13 Old-School Wedding Etiquette Rules It's OK to Ditch—Plus, the Non-Negotiables

Let's break some rules, shall we?
Black and white photo of bride and groom on colorful gradient background
Design: Tiana Crispino
kim forrest the knot
by
Kim Forrest
kim forrest the knot
Kim Forrest
Senior Editor
  • Kim writes and edits articles for The Knot Worldwide, specializing in etiquette and planning advice
  • Kim manages freelance writers for The Knot Worldwide
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Kim was Associate Bridal Editor at Washingtonian magazine and Associate Fashion Editor at Conde Nast’s Brides Local magazines
Updated Oct 25, 2023

Whether you're newly engaged or in the thick of planning, you've probably heard the phrase "wedding etiquette" tossed around quite a lot. So, what is wedding etiquette exactly? "Wedding etiquette is the expected behavior that goes hand-in-hand with planning and attending a wedding," says Irene Katzias, owner and founder of Irene + Co Events in Utah. So basically, it's a set of rules—but as times (and weddings) have changed, many of these so-called rules are now meant to be broken.

Now, we're not recommending that you completely throw the rulebook out the window—wedding etiquette does serve a purpose, after all. It's all about one thing: mutual respect between the couple getting married and the rest of the people attending. While some people think that some facets of traditional wedding etiquette (like specific timelines, rigid traditions, etc.) are outdated, it's important to keep the foundational aspect of mutual respect in mind when planning or attending a wedding.

"Wedding etiquette is important at its very core because it's about being respectful," Katzias says. "Even though every couple's idea of wedding etiquette might change, the real root of it is all about respecting everyone involved in your wedding. In my opinion, as a planner, the perfect-fit wedding etiquette can be determined on a case-by-case basis. What might work great for a couple and their wedding guests might not for another—it's all about what the couple values and how they want to support their loved ones (and feel supported, too)."

A big part of proper wedding etiquette is simply being aware of the traditional rules, regardless of whether you choose to follow them or not. So, with the help of wedding experts Katzias, Sheavonne Harris of founder and executive coordinator of Events by Sheavonne in New York City, and Claire Durán, owner and creative director of Claire Durán Weddings & Events in Washington, DC, we're going to outline what's known as "traditional wedding etiquette"—but remember, you can take it or leave it.

1. Start Wedding Planning Only After Getting Engaged

Traditional etiquette dictates that a couple can only start wedding planning after the proposal—and taking on any planning tasks beforehand is a no-no. Well, times have definitely changed. With wedding venues and vendors in high demand, couples are booking their must-have pros before the question's been popped.

From the Expert: "Planning a wedding before you get engaged traditionally used to be frowned upon," Katzias says. "However, I see couples all the time who book their dream venue two to three years in advance without being engaged yet. They know it's coming, there's been lots of discussions of the future, and they know it's going to happen. If you have your heart set on a venue or specific date, and that's a nonnegotiable for you, why wait?"

2. The Bride's Parents Pay for the Wedding

Today more than ever, couples fund their celebration in different ways. It's true the majority of weddings are paid for by the bride's parents (according to The Knot Real Weddings Study) — however, unlike in the past, where the bride's family was expected to foot the whole bill, they're in no way obligated to now. Grooms' parents and the couples themselves chip in nearly as often as brides' parents do. Many couples split costs evenly with both sets of parents or even pay for the entire thing themselves. It all depends on you two and your families' financial situations and preferences.

From the Expert: "The roots of the bride's side financing the wedding go all the way back to when families would transfer a dowry to the groom," Katzias says. "Obviously, the dowry situation is pretty outdated–and as such, the financial responsibility being solely loaded onto the bride's family is outdated, too. Nowadays, I notice that couples are usually the ones in charge of handling the financial side of the wedding. While I do see many family members who contribute in some way, it's usually couples who have saved up to fund their ideal wedding day."

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3. The Bride's Father Walks Her Down the Aisle

While having the father of the bride walk his daughter down the aisle during the processional is a common wedding tradition, it certainly doesn't work for everyone, depending on your relationship with your parents—and can actually feel pretty dated.

From the Expert: "Traditionally, a father walking his daughter down the aisle was part of the giving away process, often symbolizing the daughter leaving her family home," says Harris. "Today, many brides are frowning at the thought of being 'given away', and are choosing to walk down the aisle alone. Couples who have chosen to do a first look also want to walk down the aisle together, or each partner might have both of their parents or other loved ones escort them."

4. You Must Have a Wedding Party

Say it louder for the people in the back: You do not need to have a wedding party if you don't want one. While some couples are still having large wedding parties, others are eschewing the tradition all together. And it's absolutely not poor etiquette to skip the whole wedding party thing—there are other ways to honor loved ones on your wedding day.

From the Expert: "So many of our clients decide to forego the traditional wedding party for all sorts of reasons," Durán says. "Some do it because they are at a different life stage where it may seem a bit 'childish' to be doing so, others do it because they have too many meaningful relationships and they might be getting into a conflict and/ or dramatic situation if they had to choose a finite number of friends. Others do it so their friends can avoid the financial burden that comes with the position."

5. The Wedding Party Is Divided Based on Gender

Gone are the days of bridesmaids and groomsmen being the only options for wedding party roles. Couples are now creating gender-inclusive titles for all members of their wedding party, from bridespeople and groomspeople to wedding squads and friends of honor, and not focusing on specific sides.

From the Expert: "It's all about choosing the people who love you authentically and want to support you," Katzias says.

6. Your Parents' Names Are Printed on the Invitations

If your parents are paying for a majority of the wedding, proper invitation wording etiquette still stands—their names should appear on the invites. But if the couple is shouldering the financial burden, their parents' names needn't be included.

From the Expert: "Couples are making it known from the start that this is no longer their parents' event," Harris says. "It's their wedding their way, starting with the invitation. Traditionally, this was a way to recognize the parents as the host, but couples are taking complete control of the hosting duties."

7. Each Guest Is Invited With a Plus-One

If you want and can afford to give all of your guests plus-ones, go for it. However, once you've invited all guests who must be considered package deals (a quick refresher: spouses, engaged couples and couples who live together, or have been dating seriously for a year or more), you aren't obligated to offer other single guests dates. The only exceptions to this rule are members of your wedding party and single guests who are coming from far away or really won't know anyone there.

From the Expert: "The 'plus one' topic can be very tricky," says Katzias. "Traditional wedding etiquette clearly allows for this, stating that everyone should have the option to invite a plus one. But for those planning their weddings, they realize that option can get very expensive very quickly. I usually tell my couples to invite those they love and want to see there. When sending out invitations, I recommend addressing everyone by their full name so there's no room for confusion about who's invited."

8. Asking for Cash Gifts Is a No-No

This is one old-school wedding rule we couldn't be more excited to rewrite. Requesting cash contributions instead of, or in addition to, traditional presents is not only acceptable but hugely popular among today's couples. Thanks to The Knot Cash Fund, couples can ask for classy cash to put toward experiences (maybe a trip to Thailand) and big life milestones (like IVF). So while traditional retail registries aren't losing favor any time soon, there's definitely a new registry sheriff in town (and its name is cash).

From the Expert: "Traditional wedding etiquette probably frowns on the idea of asking for a cash gift, but it's widely accepted now as modern practice," says Katzias. "It's normal, it's convenient, and it's often the best gift for both the couple and the guest. In my opinion, everyone wins here."

9. Adults-Only Weddings Are Rude

If a herd of screaming kids is not your idea of a good time, there's a simple solution: Don't invite 'em. An adults-only wedding is completely acceptable, and it's your prerogative to go that route if you prefer it. Leaving the kids at home will make for a sophisticated affair and can really help you trim down the guest list. Just make sure you handle the "no kids" request tactfully so no one's offended.

From the Expert: All of our experts agreed—you can absolutely choose not to invite kids to your wedding, or you can invite only those in the wedding party (such as your flower girl niece).

10. If It's Not Your First Wedding, Don't Create a Registry

There is no wedding rule around not asking for gifts regardless if this is your first marriage or your fourth. And chances are, your guests will want to celebrate your marriage by giving you gifts, too. Still feeling uncomfortable about it? Consider creating a honeymoon fund with The Knot instead.

From the Expert: "Everyone's situation is unique, and every circumstance is different. How you decide to manage expectations and express your love for one another on your wedding day is completely up to you. If you would like to have a second registry or a second honeymoon fund established, then go for it. This is your day, and it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks."

11. The Bridal Shower Is Hosted Solely By the Bridesmaids

Traditionally, it was considered gift-grabby if members of the bride's immediate family, like her mom, planned and hosted the shower, which is why you'd often see the maid of honor, entire wedding party, a family friend or the in-laws commonly play host. But that's not really a thing anymore. Really, it comes down to who wants to throw the shower—the bride's aunts, in-laws, family friends, college roommates or even coworkers—as well as who lives where. And showers aren't just for brides—couple's showers are growing in popularity.

From the Expert: "I honestly think that whomever wants to throw a shower should do so," Durán says. "This event can go from something very simple to something incredibly intricate. Whoever wants to host can do whatever their means permit, and the celebrated spouse-to-be should only be grateful for whatever celebration is done in their name."

12. Guests Are Expected to "Cover Their Plate" By Giving a Comparable Gift

We've said it before and we'll say it again: Guests are not "required" to give a gift of any particular value to cover the cost of their attendance at the wedding. In fact, guests aren't technically required to give a gift at all!

From the Expert: "When you're gifting anything, it's important to give what you can afford and what's appropriate for your relationship with the couple," Katzias says. "I often see couples deciding to offer gifts to a charity instead of accepting gifts to take the pressure off the guests."

13. Only Wedding Party Members Are Invited to the Bach Party

The only wedding etiquette rule you have to follow at your pre-wedding bash is that anyone invited to it must also be invited to the wedding. After that, go nuts.

From the Expert: "Figuring out who's included in your wedding party is so complicated it can feel political," Katzias says. "Maybe you have to have your new sister-in-law, even though you guys don't get along as well. And maybe that means that your best friend from college can't be at the party because you've got a maximum number for each side. I say that when it comes to your bachelorette party, you should invite everyone you want there—a wedding party or not. You should invite your closest friends who support, love, and cherish you—because that's what it's all about."

The Non-Negotiable Wedding Etiquette Rules

Sure, there are quite a few wedding etiquette rules that can be broken these days, but there are others that still stand. Here are the wedding rules we're not willing to budge on (and for good reason!).

Be On Time

This is a biggie. We know emergencies happen, but if at all possible, do your best to be on time (if not early!) to all of your wedding-related events. Your guests will appreciate things running as close to schedule as possible.

Be Kind to Your Wedding Vendors

Your vendors should be treated with respect before, during and after your wedding day. Those present during your event should receive a hot meal and be thanked for their services (more on that in a minute).

Focus on Your Guests' Comfort

While there's a lot of wedding guest etiquette your loved ones will need to adhere to, you'll want to make sure that your crew's experience is as enjoyable and stress-free as possible. In particular, out-of-town guests should receive special attention, from creating a wedding website to providing all the information they'll need to gifting welcome bags upon their arrival.

Show Gratitude

From writing thank-you notes to your guests within three months of the wedding (yes, that's still a thing) to tipping your wedding vendors (and writing reviews), having an attitude of gratitude is an absolute must.

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