How to be a good wedding guest

  • Article by: TRACY GURTH , WeddingChannel.com
  • Updated: June 26, 2013 - 1:42 PM

Want to be the best wedding guest ever? Read this easy how-to guide.

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There’s more to attending a wedding than getting dressed up, shedding a few tears and partying all night long — you’ve got responsibilities, too. Here’s everything you need to know to be a great wedding guest.

Getting an invitation

When you receive an invite (usually six to eight weeks before the wedding), don’t let it get lost on the coffee table — check the date and decide if you’ll go. Whether you can or can’t, respond ASAP — the RSVP date noted on the invitation isn’t arbitrary. It’s important for the couple to find out who’s coming promptly, so they can give their caterer a final head count no later than two weeks before the wedding.

A few dos and don’ts:

• Do let the hosts know if you must cancel at the last minute; don’t just not show up.

• Don’t assume that you can invite a date (unless it says “and guest” on the outer envelope along with your name) and/or bring along your children or other family members whose names are not explicitly included on the invitation. Only the people to whom the invitation is addressed are invited. It’s the couple’s decision whom to invite, and you have no business asking them if you can bring someone else along, even your significant other.

Getting an announcement

Well, you’re not invited — but the bride and groom want you to know about it. Don’t get mortally offended off the bat — if these are close friends, they may have chosen to have an intimate family wedding and so couldn’t invite all their friends. If it’s not such a close friend, or it’s a business associate, don’t feel obligated to send a gift. It’s a nice gesture to send a personal note of congratulations, but even that is not automatically expected.

The gift

Always plan on sending a gift when you accept a wedding invitation. If you can’t make the wedding, it’s still nice to send a gift, but you won’t be committing a major faux pas if you don’t. At the least, send a congratulatory card before the wedding. Technically, you have up to a year after the wedding date to send a gift, but it makes sense to shop for a gift soon after you decide you’ll go.

The wedding gift should be sent to the address the couple have given to their registry — don’t bring it with you to the reception. While this is still the custom in some regions, gifts at the wedding mean the couple have to worry about security, making sure cards stay with boxes, and getting them home somehow after the reception. (Also, you have to lug it along with you that day.)

You don’t have to get the couple a gift from their registry, of course — but the upside is that they’ve chosen these items themselves, so you know they want and like them. If you want to give the couple money, make your check payable to the bride or groom if you’re sending it before the wedding (use the bride’s maiden name), to both of them if you give it to them on wedding day or after.

If you still haven’t received a thank-you note a month after the gift was sent, it’s OK to call and ask if it got there. (You might first call the store to confirm that the gift was in fact delivered.)

What to wear

Dress as you would for any other social event held at the hour and during the season of the wedding. For example, if it’s a spring brunch or luncheon, a pretty suit or floral dress would be appropriate for women; a light-colored suit and/or shirt and tie for men. For evening, depending on how formal the wedding is (you can usually tell this from the formality of the invitation and/or where the wedding is being held), the dress code is cocktail dresses for women and darker suits (or tuxedos, if it’s a black-tie affair) for men. Don’t wear anything too flashy — sequins are probably a no-no — and remember that if the ceremony is at a religious site, you don’t want to show too much skin, either (i.e., shoulders should be covered).

Black used to be taboo for weddings, but these days a black dress is perfect for evening, just as it is for a night at the opera. Female wedding guests should not wear white — it’s really, really not polite to take away from the bride on her special day by wearing her color. Try to avoid off-white and ivory, too, if at all possible.

The ceremony

You should get to the ceremony on time — this is not a party to be “fashionably late” for. Also, do not consider ditching the ceremony and just going to the reception. You’ve been invited as an honored guest to watch this couple get married. Don’t just take advantage of the free food and drink.

Ideally, you should arrive at the ceremony site 30 minutes before the time printed on the invitation — even earlier for a large event (200 wedding guests or more). If you do get there after it’s begun, seat yourself quietly in the back. If the procession is going on, wait until the bride reaches the altar to enter the sanctuary and find a seat.

You’re not expected to participate in religious rituals (if you’re Jewish and attending a Catholic wedding, for example, you don’t do communion). But it’s polite to follow the lead of family members sitting in front as far as standing and sitting goes (you don’t have to kneel, though). After the recession, wedding guests remain in their seats until the families of the bride and groom have been escorted out. If the receiving line is scheduled post-ceremony, get yourself in line.

The reception

Usually the first thing you’ll see at the reception is the receiving line. Don’t blow it off — this is your chance to talk one-on-one with the couple, meet the bride or groom if you haven’t yet, thank the parents for inviting you, etc. Don’t spend too much time in line; just say congrats and shake a few hands.

When can you leave? Receptions usually last about four hours, and you’ll know when things start winding down. You should stay at least until after the cake has been cut. Many brides and grooms stay until the bitter end these days, so it’s hard to leave after them. When you decide to leave, find a member of the bride’s immediate family (like her mom) and thank them. Also attempt to give the couple a last hug before you depart.

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