How to Be a Fabulous Wedding Guest

By Lorna Urwin

Receiving an invite to the happiest day of your friend’s life is an incredible honour and cause for celebration! But while weddings are unquestionably a lot of fun, they can also be a minefield of expectations and etiquette. Allow us to guide you through the process, from pre-invite to the day itself.

Pre-wedding

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Image by Clary Pfeiffer Photography

1/ Don’t ask for an invite

If you’re close to the couple, no doubt you’ll be excited to grill them about wedding plans! They’ll probably be excited to discuss it too, but be sure never to ask for an invite or assume that you’ll be invited. For a variety of reasons they may prefer an elopement or a family wedding with a very small guest list, so be patient and wait for an indication or direct invitation from the couple before implying you’ll be there.

2/ Give your reply promptly

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Image by Christine Pienaar Photography

Whether you’re accepting or sending your regrets, make sure you reply promptly – ideally no later than a week after receiving your invitation. 

The content of your reply will largely depend on the kind of RSVP card provided but, if in doubt, always echo the level of formality in the invitation received. Dietary requirements will usually be requested – you should be sure to clearly state any requirements you have at this early stage to enable the proper arrangements to be made!

(Don’t forget to add the date to your calendar as soon as you’ve sent your reply. It also doesn’t hurt to keep the invitation in a safe place for reference.)

3/ Avoid assumptions 

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Images by Heather Waraksa and Nicole Clarey Photography

Be sure to read the invitation carefully and avoid making assumptions about invitees. The invite is extended only to those to whom it is addressed - if there’s no explicit reference to “and guest” or to your children then they are not invited. Even if you find this unexpected or disappointing, it’s vital that you respect the couple’s wishes – it’s unacceptable to ask the couple if you can bring someone else. Even worse to disregard the invite and bring someone anyway!

4/ Check the wedding website for any queries

These days many couples create a wedding website to share the minutiae of the wedding with guests. If a URL has been noted on the invitation or save the date, this should be your first port of call with any queries. Otherwise, direct your questions to the host of the wedding (often the bride or groom’s parents), or to another person you know who is close to the wedding, whether the best man, maid of honour or a sibling of the bride or groom.

5/ Send a gift

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Images by White Loft Studio and Marisa Holmes Photographer

If you are attending the wedding, it’s customary to send a gift to the happy couple, assuming they haven’t explicitly refused gifts. If you’ve been formally invited but are unable to attend, it’s not obligatory to send a gift, though you are certainly free to do so!

Generally, etiquette suggests arranging delivery of your gift straight to the couple (or their preferred location) – this saves them the effort of transporting gifts themselves from the wedding. You have up to a year after the wedding to send one, but these days it’s so easy to order from an online registry that you shouldn’t wait more than a couple of months after the wedding date.

Selecting something from the registry is an excellent choice, since registries guard against duplication of gifts and also ensures you’ll choose something the couple really wants! Giving money is perfectly acceptable too if you prefer.

On the day

6/ Heed attire recommendations

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Image by Gia Canali Photography

If attire is listed on the invite, be sure to adhere to the specified level of formality. With so many other colours to choose from, there’s no excuse for committing the ultimate taboo/faux pas and wearing a white outfit! Steer clear of ecru, beige or other very pale shades too. In a church or other religious venue, err on the side of caution with a more conservative outfit – nothing low-cut or otherwise revealing.

7/ Be prompt

It goes without saying that there’s no such thing as being ‘fashionably late’ to a wedding! Do everything you can to arrive at least 15 minutes early - having to walk in mid-way through the processional or ceremony will cause both you and the couple lasting embarrassment. If you are unavoidably late, be as inconspicuous as possible. Stand at the back of the venue or quietly slip into a free seat, again near the back is best.

8/ Have a positive attitude

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Image by Sea Light Studios

A wedding is a wonderful opportunity to honour and celebrate the happy couple, so it’s only fitting to keep your attitude positive and celebratory too! Accept that various aspects of the wedding may not be precisely to your liking. Exhibit patience and understanding at any mishaps or delays and keep any disappointment or negative opinions to yourself. Certainly, you should avoid taking matters into your own hands - even if you’re seated next to someone you abhor, it’s terribly rude to reorganise seating arrangements!

9/ Be courteous

Respect the wedding photographer’s space and process by ensuring you’re not interrupting his or her work with your own shutter or flash. Be mindful of whether the wedding is social media-friendly, too – if it is you’ll most likely be encouraged to share photos with a wedding hashtag. If it’s unclear, it’s usually better to wait until after the wedding and check with the bride and groom about whether they mind. While you’re at it, be sure to stay present and avoid being on your phone too much!

10/ Leave only once the cake is cut

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Image by Kelly Kollar Photography

The cake cutting is almost universally regarded as the point after which it’s acceptable to leave, so be sure to hold out until then before making your exit!



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