Modern Weddings 

Best Resources for Wedding Etiquette: Martha

One of our readers asked us to write about modern bridal shower etiquette, including who could host and what to do. As we were researching, we realized that the best articles on this and many other wedding etiquette subjects were covered by Martha Stewart. For this reason, we decided that we would leave it to Martha to dole out wedding advice. Well, unless it's something we have a strong opinion about, which is many things.

Wedding Etiquette for the Guests

We don't hear much about etiquette anymore, and it is in danger of becoming a lost art. When we say modern wedding etiquette, we mean to separate what is acceptable now from what was expected in the past.  But to be sure, wedding are multi-generational events, there are still expectations for attending a wedding.  It is always a good idea to remember that you are an invited guest at a privately hosted event.  Just as if you were in someone's home, your behavior will be noticed. Remember that family, staff and vendors are an extension of your host and deserve the same consideration.  Getting drunk, inappropriate behavior, foul language, and other obnoxious behavior should be left for the boys/girls night out. 

How Embarrassing!

On a rom-com arriving late to the wedding is humorous. Not so much in real life. My sister Laurie and I were late to a family wedding because we had miscalculated how long it would take to get to the venue from our hotel in New Orleans French Quarter traffic. Our Uber was late. We walked in behind the bride as she was about to start down the aisle. We were mortified as we saw all the wedding guests staring at us when we ducked in behind the beautiful bride and her father. The wedding coordinator hurried us to our seats saying they had held the wedding procession for us. Never again. This is an etiquette lesson we were reminded of the hard way! 

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Wedding Etiquette for the Guest

Wedding season is upon us, and while it's an exciting time for couples tying the knot, it can also be a stressful time for guests who are unsure about wedding etiquette. From RSVPs to dress codes, gifts to behavior, there's a lot to keep in mind. So, to help you navigate this social minefield, we've put together a modern guide to wedding etiquette for guests.


When you receive a wedding invitation, the first thing you should do is RSVP. RSVP stands for "Répondez s'il vous plaît," which is French for "Please respond." It's important to respond promptly, so the couple knows how many guests to expect. Even if you are unable to attend, you must RSVP quickly.  You can RSVP by mail or online, whichever method the couple has provided. If the invitation doesn't specify how to RSVP, don't be afraid to ask the couple.


Dressing for a wedding can be tricky. The first thing to consider is the dress code. The invitation should indicate whether it's a black-tie, semi-formal, or casual event. If you're not sure what to wear, it's always better to err on the side of being overdressed. It's better to be the best-dressed guest than the worst-dressed one.

For women, a cocktail dress or full length gown is acceptable. Avoid wearing white, as it's the bride's color. For casual events, a sundress or slacks with a blouse is appropriate. Avoid wearing anything too provocative or revealing or too casual. You don't want to draw attention away from the couple. 

For men, a tuxedo is appropriate for a black-tie wedding, while a dark suit is appropriate for a semi-formal wedding. For a casual wedding, a blazer and dress pants are acceptable. Avoid wearing jeans, shorts, or sneakers.

If you are not sure if your outfit is appropriate, ask ahead of time. 

See our article on Wedding Fashion for more information.


Gift-giving can be a source of confusion for guests. The first thing to consider is whether the couple has registered for gifts. If they have, it's best to choose something from their registry. This ensures that the couple will receive something they want and need. 

If the couple hasn't registered, you can choose a thoughtful and practical gift. Some ideas include a gift card to their favorite restaurant or store. You can also give them money in a card or contribute to their honeymoon fund.

It's also important to consider your budget when choosing a gift. You don't have to spend a lot of money to give a meaningful gift. It's the thought that counts.

Considerate Behavior

Finally, let's talk about behavior. Weddings are a joyous occasion, but they're also a formal event. As a guest, it's important to be on your best behavior. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Attending a wedding as a guest can be a lot of fun, but it's important to remember that it's not just a party. It's a formal event that requires proper etiquette. By being mindful of others you'll be sure to make a good impression and enjoy a memorable event with the happy couple.

Modern Wedding Etiquette Do’s

Now that you have a good grasp of the basics, here are some guidelines for modern wedding etiquette:

While it may be tempting to take photos or videos during the ceremony, it's important to be present in the moment. Couples hire professionals to photograph and video their wedding. Let them do their best work by staying out of the sight lines and keeping your phone away during the ceremony. There will be lots of opportunities to grab photos at the reception. It is your job to smile and look good so the photos you are in are not of a phone blocking your face. 

If the couple requests no children or no alcohol at the wedding, respect their wishes. It's their special day, and they have a right to set the rules.

If the invitation is addressed only to you, don't bring a plus one or a friend without checking with the couple first. It's important to respect their guest list and budget.

If you have been invited to a seated dinner and you have any dietary restrictions or allergies, let the couple know as soon as possible. They will appreciate your consideration, and it will make their planning process easier. Buffets are easier for guests to steer their choices to appropriate dishes.

If you're unable to attend the wedding, it's still important to send a gift. Send it in advance, so the couple receives it before or shortly after their big day. Wrapped gifts sent ahead of the wedding day are appreciated. It saves the couple the task of managing and  transporting gifts the day of the wedding.  Please do not expect the couple to open your gift at the wedding.  

Modern wedding etiquette is all about being respectful, considerate, and mindful of the couple's wishes. By following these guidelines, you'll be sure to have a great time and show your appreciation for the happy couple. Remember, a wedding is a celebration of love, and it's up to all of us to make it a memorable event for everyone involved.

Many-tiered wedding cake decorated with live flowers on a round table skirted with  pink tulle in a reception space decorated with flowers and a chandelier

Special Requests Faux Pas

Imagine you are the bride and groom and you see the rude family-you-didn't-want-to-invite-but-had-to trying to wrangle the wedding photographer into taking a posed family portrait for their annual Christmas cards. You are concerned the photographer, who looks harried, is getting pulled away from the job she was paid to do and won't get your planned shots finished. Then you see other families trying to line up to get their Christmas cards made since it looks like it must be okay.  All the while the photographer is politely explaining they cannot do this at the wedding. What a mess.

While it's important to be available to the photographer for photos the bride and groom requested, they and the rest of the wedding staff cannot handle on the spot special requests from guests.