Tweaking Tradition

The rules have been thrown out. You want what you want, and why not? But don’t forget everyone else. Herein, the new etiquette.

Talk about non-traditional. Maureen Botti and Leo H. Eschbach Jr., both of Lewes, married on October 31, 2009, at Nassau Valley Vineyards. That’s right—they tied the knot on Halloween. Photo by Angie Moon PhotographyOnce upon a time, wedding invitations came in white or ecru, the groom did not see the bride before the ceremony, and everyone knew and obeyed wedding etiquette. Times were simpler then.

Planning a wedding is more complicated these days. The traditional way is still a cultural touchstone, but brides-to-be feel freer to express their individual styles and tastes, and there is no longer any such thing as the “typical” family to accommodate.

Faced with competing tastes, financial needs and a strong desire to “do things right,” brides are increasingly turning to etiquette resources and experts to help tailor the rules in appropriate ways.

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“It used to be everything was cut and dried. You had these etiquette books and you stuck to it,” says wedding planner Litzie Clayton of Especial Day in Wilmington. Today etiquette is largely a matter of what the bride wants, she says.

Adding to the confusion is the plethora of etiquette resources. Emily Post became the guru in 1922 when her book, “Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home” was first published. Since then, the industry has ballooned. Coordinators, vendors, bridal magazines and Websites all provide different takes on such questions as who gets invited, who pays for what, how to introduce stepparents and can you use paper napkins with linen table cloths?

Be Our Guest

One of the greatest sources of anxiety is invitations, which form a perfect storm of propriety because they require deciding most of the big questions in one fell swoop: who to invite, who gets credit, how to address people, and whether to go traditional, contemporary or somewhere in between.

It’s a wonder a bride’s head doesn’t explode just thinking about it.

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For better or worse, “Invitations set the whole tone for the wedding,” Clayton says. Does the event require formal dress? Are children invited or is the reception for adults only? Who is hosting the event? The invitation should say.

Blended families can pose the biggest dilemmas, says Erin Proud of Proud to Plan in Wilmington. Modern brides must contend with multiple divorces and remarriages when figuring out who to honor and how to avoid hurt feelings. The biggest complication Proud ever handled was the decision to put five different names on an invitation to recognize all financial contributors, including parents, stepparents and ex-stepparents.

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Reia Nelson and  Brian Glanzel, of Newark, married September 9, 2009, at University and Whist Club in Wilmington. Photo by Keith Mosher/KamphotographyThen there’s the minutia of the invitation format. Traditionalists advise using genteel phrasings, spelling the word honor as “honour” and spelling out numerals in the time and date. Here brides can relax a little: Most invitation vendors and wedding coordinators can rattle off the rules in their sleep.

Wedding planners cringe when asked about the appropriateness of emailed invitations. Some say it’s never going to be acceptable. Others believe in never saying never, pointing to a desire to be environmentally conscious as well as the undeniable popularity of social media.

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Proud recently coordinated a paper-free wedding: no paper invitations, place cards, menus or programs. “I’m probably the only person who noticed anything was missing,” she says. But brides can also take green baby steps by scrapping the use of both an inner and outer envelope to save paper, Proud says.

Brides may want to know the proper way of doing things, but they also want to be creative and economical by doing things themselves, their way. For wedding coordinators and vendors, it can be hard to know where to start with clients.

Clayton starts by telling brides the traditional ways. Those traditions can be tweaked to make the event less formal and more intimate or to avoid hurt feelings. “You should never sacrifice anyone’s feelings for the sake of etiquette,” she says.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Beth Richards, owner of Fantasy Creations Event Planning in Claymont, agrees. “Try to get along and make everyone happy,” she says. Involving family and friends without stepping on toes or hurting feelings is the best way to ensure a happy day. Making everyone happy without jettisoning too much of the bride’s vision can be a challenge, Richards says, but, “If nobody gets along, that will be tough.”

Richards sees the most etiquette issues in interdenominational weddings because conflict can erupt over who sits where, who does what, and what religious or family traditions should be incorporated into the day.

Tension usually comes from misunderstanding, says Marie Cui, owner of J&M Wedding Creations in Newark. “People disagree for many reasons, but from my experience, disagreements come from [differing] perceptions,” she says.

For example, a mother-in-law may believe that the bride should carry a white or ivory bouquet because in her day, that was the tradition.

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“She firmly believes that is the proper color for a bridal bouquet,” Cui says. However, the bride has spent the past few years watching television shows such as “Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?” or “Platinum Weddings,” where brides show off their bouquet of green roses embellished with Swarovski crystals. Are the two generations going to clash? You bet. Does it have to get ugly? With a little understanding and tact, no.

The truth is that wedding traditions are highly influenced by trends, says Cui. Perhaps in another few decades, brides won’t feel they must wear white or ivory wedding gowns and paper invitations will be only a memory, she says.

What Would Emily Say?

Brides need to choose carefully when trying to accommodate family wishes. Compromising is a great solution, so it’s worth the effort, says Proud, who calls on Emily Post when she has etiquette questions. Family relationships will go on long after the reception is over.

Relationships with other wedding guests may or may not go on. Many guests are unaware of etiquette for behavior and dress, Proud says. “I don’t think they’re teaching etiquette in high school any more, and they really should.”

Considering how much work a bride puts into a wedding, deciding what’s appropriate for her event and keeping the families reasonably happy, being a guest is a piece of cake. And yet…

People do not know how to properly respond to wedding invitations, Proud says. They don’t realize they need to respond even if they aren’t attending or that they are only invited to bring whoever is listed on the invitation. That means no uninvited children or brand-new boyfriends.

Proper attire is another issue. “Showing up in jeans is a huge etiquette no-no,” says Proud. So are outfits that are too revealing or too casual.

Then there’s the wedding attendees’ behavior, which is often fueled by too much alcohol consumption. Fist-fights are not unheard of at receptions or after-parties. Some behavior is simply unexplainable, Proud says, recalling the time she witnessed a groomsman changing into his tux in the parking lot of the wedding ceremony venue.

It’s Your Day

So having all the have-to’s and must-do’s codified like they were in Emily Post’s day simply isn’t necessary anymore.

Etiquette is now a matter of convenience and clarity rather than mandates. Therefore, everyone involved in the wedding planning should be flexible when it comes to traditions. A bride with few single friends may opt to forego the bouquet and garter toss. The superstition that the groom should not see the bride before the ceremony may be ignored in favor of having more time for photos. Wedding coordinators often advise against receiving lines due to space and time considerations.

Little is set in stone, but a smart bride would do well to discuss her decisions with key wedding participants, not spring any surprises on anyone. The best etiquette of all: Be considerate of others’ feelings.

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