Wedding Etiquette Do’s And Don’ts So You Can Be The (Second-Best) Belle Of The Ball

As things begin to slowly open up again, our social calendars are looking a little busier. Whether you’re attending a wedding or a workplace BBQ, chances are you probably forgot how to interact with other human beings (as we all have).

As we go further into 2021 and 2022, weekends are going to be packed with weddings, so if you’ve completely forgotten about proper wedding etiquette, look no further. Here is a handy guide to wedding do’s and don’ts so the next time you’re a guest at a wedding, you’ll be the belle of the ball (after the bride, of course).

Before We Begin

Bride walks through the forest and looks back at the camera
Photo Credit: Victoria Priessnitz / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Victoria Priessnitz / Unsplash

So you’re probably wondering, “Why am I listening to this random stranger on the internet about weddings?” Well, before we dive into our list of do’s and don’ts, I want to inform you that I myself am actually a bride-to-be.

Due to current world events, I’ve had to postpone my own wedding twice now, so between attending a few weddings as an adult and spending the last two and a half years planning my own, I’ve learned a thing or two about proper etiquette.

Save The Date

Bride holding a save the date card
Photo Credit: Olya Kobruseva / Pexels
Photo Credit: Olya Kobruseva / Pexels

You open your mailbox and notice a letter from a college friend. It’s an invitation to her upcoming wedding later this fall. As large events like weddings are once again being hosted, perhaps you need a refresher on etiquette.

While these tips can be applied to anyone, this list is intended for wedding guests who are not a part of the wedding party. Whether attending with a significant other or solo, here’s my handy list of do’s and don’ts so you can make a striking impression and not end up a horror story on Reddit. No wedding party responsibilities here!

Defer To The Wedding Website

Person holds a pen while there are cutout question marks on the table
Photo Credit: Olya Kobruseva / Pexels
Photo Credit: Olya Kobruseva / Pexels

Not sure what hotels are near the venue or did you forget the start time of the ceremony? If one of these minor questions arises, don’t bother the bride and groom with it.

I guarantee they’ll be stressed out planning the finishing touches, and the last thing they need is Aunt Linda calling to ask if there’s free parking at the venue/hotel. If in doubt, refer to the wedding website. All important information such as dates and times, directions to the venue, dress attire, menu options, and transportation will be included.

Remember To RSVP

RSVP that says to respond by a certain date, or else to bring a chair and a sandwich
Photo Credit: Diabeto41 / Reddit
Photo Credit: Diabeto41 / Reddit

The couple has to submit a final headcount about two weeks prior to the wedding date. This is so the venue knows how many people will be attending, and can therefore plan things like the number of people that need to be fed at the reception.

There’s usually a date on a wedding invitation that says the date by which to RSVP. Memorize it. Respond in a timely manner stating whether you can attend or decline so the bride and groom don’t have to hound you looking for a response. Otherwise, prepare to bring a chair and a sandwich.

Invitations And Plus Ones

Wedding invite, save the date, and RSVP card
Photo Credit: Olya Kobruseva / Pexels
Photo Credit: Olya Kobruseva / Pexels

The more guests that are invited to a wedding, the more expensive it’ll be for the couple. Because of that, sometimes couples have to make ruthless cuts to the guest list in order to save money or adhere to the capacity limitations of the venue.

So with that in mind, never bring along anyone to a wedding who was not invited in the first place, and if you didn’t receive a plus one to the wedding, don’t take it personally.

“No Kids” Means No Kids

Flower girl and ring bearer sit on the grass
Photo Credit: Mikael Kristenson / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Mikael Kristenson / Unsplash

Some weddings are kid-friendly, others only make exceptions for kids in the wedding party, and others are a kid-free zone. Regardless of what the couple has decided, it’s important to respect their choice. Including kids means the possibility of a crying baby or rambunctious toddler disrupting during the ceremony, having to provide kid-friendly food, and needing someone to keep an eye on them during the reception.

While the couple no doubt loves your children, those are extra stressors some couples would rather avoid, and that’s totally okay. Think of it this way, parents: It’s a night off from your kids to let loose and party!

Don’t Wear White

Reddit post of wedding guest wearing a white wedding gown to someone else's wedding captioned:
Photo Credit: DBear423 / Reddit
Photo Credit: DBear423 / Reddit

This couple looks beautiful, don’t they? The woman looks stunning in her floor-length wedding gown, except there’s only one problem: that’s not the bride.

One of the biggest no-nos of a wedding—which is sure to have you ostracized by other guests and feel the bride’s wrath—is wearing white. So a dress that’s white, off-white, or—I can’t believe I’m saying this—even remotely resembles a wedding dress is strictly off-limits. Nice dress ya got there…be a shame if the bride accidentally tripped and spilled red wine on it.

Wedding Attire

Outdoor wedding ceremony; bride and groom stand at altar, and next to the bride is a woman in a t-rex inflatable costume holding flowers, along with four other women in the bridal party dressed in normal wedding attire
Photo Credit: pseudo-oceanographer / Reddit | Christina Meador
Photo Credit: pseudo-oceanographer / Reddit | Christina Meador

Black tie? Semi-formal? Casual? Tropical? What on earth do these terms mean? Chances are, when you’re invited to a wedding you’ll see one of these terms listed on the invitation. Basically, whether a formal event at a country club or a destination beach wedding, it’s letting guests know how they should dress to match the ambiance of the occasion.

So unless the couple says it’s okay, it’s probably best not to wear T. rex costumes to a wedding. Unless perhaps they’re huge fans of “Jurassic Park.”

Timing Matters

Wedding ceremony before the guests arrive
Photo Credit: Shardayyy Photography / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Shardayyy Photography / Unsplash

Usually written into a wedding contract are the start times of the ceremony and reception. Vendors are also given the times they need to show up to the venue, such as to do the bridal party’s hair and makeup or deliver floral arrangements.

Just as timing is critical for the bride and groom, it’s also important for guests. If the ceremony starts at 4 p.m., make sure you get to the venue with ample time so your butt is parked in a chair when it begins. Likewise, it’s considered rude to leave before the newlyweds have cut the wedding cake, so if you have to leave early, be cognizant of the timing.

Keep Your Phones Tucked Away

Ruined wedding photo of a guest's phone blocking the photographer
Photo Credit: ObamaCare– / Reddit | Hannah Way Photography
Photo Credit: ObamaCare– / Reddit | Hannah Way Photography

This is one of my worst wedding fears all summed up in one image. Professional wedding photographers cost thousands of dollars, and a wedding is the one event that you don’t get a chance to reshoot.

If there is a sign saying it’s an “unplugged ceremony” or the officiant makes an announcement asking to put phones away, then be a decent human being and do it. I’m sure you can survive without your phone for 30 minutes, and sorry, Aunt Linda, but no one wants to see the blurry photos you shot with your iPad on Facebook.

Social Media

Woman holding a phone with Instagram notification painted on the wall behind her
Photo Credit: Karsten Winegeart / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Karsten Winegeart / Unsplash

The bride and groom have requested phones be put away until after the ceremony, but once the cocktail hour has begun, let your wings fly and be free, little shutterbug! By the end of the night, you want to upload wedding photos to Instagram, but what’s the etiquette behind that?

People should wait until the couple first posts their professional wedding photos before uploading their own to social media. That being said, it can take weeks for photographers to send the couple the photos. So if in doubt, first ask the couple what their preference is, and if they have a wedding hashtag, make sure you use it!

Seating Arrangements

Confusing wedding seating chart made of wood with strings that lead from guests' names to table numbers
Photo Credit: narlymaroo / Reddit
Photo Credit: narlymaroo / Reddit

Recently we had a little bit of fun with this seating chart that was spotted on Reddit. But it got some people asking, “What’s the point of a seating chart?”

It’s pretty simple, actually. The couple will usually sit their wedding party and families closest to them at the head table (sorr, Aunt Linda, but you’re sitting in the back). If the couple is having a buffet-style reception, then seating arrangements aren’t a big deal, but if it’s plated service where guests selected their own entrees or a guest has a food allergy, then it’s crucial that servers know who is who.

Gift Giving 101

Envelope with $20 bills sticking out
Photo Credit: Karolina Grabowska / Pexels
Photo Credit: Karolina Grabowska / Pexels

If a bride wants gifts for her bridal shower or wedding, usually there will be a wedding registry included on the invitation or website. If no registry is listed, then it’s safe to assume the couple prefers cash. It depends on your financial situation and how well you know them, but there’s no right or wrong answer regarding how much to gift—give as much as you feel comfortable with!

And remember, if in doubt, just give them cash. No one will ever open a card filled with money and say, “They gave us money? But I wanted a blender!

Don’t Be A Human Vacuum Cleaner

Tower of cupcakes at a wedding dessert table
Photo Credit: Tai’s Captures / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Tai’s Captures / Unsplash

One of the big aspects of wedding planning is food. From hors d’oeuvres to plated meals, wedding cake, late-night drunk food, and edible wedding favors, people eat a lot. In fact, according to The Knot, catering costs $70 per guest, so it’s easy to see how a wedding bill can quickly add up. If you’re partaking in food that is meant to be shared among guests (like cupcakes or drunk food) make sure you take your fair share and leave enough for others.

My friend/bridesmaid had a candy bar as her wedding favor and it was all gone before I got there. Five years later and I’m still bitter about it.

Know Your Alcohol Limit

Three cocktails on a table
Photo Credit: Louis Hansel / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Louis Hansel / Unsplash

You’ve shown up at your college friends’ wedding and they’ve splurged on an open bar. While this is the time to show off your wicked dance moves, make sure you pace yourself when it comes to alcohol. Be friends with the open bar, but nothing more. Otherwise, you’ll be singing, “One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor!”

Speaking of my friend/bridesmaid, my fiancé got the groom and groomsmen drunk on her wedding night and convinced everyone to strip down to their boxers and hop in a lake. The bride wasn’t thrilled, and it’s thankfully something we can now joke about. But was it absolutely hilarious? While I’m fully expecting her to get revenge at my wedding, yes, yes it was.

Don’t Upstage The Couple

Still from Wedding Crashers of Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn
Photo Credit: MovieStillsDB | New Line Cinemas
Photo Credit: MovieStillsDB | New Line Cinemas

Weddings are notorious for all kinds of drama. Unfortunately, they can become magnets for all sorts of hot messes (both people and situations). Leave the drama at home and be on your best behavior.

Avoid anything that could upstage the bride and groom or cause a scene. Vomiting on the dance floor (dammit, Aunt Linda!), stealing the microphone to make a drunken impromptu speech, throwing punches, or telling your uninvited friends to come and crash the wedding.

Keep Personal News To Yourself

Microphone
Photo Credit: Kane Reinholdtsen / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Kane Reinholdtsen / Unsplash

Are you and your husband expecting a baby? Did you just get a huge promotion at work? Wonderful news! But if you’re at a wedding and are simply dying to tell everyone, my piece of advice? Shut the hell up!

The biggest no-no of any wedding day is making yourself the center of attention and detracting from the couple. This is their day to be celebrated and any big news you have can wait, so step away from the microphone.

If You Want To Live, No Proposing

Hand holds out a box that contains a diamond engagement ring
Photo Credit: Korie Cull / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Korie Cull / Unsplash

While we’re on the topic of stealing people’s thunder, unless you want to deal with Hurricane Bride, the other category five-sized no-no is proposing to your significant other at someone else’s wedding.

Weddings cost tens of thousands of dollars and can take a year or more to plan. There is nothing more disrespectful and tacky than hijacking someone’s special day to instead make it all about you. There are 365 days in a year, so find one of the other 364 to plan a proper proposal. If you attempt this stunt, I hope she says “no.”

Most Importantly, Have Fun!

Newlyweds kiss among guests holding sparklers
Photo Credit: Edward Cisneros / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Edward Cisneros / Unsplash

A wedding is a celebration of love between two people surrounded by close friends and family.

At the end of the day, guests aren’t going to remember what your invitations or centerpieces looked like, but they will remember the food, drinks, and entertainment. The sign of a memorable wedding day is happy guests, so follow these tips and you’ll be the (second-best) belle of the ball!

Did We Miss Anything?

A glass of red wine being poured
Photo Credit: Aleksandra Tanasiienko / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Aleksandra Tanasiienko / Unsplash

Who’s going to be the best-behaved wedding guest? That’s right, you are! Every bride and groom will want you at their wedding, so march on over to that open bar and get yourself a drink—you deserve it! But not Aunt Linda, she’s already had one too many glasses of red wine and is about to become a wedding-shaming horror story on Reddit.

Are there any other etiquette tips we missed? Let us know in the comments!