Wedding EtiquetteAfter castigating all potential partygoers for thinking RSVPs are just an old-fashioned, cultural artifact (they aren't!), I have a public confession to make. Although I'm rather a student of formal etiquette (and an enormous fan of Judith Martin!), I don't follow nearly all of it. In fact, sometimes I openly mock it. Yes, I said it.

Etiquette is relative and changes from time period to time period and culture to culture. (Do you wash your guests' feet or use calling cards?) What is considered “right” is often based on nothing more than repetition.

While I don't ignore standard practice just for the sake of thumbing my nose at society, I believe sometimes common sense takes a back seat to manmade rules — and most of the time, that just shouldn't be so! I believe etiquette rules and regulations should be analyzed rather than just followed in lockstep. If they have negative consequences or just don't make sense, think about eliminating them from your personal “rule book.”

As our family's first wedding since Sam and I tied the knot in 1985 approaches, I'm once again bombarded by rules. And we have to decide which conventions make sense to follow — and which don't.

Emily Post's Etiquette: A Guide to Modern Manners has an entire chapter on wedding manners. In my edition (14th), that's 101 pages. Not as bad as the tax code, but certainly lengthy enough to be bothersome. And enough to make me wonder who had the free time required to sit around deciding how everyone else should get married.

Anyway, I already told you that Mormon weddings are different. Because of that, we've gotten away with dodging a lot of the “requirements.” Still, brushing up on my wedding etiquette, there are some interesting items to discuss.

Groom's Parents Meet Bride's Parents

Chuck's folks followed this rule to the tee. They called us last year when they would be in town and arranged a restaurant dinner get together. They are great people and it was nice to meet them. And I'm sure glad this wasn't our responsibility, because I'd completely forgotten about it!

Engagement Ring

Post has a section about engagement rings and what types of stones are correct. Jessica has a gorgeous diamond ring, but I can't for the life of me figure out why we need to tell people what stones will work. She says:

An aquamarine is first choice as a solitaire diamond's substitute.

Really? Isn't this a matter of opinion?

Wedding Ring

The wedding ring is a requirement of the marriage service.

Yea, I know it's tradition, but “requirement”? Why are we elevating jewelry this way?

Wedding Party Attire

Etiquette pairs a long white wedding dress only with a tuxedo, tailcoat, or cutaway, depending on the formality of the event. But we are having a long white gown, with a new dark business suit.

While looking for tuxes to rent, the groom kept having a problem finding on that was both tall enough and thin enough. But a handsome custom-fit suit solved all the problems. Why should a rule book dictate otherwise?

Engraved Invitations

Formal and semi-formal weddings require engraved invitations. Informal weddings allow three choices:

  1. Handwritten
  2. Telephone
  3. Engraved

When we were married, Sam and I had thermography invitations. That's basically a raised letter print that is a fake engraving. Not good enough according to proper wedding etiquette, but it didn't doom our marriage.

Almost every invitation I've received in the past couple of years has been a double-sided postcard design. These have either full color on both sides or color on one side and greyscale on the other. They may not be proper, but I think they're beautiful and give some insight into the personalities of the brides and grooms.

After much ado and going back and forth, Jessica (with her graphic design minor and expertise) decided to design them herself. I'll blog about what she came up with later, but suffice it to say they are definitely not engraved. But I've already heard a number of compliments on them.

Wording on Invitations

Etiquette-savvy wedding invitations would use the following wording:

Mr. and Mrs. Samuel McArthur Smith

request the honour of your presence

at the marriage of their daughter

Jessica Moore


Mr. Charles Howard Richard IV


This tradition bothers me for a number of reasons. I'll start at the top.

  • I am actually a living, breathing person with friends and colleagues. Some of those I know would actually have no idea who these people are because they know me, but not my husband. And they know me as Alison Moore Smith.
  • The bride is “supposed” to use her first and middle name, with no title. But because Jessica's middle name is my maiden name (a tradition from her dad's side), it looks like a first and last name, almost like she's divorced or something. Some people might not even connect her name to Jessica Smith, because they'd think “Jessica Moore” is the full name.
  • Groom's name with title, bride's name without. Like women are babies until they are married. Can we move on from that please?
  • Groom's parents not even listed! Of course, in our case, the groom's dad is a III, but in many cases, how would the groom's family's friends know who the invitation was coming from?

This is one case where I think wedding etiquette has outlived it's usefulness entirely. Sacrificing clarity for the sake of tradition isn't smart.

Mailing the Wedding Invitations

Invitations should arrive four weeks before a wedding. While it's true that this length of time is rare among cultural Mormons (I just received an LDS invitation yesterday that is for an April 21 wedding), it's certainly not a bad idea to give people time to plan.

Ours went out a bit more than two weeks in advance. Ahem. But I tried. With the bride and groom in the midst of heavy college classes, getting the details nailed down took much longer than expected. Embarrassing, yes, but we'll survive.

Demand for Gifts?

According to formal wedding etiquette, invitations to a reception “do carry an obligation…the receiver is expected to send a gift.” The recommendation is, therefore, to send invitations to the wedding itself — or some other form of non-reception related announcement — to those who could not reasonably attend.

In a Mormon wedding, only a few are ever invited to the temple ceremony. I think the largest “sealing” rooms for weddings hold about 50 guests. And there is no secondary printed announcement. So neither of those ideas really works.

That aside, common sense says to me that you can't demand gifts from people. They will send a gift if they feel inclined, otherwise not.

When we married, an elderly gentleman sent us a beautiful, carefully selected card and wrote us a sweet note. No gift. No money. It is still something I treasure. It was so nice I wrote him a thank you note for it. (Was that a breach of etiquette?!)

Addressing Wedding Invitation Envelopes

Wedding etiquette requires breaking all the rules the post office suggests for optimal mail delivery. For example:

  • All addresses must be hand written in calligraphy
  • No abbreviations except for Mr. and Mrs.
  • Leave off return address

Handwriting is much more variable than print and harder for the Post Office machines to read. Calligraphy adds another layer of difficulty. USPS recommends particular abbreviations, as they aid in the automated coding that gets your mail where it needs to go quicker. Return addresses are crucial to know who did not get the intended invitation. (We didn't use calligraphy and we did have a return address printed on the back flap in the same font as the invitation.)

In other words, I think these rules are utter nonsense. Not just out-of-date, but actually cause problems with the delivery process.

Still, we wrote them all out by hand and substituted really long (handwritten!) words like Boulevard and Massachusetts for neat, tidy abbreviations like BLVD and MA. We ignored the advice of the delivery service for the sake of a convention devised before the Pony Express took to the trails. We've already had a handful of (correctly addressed) invitations returned, which will have to be readdressed and resent.

Oh, well. I wasn't ready offend potential guests with our tackiness just to take a stand for logic. Maybe when Belinda ties the knot.

Wedding Registry

Emily is clear:

Do include registry information on a separate sheet in the envelope with the shower invitation, but not on the invitation itself.

When we registered at ZCMI in 1985 my mother hammered this into me. I know it clean through to the bone. Don't do it. Don't do it. Don't do it. Tacky. Tacky. Tacky. Leave that information to “word of mouth.”

Still, for the past nearly 30 years I've been receiving wedding invitations, I have always appreciated knowing (without extra effort — like finding a connected mouth giving the word) where the couple is registered so that I can select a gift there if I so choose.

In fact, the few times — and maybe I just have reams of totally tacky friends (possible!), but it's become fewer and fewer over my adult life — I did not receive this information with the invitation, I found it really annoying to have to track down a phone number or email address to dig up the information.

While I couldn't disrespect my mother so much by putting it directly on the invitation, I compromised my upbringing with what I actually find to be a courtesy. We put a little insert into the envelope that included some receptions details and a mention of the registries.

Shoot me. I personally appreciate the convenience. Hopefully recipients won't be aghast at our boorish behavior.

Division of Wedding Expenses

You will find as many “correct” expense lists as you will find sources. It can be tricky. When the kids got engaged, I searched a couple of dozen sources and created an amalgamation of those lists that seemed most common. I'll post that list in a later post.

Wedding Cake

Traditional wedding cakes were fruit cake. Thank heaven's that tradition died out with the corset.

As of just a few years ago, wedding cakes were “almost always white cake or pound cake.” Of course, there is nothing wrong with a respectable white wedding cake. But it was the only sad moment of my wedding when I found no one locally back in the 80s made chocolate wedding cake. And Sam would have died for a really good carrot cake.

Again, this tradition seems to (thankfully!) be moving to extinction. Why shouldn't the cake be made of the flavors the couple loves?

Emily Post goes on to say that wedding cakes is covered in white icing, although “the flowers and curlicues need not be white.” I think she would be shocked at some of today's popular, bright, overflowing with personality cakes.

Etiquette is meant to make life easier…not to impose unnecessary or impractical rules…