Over and over again on bridal fora, wedding reality shows, and in private conversation with soon-to-be-brides I’ve heard women talk about how they won’t be ‘doing all that etiquette stuff’ or they won’t allow etiquette to force them into doing things that make them uncomfortable. What boggles my mind most of the time is that the things they’re talking about aren’t in any way required by etiquette. In fact, they are often the antithesis of proper etiquette.
In a recent article at MSN.com discussing weddings, Judith Martin (aka: Miss Manners) had this to say about the subject:
I did a wedding book some years ago and I am revising it because there have been all kinds of horrible new ideas that have sprung up since I first wrote it. And people have come to believe a lot of misinformation that they are getting from those who have a financial interest in the situation, to the point where they’re pressured to do things that are, again, vulgar and greedy.
Miss Manners, I look forward to seeing your new volume on the subject. In the meantime, here are a few pernicious wedding ‘etiquette’ myths along with the real skinny.
1: Guests must ‘cover their plate’ with the price of their wedding gift. I have no idea where this one started, but I want it to stop right now. People who claim this as etiquette are – at best – sorely misinformed. It’s incorrect on at least three different fronts. For one, the guest is unlikely to know how much the wedding cost to throw, and it would be the height of rudeness to attempt to find out. How, then, is the guest to know how much to give? For another, it is an offence against the most basic principals of hospitality to make a guest feel uncomfortable for lacking the financial means to give you what you spent on them. Thirdly, and possibly the most important, a wedding is not a fundraiser.
In point of fact, a wedding gift is not actually required by etiquette at all. A guest who choses to do so is well within his/her rights to send nothing more than a congratulatory note filled with good wishes.
2: It’s rude to wear red to a wedding. When did this one even come into being? I’ve read etiquette manuals cover to cover dating from the Georgian era to ones published just a few years ago and the first time I heard this one was about two years ago on a wedding forum where everyone agreed that this has always been the rule. It hasn’t. It still isn’t. From ‘A Lady of Distinction’ writing in 1811 to modern editions of Miss Manners et al, I have never once seen this ‘rule’ in a proper etiquette guide. It’s fine to wear red…or purple…or bright pink, or whatever color you look good and feel festive in. The only absolute no-no today is unrelieved white, particularly if it’s lacy. I’m still a holdout against wearing black, but I’ve clearly lost that war.
Oh, and if someone does dare to wear a color the bride finds offensive for whatever reason, it is not okay for her to throw a hissey fit over it. The correct response is to blithely fail to notice the faux pas, assuming that the person in question was unaware of how it would be taken.
3: It’s rude of vegetarian couples not to serve meat, or teatotal couples not to serve alcohol. Actually, it’s very generous if vegetarians decide to accomodate their meat-eating guests or teatotallers offer an alcoholic option. It’s not rude of the bridal couple to base their choices primarily on their own tastes and/or moral choices. Etiquette does require offering party guests – including your reception guests – refreshments. In doing so, it’s always graceful to take into consideration the needs and tastes of said guests, but a wedding reception is not a restaurant. Guests cannot order off a menu designed to make everyone happy. And Uncle Frank won’t actually expire if he cannot have a steak and a shot of whiskey until the reception is over.
4: The garter toss requires stripper music and removal of the garter with the groom’s teeth from well up the bride’s thigh. Not even close. If anything, etiquette considers the garter toss somewhat distasteful. It is a tradition, but tradition does not etiquette make. The money dance is traditional in some cultures, as are mock kidnappings of the bride. Etiquette doesn’t like those traditions, either. But rest assured that Dame Etiquette has never, ever put any stamp of approval on stripper music and removal of the bride’s undergarments (however vestigally useful) with the groom’s teeth in front of the bride’s elderly relatives and quite possibly her employer. If you decide to do the toss, the way to make it (marginally) acceptable to etiquette is to keep the garter low on the bride’s leg, have the groom remove it with his hands – entirely sans stripper music – or simply have one to throw that was never on the bride’s leg at all…though that does rather ruin the intended symbolism of the gesture.
5: Etiquette requires lots of expensive extras like tablecloth overlays, floral centerpieces, unity candles, guest favors, and five days’ worth of scheduled parties surrounding the wedding. Actually, etiquette doesn’t require any of these things. Etiquette is not in the business of making people bankrupt. It is possible to be absolutely polite without spending huge amounts of money, and etiquette is simply the art of being polite. If you cannot afford favors or you dislike chair covers, there’s nothing at all rude about simply excising them from your celebration. There’s also nothing rude about wearing a gown you got at a consignment store, holding your wedding in your backyard, using grocery store flowers, choosing not to wear a white gown and veil, or failing to have a next day brunch for all the out of town guests.
If you are nervous about what etiquette actually requires of you, don’t listen to rumor. Head to your local bookstore or library and do your research by reading the actual experts. After all, you want to be polite, don’t you?