Wedding Guest Etiquette: Rules to Stick to and Faux Pas to Avoid (2024)

We’ve all been invited to plenty of Big Days but there is still some confusion regarding wedding guest etiquette and the protocol around the timeless social institution. In our latest anonymous advice column,’s editors consider the unspoken rules and inadvertent faux pas of which every wedding guest should be aware.

The hidden dress codes

Everyone knows the golden rule: Don’t wear white. Sometimes, though, when a wedding takes place in the summer, guests are drawn to their lineup of breezy ivory dresses as potential options. “I have a whole closet full of white dresses that don’t look at all bridal,” shares one fashion editor. “But why wear one and potentially hurt someone’s feelings?” Many agree, but there is room to play with. “If it has a print on it or a motif that isn’t too overwhelming,” one writer says, “then it’s fine.” Still, don’t push the limits. “After wearing a cream dress to a ceremony, I was told by several people at the party never to wear it ever again to a wedding.” If the dress code is confusing to you, play it safe. “I never know what to wear to a wedding that’s happening at 5 p.m. Do I wear a day dress or something more for the evening?” wonders one fashion editor. The staff suggests that if a wedding is taking place at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m., you should wear something that easily transitions from day to night; any ceremony after 6 p.m. should be strictly co*cktail. What about the old rule that red is also off-limits? “I think red is fine, just don’t show up looking like Jessica Rabbit,” says another fashion writer.

Paper matters

It’s simple: RSVP by the date indicated on the invitation. If a date isn’t provided, just reply with your answer as promptly as possible. And what if there isn’t a response card? “Then the rule is that you should send your RSVP on your own stationary,” advises one editor familiar with Emily Post’s Etiquette.

About that plus-one

Regarding plus ones, the entire staff agreed: Under no circ*mstances can you ever ask for one. “You’re essentially asking the couple to pay for an extra person,” says one writer. But the importance of plus-ones is at times underrated. “I’m eternally the single girl, and just because I don’t have a boyfriend doesn’t mean I don’t want to go with someone to a party,” says one writer. A beauty editor agrees: “For my upcoming wedding, I only have one rule—everyone gets a plus one.” And if a couple can’t afford to invite so many guests, a good rule of thumb is to offer the option of a plus-one to at least everyone in the wedding party, which is usually made up of close friends and family.

On that note, brides can be more exclusive when it comes to the rehearsal dinner; after all, the pre-wedding events is traditionally reserved for close family as well as the wedding party. Fret not: If you don’t know your wedding party's dates personally, you technically don’t have to invite them. With that said, it is kind to offer the date a spot, especially if you have the space.

As for the little ones

Making exceptions can be a recipe for disaster, so it's better to trust your instincts and stick to then, which includes your policy on whether children are invited…or not. Would you rather have an adults-only celebration? If the answer is “yes” then by all means, urge all of our editors. The one exception? What if you’re having an adults-only reception but really want to have a flower girl and ring bearer at the ceremony? In this instance, you can send your favorite little ones down the aisle (and even take photos with them during co*cktail hour) but ensure you have a babysitter available to watch them for the rest of the evening. That means no kiddos on the dance floor.

Gift-giving basics

“A wedding is the one time you can give a couple what they asked for,” explains one beauty editor. “So why not just give them what they want?” For guests who want to go off-registry, one editor suggests a gift certificate to a special restaurant, or perhaps a night at a nearby bed-and-breakfast. Never try to get a piece of art for the newlyweds. “Unless you’re Julian Schnabel, don’t try to impose your taste (however impeccable) on anyone else,” she adds. And what if you’re regretfully not attending the event? On this point, our editors’ opinions differ. Some are fine with forgoing a present if you aren’t attending a wedding, while others believe you should always, always, get the couple a gift—regardless of whether you are able to go or not.

Keep your behavior in check

Everyone agrees: The guiding principle is never to outshine the bride. Aside from the obvious—don’t get wildly drunk—several of our editors have additional words of advice after experiencing less-than-well-behaved guests at recent outings. “One of my friends got proposed to at a wedding, and people spent the rest of the evening congratulating her instead of celebrating the couple getting married,” shares one writer. In other words, it’s never acceptable to pop the question at someone else’s special day. Another editor remembers someone who “got on stage with a pashmina on their head and start singing with the band.” While it might seem obvious, it’s worth stressing that it’s always a good idea to avoid the stage, and to stay as far away from the microphones as possible. Cringe-worthy speeches are unfortunately common, with one writer suffering through an especially embarrassing one for the bride. “Never bring up an old flame—even if it’s part of the joke. Trust me, it’s never appropriate during a wedding toast.”

Wedding Guest Etiquette: Rules to Stick to and Faux Pas to Avoid (2024)


Wedding Guest Etiquette: Rules to Stick to and Faux Pas to Avoid? ›

Unbreakable Rule #1: RSVP Promptly

If you're one of the chosen few to be invited, make sure you respond promptly. Many wedding invitations will include a deadline to reply.

What is the number one rule as a wedding guest? ›

Unbreakable Rule #1: RSVP Promptly

If you're one of the chosen few to be invited, make sure you respond promptly. Many wedding invitations will include a deadline to reply.

What is one thing you should never say at a wedding? ›

"I came for the alcohol." (Not a classy comment for a guest to make.) "I'm scared to see them as parents..." (This doesn't make you sound like a kind person and doesn't show you in your best light.) "Good thing that first marriage didn't work out..." (Just unnecessary.)

What is the no phone wedding rule? ›

An unplugged wedding is when the wedding couple asks their guests to turn off their phones, tablets, cameras, and any other digital devices during the ceremony or reception, however, mainly the ceremony. There isn't any rule for how far you can go with instituting an unplugged wedding.

What is considered inappropriate for a wedding? ›

Crop tops, dresses with mesh on the sides, short skirts, plunging necklines, and form-fitting gowns are more appropriate for a night out than a wedding. A skimpy outfit will attract negative attention from other guests and take attention away from the bride; it also doesn't match the solemnity of the occasion.

What is the 2 2 2 rule wedding? ›

What if a simple framework for spending more time together could potentially improve your relationship with your spouse or significant other? Enter the 2-2-2 rule: Try and swing a date night every two weeks, a weekend away every two months and a week away every two years.

Am I allowed to bring a plus one answer? ›

Members of the couple's immediate family, those in the bridal party, guests who won't know many people, and those who are married, engaged, or live together are generally the types of guests who you should allow to have plus one.

Is it rude not to give +1 for wedding? ›

Anyone Who's Married

It's polite to acknowledge that even though you've never met your aunt's new husband or your future father-in-law's boss's wife, you respect their union. Any couples who are engaged, live together or who have been dating over a year should get a plus-one.

What is the white rule in wedding? ›

The last thing you want is for someone to mistake you for the bride or be in photographs where guests think you're trying to steal the spotlight. All in all, it's respectful and customary not to wear white as a guest to the wedding unless the bride specifically asks you to wear white or she says it's okay to wear it.

What is the no ring no bring rule? ›

'No Ring, No Bring' Meaning

The "no ring, no bring" policy means that a wedding guest can only bring a plus-one to the wedding if their invitee is someone they're engaged or married to, hence the "ring," explains Kevin Dennis, a certified wedding planner and owner of Fantasy Sound Event Services.

Do you have to answer questions to get married? ›

At the interview with the registrar, you will be asked questions about yourself and your partner; full names and any other names you or your partner may use or have been known by, date of birth, whether you or your partner have been through any form of marriage or civil partnership before in this or any other country, ...

Why can't you wear red to a wedding? ›

"Tradition dictates guests avoid wearing red out of fear that it could take attention away from the happy couple,” explains Hurwitz. “Visually, it's quite bold. In a photo, your eye is immediately drawn to the color, especially if it's next to neutrals like white, black, gray, or beige.”

What color should you not wear to a wedding? ›

Steer clear of off-white, eggshell, beige, champagne, cream, or any other super light color that could be mistaken for white. There are so many dress options available in a variety of hues, so steering clear of these shades should not be a major issue.

What is wedding shaming? ›

'Wedding Shaming' or making fun of someone else's wedding just because it differs with your taste, has become a real thing in today's world, I've definitely been guilty of turning my nose up at someone else's ideas just because I wouldn't do it, and it's not cool.

What is the #1 rule of marriage? ›

Treat your spouse the way you wish to be treated.”

That's it. The #1 rule for building a happy marriage.

What is the rule of thumb for wedding guests? ›

As a rule of thumb for wedding guest lists, you can typically expect 75-80% of the invited guests to attend the wedding. But is there a template for how to build the perfect guest list? "I recommend looking at the wedding guest list as a pie, where each family gets a slice to work with," says Strausser.

Who is the most important guest at a wedding? ›

The most important people in a wedding are typically the bride and groom, as the wedding is a celebration of their love and commitment to each other. Additionally, close family members and friends often play significant roles in a wedding, such as parents, siblings, bridesmaids, groomsmen, and witnesses.

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