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The dos and don’ts of wedding etiquette in 2024 – The Telegraph

12 minutes, 34 seconds Read

Photographers and vicars are in a turf war for prime position at church weddings and “giving the bride away” sounds dangerously like something that could get you cancelled… It’s a modern minefield. So with the wedding season looming, what are the new hard and fast rules to stick to? We asked the experts.

Rules for the happy couple

Should brides give speeches these days? 

Meghan Markle did it, but don’t let that put you off. Recent research from Guides for Brides suggests that as many as one in three brides is now giving a speech. So – good idea? “110 per cent,” says Rebecca Brennan-Brown, the founder of the wedding planning company Get Wed. “When have you ever let a man speak for you before? Why should you let men speak for you on your wedding day?” 


Credit: James Yates

It doesn’t have to be formal and fussy, though: “One of our brides this year is adamant she wants to speak at some point, but doesn’t want it to be as formal as the traditional sit-down speeches. So instead, she’ll be saying a few words to welcome everyone to the drinks reception, then kicking it off with a champagne tower pour. Fun and feminist…”

Eco-friendly online invitations, or thick and fancy ones in the mail? 

Once upon a time, wedding invitations came on paper so thick you could hold back the tide with them. Plus a save-the-date card, a response card, the stiff envelope… It could all add up to a small forest. So what does the eco-friendly couple do? 

“Listen, if you do the thick and fancy printed invites, you’ll end up having to send an e-vite anyway, or chasing people a lot,” says Brennan-Brown. “While the printed invites always look great and give guests a taste of the day ahead, they get lost on kitchen counters and very few people actually RSVP to them. Whereas if you’re emailed an invite, it’s easy to click RSVP straight away. We had one couple this year get all 160 RSVPs within two weeks from their email invite, which is practically unheard of. Either way, the golden rule is to always connect your invite to a website where you can add and change information freely.”

Funds are tight. Can we ask guests to buy their own drinks?

“Absolutely,” says Brennan-Brown. “Most people understand that weddings are a huge expense, and that once you’ve paid for a venue, dinner and entertainment for everyone, it’s OK to ask them to pay for a few drinks.” That said… “We have had a couple in the past spend over £10k on flowers, then charge people for drinks in the evening. Each to their own, but there were some slightly bemused faces…”

“Couples should be as generous as possible towards their guests,” agrees Jo Bryant, an etiquette consultant who specialises in weddings. To her mind that means “planning the budget accordingly, allocating as much as possible towards the key elements of hosting: food and drink”.

If you need to cut something, she suggests, think: wedding favours. “These often add up to quite a large sum, only to be forgotten or discarded at the end of the day,” Bryant says. “The money might be best reallocated to the bar fund.”

Do you have to invite the tedious partners of fun friends?

Afraid so, says Bryant: “You should always invite both halves of couples who are in a long-term, established relationship, or who are living together, or who are engaged, for the whole day. Equally, if you are inviting someone who will know nobody, then they will appreciate having a ‘plus-one’.” 

Partners at wedding


Credit: James Yates

Is it OK to ask for cash?

In essence, yes, says William Hanson, an etiquette expert and the author of the forthcoming book Just Good Manners. Be aware, though: “Older generations might be a bit squeamish about it, and it is their right not to give you any money if they don’t want to do that.”

Other than that, the idea is entirely logical, he suggests: “The whole point of a gift registry, originally, was that you were gifting household items to help a new couple set up. Now that most couples live together before getting married, they don’t need gifts for the home, so the concept is slightly outdated.”

If you do ask for cash, “guests must feel like they are giving money to something worthwhile, rather than just handing out cash, so honeymoon contributions are often popular,” says Bryant. “Guests may even give towards specific elements of the holiday – for example, a night’s hotel accommodation, car hire, a meal in a specific restaurant, diving expenses, ski passes etc. Couples can include a range of prices so guests can opt for something within their spending range.”

Do bear this in mind, however: “If you do have ‘means’, it is seen as rather jarring for a lot of Brits,” says Hanson. Best not to ask your friends to fund your private island honeymoon if you are an oligarch. 

Should you still expect your parents to pay?

There’s no hard and fast rule here, suggests Hanson, but there are important considerations: “I do suggest that if you have strong opinions about what your wedding is going to look like, it should be a crowdfunded operation, rather than one set of parents completely paying.” It is very hard to put your foot down and demand, say, a drum and bass rave after dinner, if your parents – more string-quartet-minded – are footing the bill.

Can you ban kids?

Sure, says Hanson: “Your wedding, your rules.” There are, however, some basic points of etiquette to observe if you do.

First: “You need to state that clearly on the invitation.”

Second: “You have got to be OK with your friends not coming to your wedding because of their childcare issues. So whilst it is your decision, you have to live with the consequences.” 

Third: “Stick to your guns and make sure that it’s one rule for everyone and there aren’t any exceptions.” Things can get ugly when little Olivia’s parents spend half the week’s salary on a babysitter, only to be seated next to a high chair at supper. 


Rules for the mother and father of the couple

Can modern fathers really still ‘give the bride away’? 

“Obviously this ‘giving away’ tradition goes back to a time when women were considered the property of men, and nobody in their right minds still believes that that is the case, because it isn’t!” says Hanson. “I personally don’t subscribe to the ‘giving away’ message – it’s quite outdated,” agrees Brennan-Brown. “But the tradition of having your father walk you down the aisle is something I find very sweet. It’s often a moment a lot of people look forward to.

Walking bride down the aisle


Credit: James Yates

“More and more, we’re seeing brides walk down the aisle with both parents or by themselves,” she says. “Twice in the last year, we’ve had the couple walk in together. I think the most important thing is you being comfortable. Don’t worry about the tradition.”

Should the groom’s parents put their hands in their pockets too?

Bad news if this is you, I’m afraid, because, says Hanson: “Yes, the groom’s parents should offer – but, as with anything, you only offer it if you actually can afford to and you only contribute if that offer is accepted.” 

“Weddings where the parents of the bride paid for the whole thing are now a rarity,” agrees Bryant. Contributions from the other side might come in the form of “a financial donation, or an offer to pay for an element of the day, for example the flowers, wine or transport”.

There is a glimmer of hope for parents, however: “Many weddings today see the couple paying for it themselves. This is especially true as couples are marrying later in life, and approaching the wedding with careers and salaries behind them,” says Bryant.

Should the parents still expect to be able to invite reams of their friends?

“It really should be the happy couple’s day, but if contributions are being made by parents on either side then yes, they should be able to invite their friends,” says Hanson. There is a line, however: “I think a general rule would be that the couple getting married should have met everybody invited. There shouldn’t be strangers at their wedding, so that they’re thinking, ‘Oh, who the heck are you?’ Unless, that is, they’re long-distance relatives and you haven’t met them for a very good reason.”

Where to put the step-parents?

“There are no hard and fast rules about who sits where, or takes which role,” says Dr Sandra Wheatley, a social psychologist at Potent Psychology, who has a special interest in families and relationships. “Your wedding plans should fit your family and its unique dynamics.” That said: “If there’s disagreement about details, the couple getting married should really get the final say. There may have been a time when the father of the bride’s word was final, but these days, especially since he’s unlikely to be footing the whole bill, the couple’s feelings come first.”

If, as the bride- and groom-to-be, you feel like your plans might be controversial, Dr Wheatley has the following advice: “This is one of those moments when the roles are reversed and you have to be the parents. Sit them down. Explain what’s expected of them. Hopefully they’ll be co-operative. If not, you might even tell them that it’s do it this way, or don’t come. Most parents will be horrified at the idea of missing a wedding.”

And if you are a parent, or step-parent, considering venting, or even simply displaying, your animosity towards another parent in this dynamic, Dr Wheatley has stern words: “The most remembered weddings are the ones where fights break out. Even if you’re just planning on being frosty, or obnoxious, it’s really worth considering that – as key members of the family – people are watching you. Behave badly, and it will be remembered and judged. It’s just one day. Take a deep breath and be polite.”

To hat or not to hat?

“It really depends on the style of the wedding,” says Bryant. That said, “it is a good idea for the mothers of the bride and groom to find out what each other is planning to wear, so neither is caught unexpectedly underdressed. That doesn’t mean to say they must both wear hats, but they can each make an informed personal decision.”


Rules for guests

Can you wear white? 

A unanimous response here. “Definitely not,” says Brennan-Brown. “Some couples might be cool with it, but it’s 100 per cent not worth the risk. This is a huge no-no in my book.”

“White in large quantities is still very taboo,” agrees Hanson, “particularly for girls and even for a same-sex wedding. It’s perhaps less of a taboo for a male same-sex wedding but it will always look bridal and it’s always going to have those connotations.”

Is it OK to take your phone out in the service, if it’s to take photos?

There’s really no need, so no excuse, suggests Hanson. “The couple have probably paid for a photographer, who is going to be getting much better photographs than anything that your phone can do,” he says. “So turn the phone off, don’t touch it and focus on what’s going on in front of you – which is the most important thing of the entire day.”

Photos of the bride and groom


Credit: James Yates

When can you post photos on social media?

“Be cautious of sharing pictures immediately,” says Bryant. Some couples ask for people to wait, or even not to share photos at all, so check and respect their wishes. Having said that, “most couples love seeing the bits they missed,” says Brennan-Brown. “So unless you’re told otherwise, the day after is absolutely fine. It gives everyone an opportunity to relive the day.”

Drunken heckling in speeches – banter or boorish?

Hanson’s feelings are clear and concise: “Boorish!” Bryant, though, says it is all about context and tone: “At most weddings, an occasional heckle with good humour and undertones of fondness is fine. The flip side is that lots of heckling can offend, embarrass or hijack the speeches and is therefore inappropriate.” If in doubt, zip it. 

Best men hitting on the bridesmaids – a relic of the bad old days?

“Yes,” says Hanson. “That’s all I need to say on that.”

How to handle a mid-service tantrum?

“As a dad and a vicar I have been on both sides of this coin,” says a member of the clergy who would prefer to remain anonymous, safe from both bishop and the betrothed. “Generally, if couples are happy to have kids at their wedding, they are aware that there might be a few extra noises during the service.” 

That said, when he is officiating a wedding, he begins, tactfully, by pointing out the lavatories and fire exits, but also “the kids’ corner, where parents can take their kids if they are getting upset. Otherwise, it could be a side chapel, or the back of the church.” How to judge whether your toddler’s vocalisations are verging on the problematic? If in doubt, move. “Taking full advantage of those spaces before kids go into full meltdown can really help,” says our reverend. As a parent and when a wedding guest, he himself has learnt to “load the nappy bag with a few quiet toys and less rustly snacks – it often helps distract them. And picking an end pew with an easy route to the door can really help ease your nerves.”


Rules for second-timers

White dress or not?

This is pretty simple, says Brennan-Brown: “You can wear whatever you like. White is bridal, and just because you’ve been a bride before, that doesn’t mean you’re not a bride again! However, there are so many gorgeous coloured and floral dresses available now, you might decide you want to do something to distinguish this wedding, and that’s very cool too.”

Wedding dress


Credit: James Yates

What about presents? 

It is more common not to have a full gift registry, second time round, says Bryant: “Donations to charity are a popular option, allowing for guests to give something if they wish, but not directly to the couple themselves.” That is not to say, however, that you mustn’t invite gifts, she says. 

The likelihood is, if someone is getting married for a second time, they’ve probably been through a lot of stress and upset,” says Brennan-Brown. “I’m sure spending another few quid on a gift to celebrate your friend finding happiness again is quite insignificant to most guests, in the grand scheme of things.”

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