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10 Wedding Etiquette Rules You Can’t Break—Period

While some etiquette rules have gone out the window, there are still some you must follow at every wedding.

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Always return your RSVP

It’s alarming how many guests simply don’t return an RSVP card. Couples base the entire day on their guest count so it really is unacceptable to turn up without notice. “Send your RSVP in as soon as possible,” advises Larissa Banting, wedding specialist and creator of The Lazy Bride Blog. “Nothing is more frustrating to a couple than having a number of guests MIA. Once you commit, you have to show up, short of being on death’s door. And don’t forget to write your name on the RSVP card! It’s amazing how many blank cards couples receive and they have no idea who just RSVP’d!” Ivy Jacobson, planning editor from The Knot, warns, “Don’t be one of the 5 percent of guests that sends in their RSVP one week or less before the big day.” As for bridesmaids, here are the etiquette rules you should follow.

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Dress code

The most important rule concerning dress seems to be to follow the bride’s instructions. Most couples will clearly state the dress code on their invitations, so guests need to pay attention to their wishes. However, there is one wedding guest etiquette rule that all the experts agree on: Guests should never wear white, ever! Julie Gladstone, CEO of Bride & Groom, even feels that the color white should be reserved for the bride the entire wedding season, including bridal showers and engagement parties, bachelorette parties, dress shopping outings, rehearsals, and bridesmaid brunches. “Under no circumstances should you wear white to a wedding. It is universally known that a bride will, in all likelihood, choose some shade of white for her big day, and therefore, all guests are expected to let her have the spotlight by choosing other shades,” she says. Still confused? Here’s what all those wedding dress codes mean.

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Plus one

When it comes to bringing a plus one along for the celebration, Terrica Skaggs, chief planner and designer at Cocktails and Details, advises guests to study their invitation carefully. “Weddings are expensive. Only those whose names are on the envelope are invited,” she says. “It is not OK to bring more than one guest. We once had a nightmare of a wedding where a guest responded ‘plus 24.’ Due to the family relationship, the bride felt obligated to accommodate.” And if the invite isn’t specifically addressed to you and a guest, plan on attending solo.

Gift envelope on the wooden floorShestakov Dmytro/Shutterstock

Gifts and gratitude

Bringing a gift is mandatory when attending a wedding unless the couple has specifically asked guests not to. However, there are wedding gift etiquette rules to asking for gifts and you have every right to feel ruffled if you receive a demand for a gift, as Terrica advises. “Couples should never put their wedding registry information on the wedding invitation. Instead, they should use an enclosure card that leads people to their wedding website.” Jacobson suggests: “When it comes to gift giving, give what you can afford and, using your best judgment, feel is appropriate. The average spend on a wedding gift in 2016 was $118.” If you ship your gift to the couple’s home and are wondering if it was received, you can expect a thank you note within a few weeks.

photo wedding bouquet on the phone in the hands of groomVersta/Shutterstock

Picture perfect

With the popularity of smartphones capable of taking great pictures, every guest thinks they can get the perfect wedding picture. The trouble is they often get in the way of the real photographer. Danielle Rothweiler, from Rothweiler Event Design, has found this to be a growing problem and it often means the happy couple don’t get the shots they paid for. She has some simple advice for guests, “Make sure the professional photographer isn’t going for the same shot. And never upload any photos from a wedding to social media until after the couple does.”

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Lights, camera, action!

Similar wedding etiquette rules apply to respecting the videographer’s process as it does to giving the photographer space to create. Lindsay Blair, the CEO of Blair Global Media, who has 17 years experience working in media and film, affectionately calls those guests who stumble into shots “walkers” and explains exactly why disruptions can be so frustrating. “It literally only takes a couple of seconds and your audio and video shot is already out of sync. This doesn’t have the same effect on photographers as with videographer as video requires both audio and video to be in sync.” Lindsay explains that everyone wants to get a shot of the key moments like the saying of the vows and the first kiss, but that the professionals are the only ones who the bride and groom have actually paid for. Don’t miss these 32 secrets a wedding planner will never tell you.

Couple in their wedding clothes holding a white cake decorated with flowers, berries and herbsAlex Gukalov/Shutterstock

No nitpicking

It’s no secret—you’re not going to be wild about every wedding you attend. But complaining about things that don’t suit your fancy, or that you would do differently if it were your wedding, is a huge breach of wedding etiquette. Because, well, it’s not your wedding. “[Be] respectful throughout the day….Don’t be overhead critiquing the couple’s choice of cake, flowers, the bride’s dress, etc.,” advises Bernadette Chapman, the founder of the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners. “This is all about the couple and the choices they have made, and is not for you to pick apart and have an opinion on.” Even if you’re convinced you’re safely out of earshot, you never know who’s listening, and your complaint could easily get back to the couple. Don’t be that guest! But wedding etiquette goes both ways, of course, and the couple themselves should follow these etiquette rules to make sure the day is a pleasant experience for their guests.

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Big news!

The idea of a guest making a huge announcement at someone else’s nuptials seems like such a breach of wedding etiquette that it’s become meme-worthy. Yet it still certainly couldn’t hurt to have another reminder: You really shouldn’t propose, announce you’re engaged, announce you’re pregnant, or make any other big life announcement at someone else’s wedding. It’s just plain discourteous to the couple—everyone is there to celebrate them, not anyone else. “This is their special day, so, even if you think they’d say yes, don’t steal their thunder!” says Joanne Archer of Expert Home Tips.

Men's hand holding wine glass at festive eventMNStudio/Shutterstock

Party safely

Everyone wants to have a good time at a wedding but not knowing your limits when it comes to alcohol consumption can land you in trouble. Guy Déom from Lac Carling, a beautiful wedding venue an hour from Montreal in Quebec, Canada, suggests guests let the valet take care of the car and not worry about getting home. “Weddings are beautiful and emotional events. We strongly advise that all guests book a room with us and sleep over. The next morning also provides more time to wrap up this memorable gathering,” he says. If you can’t sleep over, appoint a designated driver or take an Uber.

golden wedding rings on a mobile phone. Concept of infidelity or virtual betrayal through the smartphone.RHJPhtotoandilustration/Shutterstock

Social media and the new rules

Larissa warns guests that although times are changing, that doesn’t mean etiquette doesn’t exist anymore, it just means the guidelines are evolving. “The rules are to not post anything on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram until after the couple has had a chance to do so. It’s their day to shine—let them have the honor of posting the photos of their day. And please, turn your cell phone off and put it away, especially during the ceremony.” Of course, if the bride and groom have created a #cutecouple hashtag and are encouraging you to post, by all means, go ahead. Of course, many of the rules have changed over time, like these 22 outdated wedding rules no one seems to follow anymore.

Fiona Tapp
Fiona Tapp, is a Freelance Writer, Pro Blogger, and Educator. Her work has appeared on The Washington Post, New York Post, Brides, HuffPost, The Week, SheKnows, Parent.co and many others. Her portfolio can be viewed at www.fionatapp.com. After a 13 year career as a teacher and school administrator, where she earned a Master's degree in Education, Fiona is well placed to offer expert advice on parenting, education, childcare and pregnancy. She has also travelled to over 20 countries and regularly writes on world travel and personal finance. When she's not writing she can be found reading to her toddler, and doing all the best voices!