Etiquette, tradition and all the wedding rules 21st century couples can break!

The question of etiquette came up the other day when I was chatting with brides – specifically, whose name should come first on invitations: his or hers? It inspired me to write a feature about wedding traditions and etiquette – and as you can see from the title, it’s not my favourite thing.

styled wedding shoot copper grey Amanda Karen Photography (5)

I know many of us choose which traditions to include in our weddings: it’s nice to throw confetti, to cut the cake and give wedding favours. But personally I’d love to see new traditions instead of boring old etiquette: with a focus on creativity, saving money and enjoying more relaxed and intimate celebrations with closest friends and family. Is it just me?

All images used today are from a styled shoot with Amanda Karen Photography, previously featured on the English Wedding Blog. There’s a full supplier list at the end of the article.

Etiquette or crazy talk? 20 wedding rules 21st century couples can break!

One ~ Guest list etiquette

There are so many myths about who you should invite, perhaps the easiest way to approach guest lists is that there is no such word as should. Instead, picture the faces you want to see around you on the day itself. Don’t invite people just because you went to theirs; or because your mother knows them, or just because they’re blood relatives when you haven’t seen them for 18 years.

styled wedding shoot copper grey Amanda Karen Photography (4)

Two ~ The minefield of invitation etiquette

Oh my… where to begin with this one? Honestly, so long as spelling and grammar are sorted, you’re fine. Anyone’s name can go first. Common sense will dictate whose name(s) goes at the top – and it doesn’t have to be the person paying the bill. Send invites whenever you like; ignore save the dates if you feel like it. Emails and text invitations are fine by me too – or you can indulge your secret stationery fetish by spending more if it suits you. Your choice – just remember there are no rules! Make your own 😉

Three ~ Seating your guests

Common sense should overrule etiquette on this one. Should your top table be boy-girl-boy-girl? Only if conversation will flow and everyone will be happy. Modern families mean we don’t all stick to traditional etiquette when it comes to who sits on the top table, so when it comes to other seating etiquette you should feel free to break those rules as well. Sit couples together. Sit friend groups together. Let everyone have a good time – oh and skip the seating plan for smaller weddings or more casual affairs.

Four ~ Choosing your bridesmaids (and their ‘duties’)

I’m fairly sure most modern brides pick their bridesmaids for friendship and fun times these days. Your best girls can be those who’ll love dressing up, helping with hen dos and dress shopping with you… Because here’s the best example of etiquette being outdated: Bridesmaids were invented as stand-ins in case you didn’t turn up, when they’d have to marry your groom instead. It’s kind of unlikely nowadays…

Five ~ How many best men?

The last wedding I went to had three whole best men. Etiquette would say one is plenty, but etiquette is wrong! Your football team or band could all do it, just don’t try and get matching suits (seriously – matching men in hired shiny outfits is so last year…) The role of the best man doesn’t need to follow etiquette either: if your best mate is shy and doesn’t want to speak in public, but you couldn’t imagine him not being your best man, ditch the speech. I’ve heard of best men preparing videos, sitting down and playing them without saying a word… to rapturous applause!

Six ~ What on earth is Ushing?

My man was an usher this summer – he loved it, but I followed him around for a while to see if I’d get ‘ushed’ and nothing happened. Why the formal role and funny name? Give friends or family little jobs to do, rounding up guests or whatever, but I think it’s time we dropped the whole ‘usher’ title, don’t you?

Seven ~ Readings

It’s traditional to have a couple of readings during your ceremony, but it doesn’t mean you have to. Keep your wedding short and sweet by omitting the poems and readings! (Or at least choose a passage you genuinely love rather than something you quite like off the internet!)

styled wedding shoot copper grey Amanda Karen Photography (1)

Eight ~ Confetti

Confetti is a tradition (more than etiquette, really) which I can take or leave. Definitely check with your venue and let your guests know whether or not confetti is allowed… because some vicars and venue owners get a bit annoyed about it these days!

Nine ~ puppies in church

Honestly, there’s nothing cuter than a willing dog following a bride down the aisle… and while 19th century brides and grooms might have been horrified, pooches at weddings are a sign of our times! Don’t leave your dog all alone, let him join in your day and enjoy all the fuss and attention! (Just check with the vicar if he’s acting as ring-bearer!)

Ten ~ who’ll be walking you down the aisle?

Here’s where I get serious about wedding etiquette: and my advice is to IGNORE it. While many of us are lucky to have our dads in our everyday lives and they’d be first choice to walk us down the aisle, this isn’t the case for a huge number of brides. So – take three seconds to think who you’d LOVE to walk you down the aisle. And then ask them to do it. Your best mate, your Mum, your gran, your auntie, your cousin… they’re not literally giving you away in exchange for a cow and a sheep (as in olden times, case you’re wondering!) – so you have complete freedom to choose. Who’s best at keeping you calm? Whose hand do you want to hold for that white-knuckle moment down the aisle? Make the most of your freedom to choose them.

Eleven ~ the traditional wedding venue

Eurgh… even the phrase brings to mind a corporate hotel or a venue which has specialised in weddings since the 1980s and hasn’t changed a thing since then. You can get married anywhere now* so DO! Have an outdoor wedding, hit the beach, hire a field and camp out all night. Even if you’re smitten with a country mansion reception, you have the option to run like the wind at their first mention of chair covers and receiving lines… so do it!

*with a little creative thinking, a registry office dash and a humanist celebrant

Twelve ~ receiving your guests

Receiving lines? Really? They’re stiff, and boring, and rushed, and uncomfortable… Wouldn’t you rather take a little more time for a relaxed chat with your guests through the course of your day? Then do. Formal receiving lines are over.

Thirteen ~ everything about speeches!

Here’s another hot topic when it comes to etiquette. There are ‘rules’ about who speaks, who speaks when, who speaks first, who says what, and who isn’t allowed to speak (usually, you!). So break every single rule. If there are going to be speeches just make sure your venue coordinator knows, and encourage your speakers to have some sort of plan! (and timings!) – but don’t weigh anyone down with etiquette about what ‘should’ be said.

Fourteen ~ best time of day for a wedding?

This one’s a little tricky, and again more about tradition than etiquette… or should it be practicality? Most weddings used to be between 12 and 2 o’clock and those times are considered ‘normal’. But think about starting later – especially if you’re on a budget. Getting married at 4 is a genius way to save on catering, gives you the day to relax and prepare, and simplifies guest lists (evening do = everyone!)

styled wedding shoot copper grey Amanda Karen Photography (2)

Fifteen ~ formal wedding catering

Foodies will either love or hate the formality and traditions around wedding catering. It’s nice to be served a formal five course meal… but it’s also complicated, and expensive, and restrictive. Modern couples can do away with the formal wedding ‘breakfast’ (don’t get me started!) and dive in to a buffet, festival-style street food or home made feast to suit the setting. The more creative and modern your menu and approach to wedding catering, the more happy tummies you’ll have!

styled wedding shoot copper grey Amanda Karen Photography (6)

Sixteen ~ cutting the cake

I hardly ever include ‘cutting the cake’ shots on the blog… and it’s because I think it’s an odd moment. Some traditions and etiquette can be fun, like the first dance. But slicing cake? I just don’t get it. You can choose to ditch tiered cakes altogether, have guests bring a selection, or offer a candy buffet instead – it’ll save you money, especially if you’re not cake fans.

Seventeen ~ the romance of your first public shuffle!

I went to a wedding where the first dance was a classic ‘awkward shuffle’ and the last dance was amazing. I think there’s way too much pressure heaped onto a first dance: everyone gathers round to watch as though a 1970s John Travolta’s about to hit the dancefloor… and unless you can channel his moves, it’s embarrassing. The evening should be about relaxing and having the best party of your lives. So ditch the traditions which will get in the way of that, and focus on enjoying yourselves. You may very well find you’re happily out-dancing John Travolta as the evening goes on!

styled wedding shoot copper grey Amanda Karen Photography (3)

Eighteen ~ dress codes?

The best wedding I’ve ever blogged had a groom in jeans. All of my favourites are relaxed, informal and fun! So for me, even unspoken dress codes are old fashioned and restrictive. (At my wedding we’d ALL wear jeans and flowers in our hair…) But I’m not here to say what you or your guests should or shouldn’t wear. Some things I LOVE to see though, are brides in non-traditional dresses, grooms in tailored and bought suits, mismatching bridesmaids and groomsmen, girls in trousers and guests in casual dresses or jeans and shirts. I’m not a black tie girl…

Nineteen ~ don’t let him see you!

Actually, do. You’re going to marry him in a few hours’ time! Have a first look, or have breakfast together, walk down the aisle hand in hand or just sneak out in the morning and catch a quick hug! You’ll remember the moment forever and it’s hardly going to bring bad luck. Come on, we’re old enough to know better, aren’t we?!

Twenty ~ thank you.

Printed thank you cards have always been the done thing. Personal messages are fairly new… so in this case following etiquette will make your life easier. But I’d rather receive a heartfelt thank you text message than a generalised printed thank you card without my name on it. You certainly don’t have to send out formal, printed or handwritten thank you letters… but this is one time in your life when it will feel so good to say thank you from your heart.

All images used today are from a styled shoot with Amanda Karen Photography, which you can see in full here: Deliciously decadent copper tones and super luxe wedding sparkle with amanda karen photography

Claire Gould

Claire spends her days writing - either in beautiful calligraphy or online. She lives on the edge of the English Lake District only minutes away from the beach, where she loves to escape and unwind. Claire's calligraphy can be found at Claire launched the English Wedding Blog in 2011 - it's been a top 10 UK wedding blog ever since, with a regional focus we hope you LOVE.



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