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Etiquette, Expounded


Acknowledge your maid or matron of honor. A bridesmaid helps Megan Collins prepare for her wedding to Jason Spangler on October 11, 2008, at St. Edmond’s Roman Catholic Church in Rehoboth Beach. Photograph by Keith Mosher/KAMPRODUCTIONS.COMA warning to potential mothers of the brides: Your daughter’s wedding might not look anything like yours.

“The modern bride wants to be different,” says Casey Kieffer, co-owner of Make My Day Event Planning in Milford. “It’s not that tradition falls by the wayside, but every new generation of bride puts her stamp on things.”

That could mean anything from skipping the foie gras at a black-tie wedding and going with mac and cheese, like one of Kieffer’s brides did, or gliding down the aisle in a frothy minidress instead of long white satin.

But not everything changes.

“There are certain elements of the way things should be done,” Kieffer says, “and no matter how different a bride does things, these things stay the same.”

If you’re a bride-to-be or have an upcoming wedding to attend, brush up on your bridal etiquette. Your mother will be glad you did.

Give This Man A Hand

Prospective grooms should still ask his intended’s parents for her hand before he proposes. “This is a nice gesture, especially for the girl who’s close to her parents and wants to do things traditionally,” says Erin Proud, owner of Proud To Plan in Wilmington. She suggests the groom do so two to three months before the proposal. “If he’s worried about her parents ruining the surprise, it’s OK to ask closer to the actual proposal,” she says. If the parents live nearby, there is no excuse not to speak in person. If they live far away, a phone call is acceptable. If the parents embrace their daughter’s independent nature, Proud suggests tailoring the approach. “Ask for blessing, not permission.”  

Your Initial Response

“Many weddings are built around a theme, like the couple’s new monogram,” Kieffer says. “But the question becomes: Is it ok to send out information with our monogram on it if we’re not married yet?” Doing so could offend some, so a good rule of thumb is to use first initials only on save-the-date cards and other informal communication, such as inserts or a couple’s wedding web site. For the formal invitation, Kieffer says it’s appropriate to use new initials. And, of course, at the reception, a monogram is appropriate everywhere.

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Know Thy Role

What’s in a name? A lot when you’re in the wedding party. Traditionally speaking, the mother of the bride has a long to-do list. “She should help the bride find a gown, discuss budget, spread the word about the registry and call those on her side who are late RSVPing,” Proud says. Other duties include being available at the end of the night to take responsibility for the wedding gifts and the top cake layer. The mother of the groom has a similar role, and she should plan and host the rehearsal dinner.

The best man has it easy. “He should plan the bachelor party, toast the groom and hold the rings,” Proud says. As for the maid or matron of honor? In addition to the shower, toast and bachelorette party, “She should provide moral support the day of the wedding, ensure the bride’s gown and veil are fixed at the altar, understand how the gown bustles and make sure the bride’s belongings make it to the getaway car.” When it comes to gifting, Proud suggests that the bridal party decide as a group. “If the shower is under budget, a nice group gift is appropriate,” she says. “But if the budget goes over, then each girl can decide on her own without the stress of doing what all the other maids do.”

The Tipping Point

“You should know your package,” says Kristin Foster-Young, director of weddings at the Hotel du Pont. “That will be a helpful guide for when tipping is appropriate.” Though it used to be that everyone involved in the big day got a tip, from the band members or deejay to the bartenders, tipping is now usually included in the total price. If not, “You’ll want to tip,” Foster-Young says.  “Use your discretion. If a vendor went above and beyond, reward them for that.” If tipping is included in your package, Foster-Young says it’s acceptable to request that tip jars not be placed in front of the bar for guests.

Money Talks

“Flat out asking for money as a gift is a faux pas,” says Proud. “There is no untacky way of doing it”—especially not if done in writing. “If the bride prefers cash, this is best communicated by family spreading the world.” Heidi Kern of Entertain Me says the bride should consider those guests who might feel uncomfortable with giving cash. “Registering for a few small items will enable guests who are on a budget to give you something they know you want,” she says. All the planners who contributed to this article agree that registry information should be passed along the old fashioned way: by word of mouth only.   

The Cohabitation Factor

“Let’s face it, nowadays, more and more couples are living together before they get married,” Kern says. For hard-nosed traditionalists, it begs the question: Is a shower necessary? “The function of a shower used to be to prepare the woman to move in and set up house,” Kern says. “Obviously that’s not the case now.” Kern thinks it’s a mistake for a bride to forego a shower because of co-habitation. “It’s not about getting gifts,” she says. “Let’s not forget that. It’s about celebrating a huge event with the people she loves.” For brides who feel uncomfortable with having a shower—or simply don’t want one—there’s a quick fix. “Set up a themed shower instead,” Kern suggests. “Instead of a ‘real’ gift, everyone can bring a tea cup, for example.” For brides who have no qualms, proceed as normal. “It will come down to the guest’s choice on what to give.”

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Guest Relations

Of course, it’s the bride’s day, but she should consider her guests. “We’re big on agenda,” says Foster-Young. One of the biggest issues is the time line. “We understand that after the ceremony, getting great photos is important. But the bride should be punctual. If not, it throws everything off balance. The chefs are upset, the DJ is off-kilter, and guests, some of whom traveled to be there, are irate.” Speaking of traveling guests, Foster-Young says it’s appropriate to book hotels near train stations or airports to lessen the strain. “If your guests will be staying in town, it’s nice to provide them with information on things to do.”

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

Sure, e-mail is quick and effective, but not nearly as good as the real thing when it comes to thanking guests.
“Writing a personal message in a thank you card is an easy way to acknowledge a gift, and you should acknowledge a gift as soon as possible,” says Kieffer. She suggests getting the cards out within a month of the wedding. “Many brides will purchase monogrammed stationary to use as thank you notes,” she says. “However, if you receive a gift prior to the wedding, and that person can’t make it, it’s best to send them a note on other stationery.”

Made of Honor

No matter her official title, your maid or matron of honor is a crucial part of your wedding, so she should be acknowledged according to tradition. “In your programs, on your website, wherever you have this information, use the correct title,” Kieffer advises. “She is going to be singled out for multiple reasons throughout the day, so she should be addressed appropriately. (This could also save her some awkward conversations later if those guests who don’t know her speculate about her status.)

Kids and Plus-Ones

Your invites set the tone for your event. “If children aren’t invited, communicate that,” says Kern. An easy way is “adults-only reception.” “Your guests should know that if there are two adults and two children, and the invitation is addressed to the adults, then the children are not invited.” It is inevitable that a bride will get a response card with meals requested for children. “When this happens, whoever’s side of the family that particular guest is on, either the mother of the bride or groom should call them and say, ‘I’m sorry, but the reception is adults only.’”

For requests for non-invited plus-ones, “All you have to do is say, ‘I’m sorry, but due to space limitations at the site, I can’t have anymore guests,’” Kern says. “This will deter those who may say, ‘I’ll pay for the plate.’” 

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