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Wedding Etiquette

Updated on February 12, 2014

Questions, Questions, Questions

"Will you marry me?" asks the male (or female).

"Yes!" responds the female (or male).

When the above conversation is over and the excitement of telling everyone in the world dies down, the bride and groom have a lot of things to think about before the big day. Questions tend to fill their brains and send them into overwhelm as they try to plan one of the biggest events of their lives.

Some questions to consider:

What is the wedding budget?

A traditional or formal wedding where there are separate ceremony and reception sites, limousines, large(r) wedding parties, an official band or DJ, official photographer, etc. is the most expensive of them all.

An informal wedding is not as expensive. Couples desiring informal weddings will be able to save money by having the ceremony and reception at the same place, perhaps one of the parent's back yards or the place where they met. Maybe a friend will be the photographer and/or DJ for the events.

A destination wedding can save couples the most money. Usually, one all-inclusive price is set and a wedding planner does most of the work. The guests are also taken care of. Everything would be presented in a nice, neat package by the planning expert. A wedding at the beach can be one of the least expensive options. Destination weddings are typically smaller, by nature, with only the closest family and friends present, if at all.

Who will make the decisions?

Some grooms want to have nothing much to do with all the wedding planning for a variety of reasons. They might feel it is ultimately the bride's day to shine so she should have all the say. They may not feel the details are important as they are laid-back and are willing to go with the flow. They may have an overbearing mother or future mother-in-law who likes to be in charge. Some brides have played out their wedding days in their heads since they were five years old and already has all the decisions made.

Who will pay for what?

This question is best answered before all the actual browsing, shopping, ordering, reserving, etc. even begins. Money matters are always a source of stress, frustration, or misunderstanding. Money-centered arguments are aplenty, especially as the planning process moves forward and the wedding date draws near. It is best to make a list of who is paying for what ahead of time so that during a time of chaos and stress, the list can be the "moderator" and help calm some nerves.

Traditional Wedding Etiquette

The best place to start is to learn about traditional wedding etiquette and use the information as a guide in the decision-making and planning processes.  Of course, couples can stray from what formal etiquette says depending on the type of wedding they desire, however, having a starting point is a good idea.  They can then jointly tweak the list so that both are happy.  It will at least keep the bride and groom focused and they can refer to the list as a guide when getting into the nitty-gritty of planning a wedding.

Below are some traditional wedding etiquette guidelines that might help brides and grooms stay organized and on track as they plan their big day.

WHO does WHAT?

Some brides and grooms base their "to do" lists on what the "who's paying?" list dictates. An easy way to proceed through the planning stages is to have the person paying for the item or service take care of arranging the purchasing of the item or contracting for the service. Others leave the planning to the brides and her chosen "posse" and just bill the person who is paying.

Beyond what the bride and groom do, there is a set of etiquette that outlines what the key players are responsible for related to wedding planning.

The Mother of the Bride

The mother of the bride can potentially play a very large role in the planning stages of the wedding. As long as the responsibilities are approved by the bride and groom, the mother of the bride can:

  • Help her daughter find the perfect wedding dress.
  • Help determine her part of the budget responsibilities. Early and clear communication is important.
  • Make sure there is contact between the parents.  This should be initiated by the mother of the groom, but in case it is not apparent, the mother of the bride can make the first contact.
  • Communicate with the bride and groom about the guest list and begin to compile the information.
  • Arrange accommodations for the bride's out-of-town guests.  This can be coordinated with the mother of the groom.
  • Choose her dress and inform the mother of the groom of the color.
  • Help the bride and groom determine the schedule and structure of the wedding day events.
  • Find out what the bride and groom desire about the lighting of a candle in a traditional ceremony.  This is usually done by the mothers of the bride and groom.
  • Find a good friend who is not in the wedding party to be an "assistant" for the wedding day.  The mother of the bride is the main hostess of the wedding day and will need someone close by to support her.
  • Coordinate with the Maid of Honor to make sure both are aware of what is going on with the extra events such as showers, parties, etc.

The Mother of the Groom

Being the mother of the groom puts a woman in an odd position. She doesn't always know how she fits in to the big picture outside of being and emotional support to the happy couple. The mother of the groom can:

  • Make sure she and her spouse/significant other have met the bride's parents. Inviting the bride's parents to dinner if they live nearby is a nice gesture. If the bride's parents are far away, a letter of introduction is appropriate.
  • Help determine her part of the budget responsibilities. Early and clear communication is important.
  • If the happy couple so desire, depending on the type of wedding they are planning, begin making a guest list and providing the contact information to the person in charge of invitations.
  • Look for a dress after the bride's mother does as to not clash with her.
  • Arrange accommodations for the groom's out-of-town guests.  This can be coordinated with the mother of the bride.
  • Arrange the rehearsal dinner.
  • Find out about her role during the ceremony. Often times, both mothers are involved with lighting the candle in a traditional ceremony.
  • Coordinate with the Maid of Honor to make sure both are aware of what is going on with the extra events such as showers, parties, etc.

The Maid (or Maiden) of Honor

The Maid or Maiden of Honor is usually a very close friend, sister, or close relative of the bride. She has multiple responsibilities to fulfill before, during, and after the wedding day. If the bride follows traditional etiquette, the maid of honor can:

  • Attend all prenuptial events.
  • Help the bride address and mail out announcements, save-the-dates, and invitations.
  • Arrange a shower for the happy couple.
  • Assist the bride with honeymoon preparations.
  • Help the bride organize the bridesmaids: dresses, appointments, schedules, roles.
  • Help guide the flower girl if there is one: what to do, where to stand, etc.  On the wedding day, the maid of honor or one of the other bridesmaids needs to be responsible for the flower girl.
  • Help the bride dress on the day of the wedding.
  • Make sure everyone who needs to wear a flower knows and has one.  This can be coordinated with the Best Man.
  • Help with the dress train, if appropriate, during the ceremony and while in the receiving line.
  • Hold the bride's bouquet during the exchanging of the rings part of the ceremony.
  • Oversee the activities of the photographer.
  • Witness the signing of the wedding certificate.
  • Help the bride with her gown if she is going away on the honeymoon immediately following the reception.

The Best Man

The best man in a wedding party is usually a very close friend, brother, or close relative to the groom. Like the maid of honor, the best man has many responsibilities before, during, and after the wedding day. As dictated by traditional wedding etiquette, best men can:

  • Make sure the wedding officiant (pastor, clergy, judge) is paid. The fee should come from the groom.
  • Make sure he has the rings. If a ring bearer is in the ceremony, the best man is responsible for making sure s/he knows what to do.
  • Assist the groom in making transportation arrangements for the wedding day.
  • Ride with the groom to the wedding ceremony.
  • Oversee the ushers if they are used for seating guests at the ceremony.
  • Coordinate flower arrangements with the maid of honor and make sure all who should be wearing one are indeed doing so.
  • Assist the bride's mother whenever possible.
  • Make the first toast at the reception.
  • Help the groom with his rental gear, especially if he is taking off to his honeymoon immediately after the reception.
  • Witness the signing of the wedding certificate.
  • Make sure the groom has the marriage license.
  • Act as a host at the reception, making sure everyone is comfortable.
  • Dance with the bride, both mothers, and all the bridesmaids.

WHO pays for WHAT?

The answer to the question, "Who is responsible for financing the different parts of the wedding?" needs to be settled early and constantly revisited throughout the planning process.  It is best to determine a budget early on so spending doesn't get out of control.    Stylish weddings can be planned without a lot of extraneous expenses.  Since money is always a touchy subject to talk about, perhaps setting up regular check-in points or dates would be beneficial to keep everything in order.

What Etiquette Says About Wedding Expenses

Services or Items
Person Responsible
Wedding Rings
Bride and Groom, for each other
Bride and Groom Gifts
Bride and Groom, for each other
Bridesmaid's Gifts
Groomsmen and Ushers' Gifts
Ceremony and Reception Flowers
Bride's Family
Bride's Bouquet
Bridesmaid's Bouquets
Bride's Family
Groom's Boutonniere
Groomsmen and Ushers' Boutonnieres
Mothers' Coursages
Grandmothers' Coursages
Bride's Family
Ceremony and Reception Rentals
Bride's Family
Marriage License and Certificate
Officiant Fees
Ceremony and Reception Music
Bride's Family
Ceremony and Reception Photography
Bride's Family
Wedding Cake
Bride's Family
Wedding Favors
Bride's Family
Groom's Cake
Groom's Family
Rehearsal Dinner
Groom's Family
Bridesmaid Luncheon
Bachelor Party
Best Man
Wedding Breakfast or Brunch
Bride's Family
Bride's Wedding Dress
Bride's Family
Bridesmaid's Gowns
Maid of Honor's Gown
Maid of Honor
Groom's Apparel Rental
Best Man's Apparel Rental
Best Man
Ushers' Apparel Rentals
Flower Girl's Dress
Mother of the Flower Girl
Ring Bearer's Apparel
Mother of the Ring Bearer
Limousine or Travel Costs
Accommodations for Out-of-Towners
Bride's Family

The Bottom Line

In order to plan a successful wedding and have everyone come out of the experience alive, the most important thing is COMMUNICATION.  If open communication occurs between the bride and groom, bride and her mother, groom and his mother, bride and maid of honor, and groom and best man, chances are good things will turn out smoothly.  Never make any assumptions and ask clarifying questions of each other.

In addition, keep in mind that the best thing to do is to settle the budget and payment plan early on in the process. 

Finally, using traditional etiquette guidelines will help the happy couple determine what needs to be tweaked and what they can actually afford and accomplish before the big day. 


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