Wedding Guest Etiquette

You’ve received a loved one’s wedding invitation in the mail, and you’re excited to celebrate the new couple. But what’s the proper response to the invitation? What should you gift the new couple who are about to start their lives together? And what does “dressy casual” mean? The answers to these questions all fall under wedding guests etiquette.

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What is Wedding Guest Etiquette?

Wedding guest etiquette is the code of polite behavior expected from guests throughout the wedding process. From the moment someone is sent a wedding invitation until after they say their goodbyes at the reception, it’s important to follow proper etiquette. Etiquette covers dress code, standards of communication, any rules in between.

Wedding Invitation Response Etiquette

With the introduction of instant messaging and other communication tools, wedding invitations became more confusing for the average guest. However, that doesn’t make proper etiquette any less essential. It’s important to remember that couples often spend a lot of money, time, and energy on their invitations. A guest’s response should show an equal amount of respect and care.

glitter style wedding invitation

Wedding Invite RSVP Guidelines:

  • If the wedding invitation includes an RSVP card, fill that card out as soon as possible and mail it back. The only reason not to physically mail a response is if the couple sent out their RSVP system electronically. If you decide to simply text a bride your response she will likely lose track of it within the rest of her wedding plans. And beyond that, texting the bride anything about her wedding besides your love and support is considered bad form.
  • Unless the invitation specifically says you can bring a guest or children, plan on going alone. Don’t ask if you can bring a plus one after the invitations are sent out. After the invitations go out, you’re basically asking the couple to add to their set budget. And if the invitation says the event is adults only, they probably mean it.
  • Couples are happy to make sure you have a meal at their wedding that meets your dietary restrictions, but only if you let them know well in advance. Most wedding timelines have the menu and catering choice picked well in advance and are expensive to change last second. Include this information on your RSVP.
  • Make sure that RSVP gets to your hosts before the deadline. A great way of making sure this happens is to send back the RSVP as soon as you get the chance, instead of waiting until the deadline.

When Abroad or Unavailable for the Wedding

Proper wedding guest etiquette still applies even if you can’t make it to the wedding. Let the hosts know that you won’t make it through the RSVP card. Don’t email, text, or call them to let them know. Additionally, make sure you still send a card and gift expressing your congratulations to the happy couple. This will show your love and support even when you can’t be there for their big day.

Wedding Gift Etiquette

Stick to the registry as best you can. The couple put a lot of time and effort into picking out what they need most, and buying from that list shows you care. If for some reason you are unable to get them something from their registry, consider giving a monetary gift. Additionally, unless your gift is small, mail your gift ahead of the ceremony. The couple doesn’t want to have to deal with carrying back heaps of presents after their reception. This is especially important for monetary gifts that can get lost in the shuffle.

If the couple has not requested specific gifts, consider getting something personal or meaningful, such as personalized wine glasses or customized tea towels. And if you’re unable to send a gift, at least send a card expressing your heartfelt congratulations. This small effort will show the couple you care.

For a better understanding of gift expectations, check out our complete guide on wedding gift etiquette.

Wedding Guest Etiquette During the Ceremony

The most important thing to remember during the wedding ceremony is that you should be present and attentive. Taking out your phone or chatting with another guest are both faux pas and poor guest etiquette. When you do take your seat, make sure your phone is off, or at least silent. You shouldn’t feel the need to use it to take photos or record any part of the ceremony. The couple hired a professional to do that, anyways.

Also, make sure you’re sitting where you’re intened to. The families of the bride and groom should be front and center, with everyone else just behind them.

Finally, make sure you arrive early to find your seat. It’s not okay to arrive late to the ceremony. If unforeseen problems come up and prevent you from a timely arrival, wait until after the ceremony is over. Then, you can join the celebration.

a flower girl at a wedding ceremony with guests taking photos

Wedding Dress Code and Guest Attire Etiquette

Most couples have a vision for how they want their wedding to look, and factor guest dress code into it. It’s important to respect that vision. For that reason, if the couple dictates the dress code in an invitation or other wedding communication, it’s important to follow that. But sometimes figuring out what dress codes mean can be a challenge. That’s why we’ve broken down a few common wedding dress codes for you below:

  • Casual: Summer dresses, nice skirts, or dress pants for the ladies. Button down or polo shirts for the men. While this technically means you can wear pretty much anything you want, you still want to look nice in the wedding photo book.
  • Beach-Formal: Women often wear lighter or floral dresses and men usually dress in khakis and light shirts.
  • Cocktail, Semi-Formal or Dressy Casual: This means cocktail dresses and suits and ties. This is a common dress code for weddings with a wide variety of options that most people have in their closets.
  • Black-Tie Optional: A little nicer than cocktail attire, expect to see the wedding party elegantly dressed.
  • Black Tie: More formal clothes with dark suits or tuxedos for men and floor length dresses for women. This is common for large weddings or receptions held at night.
  • White Tie: This is a high end dress code. Expect ball gowns and tuxedos, but don’t expect this to be standard attire at most weddings.

Can You Wear White to a Wedding?

Unless you’re the bride, it’s never appropriate to wear white to a wedding. Remember: it’s the bride’s big day, so you should never wear something that might distract from her.

Can You Wear Red or Black to a Wedding?

These colors fall into more of a gray area in wedding guest etiquette. You should never appear like you’re trying to upstage a bride. On the other hand, you don’t want to show up looking like you’re ready for a funeral, either. It’s up to your good judgment to decide if your red or black dress fits the dress code and mood. If it’s hard to tell, it’s a good idea to find another dress.

For any other questions on dress code, read our resource on what not to wear at a wedding.

Photography Etiquette at a Wedding

The bride and groom have likely painstakingly picked and paid for a professional photographer and/or videographer at their wedding. Take advantage of this and leave your phone in your purse or pocket and enjoy the wedding as it happens. Trying to take your own pictures can get in the way of the photographer and often results in lower quality photos of the event.

a wedding photo book on a coffee table

Other Wedding Guest Etiquette to Keep in Mind

  • Make sure to sign the wedding guest book. The bride and groom want to look back on their special day and remember who was there to celebrate with them. Make sure they think of you when they do.
  • Try to find the time to congratulate the bride and groom’s families. The wedding is usually a team effort from them as well.
  • It’s never appropriate to text the bride on her wedding day or in the few days leading up to it. She’ll be busy getting everything ready, and you can talk to her after the ceremony.
  • When talking to the newlyweds after the ceremony, keep your conversations with them as short as you can. They’ll appreciate you giving them time to talk to their other friends and family.
  • Have fun, it’s a party after all! However, make sure not too get too drunk or rowdy. It would be awful to embarrass the bride and groom at their own wedding.

More Etiquette Guides You Might Like

If you’re looking for more information on wedding etiquette, be sure to check out our other wedding guides: