The Vow Factor: Wedding Etiquette To Plan Your Perfect Day

By Mary C. Papaleo

Floral & Event Stylist of Stems at the Palatine in Fresno, California


Etiquette is defined as the rules indicating the proper and polite way to behave. Many of today’s brides and grooms are searching for an understanding of the traditional sense of manners and some sort of guideline.

Weddings are personalized ceremonies and celebrations. Endless cultures and customs have paved their way into popular and mainstream choices for many bridal couples. Is there a “correct” way to handle an entire wedding from beginning to end? My answer is “NO!” However, there are many aspects that need to be handled in a manner that doesn’t offend or upset any one person involved, which may prove to be a bit daunting.

Think about who is involved in and attending your wedding. The personalities and backgrounds of your family, bridal party and guests are key to developing a celebration that will include all of their ethnicities and spiritual paths. While you and your groom clearly come first for the core of the ceremony and celebration, the goal is for all to take part in and unanimously enjoy your union. For example, if you and your groom hail from religious upbringings, most likely your families will expect a spiritual ceremony. If this is not your intent, explain your reasoning to them at the initial stages of planning to avoid disappointment and arguing as you progress further into your timeline. There are always compromises available, such as having your non-religious ceremony and then having a clergyman bless your marriage at the end of the ceremony in prayer.

I recommend that all of my brides and grooms have several meetings with their involved family, predominantly their parents, throughout the planning process to keep all informed of major decisions, and to solicit their advice and ask for their preferences as you go. This helps all to feel as though they have had an integral part of planning and assisting you both in the most important day in your lives. All involved will learn to adjust and compromise. Do not forget, you are joining more than you and your groom in life forever; you are joining your families. This is a foreign experience for all involved, even if you have been a couple for years prior to engagement. Sensitivity to this is key in extending your etiquette for consideration to all involved.  Invest time into discussing and envisioning what you and your groom expect your wedding day to be. First and foremost, if the two of you do not agree on what you’re anticipating, no one else involved will either. Communication is critical. The two of you must have an open dialogue at all times. This holds true for your entire life, not just for planning this event.


Use your resources. If you are unsure if something you want is proper or acceptable, ask your peers, parents or vendors. They will typically be able to lend advice as to the appropriateness of what you’re wanting. Online resources are a fabulous resource. You will find diverse thoughts and facts on endless aspects and protocol for weddings.
Emily Post is the epitome of etiquette. From the very beginning of modern ceremonies to today’s variations, you will find answers in Post’s publications.

Hire a qualified wedding planner and coordinator. Avoid using friends and relatives that “just planned” their own or their daughter’s wedding. You need an unbiased and experienced professional to address any and all concerns. Consider hiring your planner as an insurance policy. Their fee is protecting and ensuring that all of your time, emotion and money are well appropriated, and implemented the way you intend.

From your save the dates to your thank you notes, you set the stage on the mannerisms you’re imparting as a couple and for your wedding. Be sure to address them appropriately. Even if you want a casual feel, keep your print items formally addressed. Do not use printed labels, ever. You do not have to hire a professional calligrapher, however, hand addressed or professionally printed is necessary.

Attire is an area that needs careful consideration. Keep in mind that marriage is a tender and memorable occasion. Trends are fun, however, they can tend to date stamp your event and can somewhat downplay tradition. Flair that lends to your personality is acceptable when kept in check.


For the gentlemen, tuxedos, suits, vests and trousers are all intermixable. Correctly fitted apparel is critical for all involved. Shoe selection can be whimsical for the gents, as well as the ladies. From cowboy boots to sneakers, keeping the footwear fun and comfortable is appreciated by most. The venue for your ceremony must be kept in mind for these options. A cathedral or temple is not the place for these casual choices. Reserve this for the reception and have your grand entrance make note of your festive flair.

Celebration is what all anticipate. So celebrate… with style. Be careful – fun can get out of hand quickly. Keep your liquor controlled. This will also help in control- ling costs and liability. Hosting a bar is not required at any reception.


Food is an open field. There truly is no etiquette when it comes to your fare. Thoughts to keep in mind include ease of service, and the mess factor involved for you and your guests. People are typically dressed in their best. I know I’m not interested in eating with my hands when I attend a wedding, nor am I thrilled with overly spicy or pungent selections. Ethnic food is acceptable, keeping in mind that not all may enjoy this choice. Scaling ethnic selections down and pairing with a few mainstream options is always appreciated.

Music should be mellow and toned down for the initial cocktail hour and dinner portion of the reception. Keep the upbeat “club” tones for after the formal portions of the eve- ning. Allow guests to enjoy intimate conversations among themselves, as well as your toasts and special dances. The older guests tend to depart once they’ve indulged in all of the tradition. At a later point, let your hair down and celebrate with your friends with the vibe you enjoy.
Décor should be personalized and within reason. Thematic weddings are on an upswing these days. Selecting a theme that will not take away from the event at hand is key. Taste is always the key.
Centerpieces should never impede the conversation view of your seated guests. Fragrance in fresh flowers should be kept to a minimum, as well. Floral décor accessorizes your entire event and should reflect your personalities and tastes.  Attention to small details will be noticed and appreciated by all attending, from the place cards to the china to the linens. Pay attention to keeping these details cohesive and appropriate to your overall event.

Don’t drown in a glass of water in all of this planning. Organize your thoughts and wants from the very onset of engagement. Work as a partner with your bride or groom. Communicate clearly with your family and vendors. Hire professionals in all areas. They have years of experience and will alleviate enormous amounts of stress from your load. Personalize your wedding with fresh, new ideas that will make your wedding stand out. When in doubt, ask. Enjoy every moment of this experience.

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