A couple months ago, I was interviewed for an article on Refinery29 about modern wedding guest etiquette. While the article used several of my quotes, I figured I'd share ALL my answers about wedding guest etiquette issues, because who knows! Maybe you're trying to figure out how to decline being a bridesmaid or whether you should dress less weird at someone's wedding.
Plus, I've got two bonus etiquette issues for engaged couples at the end. Advice for all!
What's the protocol for gift giving?
Gift etiquette is very much regional and family specific. Some folks give gifts constantly, others barely give at all. Standard etiquette says to give a gift if you've been invited to an event.
If the idea of purchasing a gift to bring to an event feels gross, then you can totally just decline the invitation. Life will go on.
What's the deal with couples registering for their honeymoon?
What's the deal? The deal is that we live in the future. Couples are marrying later and already have all the housewares they need. Lots of us would much rather give experiential gifts to the people we love, rather than more stuff to clutter up already crowded houses.
There are tons of great honeymoon registry services that make it super easy to crank out a lovely honeymoon registry. Guests can contribute to honeymoon travel without it feeling like a cobbled-together PayPal page asking for money.
How do you politely decline being a part of someone's bridal party?
Different brides have different expectations from their attendants. Some just want you to stand up with them on their wedding day, others want you to organize events, buy dresses, attend mandatory DIY sessions, and be an active helper on the wedding day. Before you decline or accept, make sure you understand what this particular bride's expectations are. It's perfectly acceptable to ask up front!
If you determine that the bride wants more than you can give (or you just don't feel comfortable with being a bridesmaid), you can simply say something like, “Thank you so much for asking me to be a bridesmaid — I'm so honored! Unfortunately, my life isn't in a place where I can support you in the ways I'd like as a bridesmaid, so I'm going to have to decline — but I'm so excited to attend your wedding!”
Better to decline now for loving reasons, than to soldier in and back out at the last minute.
I'm going to my first same-sex wedding ceremony. Do I refer to the couple as husband and husband or wife and wife?
If you know them, ASK THEM. Always let people self-identify with the words they want to use to describe themselves, especially when they're words steeped in traditional gender roles.
When in doubt, just refer to them as “spouses” or “newlyweds.”
I have a strong sense of style, but I'm going to a wedding where the family is very traditional. Do I have to tone down my look? Will it be disrespectful if I arrive in what I usually wear?
If you choose not to tone it down, you must commit to being a weirdo ambassador through the entire wedding. If you want to show off your tattoos, you must be willing to not only answer potentially invasive questions about them, but do so with a warm smile. If you want to wear your fetish heels, you don't get to get huffy when Grandpa Weisenberg looks at you funny.
If you want to look weird around more traditional folks, you need to take on the responsibility to bring on the charm, bring on the friendliness, and be open and ready to answer a million questions about your pink hair or stretched lobes.
If you can't commit to being a weirdo ambassador, tone down your look. It's one day. Your identity will survive intact, I promise.
My friend is having a destination wedding—at a destination that I totally cannot afford. How can I decline without hurting her feelings?
Chances are your friend planned the destination wedding not only knowing that a lot of invited guests wouldn't be able to attend but PLANNING on most of them not attending. That's part of why people have destination weddings. Be honest about your financial limitations and generous in offering any local help before the event.
My friend's religion is one that is totally foreign to me. I am worried about how to behave, what to wear, and general etiquette. How do I find out what to do?
First, read any resources your friend has offered up — many contemporary couples do wedding websites and often include information about cultural and religious traditions that some guests may be unfamiliar with. If that fails, do some Googling. If that fails, ask your friend directly for any tips you might need to know to avoid embarrassing yourself at the event. Ask with good nature and an open mind and be ready to learn!
BONUS WEDDING ETIQUETTE ADVICE FOR COUPLES!
What do you do when you don't want your wedding on social media?
Let guests know that you're having an Unplugged Wedding via your wedding programs and signage around your venue. Ask ushers to lovingly remind people as they're getting seated to put away their devices, and have your officiant make an announcement at the beginning of the ceremony.
That said, ultimately your guests are going to do what they want. You can make your wishes clear, but you can't control other people's actions. They're going to do what they want to do, and you have better things to do than try to police how your Aunt Marge uses Facebook.
You're a vegan, but your family might freak out if there's not meat at the reception. What's the solution?
Assuming you're paying for the wedding yourself, you should serve the food you want to serve at your wedding. You don't need to tell guests in advance. It's one meal. As long as you've set expectations about the meal being served (if you're only serving cake and punch as opposed to a full meal, people DO need to know that), then it's up to guests to decide what they want to eat from what you offer.
What modern wedding etiquette questions do YOU have?