Have you noticed that there are certain people you take an instant liking to? These people make you look forward to seeing them again. Conversely, there are people who make you uneasy; you can’t name it, it’s just there. I have made an informal study, of sorts, and can tell you that more often than not, these reactions are traceable to ‘social guidelines.’ I see you rolling your eyes, but etiquette is important; it makes others at ease and conveys respect for those around you.
Being in the wedding business, I come across hundreds of people who I don’t know, but with a little observation I can tell which of them ‘go along to get along.’ Unfortunately the biggest boors seem to be the guys (sorry, fellas!) But with a little effort, they, too, can become gentlemen. Here are some of the most glaring do’s and don’ts that I experience almost every week at weddings.
Attire is a sign of respect. As a guest at a wedding, you must be properly dressed. It’s obviously a special day for the families involved, and your conformity to the dress code is an acknowledgement of this. In other words, it’s not about you. You may be the most casual guy in the world, but if it’s a black-tie optional wedding, don’t show up in a sport coat over an open-collar shirt!
For formal weddings, ‘black-tie’ is not noted, but by the type of invitation and the location you can tell it’s not a luau or a pool party! As always, a dark suit is the most correct attire. A suit is where the jacket and trousers come from the same gene pool. The exception to this is the summer daytime wedding. It is permissible to wear a seersucker suit, a poplin suit, or even a blazer (navy or black) with grey flannel, dress khaki or even white trousers. Of course, all the proper accoutrements of menswear apply: cleanliness, subtle colors, shined shoes, socks that match trousers and dress shirts. I’m going to upset a few people by saying that button-down shirts are NOT dress shirts. And a short-sleeved dress shirt is an oxymoron.
Ultra-formal weddings, those in which ‘black-tie’ is noted on the invitation, come with their own set of rules. If you do not own a tux and don’t wish to rent one, you should simply send your regrets. If you go, you MUST wear black-tie, unless it says ‘optional.’ Optional means a dark (navy, charcoal or black) suit. ‘White-tie’ is for ultra-ultra formal evening weddings. Morning suits, usually worn with ascots and striped trousers, are for the most formal of daytime weddings.
For the men in bridal parties, only tuxedos are supposed to be worn for any wedding after 6:30 p.m. Unfortunately, most men have been wearing tuxedos in the daytime and putting white ties on grooms so often that it’s become standard operating procedure. People have done it for so long that now they think it’s correct. (It is not.) I’ll concede to the tuxedos in the daytime, but white ties (or even tail coats on grooms) is just wrong. The only difference between the groom’s attire and that of his groomsmen is his boutonniere (which should be something taken from his bride’s bouquet).
Additional points that should be noted regarding wedding etiquette:
Arrival time. Anytime between 30 to 10 minutes before the stated time is the most accurate. If you are late, never interrupt a processional; just stand quietly away from the procession until the bride is down the aisle, then discreetly seat yourself in the side aisle.
Never drink too much or criticize the service, food, drink or decor.
Remember the etiquette around leaving a wedding. It should be right after dessert, at which time you should thank your hosts (both sets of parents) and express your best wishes to the bride and groom—not always possible but always correct.
Emily Post, Miss Manners, Abigail Van Buren and others have written weighty tomes full of do’s and don’ts, and you can exhaust yourself trying to read them all. If you just act with regard to others, kindness and common sense, you will be a hero in the eyes of your companion and a gracious guest to all—in other words, a gentleman.