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Your Most Common Wedding Guest Etiquette Questions Answered

As a wedding guest, surely your only job is to arrive on time (suitably attired), throw confetti at the right moment and compliment the bride’s faultless organisation/beautiful decor/stunning dress… right?
Not so fast, generally, there is an (often-unspoken) code of wedding etiquette which you are expected to follow as an attendee. To help, we’ve answered the questions most commonly asked of couples to help with your potential nuptial conundrums.

“Can I bring…”

How do I know if I get a plus-one?

You will know, because it will be stated on the invitation.
If you’re invited to a wedding, by name, and the invite doesn’t specifically welcome your significant other/new flame or more general “+1” you should not be asking the bride and groom if you can bring another to their wedding.
Weddings are a) expensive and b) often capacity limited by wedding venues. Couples struggle to narrow down their wedding guest list and go to a lot of trouble and expense to design and send wedding invitations. If only your name is present on it, but alone, then you alone are invited.

Can I bring my baby?

Perhaps the only acceptable time to begin a question to the bride and groom with “Can I bring…” is where the invitation does not state whether children are welcome – and you genuinely think perhaps this detail was left off .

Ideal couples’ response

If you’re asked this common question and are afraid of offending your guest, I suggest you respond: “I’m sorry, but we’re hoping to keep the wedding more intimate/working on a tight budget/at a smaller venue and we could only invite a certain number of people — we’re so glad you can make it, though!” or, in the case of a child “No, I’m sorry, this is an adults-only event. We wanted to give you a child-free evening!”
Brides, if you need any further help with your wedding guest list, see the guest list template.

“What Should I Wear?”

If the invitation doesn’t specifically state what the wedding day dress code is, it can be tempting to ask the bride, but she will more than appreciate it if you don’t. She’s probably got enough on her mind, attire wise, between her wedding dress, bridesmaids, flower-girls, and let’s face it, likely assisting the groom and groomsmen with theirs too.
If there is no dress code stated, you can fairly assume that it isn’t black tie, and you’d be best minded to take your cues from the wedding venue itself, and the couple themselves, if you know them well. Have a look at Decoding the Dress Codeand if you really can’t decide what to wear, contact someone else close to the couple, such as a parent, or someone in the bridal party if possible.
Don’t wear white.

Can I post pictures of the bride/couple/wedding/ online?

Even the most social-media embracing bride wants the glory of posting her first wedding photos online. Whether she wants to be the first to reveal her wedding dress, or the celebration in entirety – that is her prerogative, and you should err on the side of caution before sharing photos on social media.
Some couples are choosing to have absolutely no personal photography on the day, while others encourage it with wedding hashtags, but unless it’s specifically stated by the couple, wait until they have posted their first photos before posting yours.

Brides & Grooms

If you’re set on being the first to share wedding photos, as well as wanting to keep tech interruptions to a minimum, the approach is simple.Let guests know through as many ways as possible ahead of time with a message on the program, a sign when they enter the ceremony area, and an announcement by your MC prior to the ceremony. If the tech/photo ban is only for the ceremony, specify that too.

Is a gift expected at the engagement party/bridal shower/hens party?

As a wedding guest, it can be quite overwhelming, not to mention expensive, to also be expected to attend many pre-event celebrations. Between the engagement party, bridal shower and hens party, it can also be confusing to comply with guest etiquette around gifting. So, to which occasions are you expected to bring a present?

Are Engagement Party Gifts Necessary?

I’ve covered this in detail in Attending Engagement Partiesbut my considered view on this is that – it’s never inappropriate to bring a gift for your host. This is especially so if your hosts are going to some expense to provide for you.
A very nice bottle of wine, something unique that you know the couple will love or the little white book wedding organiser and diary (it’s a very popular engagement gift!). Attach a card with a brief message, which will make it easier for the couple to remember whom the gift was from, and how to thank you.

Are Bridal Shower Gifts Necessary?

One difference between an engagement party and bridal shower, is that often the shower is hosted and thrown by the bridesmaids, rather than the bride herself. Apparently, the origins of bridal showers are traced to the story of a young Dutch girl whose father refused to pay her dowry. The villagers came together to shower the couple with gifts and goods necessary to set up a new household.
Today, most couples already have necessary the household items, but it’s a lovely way to help the bride take a break from wedding planning and enjoy the company of her female friends and family members. Having been showered with love (and high tea)‚ I personally didn’t expect gifts in addition, but some brides may. These are often much smaller events than engagement parties, so if you choose to take a gift to a bridal shower, I would suggest something small and personal, or that the group pool together to buy a small piece of jewellery, for instance.

Are Hens Party Gifts Necessary?

It is not customary to take a gift to a hens party or bachelorette. Perhaps one reason is that these are often quite costly for guests, who cover their own activities which sometimes include flower-crown making, boat trips, or weekends away (see How to plan a bachelorette that isn’t boring).
Finally, a list of all the unspoken etiquette expectations the happy couple would love you to meet:

  • RSVP according to the instructions on the card (and not by sending them a Facebook message)
  • Not query or criticise any of their decisions for the Big Day, including (but not limited to) the date, location, venue, attire and menu.

Must I buy a Gift from the Wedding Registry?

It is perfectly acceptable to go off-registry for your wedding gift. The wedding registry is set up to assist guests – giving them an idea of the couples’ style and desires, but it is not the only option for gift giving. Similarly, if the couple asks for cash, or a honeymoon contribution, you can still absolutely purchase a gift instead or as well, if you feel more comfortable. Some older family members will prefer to give a physical gift than cash, as was more customary in their day.

To the Bride & Groom

If you are choosing to have a wedding registry, be mindful of everybody’s budget constraints (particularly if the wedding is costly for guests to attend already) and have a variety of gifts from $50-100 as well as larger gifts. If your guests cannot afford anything suitable you have registered for, they will buy you something off-registry, so if you’re fussy you may wish to be mindful of this.

If you have further questions…

If you really feel the need to ask the bride and groom anything else, don’t leave it until the wedding weekend, and before you ask them, see if there’s someone close to them who can help. Chances are, the bridal party, MC or parents of the couple will also be in-the-know about things like transport, parking, arrival times, order of ceremony and anything else.

To the Bride & Groom

While there will always be some guests with slightly frustrating questions, the best thing you can do is offer all information clearly and early. You can set up a wedding website, or put the information on a card with your wedding invitation, but either way it’s a good idea to cover:

  • Ceremony and Reception Venues, Addresses, Parking and Transport info
  • Times for Arrival, Ceremony Commencement, Transport between Venues, and Conclusion
  • RSVP method and time-frame
  • Dress-code
  • Accommodation and transport suggestions, if relevant
  • Wedding registry details
  • If wedding is adults only

I hope that’s eased some of your etiquette questions, but I’d love to hear from you if you’re struggling with anything else – leave a comment below. Next, check out the wedding planning index.

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