How to be the best wedding guest ever


When it comes to wedding etiquette, my husband and I have unintentionally broken many of the rules over the years. We have skipped the ceremony, arrived as the bride waited to make her entrance and have even sneaked out early. At least we have not shown up in jeans like my uncle did at my brother’s wedding last month.

Charlottean Aimee Symington is an international etiquette and protocol expert with 15 years of experience. She owns Finesse Worldwide and teaches classes for companies like Deloitte Consulting, Ingersoll Rand and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. She is also the creator of Blunders®, a board game on manners for kids.

Aimee Symington
Aimee Symington

Symington offers these etiquette tips for wedding guests:

When RSVP-ing…

Always wait to receive an invitation to a wedding. Do not ask or hint about being invited. If you do receive an invitation, let the bride and groom know if you can attend by the “respond by” date in the format they request. Don’t be that person who just shows up or has to be called in order to find out if they are attending.

If the invitation is addressed to just you, assume there is no plus one. Refrain from asking about bringing a guest or children to the event.

When picking a gift…

Most couples are registered with a major department store, local shop or online company with particular gifts they have selected to help begin their life together. If the couple has an account with a site like The Knot or Wedding Wire, this information may be found there. It is most appropriate to choose a gift from the registry or to give cash. If you go with the registry gift, have it sent directly to the bride and groom.

Ideally, your gift is equal to or more than the cost of your attendance at the wedding. For example, if your plated dinner at The Ritz-Carlton was $200, your gift would reflect at least that amount. Just in case you need to save up for the gift, you do have one year from the wedding date to give your gift.

About your attire…

Dressing appropriately shows respect to the bride and groom. The time of the wedding, the look of the invitation and the venue set the tone for what to wear. The earlier in the day, typically the more casual a wedding may be. An afternoon wedding on the beach may call for sundresses and sandals. An evening wedding at Myers Park Country Club could dictate black ties for men and long dresses for women. The invitation may indicate casual or formal.

It is never appropriate for a guest to wear a white dress. Overdressing is better than under-dressing. Sorry, no jeans.

As for social media usage…

As enticing as it is to shoot a live video as your former college roommate walks down the aisle, restrain yourself. Be physically and mentally present for your friends and let the hired photographer do his or her job.

Give the family the honor of posting wedding photos first. When you do post, choose your photos wisely. Think twice before posting the bride doing shots at the bar.

When to arrive and when to depart…

Arrive 30 minutes prior to the ceremony to allow time to be seated. You do not want the bride to see you running in right before she walks down the aisle.

If you must leave the reception early, be sure to thank the bride or groom. If they are not available, make your regrets to the bride or groom’s parents or another immediate family member.

If you drank too much alcohol or have a friend that may make a scene, get out quickly and quietly. Help your friend get home safely without causing a disturbance.

To all you wedding goers out there, good luck.

Photos: Robert Christopher, Aimee Symington


  1. And, for those of you who are chosen to participate in the wedding as bridesmaids and groomsmen….it is considered to be very poor taste to show up at the rehearsal or wedding with alcohol on your breath. If the wedding is held in a church sanctuary, it is particularly disrespectful. Please leave the partying until after the rehearsal and after the ceremony.


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