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Wedding Etiquette: Then and Now

Photo: Jeff Greenough

If you’re getting remarried, you may find yourself wondering what rules have changed since the last time you said, “I do.” Here’s a look at wedding etiquette then and now:

Then: There was no dress code other than “formal” for brides and grooms heading to the altar, and the same went for their guests.
Now: Attire can be completely informal (think casual summer dress for the bride and linen pants for the groom). A bride can wear whatever she’d like at her wedding (in whatever color) and her groom can follow suit. But the couple still decides on the dress code for the event -- making a mention of it on the invitations with the expectation that their guests will obey.

Then: Wedding registries were regarded as completely greedy and self-involved and were used primarily to indicate to friends and family what china patterns the couple had selected at their local department store.
Now: Here’s one etiquette rule that’s done a complete 180. Most often your guests will expect you to register for gifts. Not registering for anything would actually be more questionable these days, though completely acceptable if that’s what you wish.

Then: Putting registry information or requests for cash on wedding stationery of any kind was unacceptable.
Now: It still is. Even if you want to insist that your guests don’t buy gifts, the invitation isn’t the proper place to do so. The same goes for cash requests. No matter how practical you think it is, you can come off looking as if you're charging admission to your wedding. (This includes registry information -- let it spread by word of mouth or through a subtle mention on your wedding website.) If you’re interested in receiving cash or something very specific, consider setting up a lifestyle registry or alternative registry that will help clue in your guests.

Then: You wouldn’t invite someone to your shower who wasn’t invited to your wedding.
Now: It’s only acceptable to have different guest lists if you’re throwing an office shower or having a very intimate destination wedding. Since guests will have to bring presents to the shower, it could look like you're trying to collect gifts from them even though they’re not welcome at the main event.

Then: After attending a wedding and purchasing a gift for the couple, guests expected to receive a thank-you note as close to the wedding date as possible.
Now: It’s a must that you write thank-you notes to everyone who attended your wedding. There is a little more leeway regarding how soon guests expect to receive them. It’s becoming more commonly understood that this is something that won’t happen overnight -- especially with more and more couples taking longer honeymoons or planning other family time postwedding. These days, you have between one and three months to send thank-you notes before it’s considered rude or neglectful.

Then: Guests received invitations and wrote back on their own stating whether or not they would attend.
Now: Save-the-dates, though still a fairly new form of wedding stationery, have become more common because weddings now tend to require more traveling and planning (especially with the increased popularity of destination weddings and holiday weddings). Save-the-dates are to be sent out before the invitations to give guests as much time to plan as possible, and to help the bride and groom get an idea of what their final guest count will be. In addition, guests will likely expect to see a response card in the invitation suite and might feel inconvenienced if they have to supply their own reply stationery and postage.

Then: The bride’s family paid for all wedding expenses.
Now: There are no rules about who pays for what as long as everyone keeps in mind the central rule that no one should have to put up more money than they’re comfortable spending. You don't need to go into debt to get married, and often very close friends and other family members will offer to help pick up costs for prewedding parties and extra unexpected expenses (tux rental late fees, extra favor bags, etc.).

Special thanks to Elise Mac Adam, author of Something New: Wedding Etiquette for Rule Breakers, Traditionalists, and Everyone in Between

-- Charli Penn

See More: Remarriage , Etiquette