Do (And Say) The Right Thing, With This Essential Etiquette Advice.
Q: We live in the electronic age and see nothing wrong with e-mail invitations, but my mother doesn’t agree. What is the “official” word on that subject?
A: Weddings typically call for a lot of stationery. Besides the wedding invitation and enclosures, there may be invitations to showers, bachelor and bachelorette parties, the rehearsal dinner, the day-after brunch—not to mention save-the-dates and thank-you notes. A traditional couple might choose paper for everything, but modern to-be-weds can still be “correct” in opting for e-mail invitations for showers and bachelor/bachelorette parties if all those in their intimate circle are e-mail users. No doubt a few invitees will require a follow-up note or phone call, due to mistakenly “junked” e-mail messages. Wedding invitations and thank-you notes, however, must still be paper.
Q: Must we use a response card? We would prefer e-mail responses.
A: Response cards are a convenient way to keep track of your guest list, but they are not required. If you prefer to dispense with the response card, you may put RSVP information on the invitation itself. Beneath “RSVP” in the left corner, put a telephone number and/or snail mail address as well as an e-mail address, since some invitees might not be regular e-mail users.
Q: I cannot stand my best friend’s husband. Is there a polite way to invite just her to the wedding?
A: Not only is there no polite or proper way to invite a married person without inviting that person’s spouse, but any attempt to do so would surely ruin your friendship. You must invite both, hope that he will decline, but be prepared to simply grin and bear it.
Q: We’ve both been married before, but my bridesmaids want to give me a shower. I had a shower then, so would it be improper to have one now?
A: There is no reason you cannot have a shower, as long as your hostesses do not invite any of the people (other than mothers and very close friends and relatives) who attended either your previous shower or any showers that were given for your fiancé’s first wife. Of course, no one should be invited to the shower who is not invited to the wedding. Likely you both have newer friends attending your wedding who were not at either of your previous weddings, and they may be invited to the shower.
Q: This is a second marriage for both of us, and we’d like to include our children—four girls ages 11, 10, six and just under three—in the ceremony. How old are flower girls supposed to be?
A: Generally flower girls (and ring bearers) are between four and eight years old, but children of two or three have been known to perform well if guided properly. In this case, your youngest flower girl could walk hand-in-hand with the six-year-old, ending their procession by taking seats in the front row with a close family member. They should not be expected to stand through anything but the briefest ceremony. The older girls can serve as junior bridesmaids, wearing age-
appropriate dresses similar in color to those of the bridesmaids.
Q: Our reception site has a strict four-hour time slot, and the overtime fees are substantial. How can we end the party without making our guests feel like they’re being rushed out?
A: Believe it or not, this limitation can actually work in your favor. Many wedding receptions suffer from being overly long, ending in a weary fizzle instead of a grand finale. Whether the venue requires it or not, having a definite end time is always preferable. If everyone must be out by 10 p.m., for example, schedule a last dance for 9:50, and have the emcee invite guests to join you on the dance floor one final time. At the end of the dance, the two of you will immediately disappear (not pausing for even a single good-bye); guests will begin gathering their things and leaving, thinking, “Wow! That was the best wedding I’ve ever attended.” A good party always ends on a high note.
Q: My mother is always telling me it’s rude to touch up my hair and makeup at the table. But we’re spending a lot of money on photography and videography, and I want to look absolutely perfect through the entire wedding. What am I supposed to do, leave the reception every time?
A: Though applying makeup and doing anything at all to one’s hair at the table is inappropriate, I’m sure few people would object to the bride quickly refreshing her lipstick from time to time. But do plan to go to the ladies’ room for anything more extensive, whether it’s arranging your hair or touching up powder, blush or eye makeup.
Q: Neither of us, or our parents, are into dancing. Is a first dance, or father-daughter dance, mandatory?
A: Wedding traditions and wedding etiquette are often confused. While etiquette is mostly about kindness and common sense—and who wants to give those up?—traditions are simply the elements of a wedding that have become customary from generation to generation. They are often presumed to be ancient and unalterable, when actually they can be adjusted at will or even dispensed with altogether. Your wedding consultant should be able to help you handle these adjustments with grace and style.
Q: We are planning a lot of activities surrounding our wedding, so we’re going to put up a personal wedding website to keep guests informed. Can we put our registry information on the website? My mother thinks it would be tacky.
A: While including registry information on wedding websites has become acceptable in even some traditional circles, I draw the line at actual links to registries. If your registry is online, simply list the name of the company and its URL (without link). Extra information, such as “blank.com is a great online gift registry—just search for our names on their gift registry page and click ‘Buy Now’ to place your order” stretches the bounds of good taste. A custom registry page complete with PayPal links is, needless to say, out of the question. Your mother no doubt simply wants you to avoid the oft-seen faux pas of putting altogether too much emphasis on gifts.
Q: I would rather that guests send gifts before the wedding than bring them to the wedding. How do I word that request on the invitation?
A: If guests would send gifts before the wedding, couples would not have to deal with keeping track of them at the wedding and transporting them afterward. But many people are in the habit of taking their gift to the wedding, and it is unlikely that anything is going to change that—even if you could print your request on the invitation, which you most certainly must not. Any mention of gifts on an invitation is highly inappropriate. But if you do a registry, your preferred shipping address will be listed. And with so many people shopping online now and having gifts shipped directly to the recipients, perhaps you won’t have so many gifts to contend with at the wedding as you may think.
Q: When should the invitations be sent?
A: The invitations should be sent six to eight weeks before the wedding, with an RSVP date two to three weeks before the wedding. This gives you plenty of time to call those who have not responded, and finalize your guest count.
Q: The outdoor reception venue we prefer, a private estate, forbids amplified music of any kind. Doesn’t a wedding reception have to include dancing?
A: Again, there is no unalterable rule that says you must have dancing. But if you simply start with a “typical” wedding format and take out the dancing, it will be very awkward. Instead, your event must be designed and planned in such a way that it is “complete” without the dancing. Consult with the venue to find out what kinds of entertainment previous wedding clients have selected, in place of music and dancing. Properly handled, dancing won’t even be missed!
Q: Some of our attendants are not as, shall we say, polished in appearance, as we would like to have them be for the wedding. My fiancé’s best friend has scruffy hair and a beard, and his sister has tattoos and dyes her hair funny colors. Is there a tactful way we can handle this?
A: Couples usually ask their very closest friends and relatives to be attendants. You love them in spite of their grooming habits or style choices, and you must be prepared to love them just the way they are at the wedding too. If you can, choose a style for the bridesmaid dresses that would cover the tattoos. A few weeks before the wedding, following your wedding planning timeline, you can point out to the groom and the men of the wedding party that two weeks before the wedding is a good time for them to have their hair cut. Only you know how much farther you can go with such friendly suggestions, but you cannot force anyone to seriously alter their appearance for your wedding.