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Basic Etiquette For Weddings: Announcements, Gifts & More

The formalities surrounding weddings have certainly changed since our parents' generations got married. Add in regional and cultural differences and you've got a recipe for confusion. Whether you're a true Southern belle or a West Coast transplant, read advice from our Williamsburg etiquette experts:

Announcements & More

Telling the world you're engaged or married isn't as simple as changing your relationship status on Facebook (we wish it were!). Share your news without hurting any feelings with these tips:

Q: My fiancé and I just got engaged. What is the proper way to go about announcing it? Do we send out announcements?

A: The 'proper' way to announce your engagement has drastically changed over time—especially with social media. Phone calls to your closest friends and family are the first step before announcing it publically. If you want to share the news more formally, an engagement party or newspaper announcement are appropriate methods. Historically, a normal party served as a front and the father of the bride would announce the news to guests. This practice has died down but is still great way to tell everyone (if you can keep it a secret long enough!). You can also opt to send formal engagement announcements, however make sure they are only mailed to people you'll be inviting to the wedding.

Q: When do I mail my Wedding Announcements?

A: Your wedding announcements should be mailed the day of the wedding. They are mailed to family and friends that were not invited to the wedding ceremony. They are usually written on the same paper and mimic the same style as your wedding invitation. Your Wedding Announcement should not include the time or location of the ceremony.

Q: What is the purpose of At Home Cards?

A: The tradition of At Home cards started in the 1950s to formally announce the couple's new address and the effective date. These days, At Home cards also take care of answering the question: "did they change their last name(s)?" The cards can be included in the formal invitations, mailed with announcements or sent separately after you get married.

Q: If I send a Thank you card, should I send a written note as well?

A: Yes. You should send a hand written thank you even though you sent a thank you card. It is always a nice touch to give those who took the time to choose a gift for you a hand written thank you note.

Your Guest List

Whether you have a family twice the size of your future spouse's or have a few people you can't agree on, making your guest list is no easy task. We answered these reader questions to help:

Q: Ok my husband and I did a justice of the peace and are having a ceremony in Sept. He saw on the invite list that I invited an ex. He is kinda pissed about it and I see that but she and her family (included 2 boys I have raised from birth) are like family to me. She knows about the wedding and has planned on coming up. How do I uninvite her even though I want to see the boys?

A: If formal invitations have not gone out, she's not actually invited to the wedding. While she may have assumed she would be on the guest list, and you intended her to be, you don't have to formally uninvite her or any other assumed guests. If you feel it's necessary, let her know you were unable to include her due to budget or venue restrictions.

Q: Besides family and friends, who should receive wedding invitations?

A: In addition to family and friends, your attendants should receive wedding invitations and their parents. It is also proper to give invitations to children over 16 years of age and the officiant and his/her spouse.

Q: What do I do if my guests don't RSVP?

A: If your guests do not RSVP, you or a trusted family member will have to call them. We recommend the groom's family calling his guests and the bride's family calling her guests. Texting is not an appropriate way to follow-up with those who have not RSVP'd. Don't send a mass e-mail to those guests either, as it will feel like you're calling them out. If you have super flaky friends who still won't give you a hard yes or no, give them a heads up you're giving the final numbers to the venue or caterer and have marked them as a 'no' - if they aren't a no, that should elicit a response.

Wedding Gifts & Registries

Picking out a wedding gift can be difficult, especially if you aren't very close to the couple. The registry may already be spoken for and the practice of giving a gift equal to the cost of your dinner doesn't always work out for everyone's wallet. See some of our advice about giving gifts and making it easier for guests to find something you'll love:

Q: If I've been invited to a wedding through an invited guest, should I bring something for the bride and groom?

A: It is always a good thing to bring a gift. The gift does not have to be expensive, unless you are really close to the wedding couple. A reasonable price range for a wedding gift would be between $20–$100. The gift will represent a token of gratitude for being able to attend the ceremony and reception.

Q: Just because the bride and groom fill out a wedding registry, does that mean you have to use it in order to give them as a gift?

A: Any gift you decide to give the bride and groom should come from the heart. The registry should be used as a guide to show you what the couple needs. Many guests buy from the registry to make sure they get a gift the couple can use, but any thoughtful gift is appreciated.

Q: My friends are asking me if I registered, but I have been to several weddings and the guests say they do not use the registry. Do you recommend registering?

A: A gift registry is a good idea for several reasons. It cuts down on the possibility of receiving multiples of the same items. If you are getting married for a second time or were living on your own for while, a registry helps guests know what to get you. When picking out your registry, think about what you need and want as gifts. Then determine which stores carry those items. I also recommend registering at two places. A high-end store and a more affordable store depending on your taste. Close family might be willing to splurge and buy you that new dining room set while a friend of the family might not. It's a good idea to pick stores that have several locations where your guests live. You will be more likely to get the gifts on your registry if your guests have easy access to them.

Q: All the bridesmaids want to chip in and get the bride-to-be a big gift for her bridal shower. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Find out what the bride may really need in her home, and start there. You could get her a washer and dryer, or a new refrigerator. Does she need a new dishwasher or a new dining room set? After you figure it out, purchase it and give her a card with all your names in it with a heartfelt message. Friends attending the wedding may also want to pool together and splurge on a bigger item. If you do so, check the registry for big-ticket items early.

Navigating Relationships

Planning your wedding while maintaining relationships can be a challenge. Some friends and family may feel they deserve a say in planning or feel their opinion is needed. It also may bring up uncomfortable situations like divorced or broken up guests. Here are tips on navigating these situations:

Q: I have a close friend with whom I discuss my wedding plans. It seems like every time I bring up my wedding, she starts to get jealous. I don't like when she does this, how should I handle it?

A: It's hard when a trusted friend makes us feel uncomfortable or apprehensive to share our good news. In order to avoid problems later on, talk to her about it and let her know your feelings. If she doesn't change, then when you do meet up with her, talk about other things. If you have another close friend who loves hearing about your wedding, then discuss it with her/him instead.

Q: Should my ex-wife ride with my daughter and I to our daughter's wedding?

A: If you feel uncomfortable about this arrangement, talk it over with your daughter. If she wants both parents in the limo, then for her sake; do it. This is her day and you should want to make it as happy and memorable as possible.

Q: My parents are divorced and do not get along very well. I am very close to both of them and want to know where they should sit during the ceremony?

A: Sometimes seating divorced parents can be very tricky because you do not want to offend either one. Happily, tradition has already mapped out proper etiquette for circumstances like these. Your mother should sit in the front pew on the left. If she has remarried, her husband and her close family members will sit with her. Your father should sit in the first pew on the left. If he is remarried, his wife may sit with him or further back with her family to respect your mom.

If your parents are not remarried but have significant others, they can sit with your parents if the relationship is serious. If they are not serious, their guests should sit with the other guests. Remember this is only a guideline for seating your parents. The ultimate decision is yours and whoever is paying for your wedding.