A Millennial's Guide To Wedding Guest Etiquette

by Megan Broussard

If there's something we millennials could probably stand to brush up on, it's the dos and don'ts of wedding rules and etiquette. C’mon, you have to admit it. On average, we’re a lot less aware of the nuances or unspoken rules about attending celebratory nuptial events than our parents. I can hear my Cajun mom now: “You’re wearing what? Red? Don’t you know what that means?! You bettah change.” In case you’re wondering, wearing red is a silent, scandalous message Southerners hear loud and clear. Apparently, it means you’ve slept with the groom. How was I supposed to know that?

I’m not just ragging on our behavior in the pews and on the reception hall dance floor. I’m talking about everything from knowing what to do regarding the RSVP and open bar to knowing the rules of gift-giving and when it's appropriate selfie time. Yes, there is a time and place for even the MOH selfie.

Look, you don't have to be all uptight and traditional just because you're at a wedding — these things are supposed to be fun, people. But sometimes, knowing exactly what to do and when can be tricky, even with the most laid back of weddings. In need of a quick refresher? Here are a few things to keep in mind when attending a wedding.

1. When and how you should RSVP

RSVP stands for the French phrase “respondez s’il vous plait,” which means "please respond" in English. When you receive an invitation with a request to RSVP, you are expected to provide a timely response using the means of communication specifically noted in the invitation. For example, if the invitation asks you to confirm via phone and provides a phone number, it is best to call and confirm, not just shoot a text.

Don't think that if you are great friends with the bride and groom, and that because you talk about the wedding events on a regular basis, you are automatically confirmed (I've totally been guilty of this). Many times, specifically for parties and showers, family members and other friends are hosting, and may not know you. If you don't remember to RSVP in the proper way requested, you won't make the list, and you won't be well-received when you show up unannounced. Why you ask? Well, think about the time, money, and work required of the host per person in attendance. Each person represents a certain amount of food, drinks, and party favors that need planning and budgeting. So you see, one more person means more than that. It means a big monkey wrench in an already stressful situation for the host.

2. What to wear and when

It's worse to be underdressed for a wedding than to be over-dressed. If the event is described as casual, still dress to impress with a more polished casual look. Still not sure what to wear? Ask the bride! Leave white and shades of off-white, cream, and ivory to the bride only. It's not your day to make a statement. It's the bride's. Why not give her the attention she deserves on her special day?

3. What time to arrive

On average, weddings tend to run late. But, you shouldn't bank on that when attending a wedding. All guests should plan to arrive at the ceremony for seating 20 to 30 minutes early.

4. How much you are allowed to drink at the open bar

Here's the litmus test on whether or not what you're doing with the open bar is appropriate: would you take shot after shot, grinding on someone else's husband, high-fiving your grandma while yelling expletives over the radio-edited rap song playing overhead? I'm gonna go with no. So, whatever amount of alcohol gets you to that level, make note of that number, and avoid getting near it.

5. What to do if you have to back out at the last minute

The only time it’s acceptable to change your plans to attend is if you are sick or have a death in the family. Period. On the other hand, if you originally declined the invitation because of a scheduling conflict that is no longer an issue, it is perfectly fine to find out from the host/hostess if it’s all right to change your regret to an accept. The result will be solely up to the the host/hostess. Do not assume you can just show up.

6. To gift or not to gift

This one is easy peasy. The couple sets up a registry, and all you have to do is pick something off of the list in your budget for the gift. This is one of those rare times when it's actually preferred that you buy something the couple explicitly wants. No need for surprises, unless you know the couple extremely well.

If you're not planning on attending the wedding and are considered a good friend or good acquaintance, it's best to err on the side of caution and send a gift from the registry to avoid hurt feelings.

7. When you should bring a plus-one

You are only allowed to bring a date or a plus-one if you are offered to via the written invitation. If the RSVP request doesn't ask you to bring a guest, then you shouldn't. Remember, the host/hostess has a budget and planning requirements which may not allow for much flexibility in the guest list. An extra, unexpected person means that there won't be a place-setting ready, or food available.

8. When you should make a speech

You should only make an impromptu speech at the engagement party or rehearsal dinner. On the actual wedding day, speeches are usually only reserved for the wedding party and family. As the best man or maid of honor, you may be expected to give a speech, and this is not the time to wing it. Write it down and practice reading it out loud before the event to people who will tell you the truth if something is inappropriate or awkward or confusing. Bring a copy of your speech with you on the big day to refer to (you never know if your nerves will make you go dark).

And, avoid the following wedding speech topics: exes (especially ex-husbands and ex-wives — the "three time's a charm" comment is not funny), wild nights you know the couple shared (her great aunt probably wouldn't appreciate the time the couple got kicked out of a bar for having sex in the bathroom), and any family issues, even if you reference it in a positive way (e.g. "I know the bride and her mom have a rocky relationship, but I'm glad she could show up this time to show her support!"). Yeah, let's just not.

9. Tech dos and don't-you-dares

A wedding is more important than a blockbuster debut on Christmas Day. What I mean by this is that putting your phone on silent is important in the movie theater, but turning your phone off completely in the chapel is even more important. Chill on the texting and 'gramming until after the service. Your followers aren't going anywhere.

10. There's posing, and then there's posing a problem

Picture this. The videographer and photographer are floating around the room. Their purpose is to capture the happy couple in all of their special-day traditions: the cutting of the cake, the first dance, the bouquet toss, and more. They are not there to follow you around taking pics with you in the center of the bride's family (to show off that you know them better or longer than anyone else in attendance), your sorority sisters, the cute wedding band guitarist you hooked up with the night before, or your drunken historical account of the day you and your dear friend, the current bride, met in kindergarten. How mortifying when the bride, groom, and their families watch the video of, well, you.

It's OK to request a few photos from the photographer and to share one video message with the videographer, but for the rest of the time, let them find you.

Sound good? Great. Now let's get out there, and show Generation X and all those Baby Boomers that we can do right by the wedding rules.

Images: Brian Wolfe/Flickr; Giphy