Wedding etiquette: from invitations to attire

Photo by Saeed Sarshar courtesy of

Wedding season is upon us! In June, I am attending two weddings for family members. One is Friday night, and the other is the next day on Saturday afternoon. While it will be a little challenging getting to two weddings in two different states on consecutive days, I’m thrilled to attend them. I love weddings! Like any occasion there is etiquette to guide us and help us navigate the dos and don’ts of the happy event. Here are a few tips for some of the matrimonial situations you may find yourself in both as a guest and betrothed couple.



When addressing your invitations make sure you make it clear who is invited by who is on the envelope. If your cousin Joe is single but dating you need to decide if you want to allow Joe to bring his sweetheart. If you’d like him to bring his plus one you would write “Joe Smith and guest” on the envelope. If Joe alone is invited you would put only his name on the invitation. If you’re inviting an unmarried couple you don’t put an “and” between the names. It would look like this:

Mary Jones
Chris Taylor

Today, most married couples who share a last name prefer being addressed individually rather than the traditional “Mr. and Mrs. Frank Smith.” This way of addressing a couple is outdated and insulting to most women. More conservative, traditional or older women sometimes prefer the traditional way of being addressed. When in doubt ask. Read more about this topic in this post and especially read the comments. There are some very strong opinions about addressing a married woman who took her husband’s last name.

When addressing a married couple with the same last name each person gets an honorific (title) and their full name connected by “and.” Also, Ms. is the preferred honorific for women versus “Mrs.” Again, when in doubt, ask. Traditionally you put the man’s name first. But a more modern approach is to put the name of the person you know better first.

Here’s an example:

Ms. Mary Smith and Mr. John Smith

If you would like your guests to bring their children, be sure to include the children’s names on the invitation. It would look like this:

Mr. Brad Cunningham and Ms. Sarah Cunningham
Jean Cunningham
Chris Cunningham

If a child is over 18 they would get their own invitation.


What you see on the envelope is who is invited. If your boyfriend, children, dog, etc. is not named on the invitation they are not invited. End of sentence. Do not ask if you can bring anyone who was not addressed on the invitation. Weddings are expensive and the betrothed may not have the budget to accommodate extra guests.

Be sure to reply to the invitation even if you can’t attend. The hosts needs to know who is attending in order to plan the event. No matter the invitation type – formal mailed invitation, emailed invitation or a card in the mail with the wedding details online you MUST respond. Don’t make the hosts have to track you down to get your answer.


There is a protocol to the toasting order. The best man is typically the first to make a toast followed by the groom who toasts his new wife, the bride who toasts her new husband, the father of the bride to the couple and so forth until each of the parents and wedding party have shared their best wishes. The toasting floor is then open to other relatives and close friends of the couple. The best man officiates the order. Why so formal? You may wonder. Having a list and an order helps to keep things on track and helps people to have an idea of when it is their turn to speak.

When toasting, keep it short, sweet and kind. A gentle tease about whomever is being toasted is acceptable, but don’t embarrass the person or say anything hurtful or mean about anyone.

Wedding Attire

I receive many questions about wedding attire. It can be confusing. Let me first start with what is and isn’t acceptable to wear. Contrary to popular belief guests may wear white or black. If you choose to wear a white dress be sure it doesn’t look anything like a wedding dress to avoid overshadowing the bride. Avoid tulle, lace, sequins or a full-length white gown. It’s acceptable to wear a full-length gown to a formal wedding but it should not be white. Black attire is acceptable.

To decode what is and isn’t appropriate for the different wedding dress codes this wonderful graphic from covers it all.


For more wedding etiquette tips visit this post.


Thank you to Sophie Isbell for the graphic. Sophie writes on behalf of Zola about all things wedding planning, serving couples from engagement to “I Do.” Specifically, she’s interested in simplifying the wedding planning process with the help of modern tools and actionable solutions.

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Irene Santiesteban on May 12, 2022 at 10:30 am

    Hi! This is a great guide, thank you! What would you say is a good outfit for a wedding whose dress code is garden party attire?

  2. Arden on May 12, 2022 at 4:08 pm

    Hello Irene. For a garden party the attire is typically a little less formal than cocktail attire. However, it depends on the wedding. Is there a sit down dinner following the wedding or is it a barbecue? A sit down dinner would call for cocktail type attire. A barbecue would fall under casual attire.

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