A Modern Etiquette Ambassador Guides You Through Wedding Season

There are subtle signs, like handshakes, that the pandemic has subsided, and then there are the monumental affairs. The kind of gatherings that didn’t even seem feasible just a few short months ago. Weddings fall decidedly in that category, and the season has returned in full force.

Whether you’re finally planning your dream wedding or are simply losing refrigerator door real estate to a slew of Save the Dates, slipping back into wedding season can be an overwhelming — if completely joyous — experience. To help you navigate the formalities of invitations, rehearsal dinners, and registries, we turned to Heather Wiese Alexander, PaperCity’s go-to modern etiquette ambassador and founder of luxury stationery brand BELL’Invito. Consider this your guide to a wedding season well attended.


Wedding Planning Etiquette…

How do you decide which invitees receive a plus one?
This is where the etiquette can save a lot of headaches and keep the decision from feeling too personal. The “rules” so-to-speak are:

Committed singles (engaged, cohabitating)

Wedding party (this is everyone participating in the wedding, not just the attendants)

Here’s where you can relax—the plus-one-reciprocation is not a thing. It’s lovely that you were able to have a plus one at their wedding, but that doesn’t mean you must give them one back. Of course, the reverse also holds water.


Lauren Reed, Trey McDonald wedding at The Grand Ivory


If you’re waiting on RSVPs, how soon can you follow up with MIA guests? 
Give them three to four days past the response date (if you gave them one), or around two to three weeks before the wedding. If your printer or calligrapher needs names for the day-of items, you’ll need to start on the earlier side.


Is it OK to do a small, intimate ceremony, but a big reception?
In a word—carefully. It is definitely a no-go-zone to have anything that resembles a “tier one, tier two” guest list. If you are having an intimate ceremony and a large reception, be diligent and intentional in making the “intimate” group a very small number of immediate family, godparents, friends since birth (you get the idea). That friend you do everything with lately that you met at work—not included.


palm springs wedding pandemic elopement _DSC0990 (Photo by Tom Saunders) The brides in custom Levi’s jackets at their Palm Springs elopement. (Photo by Tom Saunders)


Is there a kind way to inform people that children are not allowed?
There is only one way to handle who is invited. Before we go there, understand why. It is rude, regardless of reasons and good intentions, to pointedly exclude someone on an invitation. While “no children” is certainly a choice every host is entitled to make, the expression is handled in-person (tone, approach, empathy—these things really matter here). A blanket phrase on an (especially formal) invitation is still interpreted as crass. The names of every guest invited should be on the envelope. Without diving into all the ways this can be handled, properly addressed envelopes is the way it is done without reproach.

Doing it anyway? Your best bet, and this doesn’t take the place of the above, is to put something on the wedding website as to the nature of the party. And, absolutely, make the phone calls (not texts) to your guests who have kids who might be assuming they can come, too. It’s a touchy subject that deserves personal attention. If your guest list is too large for one person to tackle, delegate. If you need some sample scripts for this kind of thing, we have some great thoughts to get you started here.


171 4×6 034_0884_(c)JohnCainPhotography_05.25.2019_SchlegelWedding_Retouched (Photo by John Cain) Kimberly Schlegel Whitman at Krystal Schlegel and Luke Davis’ Dallas wedding. (Photo by John Cain)


Do we have to call our best married girlfriend a “Matron of Honor?”
Ha! That one is a great question. You don’t have to call anyone anything in particular. The Matron / Maid is parallel to Mrs. / Miss. I’ve done a load of research on this given the gender-bending times we’re in. Here’s where I stand on the issue.

One: it’s not a wedding etiquette issue per se, it’s a tradition that simply has meaning. When you break tradition, the smart look is to break it knowing what the traditional meaning is, and to be intentional with your evolved, more relevant alternative.

Two: I have yet to see an alternative that has sounded fresh and on-point. Attendant of Honor sounds very PC. Lady in Waiting is a bit much, we’re not at the Renaissance Fair. Bride’s Bestie is great for your custom bachelorette PJs but probably not the best for the ceremony program at your black tie wedding. It’s a tough one. It’s probably time to let the definition of Matron catch up to the badass married woman who holds the title. Matron Magazine, anyone? Ok, it might take a minute.


Who should be invited to the rehearsal dinner? 
This one is similar to who receives a plus one. Here’s the list:

Immediate family on both sides.

Bridal party. (This is everyone involved, including all officiants, flower girls, ring bearers – their whole family if possible, but obviously at least one parent).

Spouses (or committed partners) of all of the above.

It’s customary to include a plus one for the entire bridal party (if possible, budgets in consideration) whether or not they are in a serious relationship.

Out of town guests.

If it’s a destination wedding and most guests are from out of town, consider a small welcome cocktail (small sips and bites) to refresh your guests from their travels and get them in the spirit.


Teresa & Robert (Photo by Ernesto Villalba) In 2019, the dinner for 100 following the marriage of Tessa Mugica — formally Teresa Mugica Montana, Baroness of Essendine — and Robert Montana in Seville, Spain. (Photo by Ernesto Villalba)


Post-wedding, how long do you have to send out thank you notes?
One blanket answer doesn’t serve the vast difference in quantity from an intimate wedding with 25 guests to a large event that hosts hundreds or more. Here’s the wedding etiquette broken down a bit further. The bookends of the matter are these: yes, people know to adjust the expectation of a couple when the event is very large, but remember with great blessing comes great responsibility (not excuses).

Under 50 guests, send within three weeks.

Under 300 guests, send within three months.

Over 300 guests, send within four to six months.

– Always, send a note of gratitude, even if it’s late.


Wedding Guest Etiquette…  

How much should you spend on a wedding gift?
Etiquette experts agree that how much you spend directly depends on your relationship with the couple. It does not depend on the perceived expense the hosts went to for each guest.

You do not know them well: $30-$50.

Co-worker, common acquaintance: $50-$100

Close Friend, family: $100-$175 (current national avg. for a friend is $99, for the family is $127)


niki-and-kami-wedding-2020(59) (Photo by Lady Ilg Photography) The wedding dress reveal at an intimate wedding in Vail, Colorado. (Photo by Lady Ilg Photography)


Is there a time when it makes sense to go off the registry?
It’s recommended to stay on registry, but you do not have to, especially if there are no items left in your budget. Gift cards to the registered stores and cash are fine, especially if your relationship with the couple is not close. If you do send cash, a GC, or use something stealth like Venmo, send a card with a hand-written note to add the personal touch back into this new, coldish (but oh-so-convenient and totally appreciated) gifting.

If you go off-registry make sure the gift is intentional and something reflective of the couple’s desires and taste. Going off registry for convenience’s sake is inconsiderate, but for a thoughtful, intentional gift it can be a stellar move.


Should you ask permission before posting any images from the ceremony?
Yes! And do not be the first to post. That belongs to the bride, groom, hosts, or whomever they have designated the first poster. This signals to everyone else that it’s now ok to try breaking the internet with their latest hashtag. Some couples want the event fully complete before any posting happens while others want a play-by-play in full swing during the whole party. A thoughtfully planned reception will tell you with signage, a phrase in the program, or an announcement made to everyone what their preference is. Your place as a guest is to wait for the cue, use the hashtag, and never post an unflattering pic of anyone.