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A guest’s guide to proper wedding etiquette

Selena Dehne is a marketing and public relations manager for JIST Publishing, freelance writer and life-long Hoosier. She covers home, entertaining, and holiday topics for and Selena has also published do...

Because no two weddings are the same, guests are often baffled about the proper etiquette associated with common conundrums such as what to wear, who to bring to the wedding, and what to give the bride and groom.

A guest’s guide to proper wedding etiquette

To give you the inside scoop on what's appropriate and what's not regarding these issues and many others, we've gathered the advice of two wedding experts: Caroline Covelli, co-owner of Two Little Birds Planning in Pennsylvania, and Laura Ursin, owner and principal wedding consultant for Brides on a Budget.

What should I give the bride and groom?

The answer depends on whether you're attending the wedding shower or the wedding itself. According to Covelli, if you are attending the shower, you should give the couple a gift from their wedding registry. At the wedding it's best to give the couple a monetary gift. "At this point, the bride and groom may have already cleaned up on the registry, and the money will help with their goals for a new home or nest egg," she explains.

Does my gift have to come from the couple's wedding registry?

Although you may have a unique gift idea in mind, it's most appropriate to opt for a gift from the couple's registry instead. Covelli says that is because, "The bride and groom selected these items because they match their décor, taste, and needs."

If you don't know where a couple is registered, Ursin says it's perfectly acceptable to ask the couple's parents or wedding attendants for that information. She also says, "If the couple does not live near the area of the wedding location, try to have their gift shipped directly to their home."

What are the appropriate guidelines for monetary gifts?

Covelli says you should give the couple a monetary gift that "covers your plate." However, she explains that this guideline isn't always the case when it comes to an especially lavish event. "If the bride and groom decide to have an extravagant affair and spend $250 or more per plate, you are not expected to match their extravagance if you do not have the means. The standard nowadays, depending on where you live, is $100 per person."

Is it improper to wear white to the wedding?

Sorry, ladies, you may look fabulous in that little white dress, but if you wear it to the wedding you'll be committing a major faux pas. Ursin says, "There should only be one woman wearing white that day and that is the bride. You may love the white dress you just bought, but save it for a night on the town with your special someone instead."

Other mistakes include wearing ivory, cream, or silvery-white according to Covelli. As an alternative she recommends wearing black, "It's classic, fashionable, and chic."

What should I wear so that I don't appear over or underdressed?

This dilemma can be a tricky one to tackle. If the wedding is a black-tie event, Covelli says a gown and tuxedo are appropriate. If the wedding is black-tie optional, Covelli says you can opt between several choices, including a gown, tuxedo, suit and tie, or a cocktail dress. At semi-formal weddings, she says men should stick to wearing suits and woman should wear tea-length or cocktail dresses. For beach casual weddings, Covelli suggests that women wear sundresses and men wear linen or khaki pants and collared shirts.

Can I bring a date to the wedding?

Unless your invitation lists your significant other's name, or includes the phrase "and guest/date," you should come alone. "Do not ask if you can bring a date if you were not invited to do so," says Covelli. "Be honored that you were asked to share in the bride and groom's special day, and note that they probably didn't have the funds to ask all of their single friends to bring someone they've never met to witness the most important day of their lives."

What about my kids?

Again, the only people you should bring with you to a wedding are those who are invited. Ursin advises you to, "Pay attention to the invitation wording. If the invitation is addressed to Mr. and Mrs. and not the family, be respectful of the couple's wishes, get a babysitter and enjoy a night to yourselves."

Is it rude to skip the ceremony and head straight to the reception?

It's no secret that receptions are a lot more fun than ceremonies, but it's important to attend both. "The guest who only comes for the food and booze needs to remember that the ceremony is the most important part," says Covelli.

Are there any other wedding do's and don'ts I need to know?

"Participate in the couple's interactive details. If there is a guest book, sign it; if there is a photo booth, go take pictures and leave one for the bride and groom with a note for well wishes; if there are pictures of the couple or their family on display, take the time to look at them," suggests Covelli.

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