The Essential Guide to Modern Wedding Etiquette

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By Rosie Milne from World of Wedmin

Wedding etiquette is a tricky field to navigate. Gone are the days when a wedding was hosted by the Bride’s parents and thus all decisions came down to them. With changes to modern families, technologies and accepted customs, it can be hard to know what the correct etiquette is.

But what is etiquette? Etiquette is an established set of customs and traditions which are followed in order to avoid awkward or uncomfortable situations for those involved. For a wedding, this means your guests and your wedding party.

Here is my comprehensive list of all those difficult wedding etiquette questions you are bound to encounter on your wedding planning journey…


Rosie Milne answers all your wedding etiquette questions


  • Who pays for what?

Traditionally, the Bride’s parents would have footed the bill for their daughter’s wedding, thus being the ultimate hosts. Nowadays, however, it’s far more common for either the Bride and Groom to pay for the wedding themselves, or, to receive contributions from one or both sets of parents. Bear in mind that if parents are making a contribution, it’s courteous to involve them in the wedding planning process.

  • Do I pay for the Bridesmaid’s dresses?

If possible, try to factor this cost into your budget. It is not, however, uncommon to ask Bridesmaids and Ushers to pay for their own outfits due to financial constraints. If this is the case, do so tactfully and allow flexibility on their outfit choices, so that they can wear the dresses again after the wedding.


Try to pick bridesmaid dresses that can be re-worn


  • My parents want to invite loads of their friends… help!

This is a tricky one; if you’ve never met said friends, and some of your friends may face the boot in order to accommodate them, it’s perfectly ok to politely decline your parent’s request. If your parents are making a significant contribution to the cost of the wedding, allow them a fair proportion of the guest list before you start compiling yours.

  • Who sends the invites?

Traditionally, once again, this is the job of the Bride’s parents. Now it can be done by anyone. They are commonly written, “Bob and Jane, along with their families, invite you…”.

Most formally, the wording would look something like this:

“Mr & Mrs J Smith, request the pleasure of your company at the marriage of their daughter, Suzanna Louise, to Mr F Bloggs”

  • When should I send the invites?

Tradition states 6-8 weeks before the wedding, but these days (people are rather busy!) we suggest 8-12 weeks. The RSVP deadline should be 4 weeks prior to the wedding and you should be sure to include a stamped addressed RSVP envelope to speed up the process.

  • I don’t want to invite children, how do I say this?

Simply don’t include the children’s names on the invitation. Most people will take the hint. If they’re unsure, they will ask and you can politely explain that it will be a late or rather formal wedding, and that you thought children may not enjoy it so much, rather than you don’t want them there.


Formal wedding invitations are recommended


  • Arrival times

The Groom should arrive at the ceremony venue 30 minutes before it starts, and ushers should be there too to welcome guests and show them to their seats. Whilst it’s traditional for the Bride to be a bit late, don’t leave it too long; you’ll either have a nervous wreck of a fiancé, or fidgety guests, or both.

  • How do we enter the ceremony?

In the UK, it’s actually traditional for the Bride and her Father to enter first (Bride on her Father’s right arm) followed by the Bridesmaids. The American tradition of the Bridesmaids entering first is becoming more commonplace in the UK, and we like the way it builds suspense.


The order of walking down the aisle differs from country to country


  • Do I need a receiving line?

In a word, no. It is nice, however, to have an opportunity to greet all guests individually and thank them for coming. The receiving line should be made up of both sets of parents, and then the Bride and Groom. Some people include the Best Man and Chief Bridesmaid too. Do remember to leave some maids and ushers spare to help people to their seats and keep the line moving along – a receiving line for 100 guests can take 20-30 minutes!

  • Should I offer my guests a choice of menu?

Whilst it would be delightful to be able to offer everybody a choice of food, it’s neither practical for your caterer nor your budget. People know they’re coming to a wedding, not a restaurant, so it’s not expected. If your budget does stretch this far, stick to 2 options per course and request guests menu choices with their RSVP’s.

  • Do I need to have wedding favours?

Whilst they have become somewhat elaborate in recent years, traditionally wedding favours were just five sugar coated almonds, elegantly wrapped. The five almonds represent fertility, longevity, wealth, health and happiness. A small token of appreciation to your guests for joining you on this special day is always well received.

  • How do the speeches work?

Traditionally, speeches are made before the coffee is served following the wedding breakfast and should last no more than 20-30 minutes. The order of the speeches is as follows; Father of the Bride thanks guests for attending and welcomes the Groom into the family. The Groom replies by thanking both sets of parents and the Bridesmaids and often reflects on his admiration for the bride, the Best Man then replies on behalf of the Bridesmaids and finishes with some anecdotes from his friendship with the Groom.



Speeches should last no longer than 30 minutes each


  • Should I have a gift list?

A classic example of how etiquette has changed in recent times. It used to be considered bad etiquette to include details of any gift registry on the invitations; guests would call the hosts to enquire about such things. Nowadays, it’s considered to be practical and accepted practice. Include a short line on the invitation which reads, ‘Your presence at our wedding is gift enough, however, should you wish to use it our gift list can be found with…’

  • Can we ask for money?

We wouldn’t advise it. Far more people are likely to take offence to asking for money than for a gifts from a registry. That being said, it is far more common these days that couples already have a home together and are not in need of any traditional gift list items. If this is the case, consider asking for honeymoon donations, or using a website like ‘Birdie List’ where guests donate money to particular experiences or gifts. This could be honeymoon related, saving for a house deposit, or going for afternoon tea!


Wedding Gift Lists are now very popular

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