Unless specific attire is indicated on the invitation, use the following as a guide to what may be appropriate.
Informal wedding: nice afternoon dress
Semiformal: cocktail dress
Very formal: floor-length dress
Informal: cocktail dress
Semiformal: evening cocktail dress
Very formal: floor-length gown or evening dress
Informal/semiformal: dark suit
Very formal: very dark conservative suit (preferably three-piece)
Informal: dark suit
Semiformal: dark conservative suit
Very formal: black tuxedo (black-tie)
Get to the church on time! Try to arrive at least 15 minutes before the time indicated on the invitation. If you do arrive late, wait for the bride to walk down the aisle and arrive at the altar before you enter. Quietly seat yourself toward the back of the room. You should not be part of the processional.
The receiving line
The key here is to be brief. Do not to hold up the line. Offer your best wishes to the couple and move on. It is best to compliment the bride and to congratulate the groom. Some feel congratulating the bride appears as if you are subliminally saying, "Congratulations, you finally snagged one!" Yes, this may sound a little old-fashioned, but it is best to be safe than to offend. Make sure you address the families of bride and groom, the wedding party and other guests.
If the reception includes place cards for seating, do not move cards to suit your preference. The wedding party has given much time and thought to the seating of their guests, and moving these cards could upset them. Also, during the reception, it is your responsibility to mingle and socialize. Don't expect the bride and groom to entertain you and to introduce you to everyone; they have enough to do.
If proposing a toast to the bride and groom, then make the toast in good taste. This is not the time to bring up the good ol' frat days. Remember the three B's of making a good toast: Begin, Be brief, and Be seated. (A reminder to the bride and groom: When a toast is made in your honor, it is inappropriate to sip your drink. You should refrain from even touching your glass.)
Limit alcohol consumption. Your drunken actions may forever ruin someone else's special day.
Following the reception, do not remove flowers or centerpieces from the tables. Contrary to popular belief, these are not party favors.
Your manners contribute to the happy couple's big day. It is an honor to be invited to attend the sacred celebration between two people. You have been invited because they want you to celebrate their special day with them, not make it a disaster. Make sure your manners are in check; it's their day, not yours!
Incidentally, the groom who had the one-way ticket to Vegas did make it back in time for the wedding. And the couple lived happily ever after.
Pam Harvit, MS, is a certified corporate etiquette and protocol consultant. She is employed by Merck and Co. and lives in Charleston. Email her at phar...@suddenlink.net.