Your Guide to Etiquette as a Wedding Guest

Find out what's considered proper behavior when attending a wedding.

While the social graces in place for wedding guests may be plentiful, they are also fairly easy to follow, especially if you follow our tips.

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Photo: KT Merry Photography

When a couple gets engaged, they often find themselves having to research wedding etiquette and social expectations in order to avoid offending anyone. There are many issues regarding who to invite to what events, how to handle your bridal party, when to send thank-you notes, and so much more; however, wedding-etiquette rules go both ways, and those attending the wedding should be sure to not do anything to ruin the day of the happy couple.

Most breaches of wedding etiquette by guests are unintentional and due to ignorance, not malice. Though that being said, nobody wants to be looked upon as rude or tacky by the couple or the other wedding guests. While the social graces in place for wedding guests may be plentiful, they are also fairly easy to follow, especially if you follow our tips. As with anything, it's also helpful to put yourself in the couple's shoes to determine what would be appropriate behavior at your own celebration.

Take a look at our 15 pieces of advice for wedding-guest etiquette, below!

Follow the Invitation

Only bring a guest if your invitation denotes you have a plus one. Think of it this way: you are asking the couple to pay for another person, one they likely don't know. In most cases, you will know other people attending the wedding. If you don't have a plus one, ask around if you want to carpool or split a hotel room.

Child-Free or Child-Friendly?

If your children aren't listed on the wedding invitation, don't bring them. It's that simple. If you are unable to make childcare arrangements, you are free to decline the invitation. Oftentimes, couples decide that they want to have a child-free wedding to keep the level of formality high; however, other times, there simply just wasn't enough room at the venue to invite children.

RSVP On Time

This is one of the most common etiquette faux pas committed by wedding guests. With everything on the couple's to-do list leading up to the wedding, you don't want them to have to track down every guest's response to the invitation. RSVP not just by the date provided, but as soon as you know whether or not you will be attending the celebration.

Share Any Restrictions

Let the couple know if you have any dietary restrictions as soon as possible, so they can coordinate with the caterers. Note: This applies to restrictions such as allergies, intolerances, or you are a strict vegetarian or vegan – not the fad diet of the moment. Oftentimes, the couple will request this with the RSVP, but if not, make sure you let them know privately.

Don't Wear White

Though the rules on wearing shades of white and ivory have loosened over the years, it's still frowned upon. Even if the bride says she doesn't mind, other wedding guests will assume the worst. It's better to just wear a different ensemble. Also, be aware of blush and pale blue, as colorful dresses for brides are becoming more common. You can always check with the bride or a bridesmaid if you're unsure.

Be Mindful of the Photographer

Never get in a photographer's shot. Even if the bride and groom are not having an unplugged wedding, it's uncouth to have your phone out during the ceremony. Even during the reception, unless the couple has posted encouraging signs about their wedding hashtag, don't post photos online until the newlyweds have. In fact, even if they do have a sign, it's probably better to save the photos for the next day unless it's made clear otherwise.

Think Ahead

If you purchase a larger gift for the bride and groom, be considerate and have it shipped directly to the couple. This is especially true for destination weddings or celebrations far from the pair's home. Remember, the couple has to figure out how to get everything back home!

Be On Time

Arrive before the ceremony start time, as the time on the invitation is when the wedding will actually start. You should already be seated when it begins – this is not the time to be fashionably late. If you're worried about what to do if you arrive too early, read these tips for entertaining yourself when you're too early to a wedding.

Unplug for the Day

Especially for the wedding ceremony, it's very important that a loud text, alarm, or phone call does not impact the proceedings. Turn your phone off, or at the very least make sure it is 100% on silent. Whether or not the couple is having an unplugged wedding, it's the courteous thing to do.

Follow the Dress Code

Pick your outfit according to the level of formality detailed by the dress code. Not only does a casual look seem disrespectful for a formal fête, but if the wedding is more laid-back, you will stand out if you are dressed too formally. If the dress code isn't formally stated, look to the formality of the invitation and venue as a guide.

Stay In Control

Don't go too far with the open bar – you don't want to make a scene. If you're prone to having a little too much fun at the wedding bar, consider having one alcoholic drink followed by a glass of water.

Have Fun

If you really want to make the couple happy on their wedding day, participate! Get on the dance floor, use their photo booth, and sign their guest book. They worked hard to ensure there was enough entertainment for their friends and family to enjoy, so use what is offered and have some fun!

Be Courteous

Don't hog time with the couple. Remember that the room is full of their loved ones, all of whom want to spend time with the newlyweds. Though it can be tempting to chat with them for a considerable amount of time, keep in mind that they have many friends and family to mingle with – and celebrate their new marriage just the two of them as well.

Don't Leave Too Early

It's wedding etiquette to not leave the celebration before the cake is cut. The moment is generally accepted as a subtle signal that it’s okay to depart if you’re not going to dance all night, or you have small children at home that you need to get back to after the festivities.

Take a Wedding Favor

If there are wedding favors provided, be sure to grab them. Even if you're not interested in the trinket, think how the couple will feel if their carefully thought-out favors are all left behind.

Find more wedding etiquette tips, and find out if you're allowed to wear black to a wedding!

Opening photo by KT Merry Photography; Entertainment by EastCoast Entertainment; Planning & Design by Posh Parties; Venue: The Breakers; From Real Wedding: A Dreamy Luxury Wedding with White Décor + Greenery in Palm Beach, Florida