lady's dress.  For a Summer wedding, a light linen suit  will have you looking good and staying comfortable regardless of how stuffy the church may be.  And, for a more formal affair, a black tie will certainly be in order.

Women's Formal Dress 

Ladies, as any wedding planner or any other person with good common sense will tell you, do not wear white to a wedding.  A lovely morning dress will certainly suffice for a morning or early afternoon wedding and reception.  For more formal weddings, which can often be indicated by how formal the invite is, a hat and a dress are required.  Finally, for a black tie wedding, an evening gown will have you looking absolutely stunning as you dance through the night. 

Editor's Pick: Formal Accessories


Emin and Paul Feather Headband 

A beautiful, stylish alternative to a hat, a flat feather headband will allow you to seamlessly transition from a late afternoon wedding to an evening reception. 

Ladies Formal Wedding Hats
As with all other ceremonial staples of dress, there can be a fine line to walk when it comes to Lady's formal wedding hats .

Tradition dictates that ladies are not to remove their hats until after the mother of the bride does so--this rule correlates to an older custom in which women did not remove their formal hats until the men removed their jackets and retired for brandy and cigars.

When deciding whether or not to wear a hat, take into consideration the time of day of the wedding.  Hats are most acceptable for morning and early afternoon weddings.  A wedding that begins at 5:00 pm is probably too late for a hat, even if it is black tie.

Ladies formal wedding hats are also referred to as Ascots, named for the Ascot Racecourse  and the Royal Ascot races, which take place every year in June and are considered one of the heights of the English social calendar.


DVD's: Classic Wedding Moments


The Graduate (1967) 

This classic film provides a poor example of proper wedding etiquette, but if you need to break-up a wedding, this is how to do it.   


Wedding Crashers (2005) 

These two fellas know how to party, not that you should follow their example, but you'll certainly be a hit at any wedding you attend if you do.   

A Friendly Reminder to the Guests

We've all been there before.  One of your best mates is getting married, and someone has a bit too much to drink.  Instantly, the dance floor turns into a battlefield, and the speeches, which were intended to extol the virtues of the happy couple, quickly devolve into the kind of pub banter that causes the bride's 80-year-old auntie to faint in her chair.

It is no secret, weddings are highly emotional events.  Then, when you mix in the booze, add a dash of pent-up loneliness, and a groomsman who's just broken up with his girlfriend of five years, you've got yourself a recipe for disaster.  We're being a bit dramatic here, but it is important to remember that unless you're up on that altar, the day is not about you.

Here are a few simple responsibilities for wedding guests:
  • Reply to the wedding invitation as early as possible.
  • Buy a gift from the registered gift list.
  • Arrive on time for the ceremony and the reception.
  • Make sure your children are well behaved.
  • Do not heckle anyone during a speech.
  • Congratulate the couple and thank both of their parents.
  • Enjoy yourself!


Related Guides

Wedding Gifts


Wedding Planning and Organising