Traditionally, weddings tended to follow a distinct format, so it was relatively easy to follow the required rules of etiquette for what to do, and who to invite.
But in the 21st Century, you can choose to marry in any number of venues, and couples are increasingly wanting to do things their own way. So etiquette is no longer as clear cut.
Who pays for what?
In the past, the majority of the wedding was paid for by the bride’s parents, with the groom having responsibility for some set costs, such as transportation and church fees.
These day it’s more likely that there will be some form of three-way split, with the couple, the bride’s parents and the groom’s parents each contributing. “At the very start of the planning process, you should all sit down and work out who is paying for what,” says Jo Bryant, editor of the Debrett’s Wedding Guide.
“This is one area of etiquette that isn’t set, so you need to make it work for your own financial situation.”
Top tip: Manage expectations. Does making a financial contribution also give someone control over that aspect of your wedding? For example, if your parents are paying for the reception, do they get to invite some of their own friends or veto any of the menu options? It’s up to you, but being clear will save stress in the long run.
Who to invite?
Once a budget is set, and you have an idea of how many people can fit into venues you can afford, you can start to think about the guest list. Traditionally, invitations came from the bride’s family as ‘hosts’, but it’s just as common now for the couple to send invitations directly.
“We recommend that you give each party a quota of guests,” suggests Jo. “This doesn’t have to be equal and will depend upon your particular situation, so couples with small families and lots of friends would probably allocate themselves the largest portion of the guest list, with each set of parents allowed a certain number of guests, too.”
Top tip: Make sure you’re clear about which part of the day people are invited to – having a different invitation for evening-only guests is a good idea – and never amend a regular day invitation to invite someone only to the evening do as this is considered bad manners, Jo advises.
Couples, children and plus-ones
“Married or engaged couples should generally be invited together, while new partners could go on a b-list, to be invited only if someone else is unable to make it,” says Jo.
“If a guest will not know anyone else at the wedding, they should be allowed to bring a guest. If you don’t want children to attend the wedding, be clear on the invitation, and if possible give a reason, for example, it’s not a child friendly venue, you have very restricted numbers etc.
Top tip: If you do decide on a general “no children rule”, but are including them in the wedding party, for example as flower girls or page boys, then really they should leave after the ceremony, as it could cause animosity with guests who have had to make other arrangements for their own children.
Can we ask for money as a gift?
While some people do still have an issue with the idea of requesting gifts, it’s generally accepted that most wedding guests would like to buy you something, so a gift list is fairly commonplace these days.
It’s fine to include details of the list with your wedding invitation, too, as this saves on postage,” says Jo. “Some couples would prefer to ask for cash or vouchers so they can choose how to spend them, and the etiquette here is to make sure your guests know where that money will be spent, for example on items for a new home or put towards your honeymoon.”
Top tip: Don’t forget the older generation. Elderly people may not have access to the internet to donate to your honeymoon fund, or may not feel comfortable doing so, so you could also have a small gift list at a store which they could visit in person.
Can we request our guests follow a dress code?
“The traditional dress code for a wedding is always a dress or suits, so this doesn’t need to be indicated on the invitation,” explains Jo. “However, if you want something specific, such as guests in black tie for an evening wedding, you must state this clearly on the invitation.”
Top tip: Consider whether a dress code is convenient for guests. Are you also requiring them to spend money on travel or a hotel or to take a day off work during the week to attend? Adding another expense of hiring a tuxedo or buying a floor-length dress may lead to a higher number of invitations being declined.
Can we change the order of the day? There are some parts of the wedding that guests may expect to happen in a certain way, for example, speeches coming after the meal but many couples break with this tradition and have the speeches first, especially if any of the speakers is particularly nervous, as they may not enjoy their food for worrying! “It’s fine to change something like this,” says Jo.
“However, be considerate to guests and let them know in advance if you know the speeches will take an hour there should be somewhere for the guests to sit down and it is best not to do this outside on a baking hot day.”
Top tip: The general rule for a modern day wedding is that while you don’t have to follow traditional etiquette, if you are planning on doing thins non-traditionally, make sure anything you do is well-communicated and well-executed,” advises Jo.