Eight wedding etiquette quandaries solved by Lizzie Post

The great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post helps us navigate the murky waters of wedding invites, gifting and dress codes.

Wedding cake with pigs

Photo by Roberto A Sanchez/Getty Images

We’ve all been there: Utterly at sea when it comes to choosing the right gift (how much should you spend?) or the right ensemble (is any amount of white okay?) for the multitude of weddings that crop up every season. Since each situation is different, it can be hard to know the proper way to behave.

That’s where Lizzie Post comes in. The great-great-granddaughter of etiquette expert Emily Post, Lizzie carries on the family tradition (with her mother and father, sister, aunt and cousin) by managing the e-learning programs for The Emily Post Institute and co-authoring books such as Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th Edition and her own book, How Do You Work This Life Thing? “Etiquette is about every interaction that you have in your life,” she says. “Any time you’re choosing to communicate or interact or share space with someone else you have etiquette, and (you either) use that etiquette to create a good situation, or let it slide and create a negative situation.”

Here, Lizzie Post answers your questions (plus a few of ours) about invites, gifting, destination weddings and wearing white:

1. Question: I was recently invited to a wedding. The invitation did not specify whether or not I was able to bring my partner, whom I have been dating for almost two years. Is it impolite to ask about a +1? Also wondering if it’s impolite not to leave room for a +1 option on the invite itself.

Answer: If you don’t live together, it’s still considered  appropriate for the host to issue the invitation to you alone. I think a lot of people get very personally offended by invitations and who the invitation was issued to, and I think that we have to remember that it’s not our party and you can choose to go or not go. You don’t have to attend if you don’t want to, if you would feel truly uncomfortable. You do still have to send a gift, but you don’t have to attend. The host will notice that the reply comes from just one person [and might say], “Oh my gosh, what a mistake.” But it’s really not appropriate to call your host and ask to bring extra guests.

If, however, you are 99.9% sure that this oversight is real and that the host knows you live together and have lived together for quite some time, you may ask gently and politely if there’s been a mistake. If the host says, “No, it’s not a mistake,” then you need to say, “Ok, thank you so much. I just wanted to be sure.” Do not school them on proper invitation etiquette.

2. Question: I’m attending two weddings, one week apart. I’m also a student on a tighter budget. I know the amounts that it will cost [the hosts] for the dinners ($110 and $100 each), for me and my date. However, I am unable to gift that amount. What would be your advice in this situation, as they are both good friends of mine? 

Answer: The appropriate wedding gift is always what fits in your budget. So if that’s a nice picture frame, that’s a nice picture frame. If that’s a cheque for $500, it’s a cheque for $500. I’ve had a number of weddings I’ve had to go to and they end up being quite costly and you do start to feel it, so I try to get something that has a sentimental tone, but I keep it small and I absolutely don’t feel badly about that. A lot of people are under the impression that you need to “purchase your plate” at a wedding and that’s completely false. The hosts choose to have the wedding as they choose to have it, and it’s important that they not assume that their guests are going to be paying them back.

3. Question: Should a +1 bring a gift?

Answer: The person who received the invitation is responsible for sending the gift. You [the +1] can certainly send one if you want to, and a nice personal card wishing them well is always a good idea, but you don’t need to.

4. Question: I’m invited to a wedding where they have requested no gifts. I feel a bit wrong not giving anything. Should I respect their wishes? Or perhaps give a gift card to a restaurant?

Answer: You really do want to respect their wishes. That’s not just feigned. That’s for real. The best thing that you can do is send a card with your wishes on it.

5. Question: I had a destination wedding and a certain couple attended. Now they are having a destination wedding that is more expensive plus our income is lower. Do I attend to return the favour even if it is less convenient given the high price and change in finances?

Answer: No. I always say, “stick to your budget.” You can always try to do something special with the couple at a different time and place to honour their wedding. Some people are comfortable taking out a new credit card and paying for it over time, and that’s totally an option. But if you’re not comfortable with that, then I do think it’s important that you respect your own budget…and send them a nice gift.

6. Question: Why do a lot of people not send thank you cards after receiving a gift? Wedding, baby, birthday. It makes me not want to send a gift at all.

Answer: If you open the gift in front of the giver and thank them at the time, you don’t have to send a thank you note. If you did not, then you need to send a thank you note. It is the considerate thing to do in a world of digital everything and quick phone calls. I think it’s okay to send something as a place holder [such as an email to let them know you received it], but nothing will ever replace a handwritten note because of the amount of time it takes…though I have thought that a video message would be a really cute and modern way to give a thank you, where you actually video yourself saying how happy you are to receive the gift or maybe wearing the item. Then it’s something someone can keep or remember.

With a wedding, you are obligated to send a gift, but [in other situations] if someone [continually neglects to thank you], you don’t have to send them gifts anymore. Or you can always call and check up and say, “I just wanted to make sure you had received it. I hadn’t heard anything.” That’s a little bit of a pushy way, but it works.

7. Question: Is it okay to wear white? I am accessorizing in red, but my dress is white eyelet.

Answer: If you’re wearing white or cream, it needs to have some kind of pattern on it. If you have a white dress that has one tiny polka dot in the upper left hand corner, that’s pretty much a white dress. If you have a white dress that is covered with beautiful floral patterns, that would be okay because that would not look like a wedding dress and will not distract. [This rule holds for young girls and teens].

8. Question: Is there a wedding etiquette protocol that many people miss?

Answer: People forget to RSVP. They forget to mail in the card or send the email. [The hosts] are throwing what is usually one of the biggest parties of their lives, so it’s really important that you get your RSVP in on time. Also, if you’re bringing a +1, supply your guest’s name to help with seating place cards.

If only these angry newlyweds had read this etiquette guide beforehand — it might have prevented their gift basket spat from going out of control! Do you have any wedding etiquette woes? Please share in the comments below.