At APW, we like to think about wedding etiquette not as a stuffy set of outdated rules, but as a living, breathing set of guidelines that lets us communicate with each other with kindness. Wedding etiquette shouldn’t involve throwing your feminist/progressive/millennial values to the curb. Instead, it should give you a way to live out those values, while still trying to make your parents, grandparents, and friends feel loved and included. Because with issues like family and faith and money—and yes, etiquette—all in the mix, wedding planning can get dicey, quick.
The problem is, most wedding etiquette guides out there are pretty awful. A lot of them seem to be motivated by getting you to buy more things, and that’s not even getting into how painfully anti-feminist a lot of the purported wedding rules are. So, in the interest of providing some updated wedding etiquette to share with your family—or just relax you—I researched all the terrible rules floating around out there and came up with this no-nonsense, feminist, up-to-date set of guidelines. After ten years in the industry, two wedding books, and thousands upon thousands of hours of research, I feel comfortable helping you throw some awful rules out the window, and also telling you which rules you’re probably stuck with. (Feel free to share your own best tips in the comments.)
A Guide To Modern Wedding Etiquette
What’s the deal with engagement parties?
Engagement parties are a hundred percent optional. They’re a fun way to celebrate your engagement if you’re going to have a long engagement, but if you decide to have one they can be as formal or informal as you’d like. Party at a bar? Fine. Mother-in-law who wants to throw you a black tie party at a restaurant? As long as she’s willing to pay, sure!
Who hosts the shower, and do we have to have one?
Once upon a time the wedding etiquette rule was that showers couldn’t be hosted by family members because it looked too “gift grabby.” That rule is thankfully out the window. Anyone can host your shower! If a bridesmaid, friend, or family member offers to host a pre-wedding shower, say yes if you want to. But word to the wise: there is such a thing as too many showers. So if you have offers for a shower from both sides of the family, your wedding party, and your work, consider consolidating before you burn out.
Who pays for what?
Here is the deal: back in the day the bride’s family paid for basically everything, because… women were considered financial burdens, passed from one male to another. So if you weren’t offering a dowry, you could at least offer a party that cost as much as a dowry. Since in the modern era, nobody is unburdening themselves of an economic liability, payment should be split in a way that makes financial sense for everyone involved.
How do we word our wedding invitations?
For all the detail you ever wanted, plus tons of examples, check out our handy wedding invitation wording guide. For bonus points, we can also answer all your wedding invitation etiquette questions over here.
Do I send invites to people who I know can’t attend?
If you love someone, and really wish they could be at your wedding, send them an invite. Your guests are adults, and they can and will say no if attending isn’t practical for them. But it’s an honor to be invited to someone’s wedding. Don’t take that away from someone just because you know they’re not going to be able to make it.
Who gets a plus one?
If your people are married or in a long term relationship, it’s required by wedding etiquette (yes, required) to invite their partner.
It’s kind to offer single guests the ability to bring a date, and it increases the odds that they’ll attend. (Social anxiety is real, y’all.) But if you can’t afford (or really don’t want) those extra guests, the “and guest” invitation is never required.
Do I have to invite all my cousins/coworkers?
Nope! But it is helpful to set general rules so feelings are not hurt. Maybe all first cousins are in, but second cousins are out. Maybe coworkers on your direct team are in, but your extended department is out. (Besties are obviously an exception to any rule.)
ACCORDING to wedding etiquette, Is IT okAY if we don’t want kids at our wedding?
Of course! We’ve got a whole post to help you throw a childfree wedding right here.
Do we have to send paper invites to be taken seriously?
Short answer: No.
Long answer: If you want your great-grandmother to attend, you probably need to send her a paper invitation (or call her). That’s not about wedding etiquette, it’s about practicality. But you’re in luck, because almost all e-invitation services give you the option of sending out matching paper invitations to selected guests. Figure out which of your guests are really not plugged in, and send them something in the mail.
What’s the point of a wedding registry?
The point of a wedding registry is to make sure that you don’t end up with a mis-mash of shockingly ugly homewares. Because no matter what you say, people will buy you wedding presents (sorry about that). And if you don’t have a registry, a good percentage of them are likely to be… eccentric. So do yourself a favor, and make sure you have at least a small registry with traditional gifting options for the folks in your life who are going to get you something for the kitchen, no matter what you do.
Can we have an “experience” registry?
You sure can. But the bottom line is, some people will get you physical presents, because that’s just how they do things. And that’s okay. Because a present is just that: a present. It’s not something you deserve or can expect. It’s something someone gives you to express love. And sometimes love comes in the form of an incredibly ugly pepper grinder.
TL;DR: Ask for what you want, be happy with what you get.
Can I ask for cash?
“Can I ask for cash?” and “Will I get cash?” are somewhat different questions, so let’s break it down.
Yes, you can ask for cash. But fair warning, depending on your crowd, there may be people who don’t like it. That said, if you quietly put out the word that you’d prefer cash, because you’re saving for a particular thing (moms and best friends are great for broadcasting this message, by the way), and provide only a minimal registry, you may well get of cash, if only because it’s easier.
Does Wedding Etiquette Require guests to bring a gift?
Required is a strong word there, grasshopper. It’s recommended that guests bring a wedding gift, but I’m pretty sure you’d rather have them there than have a toaster. Also, the idea that gifts need to cover the cost of the meal is false. Make sure you have $10 and $20 items on your registry for the broke (but loving) folks.
Is XYZ thing I’m doing considered gift grabby?
NO. No, no, no. Unless you’re doing it to actually make a play for extra presents, in which case, yes.
Can we include information about our registry in our invitations?
Many etiquette rules have changed in recent years, but the answer to this question is still no. You don’t want to make giving a gift seem like a requirement of attending your wedding.
Can we include registry information on our wedding website?
Yes! In fact, as far as your guests are concerned, that’s basically the whole point of a wedding website.
Do we need a wedding website?
Nope! But if you don’t have a website and you do have a registry, you may need to be a little more proactive spreading that information through word of mouth.
Can you wear white (or black) to a wedding?
These days you can wear black to a wedding, so feel free to find the perfect little black dress. However, if the bride (or brides) is wearing white, you shouldn’t wear white. (And frankly, if she’s wearing red, you probably shouldn’t wear red. Or blue… etc.) In short: give the couple their moment.
Will people really leave after we cut the cake?
Yes, they will. This has got to be one of the most archaic rules around weddings, but the real truth is, some older people are waiting for polite permission to go lie down. That permission slip is traditionally offered with a slice of cake.
Do we have to send thank you notes?
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: If someone brought a gift to your wedding, they need to be thanked. If that someone is under thirty and casual in nature, thank them however you see fit. Text? Snapchat? Instagram tag? If that’s how the two of you comfortably communicate, it’s fine to express your genuinely felt gratitude that way. However, if your gift-giver is over thirty, you probably need to send a card on paper with an actual stamp, as etiquette has always required. I know: OLDS. But hey, you will be an old one day soon, so be kind.
How long do we have to send thank you notes?
Technically, you have a year. Realistically, you probably should probably send them within two or three months.
What were your biggest wedding etiquette questions? How did you resolve them? Are there any other tips you think are essential for the engaged to know? It’s time to talk about rules (and how to break ’em nicely).