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You know not to show up wearing jeans and a tee (we hope!), but there are other nonnegotiables when it comes to being a good wedding guest. Here’s a quick etiquette cheat sheet on how to charm the bride and groom -- and earn a VIP pass to future fetes.
Photography: Ampersand Studios2 of 16
R.S.V.P. on Time
Wedding invitations are sent six to eight weeks in advance and usually ask that you R.S.V.P. four weeks before the red-letter date. So when you get one, don’t stash the reply card out of sight, thinking, “I have tons of time.” Do that, and you’ll probably forget all about it. Here’s why timely R.S.V.P.s are a big deal: Vendors require a final head count a few weeks ahead of time to make sure there’s enough seating and food available. Sneak in your R.S.V.P. past the deadline, and you’re making several people scramble last-minute to accommodate you.
For the Bride: How to Handle Late R.S.V.P.s
Photography: Jen Huang3 of 16
Never Add Your Own Plus-One
Trust us, every couple goes through a painstaking process of deciding how many people they can have at their wedding. So if yours is the only name that appears on the envelope, then you are the only one invited, period. If the couple intends for you to bring along a date, the envelope will read “Ms. Jane Doe and Guest.”
For the Bride: When to Invite Plus-Ones
Photography: Lang Thomas Photography4 of 16
Don't Assume Kids Are Welcome
Because it’s considered bad etiquette, a couple usually won’t flat-out write “adults only” on their invites. Instead, the onus is on you to interpret the wording on the envelope. If it’s addressed to “The Doe Family” on the outside, or if the names of you and your children are listed individually on the inner envelope, you are free to roll with an entourage. If not, hire a babysitter and leave the tykes at home.
For the Bride: Inviting "Adults Only"
Photography: Charlie Juliet Photography5 of 16
Make Diet Restrictions Known Early
Sometimes an R.S.V.P. card, in addition to listing meal options, will include a space for you to write in any allergies or food restrictions you might have. If the one you received doesn’t, it is up to you to contact the couple directly and let them know of your severe nut allergy or gluten intolerance. With enough notice, it’s not a big deal for a caterer to arrange an alternative for you. What is a big deal? Demanding on the day of that your alfredo be prepared sans cream and cheese.
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Photography: Jose Villa6 of 16
Arrive on Time
Making an entrance after the bride is not acceptable. Plan to be in your seat 30 minutes before official showtime. If there is an unforeseen obstacle preventing you from getting to the ceremony on time -- heavy traffic, late babysitter, wardrobe malfunction (they do happen!) -- never interrupt a ceremony service. Wait until the I do's are done and guests have left their seats to join the celebration.
Photography: Trevor Dixon7 of 16
Look the Part
A formal or casual dress code is self-explanatory. For everything in between -- yes, “creative black tie” really is a thing! -- refer to our guide on wedding-guest attire. And a note for the ladies: No matter the day’s fashion guidelines, use common sense when choosing footwear for an outside event. Otherwise, you might find your stilettos sinking into muddy grass or sand with every well-heeled step you take.
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Wait to Be Seated
Most ceremonies reserve the first rows of seating for the bridal party, immediate family, and grandparents. So unless you’re one of them, look to the ushers for guidance.
For the Bride: Ceremony Seating 101
Photography: Genevieve de Manio Photography9 of 16
Respect the Bridal Suite
The room where the bride gets ready before the ceremony is often off-limits. Most of the time, there is a sign on the door requesting privacy or an usher nearby to keep the area clear. But even if there isn’t, resist the urge to pop in for a quick hello. The bride will be busy prepping for her aisle debut. Plus, you’ll have her full attention after the ceremony to offer your congratulations.
Photography: Chrisman Studios10 of 16
Don't Play Paparazzi
Just as your phone can be a major distraction to you throughout the day, it’s going to be doubly so for a bride and groom at their ceremony. The couple wants to look out and see your smiling faces -- not the back of your phone or, even worse, your iPad -- beaming back at them. Unless otherwise instructed, keep phones and all cameras out of sight until the reception.
For the Bride: How to Request "No Photos"
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Photography: Scott Clark Photo11 of 16
Keep It Offline
#truth: Just because you’re happily snapping away at the reception doesn’t mean that the bride and groom want their faces plastered all over the Web. However tempting it is to show off your friends’ new good fortune, don’t post photos or videos of their wedding to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social-media site has yet to dominate in the future. Many couples now include notes on their website or in their programs to this effect, but if they don’t, err on the side of caution and ask the couple postwedding what they prefer.
Photography: Harrison Studio12 of 16
Be a Team Player
Is there a coat check at the reception? Use it. Is everyone expected to join in on the first dance? Boogie on up. In accepting the couple’s invitation, you’re implying that you’re down with whatever they throw your way. They’ve no doubt been dreaming of this day for a long time -- your happiness and accommodating attitude will help make it just as wonderful as they imagined.
Photography: Judy Pak Photography13 of 16
Being called upon to say something witty, eloquent, touching, and profound to a room full of people can leave even the most outgoing among us tongue-tied. Give yourself some guidelines: Tell one story or convey one message -- and make it brief. The point is to say something from the heart, not entertain the masses.
Photography: Erich McVey14 of 16
Not to get all PSA on you, but drinking to ridiculous excess isn’t just unbecoming, it’s dangerous, especially if you haven’t lined up a ride home beforehand. When the bride and groom provide an open bar, they’re providing a courtesy. A great way to show gratitude: Pace yourself so you can continue to toast the happy couple well into the wee hours of the morn.
Photography: PHOTOPHILCRO15 of 16
Be Considerate of the Venue
Once the bubbly has been busted out and the DJ cranks up the tunes, it can be easy to forget you’re partying on rented property. To score the space, the couple took on the responsibility of keeping it intact by signing a contract and paying a deposit. It’s up to everyone in attendance to make sure they get their money back. Also, don’t take anything from the venue home (it happens more than you think!). Even the centerpieces on the tables may be created with items that need to be returned postfestivities.
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Photography: Alison Gootee16 of 16
Mail Your Gift
To keep the bride and groom (or, most likely, their wedding planner) from having to haul dozens of boxes back to their newlywed suite, go postal. Most stores that handle registries give buyers the option to ship items directly to the couple’s address. Likewise, if you’re giving the gift of cash, don’t bring it to the wedding; a card could get lost in all the commotion and, though uncommon, thefts do occur.