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Second Weddings

Updated on September 11, 2011
Second Marriage Considerations
Second Marriage Considerations

Etiquette For Second Weddings

There was a time when most marriages were expected to last a lifetime and to be divorced was a shameful condition, especially for a woman. As times have changed, though, divorce has become much more common. This in no way means that Americans have given up on romance and marriage; it is estimated that up to 75% of divorced women will end up remarrying within 10 years. What this means is that there are a lot of second marriages out there, along with the wedding celebrations to mark the festive occasion. There are some differences in the customs for first and second weddings that should be observed. This is an in-depth look at the etiquette for second weddings.

It is not an exaggeration to say that in our society, the wedding is really all about the bride. Yes, the groom has an important role, but the vast majority of traditions and etiquette center around the bride. This definitely comes into play when planning a second wedding. As a matter of fact, most of the etiquette for remarriages is based on it being a second marriage for the woman; if it is the first wedding for the bride and only the groom has been previously wed, society pretty much treats it as a first wedding. The groom's past relationships are essentially irrelevant.

Wedding Invitation Wording - Second Wedding

The first thing that is different for a second wedding is the manner in which the invitation is worded. This again makes the assumption that it is the bride's second wedding. If it is her first, then the standard invitation format with the bride's parents as hosts is absolutely acceptable. When the bride has been divorced, however, it is no longer seen as appropriate for her parents to issue the wedding invitations. Who is actually paying for the proceedings is unimportant, as far as wedding etiquette is concerned (after all, good manners would preclude asking in the first place). The wedding invitation for a second wedding should be issued with the bride and groom acting as hosts. The most formal wording is written without naming a host at all, like this:

The pleasure of your company

is requested at the marriage of

Susan Brown Ellis


Patrick James Delaney, junior

Saturday, the tenth of October

Two thousand and nine

in the garden

1001 Willow Street

Barrington, Illinois

The favour of a reply is requested

If the wedding were to be semi-formal, the invitation could be amended to say:

Susan Brown Ellis

Patrick James Delaney, junior

request the pleasure of your company

at their marriage

Saturday, the tenth of October


In this example, "the pleasure of your company" is used because it is a wedding at home. Were the wedding taking place in a church, synagogue, or other house of status on a second wedding invitation, the Mrs. is usually dropped ("Ms." is only considered appropriate for business usage, so it is not an alternative). For the sake of consistency, when the bride's name appears without a title, so does the groom's. If the bride was a doctor, judge, or reverend, that professional title worship, the correct language would be "the honour of your presence". The way in which the bride's name is written follows a specific format, which is first name, maiden name, ex-husband's surname, presuming that she adopted it while married. So in this instance, Miss Susan Brown married and later divorced Mr. Ellis, and is now betrothed to Patrick Delaney. The very traditional form would place Mrs. before Susan's name. Because most people find something unseemly about emphasizing the bride's past marital could properly precede her name, and the groom could then be styled "Mr." (or Doctor, Judge, or Reverend, as the case may be.)

Liza Minelli And David Guest Wedding

Celebrity Second Weddings Not A Good Example

Second weddings can certainly be as large and lavish as first weddings, and these days they more frequently are. This trend may have something to do with all of the grand celebrity marriages that are in the press; how many times the bride or groom has previously been married is generally irrelevant at those affairs (see the wedding of Donald Trump to Melania Knauss). However, the dictates of good taste do state that is it more dignified for a second wedding to be a smaller and more intimate affair. To see why it is in questionable taste to have a remarriage that is a spectacle, one only need look at the 2002 wedding of Liza Minnelli to David Guest. With approximately 1000 invited guests, Elizabeth Taylor as the maid of honor, and Michael Jackson as the best man, there was nothing about the lavish affair that could be considered an example of understated good taste or decorum. Even their guests made snide remarks about the ridiculous nature of the over-the-top affair (for a marriage that ended up lasting less than a year and a half).

Guests and Bridesmaids

The guest list for a second wedding should be comprised of those who will be happy enough for you to be entirely hopeful for the success of the new marriage, without the cynicism that might be shown by casual acquaintances who feel like they met their social obligation to your family when they attended your first wedding. This will usually result in a smaller number of guests, which is just fine. In other words, invite your closest family and friends, but not your dad's golf partner, or every member of your mother's book club.

            A crucial distinction between first and second weddings should be in the number of attendants. When the bride is a very young lady who was only briefly married, the rules can be bent a little, but if you are a grown woman with an established life, a gaggle of bridesmaids is simply ridiculous. One honor attendant on each side is sufficient, and a grown woman should not be forced to wear a bridesmaid dress that does not suit their age, figure, or station in life. The bride would usually ask her sister or best friend to stand up with her. The groom could ask his brother, closest friend, or his father to be his best man.

Children And The Second Wedding

An issue that frequently arises in second marriages is how to include any children from a previous marriage. The right answer will depend on a variety of circumstances, such as the age of the children, their relationship with their soon-to-be-stepparent, and their general level of interest in the wedding. If the children are very small, it is best to ask a grandparent or aunt to look after them during the ceremony, and let them sit in the front pew or row of chairs as observers. When the children are older, more possibilities become open. One thing that should be paramount is the comfort level of the child. When a parent is remarrying, it may not be the blissfully happy moment for the child from a former marriage as it is for their parent; after all, the child may still wish that Mommy and Daddy were married, might feel ambivalent about becoming part of a blended family, or might worry that showing too much enthusiasm for a new stepparent would hurt the feelings of their original father or mother.

            For all these reasons, it is best to tread lightly when it comes to making your children a part of a second marriage ceremony. Children who are about eight years old or younger can be honored with the role of flower girl or ring bearer, if they show an interest. For older children, the most dignified option is to simply have them be present at the altar during the exchange of vows, without taking an active role as bridesmaids or groomsmen. Often a bride wonders if she may have her children escort her down the aisle and "give her away", but this is really not appropriate. Giving away the bride is symbolic of transferring her from her father's house to her husband's. If her children "give the bride away", the symbolic meaning is that they are giving her up to the groom, rather than that they will be forming a new inclusive family. By the way, the bride's father really should not give her away either, as he has already done so once at the first wedding. Technically, the person who would be next in line to transfer the bride from his house to her new one would be the ex-husband, but needless to say, that is not a great idea! This is why at a second wedding, no one gives the bride away. She may have an escort down the aisle if it is really important to her, but the part where the officiant asks "who gives this woman in marriage" must be omitted from the service. Better yet, the bride can make her own way down the aisle, which is fitting symbolism for an experienced adult making an independent choice for her future.

Wallis Simpson And The Duke of Windsor

The Windsors on their wedding day
The Windsors on their wedding day

Bridal Attire For Second Weddings

At any wedding, the bride's attire is one of the most important elements. There is a definite protocol for a woman who has been previously wed, although the etiquette is much more relaxed than it used to be. The traditional wedding attire for a divorced or widowed woman was a pastel suit or long dress or a short white or ivory dress, worn with tasteful bridal jewelry and a corsage. A hat could be worn, but never ever a veil or a tiara. Any of the other symbols of innocence or purity, such as orange blossoms or wreaths were also to be avoided. A classic example of this look would be the iconic pale blue Mainbocher dress worn by divorcé Wallis Simpson when she married the Duke of Windsor (formerly King Edward VIII) in 1937.

            Second time brides these days have a wider range of options available to them, although some restraint is still called for. The gown chosen may be floor length, but a long train would be in questionable taste (a small sweep train can be elegant for a second wedding gown). Then there is the question of color. No one these days believes that every bride who wears a white gown is virginal, even at a first marriage. However, there is certainly a symbolic union between a long white wedding gown and an innocent young lady, which makes white a poor choice for a woman who has already been married one or more times.

            Ivory, champagne, and ecru are all more appropriate colors, and they will also tend to look more sophisticated. The style of the wedding gown should also suit the age of the bride and her figure. Very full princess style bridal gowns tend to make an older second time bride look too much like "mutton dressed as lamb". It would be much better to select a chic style of gown that requires a certain elegance and sophistication to carry off, the type of style that a young bride couldn't dream of wearing as well as a more mature one. Of course, this is not to say that many previously married women do not wear ornate bridal gowns with long trains, as anyone who sees weddings in the media will know. The point is that just because someone is rich and famous does not necessarily make them a respectable role model for proper etiquette or good taste.

            As was mentioned before, the symbolism of a bridal veil makes it truly out of place at a second marriage. A simple piece of hair jewelry, such as a crystal or pearl comb, is all the ornament that should be worn on the bride's head. Her bridal necklace, earrings, and bracelet can be in any style that she likes, as long as it is not the same set that she wore for the first wedding. It should go without saying that a second time bride would never wear the ring she received for her first engagement or marriage at the next wedding!

Wedding Receptions And Second Marriages

For a second marriage, it is still common to have a party after the ceremony. In many instances, these will be smaller and more low-key affairs, much like the marriage service. They can still be formal and elegant parties, it's just that some may find an intimate dinner for fifty in a fabulous restaurant or private club to be a better choice for a remarriage than a very traditional wedding reception, complete with hundreds of guests, a d.j., receiving line, and the like. The bouquet toss is not a customary part of the reception for a second wedding, although no one would begrudge you the festive gesture if you decided to do it. The garter ritual should be avoided by brides of good taste at any wedding, first or second. The most important thing to keep in mind when planning the reception for a second wedding is that it should in no way resemble the first one. This means a different location, different flowers, even a different style of wedding cake. The chances are that many of the guests at your second wedding will have also been in attendance the first time around, and you do not want them to spend the evening being reminded of the first, failed marriage!

Additional Etiquette For Second Weddings

There is some additional etiquette surrounding second weddings that is useful to know. For instance, although it is considered perfectly fine for a remarried bride or groom to place a wedding announcement in the newspaper after the wedding, engagement announcements are reserved for first time brides. Something else that is really only for first time brides is the bridal shower. A bridal shower for a subsequent wedding is in very poor taste. The custom behind a bridal shower is to give a young lady the items that she needs to establish her first home. Never mind that the first time bride and groom actually lived together for five years before the wedding, she is still entitled to a shower if someone is moved to throw her one. (Etiquette kindly pretends not to notice if the bride and groom lived together out of wedlock when it comes to showers for first time brides, in the same way that it would not presume to question the "innocence" of a first time bride if she chooses a white gown.) However, you cannot expect the same people to shell out for gifts for more than one bridal shower (no, this is not a loophole for second time brides who did not have a shower before their first weddings!). You would also skip the bachelorette party for a bride-to-be who is not a bachelorette. Certainly, if her good friends want to take the bride out to dinner to celebrate her upcoming marriage, that is absolutely fine.The protocol surrounding wedding gifts for a remarriage is also a bit different than for a first wedding. In all likelihood, the people that you invite to your wedding will feel moved to give you a wedding present. Although a gift is not mandatory for any wedding, first, second, or tenth, most invited guests will feel obligated to give the happy couple something to mark the occasion. This is actually another reason not to invite casual acquaintances to a second wedding who already attended the first wedding.

Any gifts given for a remarriage should take into account the age and lifestyle of the newlyweds. The chances are that they already have the basic household goods, so it can be nice to select luxurious accent pieces like specialized platters or crystal wine decanters. Under no circumstances should a bridal registry be created for remarriages. One of the things that was truly appalling about the Liza Minnelli-David Guest wedding was that they registered for nearly 400 items at Tiffany's! It was an unspeakably tacky move, and just one more reason why celebrity behavior is not always the best example of taste.

There are some aspects of second weddings that fall beyond the purview of etiquette, but are definitely of extreme importance. Most of those issues have to do with the religious protocol surrounding divorce and remarriage. For instance, the Catholic Church does not recognize divorce, and so to be remarried in a Catholic ceremony, first an annulment would have to be obtained. In most branches of the Protestant and Jewish faiths, it is easier to be remarried in a religious ceremony. The bride and groom should be sure to check with their local church or temple regarding any restrictions on divorced persons being married in their particular religious traditions.

Legal Considerations

There may also be some legal matters to be addressed before a second marriage. The first one, of course, needs to be legally dissolved before the second marriage can take place. In the case of a very quick turnaround, you may also need to take into consideration any waiting periods required in your home state for obtaining a marriage license (in other words, you may not be able to get married the day after your divorce is finalized). Finally, keep in mind that it is in terribly poor taste to announce an engagement prior to the first divorce being finalized, even if everyone knows about the new relationship.

All in all, planning a second wedding is not that different than a wedding to celebrate a first marriage. It can be large or small, casual or elegant, as long as it suits the taste of the bridal couple. With the guidelines for proper etiquette in mind, it will be easy to plan a second wedding that is festive, gracious, and in excellent taste.


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    • profile image


      18 months ago

      Well this certainly sucks for me. I got married as a teen. 6 guests. Really no memory of the courthouse disaster. 23 years later I'm engaged to the love of my life and I'm not supposed to have any kind of wedding or celebration bigger than the first? The only gift at my first wedding was his suit and our cake provided by his father. I don't remember what the cake looked like. It was not a happy occasion. There were no showers, parties or receptions. No registry, no people who begrudgingly attended and provided gifts once before. I could give a shit less about gifts. I want to celebrate my love and commitment to this man. From everything I read that going to be completely against ettiquite because I was married for 12 years and have been divorced for 13.

    • profile image

      Nicole Austin 

      3 years ago

      This is awesome. Divorce stinks for anyone but I do believe that remarriage is possible for good individuals who want another chance at a better and happier life. This was a really good article on remarriage etiquette, great job!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      To those who disagree with the author's advice: she is writing about etiquette, which is defined as "the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group." Of course there will be situations in which this doesn't apply, all weddings are a very personal experience for those planning them. But I do think that traditional etiquette would dictate that a second wedding be a smaller affair.

      Anyhow, I was wondering whether or not you had any thoughts on second weddings for women who have been widowed? I would imagine that most of these things still apply.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I disagree with most of this article. Some women may have had a very small and intimate first wedding. Why in the world would she want to do something similar for her second wedding - which she more than likely is most excited about.

      Terrible advice!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      How lame and condescending! Your wedding should be exactly what you want it to be. I'm wearing a tiara at my 2nd wedding :D

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Some of this advice is just...terrible. I say do what you want. I'm getting married again and it is my groom's first marriage. He has a huge family and it is important for him and his family that we have an adequate celebration!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Well I was married at 19 and divorced at 22 and had a small cheap wedding. The marriage ended very badly btw. So when I get married again I am going to treat it like the first wedding I always dreamed of. Big, princessy and all!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I'd make one addendum to the 'no bridal shower or bachelorette party' comment. I got married and divorced very young, without kids. I moved to a new city for a new job and a new life. I met my current husband and a lot of new friends who were first-time brides. They wanted to throw something for me despite the fact that it was my 2nd wedding. We did a friends-only (no family) combined shower / bachelorette party. My husband (never-married) and I did a non-traditional registry for honeymoon items. It was perfect for our intimate destination wedding.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Any advice for a woman's for whom marriage will be a first to a man for whom it will be his second?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I've been having some trouble finding helpful etiquette on a second wedding for the bride, and this definitely cleared things up for me on certain point. However, my first wedding was a very intimate affair (only close friends and family, less than 30 guests) because it was on such short notice. Am I limited to another intimate wedding or, if I have always dreamed of having a larger, more "lavish" affair, would it be appropriate for me to do that with my second wedding since my first WAS so small?

    • profile image

      Ohio reader 

      8 years ago

      You write, "'Ms.' is only considered appropriate for business usage" -- that is absolutely not true. Can you cite a credible source?


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