Wedding Etiquette 101: What still matters?

Planning I’m proud to be part of a community that doesn’t take arbitrary rules too seriously. Perhaps it’s because the LGBTQ+ community we’ve generally all faced some form of disapproval from some idiot or other over our lives, and so we know that there is value (and sanity) in being ourselves.

Perhaps it’s because rules and ‘the norm’ used to so casually exclude anyone different, so why not question today’s rules too, right? Especially when it comes to something like weddings. Okay, so WHY, please, are we all still sweating so profusely about wedding etiquette?

Why are we so worried about doing ‘the right thing’, as if there can be one singular way for all the couples out there? It’s an interesting study in humanity, isn’t it? Much etiquette is nonsense based on a society that exists only in a few pockets now. And yet, it’s true that some wedding etiquette comes from a truth, and seeks to prevent uncomfortable or difficult situations cropping up during your engagement or wedding.

So how do you sort the helpful from the non-helpful? Why, with IGW’s help, sillies! And by thinking, before adopting a particular rule, 'How does this serve me, my partner, our guests personally?'

Who should I tell about my engagement in person?
Anyone you think would be hurt by finding out via social media or word of mouth. For most, that list starts with parents and siblings, grandparents and best friends but may extend in other directions too. It’s important to hold off on the Facebook announcement until you’ve told those on that list, as we all know news spreads like wildfire once it gets posted on social media!

You don’t have to tell everyone on your list in person – for starters it’s likely at least one person on the list lives far away – but it is lovely to see people’s faces when you tell them, so strive to see as many people’s excited, happy faces as you can.

Do I need to give an engagement gift?
Short answer: nope. Long answer: Still nope! You shouldn’t feel under any obligation, even if there is a whopping great engagement party. Weddings are already quite costly things and even if the wedding day won’t be for a few years I think it’s a bit greedy to expect a gift at this point. That doesn’t mean that gifts won’t happen, of course!

Do I need to be escorted down the aisle by a parent?
Absolutely not. Every year, hundreds of brides and grooms make their way down the aisle by themselves, with their spouse-to-be or with whomever they feel will give them some chill and support. It can be a nice way to include someone important to you in your wedding day, but this decision shouldn’t be driven by obligation and tradition.

Whatever your decision, try to make it early to give your escort(s) time to prep. If you have a very traditional family, it may be wise to talk to any people who may have expected to be involved, in order to gently tell them that you aren’t doing the trad thing but that you love them all the same. It sucks that we have to be the ones to break down expectations we had no say in creating, but such is life!

Do I need to send paper invites?
This is a tricky one, and the overwhelming majority of people still choose paper invites because the majority of people still like receiving paper invites. There is something still really special about post too, as fewer items sent that way these days, so it can add a certain gravity and impact that an electronic message may not – plus it makes a nice keepsake.

That said, there are some incredible e-invites out there with new designs and bells and whistles developing every day. If you do opt for electronic, make sure you send all of the same information in hard copy to those who aren’t online, most likely your older relatives.

Does an invitation to the wedding mean I have to give a gift?
Prettymuch… that’s still the way our wedding world is set up, unless the invite/website tells you otherwise. A conscientious couple, though, will set up a registry that features small, cheaper gifts alongside the bigger things, so that there is an option for every pocket. If you really can’t afford anything, how about giving your time – offer to set up the venue in advance or give a voucher for some gardening if you have green fingers.

Thoughtfulness and effort win the day, whatever your budget. The gift ‘rule’ is also an issue when it comes to sending an invite to someone you already know can’t attend. Will it look like a gift-grab, you wonder? If someone’s already told you they can’t make it, you can always still honour them with an invite but make it clear, with a note enclosed, that it’s only a keepsake.

Can you fire someone from your attendants list?
To be honest, it’s pretty mean and uncomfortable to do this – unless the person in question has done something pretty heinous. This is why it’s so important to think carefully before asking your attendants. But if you’re already locked in, reflect on why it is that you have the desire to fire them, and then get creative in how you can minimise this element on the day. If they’re too intense and it stresses you out, get your friends to keep finding them jobs away from your getting-ready area. If they get too drunk, ask another attendant (a tactful and discreet one ideally) to keep an eye on them and to press a water into their hands occasionally.

Truthfully, the problem attendant will affect you less than you think on the day, so unless they’ve done something horrendous, try to leave them in and remember why you asked them.

Should wedding attendants have duties beyond, well, attending?
Well, best friends and close siblings may be well-placed to provide support and logistical help, and, if it works for all concerned, they can probably throw you a pre-wedding party that you don’t hate – because they know you very, very well.

Also, helping engaged couples shoulder the tasks of wedding planning is a lifesaving action performed by attendants worldwide. As for coordinated outfits, getting ready together, speeches… they’re all great – if you truly want those things. If not, who cares?

Do I really have to have a cake?
Let’s talk about what a wedding cake gives you. It’s a focal point of design that can convey a certain impression of your relationship and wedding day. It can provide a talking point. It can provide a photo opportunity. It can provide the cue that indicates that the ‘main’ part of the wedding’s rituals have taken place. It can provide dessert! None of these things are functions that can only be carried out by a cake.

You’ll probably get a few comments if you don’t have one as they are so very popular. You may even get stealth-caked, like I did at my wedding (parents and grandparents got together to arrange a surprise cake when we said we weren’t having one… it was lovely). But if you don’t want one, don’t have one.

Who organises the pre-wedding party, i.e. stag, hen, shower?
Anyone you think has the time, energy and who knows enough about you to arrange something you’ll love. And someone who’ll listen to any requests you have for the event too. So that could be you, your friend, your brother, your dogwalker… or a team of all of them, working together for the greater good.

Is it okay to post photos of the day on social media while I’m a guest at a wedding?
Well, let’s talk downsides. Snapping away during key moments of a wedding day distracts everyone, including you. All the couple getting married can see are backs of phones when actually they’re probably hella nervous and would love to see the happy, proud faces of their loved ones. Also, posting picture straight away robs the couple of sharing their day in the way they want. And let’s reflect on the positives… a few likes, and people knowing you were at something somewhere.

It doesn’t matter if the couple invited two hundred guests – they could still choose to be private about how they share their day with non-guests, and that’s their shout. While this is something, sadly, many have come to accept as part of getting married, don’t be that guy.

Who gets a plus-one invite?
The most common approach to which guests get to bring someone with them is that married people and those in longterm, committed relationships get a plus-one invite. Whether you extend the plus-one to guests not in these kinds of relationships will probably be affected significantly by how much money you have in your wedding fund, along with how comfortable you are with potentially having people you may not know well and who you may never see again at your wedding day.

Whatever your approach, be consistent, and be fair. Even if you can’t give anyone a plus-one, be respectful of long-term and committed relationships by explaining your decision to anyone who may have expected a plus-one.

If I was someone’s attendant, should I ask them to be mine?
I’ve seen plenty of heartache over this issue in the past, but the answer really needs to be ‘no’. This can be hard as people sometimes assume it’s a reciprocal deal, but there are so many factors involved in choosing attendants, so if you handle it right, you’ll be okay.

Do I have to invite kids?
NO! It can be nice to check in with parents over the phone or in person to let them know gently though. Or a nicely-worded phrase on the invite will help get your point across while smoothing any tension from parents who can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want their little ones at their big day.

Can I still register for gifts if it’s my second marriage?
You can always register. It’s not like never-married people don’t move in together for years and years, buy houses, start families, before registering anyway. But if you feel uncomfortable about asking, you don’t have to. Or if you think asking for physical gifts feels off to you, set up a honeymoon registry or ask for donations to your favourite charity.

Do I need a rehearsal dinner? Who should pay?
Traditionally, yes, and traditionally, the parents of the groom paid for this pre-wedding meal. Today, the bill is picked up by the couple or one or both sets of parents. But you absolutely don’t need to have a rehearsal to have a rehearsal dinner – and you don’t even need the dinner, really. It can, however, be a nice chance to get your families together before the sweet mayhem of the day.

How long do I have to send a thank you note?
For once, I quite like traditional etiquette’s take on this – one whole year! That’s pretty relaxed, huh. But actually, it most likely looks kind of bad if more than six months pass as the wedding will be (sorry but it’s true!) at the back of everyone’s minds by then. The best time is within three months, when guests are still reflecting warmly on your day.

Can’t people just buy us gifts they like, rather than us registering?
Yes, but… you mark my words, you’ll end up with several of the same thing, and you’ll probably end up with some pretty ugly stuff (beauty being in the eye of the beholder an’ all).

Can I ask for cash?
You can; you might not get it. Some people just don’t like giving cash. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ask. Many people ask for cash these days.

Can I include registry information on the invites?
Weirdly, tradition says no – I suppose we used to be more squeamish about talking money. Apparently, information on this should be spread by word of mouth, probably by parents and close friends.

I never totally understood this one, perhaps because I like to provide all the useful information upfront when I’m organising something, and I really don’t see the problem – as guests, we expect to give something to the happy couple. Plus, literally about eighty per cent of all invitations I’ve ever received have asked for money. Maybe I’ve fallen in with a particularly rebellious crowd? #proud

Do I need to give gifts to my attendants?
This totally depends how much you put on them really, and on your own gift-giving culture for you personally and between you and your friends. It can often a challenge to act as an attendant, so it’s nice to acknowledge this, but there’s more than one way to do this and not all of them involve giving a thing, or at least a thing that costs money.

Do I need to have a receiving line?
A receiving line usually takes place at the end of the ceremony or at the start of the reception and features the newlyweds and key players such as parents and attendants. All other guests file past, greeting and shaking hands with the key players. Why did this become traditional? Well, this way, everyone has spoken to the newlyweds and been officially ‘received’. This can be useful in a ‘getting shit done’ way – you won’t have to spend the rest of the day checking you’ve spoken to everyone.

However, it can sometimes feel a little forced and stiff – but you can focus on making it informal to avoid this vibe if you choose to have one. But no, they are zero per cent mandatory.

So what have we missed? What etiquette ‘should’ is the monkey on your back? What etiquette do you think is important?


Tags: LGBTQ, etiquette, planning, reception,

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