Wedding etiquette | A Guide to Wedding Etiquette | Bride and groom photo

A Guide to Wedding Etiquette During Covid-19 and Beyond

Summer is almost here, which means that wedding season is in full swing. After a year of cancelled and postponed nuptials, couples can finally look forward to celebrating their big day in the company of family and friends. Weddings with up to 30 people have now been given the go-ahead in England and if the roadmap out of lockdown proceeds as planned, all restrictions on numbers could be lifted from June.

According to wedding planning website Hitched, almost 70% of couples who postponed their weddings in 2020 plan to tie the knot between April and August this year. As the invitations start to pile up on the mantelpiece, we have compiled a list of wedding etiquette dos and don’ts to help you navigate any upcoming nuptials with respect and politeness.

Always RSVP in a timely fashion

When the invitation drops through your letterbox make a note to RSVP as soon as possible – and certainly by the date stipulated. Having to chase up invites is very stressful for the couple and a verbal confirmation of your attendance will not suffice.

While in the past nothing but a handwritten reply would do, in today’s digitally advanced age many couples prefer to be notified by email or even text message. Take your cue from the invitation and respond via the stated method, be it text, email or a reply card. If you are a stickler for tradition, you could always follow up with a note to say how much you are looking forward to the wedding.

Be aware of the new rules

For the time being, there are quite a few Covid rules that need to be followed, both by the couple and their guests: 

  • The 30 person limit includes the couple and children of all ages but not staff working at the venue
  • All guests have to wear face coverings, except when eating or drinking
  • Choirs, bands or musicians can perform in a group of up to six indoors or up to 30 outdoors
  • Dancing is “advised against”, apart from the couple’s first dance
  • Speeches should be given outside or in well-ventilated areas

Do not be tempted to wear white (or red)

Wearing white is still considered to be an absolute wedding etiquette no-no. While it is unlikely that anyone will mistake you for the bride, this is not the day to break with long-standing traditions. The only exception would be if the couple has specifically requested that guests dress in white or other variations such as cream or ivory.

Philip Sykes, Principal and Founder of The British School of Etiquette, also cautions against wearing red as this bold colour may send the message that you are trying to upstage the bride. “A little splash of red in your ensemble is acceptable but avoid a full blown red outfit,” he says.

Weddings are the perfect occasion to don a fabulous hat or fascinator but do not be tempted to go too big. “You wouldn’t want to block the view of the bride and groom at the altar from the person sitting behind you,” adds Philip.

For men, the style rules are much simpler. Morning suits are traditional for British weddings but if you do not have one, a dark, well-cut suit is also appropriate.

Do not assume that you can bring a guest

The biggest wedding etiquette faux pas a person can make is to bring someone who was not invited. This is particularly important when numbers are restricted and the couple has already had to make very difficult decisions about who to invite and who to leave off the guest list. 

It is quite simple: if the invitation does not stipulate a ‘Plus One’, it means that you – and only you – are invited. Many people mistakenly assume that they are allowed to bring a guest even if the invitation is addressed to them in the singular.

Extra and unaccounted-for people turning up on the day is a massive headache for the couple, who have put months of preparation into organising their perfect day. If in doubt about the number of guests included in your invitation, always check first so that you do not ruin carefully crafted seating plans.

Do not post pictures without permission

You should never post pictures of the couple or the wedding venue on social media until you get the go ahead. Some couples will set up a wedding hashtag to encourage guests to share photos, while others prefer to keep the event more private. The general rules of social media etiquette still apply – do not post compromising photos of other guests and always check before tagging people in your photos.

Do bring a gift for the couple

Every time you accept a wedding invitation you are inevitably faced with the question of what to give. If the couple have set up a registry, it is best to stay safe and choose a gift from their already curated wish list. Similarly, if they are asking for cash contributions towards their honeymoon in lieu of physical gifts, you should respect their wishes.

When it comes to how much to spend, the simple answer is whatever you can reasonably afford. A good rule of thumb is around the £50 mark although you may prefer to spend more if a particularly close friend or relative is getting married. You could also consider teaming up with a group of friends to buy a more expensive gift from all of you.

Do not get into debt to attend the wedding

We understand that weddings these days can be outrageously expensive. If the ceremony is not taking place close to your home, you may have to add an overnight hotel stay to a bill that already includes transport, outfits and a wedding gift.

If your budget does not allow you to attend the wedding or any of the pre-celebrations, it is best to be honest. Write to the couple and explain that you cannot attend the wedding due to financial constraints. Do consider sending a gift with a handwritten note wishing them a lovely day.

A final word of advice

While wedding season is a great excuse to let your hair down, drink champagne and mingle with old friends, observing the rules of wedding etiquette will ensure you stay within the boundaries of decorum. This is not the time to overindulge – even if free drinks are flowing – or declare your undying love to the ex-boyfriend you have not seen for ten years.

The most important thing that you can do as a wedding guest is to enjoy the day and celebrate the happy occasion with smiles and laughter. Put any personal differences that you may have with other guests to one side and concentrate on making it a wonderful day for the newlyweds.


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