Wedding guest etiquette: bride hugging a woman

Weddings are full of unwritten rules and traditions that guests are expected to know about, which is why wedding guest etiquette can be a little stressful — it’s assumed even though it isn’t always explained. 

Thankfully, we’ve written it all down to help you navigate the challenges of wedding guest etiquette. With this expert guide, you’ll discover must-know rules and popular etiquette suggestions so you can enjoy the wedding experience with thoughtfulness and confidence.

16 Must-Know Wedding Guest Etiquette Guidelines

Some wedding etiquette is obvious, while other preferences aren’t so easy to recognize unless you’re a wedding planner or seasoned wedding guest. Here are the top wedding guest etiquette rules of thumb we think you need to know about before heading to the ceremony.

1. RSVP to the Wedding Invitation

Wedding guest etiquette: Lush Floral Arch Invitation

Design: Laura Bolter Design

Many couples send save the dates about six months to a year before the nuptials to let guests know the planned wedding date and location. This notification acts as a “please keep the date free” and you’re not expected to respond. However, something you should respond to as soon as possible is the wedding invitation.

If the couple sends paper wedding invitations with RSVP cards, you should mail that in as soon as you can. If they opt for the convenience of digital invitations, you’ll be able to reply with a “yes” or “with regrets” in just a few clicks. Replying soon after you receive the invitation isn’t just good form — it also helps the couple finalize their wedding guest list and provide an accurate headcount to their caterers and wedding venue.

2. Check the Wedding Website

The happy couple will have spent a lot of time on wedding planning before you even receive their invitation. There’s a good chance they’ll have a wedding website so use this to your advantage and check their site as part of your pre-wedding plans.

The wedding website will usually contain all the information you need to make attending as a guest easy. It’ll contain details like the dress code, venue address and parking details, gift registry, menu, and any other key information.

3. Follow the Dress Code

Not every wedding has a strict dress code, but whether it’s a black tie wedding or something entirely more relaxed, it’s good wedding guest etiquette to follow the wedding dress code as closely as you can. Check the invite or wedding website for a dress code, or ask the happy couple if you’re not sure. You don’t want to show up over- or under-dressed.

4. Don’t Wear a White Dress

Bride smiling at her guest

One of the age-old traditions that many wedding guests still observe is not wearing a white dress to the ceremony or reception. If one or more of the soon-to-be newlyweds is wearing a wedding dress, avoid the color that they’re wearing — whether that’s a traditional white or a more unusual color like dark red or black. (Hey, some couples love a goth wedding!)

Wearing the same color as the bride(s) is considered a faux pas for the big day, as it’s seen as an attempt to take attention away from her. It’s also worth asking what color any groomsmen or bridesmaids are wearing, so you can avoid matching them too closely as well.

5. Arrive Early

The time on the wedding invitation is when the ceremony or reception starts, not the moment you should arrive. While savvy couples will write a time earlier than the expected start time, this isn’t always a guarantee. As such, plan to arrive early enough so that you’re ready for the ceremony to start at the stated time. Make arrangements to get to the wedding venue early, with a backup plan to avoid being late.

6. Respect a “No Children” Rule

The wedding day is all about the couple, and some choose to introduce a “no children” rule. If that’s what the couple has chosen, it’s essential to respect this. If you have children and want to attend, it’s time to find a babysitter. If you’re a close family member, it’s acceptable to ask if there’s an exception for the family at the ceremony or reception but do so without expectations.

7. Don’t Bring Extra Guests

Most formal wedding invitations will be written out exactly to the intended guests while more casual invites might include mention of a plus one or significant other. However your invites are addressed, only ever attend with the named person or number of guests you’ve been allocated.

Unexpected guests are a nightmare moment for the couple as there’s nowhere for them to sit, no meal for them to eat, and no provision for them in any planned activities. It’s a huge faux pas to bring uninvited guests to a wedding ceremony or reception, so avoid this at all costs.

8. Put Your Cell Phone Away During the Ceremony

Person using a phone to take pictures

We all want to capture the memories, but sometimes it’s best to leave this to the official photographers. For the wedding ceremony at the very least, put your phone away and enjoy the moment.

The happy couple wants to see their loved ones’ faces smiling back at them after they say “I do” — not a wall of phones pointing at them. Unless the couple has specifically requested the use of phones for a particular moment or reason, let them enjoy their nuptials, readings, and blessings in peace. You can save the cell phone snaps for later at the reception.

9. Observe the Seating Chart

The newlyweds have painstakingly put together the seating chart for a reason, so it’s proper wedding guest etiquette to observe it. Now is not the time to play musical chairs. Respect the seating chart and find your seat, then chat with your seat buddies. After the formal meal, you can always get up and mingle with anyone, but avoid swapping seats during the sit-down phase of the reception.

10. Respect the Wedding Photographer

Apart from the newlywed couple, another person to be mindful of on the big day is the wedding photographer and/or videographer. They’re there to capture the day so the couple have photos and videos to look back on, and it’s essential that you don’t get in their way.

If they ask you to please move or make way for them, do so. You don’t want to be the person who spoils an otherwise beautiful shot because you don’t want to step aside for a moment. Don’t block their shot with your camera phone either — it’s fine to snap some photos during the reception, but not at the expense of the official wedding photos.

11. Don’t Share the Wedding Photos on Social Media

While we’re on the subject of photos, it’s important to mention another crucial wedding guest etiquette rule: do not share photos from the wedding day in real-time. Unless the couple has explicitly said it’s fine and has given you a hashtag to encourage sharing, avoid posting photos from the day on your social media feeds.

Many couples like to be the first to share their wedding photos and snippets from their day, and it’s absolutely our job as polite guests to respect that. If you’re ever not sure, ask the maid of honor or another member of the wedding party about the newlywed’s preference.

12. Drink Responsibly

Guests drinking cocktails

Weddings are often a time for enjoying a few drinks and dancing the night away. While it goes without saying, be judicious and don’t overindulge to the point of being a nuisance.

That means even if there’s an open bar, stick to your limits. The last thing you want to do is accidentally spill red wine all over the chair rentals — not only will you cost your friend their deposit, but they might just think differently of you after the big day is over.

13. Sign the Guest Book

We’ve been to events where the wedding guest book has remained mostly empty. Although it’s a more traditional idea, it’s still something that many couples like to do as a keepsake.

If the couple has presented a guest book, please take a moment to sign it with thoughtful wedding wishes. Add a message of joy, mention a fond memory, or add your wedding congratulations and sign the note with your name.

14. Give a Wedding Gift

Weddings are a big life event, and it’s considered a big faux pas to ignore wedding gift etiquette and show up empty-handed. Always follow the couple’s wishes or preferences if they’ve been communicated to you, but otherwise it’s expected to bring a gift. 

For example, if the couple is hosting a destination wedding, it wouldn’t be a good idea to bring a gift that they now have to worry about transporting home. Even if the couple has requested no gifts, it’s a nice gesture to give a wedding card with a heartfelt message or send a congratulations card after the big day.

15. Stay for the Wedding Reception

It’s simply in bad taste to attend the ceremony and then skip out before the wedding reception starts. Sometimes there’s a delay between the ceremony and reception and people decide to leave early, but we’d encourage you to stay if you can.

If you genuinely can’t stay beyond watching the couple tie the knot, let them know in advance. They’d much rather know you can’t stay than unexpectedly miss your presence on the dance floor later on.

16. Don’t Make Last-Minute Changes

On a similar note, only change your RSVP details if you absolutely need to. Don’t drop out at the last minute or make any sudden changes to who you’re bringing as your guest.

The couple will have already sent their headcount to the venue, caterers, and any other vendors in advance of the big day. If you need to cancel or change your plans, do this as soon as possible — and let the couple know how sorry you are that you can no longer attend their special day.

Enjoy Their Special Day With Grace and Ease

Navigating wedding guest etiquette isn’t always easy, but with this guide, you’ll be starting from a great foundation. While many of these tips are common sense, it never hurts to have a refresher on the do’s and don’ts for such a special day.

Being a great wedding guest starts with responding promptly to the wedding invitation. If you’ve received an online invitation through Greenvelope, this is as easy as clicking a few buttons to reply. And if you’ve been chosen to give a wedding toast, be sure to consult our guide to giving a wedding toast the happy couple will always cherish.