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7 ways to win the award for 'Best Wedding Guest Ever'

We’re not saying that being a wedding guest is necessarily a competition, but if it is... you need to bring your A-game.
Part of that is making sure your wedding manners are in tip-top shape, because being an amazing guest is an art. That’s right, there’s more to attending a wedding than picking out a dress, and rocking up for an open bar and '90s soundtrack dance-off. Taking out the gong for ‘Best Guest Ever’ means dusting off your good manners and knowing the dos and don'ts of guest etiquette. Sounds daunting, right? That’s why we went to the experts: three etiquette gurus who've dished on everything from the proper way to decline an invitation, how (if at all) you ask for a plus-one and how to tackle gift-giving. You can thank us in your acceptance speech. 

Declining an invitation without saying 'something suddenly came up'...

The dos
If you can’t make a wedding, all you have to do is respond through the medium specified on the invitation – email, text message or carrier pigeon – and be as positive as you can. “You are not obligated to provide an excuse, but if they are close friends it definitely softens the blow, so a ‘due to previous engagement’ is a good option,” says Anna Musson, founder of The Good Manners Company. “Remember you may see them before the wedding and they may ask why you can’t make it, so it’s important to be truthful and be sure your partner is saying the same thing!” 

The don'ts
Forget elaborate stories and tall tales that would make Pinocchio blush, keeping your response simple and straight to the point is not only totally fine, but there's also no chance of you getting caught out down the track. This goes for whether you have a legitimate reason or not. Make your reply polite, prompt and, if you don’t want to (rather than can’t) attend, avoid telling too many porky-pies. 

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Let the couple know you're actually attending...

The dos
Once you’ve checked your calendar to make sure you’re free, the next step after receiving an invitation is to RSVP – or respondez-vous s’il vous plait if we’re being posh. “It is imperative to RSVP, and the sooner, the better,” says Zarife Hardy from The Australian School of Etiquette. “When people are spending money organising an event or wedding, they are working within a budget and timeframe – be respectful of that.” If there is no RSVP card with the invitation, sending a card or letter within a week of receiving it is a good alternative.

The don'ts
We get it, sometimes you just don’t know if you’ll be able to attend a wedding. You might already have loosely-organised plans, be on call for work or crossing your fingers you’ll win tickets to that music festival. If that's the case it's always better to say you won’t be able to make it sooner rather than later. If your plans do change, you can then approach the couple about attending. 

Avoid reenacting a scene from 'Wedding Crashers'...

The dos
So you’ve got a new bae and think taking them along to that wedding would be the perfect way to introduce them around - not to mention seeing them suit up. Surely asking the bride and groom for a plus-one, even though there wasn’t one on the invitation, wouldn’t hurt, right? Nuh-uh. A wedding isn’t like a backyard barbecue where 'the more the merrier' approach is in play (especially when the bill is being footed by the couple). “The bride and groom almost always have to cut back on their guest list, either because of space limitations at the reception centre or because of the cost, so for a guest to ask if they can bring a partner is very rude,” explains Treska Roden from Sydney School of Etiquette. Unless you’re related or besties with the couple, asking for or hinting about a plus-one is an etiquette no-no. 

The don'ts
Turning up to a wedding arm-in-arm (or hand-in-hand) with someone who wasn’t invited is plain bad manners. Springing a surprise guest on the bride and groom is a one-way ticket to ticking off the newlyweds, especially if your beau is hanging around for the reception, so leave them at home for this one.

Dress to impress (but not too much)...

The dos
You’ve probably heard your mum say, “It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed,” and that couldn’t be more true than at a wedding. Turning up to a ceremony in a casual sundress when everyone else is in their cocktail frocks has the makings of a cringeworthy moment from a Hollywood rom-com. The easiest way to suss out what you should (and shouldn’t) wear is the invitation, both the design of it and the information printed. “A formal invitation to an evening wedding indicates that you will definitely dress up,” Treska explains. “An informal invitation to a noon wedding tells you the affair is either informal or casual.” Other factors you should consider before picking your outfit are more practical: the weather forecast, the nature of the service – if it’s secular or religious, you may have to cover your shoulders and knees – and what the bridal party will be wearing. If you're still unsure, just ask. 

The don'ts
It’s an age-old adage that guests should never wear white to a wedding, but thanks to the likes of Beyoncé, Cara Delevingne and Pippa Middleton, that’s not always the case. And even though Solange and Poppy were cool with their ‘maids and guests in white, don’t assume every couple is – upstaging the bride probably won’t end well, so ask the bridesmaids first. “No guest should dress in a manner that will outshine the bride and the groom,” Treska says. To avoid a fashion faux pas, ladies should avoid flashing too much skin, shorts and thongs; boys, steer clear of donning loud, bright colours and wearing a hat or sunglasses inside. 

Think before going on a sharing spree...

The dos
About to hit the ‘post’ button on that cute shot from your friend’s wedding? Before you do, make sure the couple is fine with you sharing their wedding photos; the bride and groom may want to be the first to post their happy snaps. Some couples are banning social media on their big day, and confiscating requesting that guests surrender their smartphones at the ceremony. “It is preferable to wait until the event is over before uploading any photographs onto social media,” Zarife suggests. “If you are uploading, be very respectful of what the images are of.” 

The don'ts
Avoid becoming too upload-happy and flooding your Facebook timeline with photos, especially if you have followers that weren’t invited to the wedding. If the couple have told you they have a hashtag for the big day, it’s acceptable to upload some photos but don’t go overboard – you don’t want to be that guest who spent the wedding sifting between Mayfair or Juno filters, rather than joining in on the celebration. Sure, take some snaps, but remember that there'll be a professional photographer on the day, so you won't miss out on any of those 'aww' moments. 

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Give a gift that has meaning, not a hefty price-tag...

The dos
It’s time for a truth bomb: the myth that guests have to give a gift that's equal to the cost of their meal at the reception is just total nonsense. The only thing you need to consider when budgeting for a wedding gift is how much you feel comfortable giving, says Anna. When you’ve chosen a gift, have it delivered to the couple’s or bride’s parents’ home before the wedding. “The bride and groom don’t arrive to their wedding in a minivan, so it’s better to deliver the gift than bring it to the reception if possible,” Anna recommends. “It’s also acceptable to have it delivered after the wedding. You officially have 12 months, however it’s not great form to leave it that long.” For pre-wedding events like engagement parties, bridal showers and hen’s celebrations where gifts are also expected, a small gift (and we mean small, like a wooden spoon at the kitchen tea) is a polite gesture. 

The don'ts
Don’t feel pressured to go into debt for a wedding – the value of a gift is the thought behind it, not its monetary value. The amount you choose to spend on a gift shouldn’t have you living on eggs on toast until your next pay day. You also don’t have to buy a gift off a registry, but if you do, it’s worth shopping around and seeing if other stores offer the same item at a cheaper price. This can be a clever way to save money, and all you have to do is ring the registry and tell them to cross that item off the list. Easy!

Don't become the cautionary tale...

The dos
“Be supportive and keep it classy,” Anna says simply. 

The don'ts
Our three etiquette experts all agree that popping the question at someone else’s wedding is definitely not on. “It is totally inappropriate for another couple to propose at a wedding – the day belongs to the bride and groom, and guests are there to celebrate their special day,” Treska advises. Likewise, drawing too much attention to yourself by being too rowdy, too drunk or pulling a Kanye and taking over the speeches should be avoided. 

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