The Wedding Guest Guidelines: Read This Before You Attend

Matrimony season is among us! 

From flower girl to guest to bridesmaid, I’ve attended more than my share of weddings. To my surprise, however, I learned that so many people did not attend their first wedding until their mid-to-late twenties. 

Whether you’re a seasoned vet or a newbie at this wedding guest thing, the experience can be overwhelming; anyone could easily get something wrong.

As I prep to attend the first of *checks notes* four weddings this year, I’d be remiss to pass up this opportunity to put y’all on game (and not have you being the horror story of some couple’s special day).  

Here are some key dos and don’ts of ‘wed-iquette’ to ensure that you’re the quintessential guest at anyone’s ceremony: 

RSVP, ASAP!

Seems easy, right? Well, you’d be surprised how many people don’t take this as seriously as they should. 

This is one of our first, and most important, duties as a wedding guest so don’t f*ck it up! The invitations we receive are the tip of the wedding planning iceberg; while all you may see is some fancy text over a gorgeous professional photo, our RSVPs are the drivers of the ceremony. 

When requesting and tracking RSVPs, many couples are working to finalize guest count for everything from furniture and catering to seating charts and place cards. They may also request vital information about food allergies, dietary restrictions, and a plus one (more on this later.) 

If you’re unsure if you can attend, then respectfully decline the invitation. Lemme say that louder: IF YOU DON’T KNOW, THEN RSVP NO. You will save the couple time, energy, and money in the long run if you don’t straddle the fence. (If you don’t want to say “no,” then still hold off on RSVPing until you’re 100% sure and keep the couple updated on your attendance status every step of the way). 

Also follow the return instructions! If they say provide full names, then don’t use a nickname. If they request that you RSVP on their website, then don’t send a text or email. 

However you reply, just remember that RSVP, from the French phrase “Répondez s’il vous plaît,” literally means “please respond”–the least you can do is respect the request since they asked nicely :). Don’t be the guest that they have to track down for multiple reminders (or the one who got the axe because they didn’t listen). 

 Always Get A Wedding Gift (but nothing too big) 

Though the gift is non-negotiable (even if you decline to attend), the types of gifts we get for newlyweds can vary. From kitchenware and bedding to monetary donations–there’s a range of things we can choose to give. 

A typical wedding gift-giving window can be from a few months before the ceremony until several weeks after the wedding. A typical budget? $50 and above (this isn’t the time for a $25 gift card).

If you opt to bring your gift to the wedding ceremony, then DON’T BRING A LARGE ONE. The last thing anyone wants to do on their wedding night is carry a big, annoying box back home.

This isn’t to say that you can’t give a large gift; if you choose to give the couple a large gift then it is more respectful to send it directly to their home. 

The gift talk brings me to my next point: 

Stick to the Wedding Registry

To make things easier, couples typically create a gift registry from which guests can choose what to give them.

My advice? Stick to it. Strictly.

This is not the time to get creative. The couple took time out to pick these things they would love to have, so respect it. 

If the items on the registry are out of your budget, then group gifting is always an option! 

Respect the Dress Code

Most couples explicitly state the dress code/theme of their wedding ceremony on invitations or a website dedicated to wedding details. 

You may see a phrase like “black tie,” for example, which indicates more formal wear. If it is not specified, then try to read the room: where is the ceremony?

In a church, we may want to dress more conservatively. Outdoors weddings may factor into our shoe decision. At a destination/beach wedding, we may want to wear lighter materials like cotton, linen, or chiffon. 

There’s so much to cover in this section alone. Check out this deeper dive into unlocking wedding dress codes

Don’t Wear Anything Resembling White 

While we’re talking about outfits, do not, I repeat, 

DO NOT WEAR WHITE TO SOMEONE ELSE’S WEDDING (unless they explicitly tell you to). 

Simply put, it’s very frowned upon and disrespectful. What if the wedding dress or tux isn’t white, you might be thinking. Well, it’s still tacky to wear white because it looks like you are attempting to steal attention from the bride and/or couple of the day. 

Now I have, however, attended weddings where everyone wore white, bride and groom included. This is the only exception. 

Also, important: if possible, find out what color the bridal party is wearing to avoid matching them as well. 

The color white (and whatever color the bridal party wears) is OFF. LIMITS. For wedding guests. Period. 

Don’t Assume You Have a +1 

Weddings cost a VERY pretty penny, so every head counts. Literally. 

Hard truth: we likely won’t be given a plus one to a wedding unless we’re married, engaged, or in a long-term, serious relationship. Another case where we may get a plus one is if the couple knows that you’ve traveled far to attend and won’t know many people at the ceremony.  

Unsure if you have a plus one? Check to see who your invitation is addressed to–most couples will include “and guest” or the first and last name of your guest if they extend a plus one to you.

Other than that, there’s two simple ‘plus one’ rules for weddings: don’t request one and don’t substitute one if they’ve included a name. 

Be on Time (not too early or late!)

We have to get our wedding arrival time down to a science, and there’s no way around it. 

It’s awkward to show up too early, as you’d likely see part of the ceremony setup. It certainly isn’t the time to be fashionably late or blame traffic, so plan ahead to account for everything. 

To be safe, you should arrive 30 minutes before the indicated start time and even earlier if it’s a large wedding (150+ guests), and be in your seat 10 minutes before the ceremony starts.

If you arrive late (because life does happen), then slip into the back quietly. If the wedding procession has already started, then don’t go inside to find a seat until the bride is down the aisle.  

And don’t even think about only showing up to the reception, unless your goal is to be a complete a**hole. 

Silence your Phone 

I’ll make it plain: Nobody wants to hear your ringtone while they say “I do;” turn your phone on silent or Do Not Disturb before the wedding starts. 

If your phone does go off, then don’t panic. Just quickly find it, turn it off, and immediately turn your attention back to the ceremony. 

Also, speaking of phones: avoid using the flash for photos or videos at ALL costs. It’s best to avoid posting your own photos of the wedding before the couple does, too. That’s what they hired the professionals for 🙂 

Don’t Contact the Couple Directly

Do I even need to explain why this is stupid? We should NEVER, under any circumstance, contact the people of the hour. 

One of the worst things you can do on their wedding day is to call or text them asking for details or advice of any kind. This day is stressful as is with lots of moving parts. Contact someone not directly in the bridal party and leave them to enjoy their special day. 

Have any additional tips for proper wedding guest etiquette? Comment below or share with us on Instagram or Twitter

Written By: B. Sierra

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